Why tech startups should go international early

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Written by Firmin Zocchetto, CEO and Cofounder of Payfit

Entrepreneurs will be familiar with the feeling of launching their first product. It’s never quite 100% finished. But, screw it, you launch it anyway and adjust the product when it is in the wild, adapting and iterating to your clients’ needs.

You should treat the growing internationally in the same way. At my company, Payfit, we expanded early. And sure, we made some mistakes, but we worked out how not to repeat them, and it helped us become a far better company.

Let’s rewind. When we started doing business, we launched in Paris, and most employees were French and did not have the required language skills to go beyond France’s borders. The result? An insular approach that restricted the prospect of any exponential international growth.

We recognised this early on, and changed it. Now, we have over team of 500 is based across four major European cities, and we’re growing. Making the change has not been easy, but I would always advocate throwing caution to the wind, and making bold decisions.

Get your investors on side

The first piece of advice: make sure you have venture capital investors that are willing to go on this journey.

Scaling quickly usually requires a close relationship and understanding with any investors. So, when looking to raise funds, startups tend to want to find the best investors within their specific field.

Sharing capital with someone is a big commitment and in many ways, choosing the right investor is not too dissimilar to choosing the right employee. Ensuring that someone who is going to invest in a company is in line with the culture and values, increases the likelihood of harmonious growth moving forward. Choose carefully.

Finding the balance: company culture and rapid expansion

Continuing to grow quickly while integrating new customers every month can sometimes have a negative impact on employees. By seeking exponential growth, some companies actually risk undermining the enjoyment and wellbeing of their employees.

Finding the right balance between growth and internal wellbeing is key to ensuring employee satisfaction.

In any job, there will be periods which are more stressful than others. Rapid international growth will come with stresses for the team at all levels. However, finding ways of addressing these periods, and having the right mechanisms and processes in place that look to alleviate stress, are crucial in maintaining good morale.

Control your growth and understand that you won’t always be able to grow as much or as quickly as you may like. Even though I advocate ‘going for growth’ as quickly as you can, sometimes you will have to decelerate in order to safeguard internal wellbeing.

Scaling culture

We create HR tech solutions, so we pay particular care to people. One of the most consistent mistakes a company makes is hiring too quickly. Often this manifests itself in the form of offering a talented candidate a job in order to ensure that they are not pinched by one of the competitors. In reality, without vetting someone properly, businesses run an increased risk of employing someone who does not correspond to the values instilled by a certain organisation.

Of course, this whole process is not infallible and no one can ever be 100% sure the person they’re hiring will be a good fit. But by taking their time, thinking and following established recruitment processes, companies can reduce the risk of a new recruit becoming a pariah.

Do not pretend to be someone or something that you aren’t. Present your values to prospective candidates, and be proud of them. There is no such thing as a good or bad company culture. It’s just about ensuring that there is a ‘match’ between both parties.

So go international as quickly as it is sensible to do so, but do it carefully — especially when it comes to people, as they are the lifeblood of everything you do.


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