When is a product ready to launch internationally?

By Shawn Xu, Former International Expansion, Square

Not every company will require a formal "international launch", as their products are inherently global (e.g. Coursera's content can be accessed anywhere). It's more apt to consider this "international growth". I've worked on international growth at a company like this, and they require a different strategy toolkit.

For companies that do need to conduct an actual launch - a lot goes into making sure a product is ready for public release in a new country. Before we even talk about the actual product itself, there are a number of business requirements that are mission-critical.

You need to ensure that you have the correct legal entity structure in place, and that your products have undergone a thorough legal review. Some products will require a regulatory license - depending on the type of technology, this can also require significant lead time and negotiation. For technology that is new and has never been seen in the world before - you can expect a very rigorous and lengthy audit process that will require you to build various coalitions of support.

Once the legal issues are resolved, you need to build the right team to best support the launch and ramp up growth. First and foremost, you need to select the right Country Manager. A local hire usually yields best results - they know the market best. If your founding country team includes any employees from your HQ country that are not citizens of the new country you are launching in, you will need significant lead time to complete the work for a secondment. If you have employees working in the country at all, you need to conform with local laws regarding work authorization, visas, compensation, benefits, and tax.

Before launch, your country team needs to have the right go-to-market strategy in place. You should have a clear understanding of how to win - from product pricing to customer acquisition to public relations and more. You should already have identified and started negotiations with your target partners (e.g. distributors, retail, etc). You should have clearly measurable milestones, and the right infrastructure in place to determine whether or not you are on track with your growth plan.

When it comes to the product itself, you need to be highly confident that it is sufficiently localized for the market. A localization team should be intimately involved in both the initial product development phase as well as the final QA phase. To be clear, localization is more than just direct translation - they should be consulted on content creation as well (e.g. product name should resonate & messaging should make sense to locals). Country-specific requirements should be addressed (e.g. Uber must be able to accept mobile wallets or cash in India). Best practice for product readiness would be to run a multi-phase pilot with a limited number of customers with defined entrance and exit criteria - this ensures that as many bugs (either product-related, localization-related, or both) are resolved as possible.

Following the steps above should give sufficient confidence to launch your product in a new market. Sustained success will draw upon the "international growth" strategy toolkit referenced earlier.

Shawn Xu will be speaking about Global Expansion Strategies at the Global Expansion Summit in 2017.