Starting a business is no easy feat, especially if you’re thinking of starting one overseas. Now that the U.S. dollar is stronger — and even crushing other currencies — many entrepreneurs are taking advantage and traveling abroad to launch their businesses.
But don’t start packing your bags just yet. As the founder of Waygo, a visual-translation app that translates Chinese, Japanese and Korean text into English with the wave of your smartphone, I have gone done the challenging road of launching a company abroad (in our case China).
Before you decide to leave the U.S. borders, here are a few tips to starting your business abroad.
1. Localize your idea, vision and expectations.
Diving into the local culture is essential for any entrepreneur. Find a local mentor or investor who can help guide you to understand the culture and the local consumer. This was key for us when we decided to launch Waygo and has helped contribute to meeting the right partners, launching at the right conferences, and knowing who to trust.
If you don’t know one right off the bat, look to LinkedIn to see if colleagues can connect you with others that are located in the country. You could also look at joining Meetup groups, eaching out to local business networks or researching online for websites that specialize in expats living in the country you are looking to set up shop in.
2. Learn the language.
This seems like an obvious one but sometimes learning a language can feel almost as challenging as starting your business. Even poor language skills are better than none. Besides taking classes, you can also learn a new language through various apps or meet up with someone that speaks the language fluently and work with them to hone your skills.
3. Live like the locals.
Be genuinely interested in the country and its culture. Get out and meet your customer or participate in cultural experiences every day. The market, customer base, customer preferences and behavior aren’t native to you, it’s important to take in as much as possible.
4. Study the competition, both past and present.
Before entering a new market, every entrepreneur knows to research the competition. But don’t stop there. Study five companies that tried to enter that market and failed. Those who fail to learn from others’ past failures are destined to repeat it.
5. Build a new network.
Your old network becomes less actionable when you move abroad, so you’ll need to build a new local one. Leverage the fact that expats in a small community are fewer and far between, making it easier to connect with new people.
When my team was in Beijing trying to build the startup network for Waygo, we took a leap and emailed really important entrepreneurs in the area. It resulted in important meetings and new network connections. These connections not only assisted us in getting started as a new business but also helped us form long-lasting relationships that provide the support we need.
Launching Waygo as an expat in China has been one of the most thrilling experiences in my life. I encourage anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit to take the leap. But don’t go in blindly, be patient, persistent, develop thick skin and keep in mind some of my tips. I promise, it’ll be the journey of a lifetime.
Writer: Ryan Rogowski