Culturally, educationally and financially, the U.S. has created the perfect storm for innovation. The U.S. is among the top 10 most educated countries in the world. It produces the greatest number of startups. And while the U.S. also ranks highly for wealth among other countries, it ranks No. 1 — with $48,734 billion — in total individual wealth.
While these factors have resulted in amazing innovation and growth for startups and entrepreneurs, it also means the U.S. is saturated with people who have the drive, education and money to create new businesses. A great way for new entrepreneurs to find new areas of opportunity is to start looking outside of the U.S. Once you start looking, you’ll find it is easy to transport all your U.S. enthusiasm and inventiveness overseas in three simple steps.
My interest in business overseas began when I met a few international people at a local event. We connected on LinkedIn, and I suddenly was a part of their networks. By following some of those leads, I quickly uncovered a whole group of people in China, Malaysia and Thailand who were interested in mobile marketing, just like I was.
LinkedIn is an easy place to start exploring. You can find other startups and experts who work in the countries or industries that you are investigating and even potential talent.
For example, Startup Singapore is working to connect interested entrepreneurs in Singapore with resources and with each other. Malaysia has similarly developed Startup Malaysia to encourage development in their region. Connecting with these groups and others like them will help you start to build a network of people who are interested in working with you, will help you get started and grow, and will identify investors and uncover funds to support your business. Many countries have created programs and allotted resources to encourage startup growth, so find those communities and connect with them.
Once you have some connections, get on a plane and go meet them. For me, this step was a little scary because it seemed expensive, far away, and completely out of my comfort zone, but I trusted the connections I had made would at least afford me a place to stay and an experience to remember. The people I met turned out to be wonderful, enthusiastic and motivated workers who not only took me to great restaurants and beaches but helped me understand how I could intertwine my services with their markets.
While traveling around the world seems expensive, a $500 flight to Malaysia isn’t much more expensive than a cross-country domestic flight; and once you’re there, your expenses would amount to less than a trip to Silicon Valley. For the benefits of meeting the people you want to work with, visiting the location and experiencing the market, and starting to figure out logistics, the cost is a very small investment in your business. And once you’re over there, especially in Asia, you can actually check out a few different markets to see the differences.
After doing your research and making your rounds, you can start to decide how you are going to get your startup off the ground in one of these markets. Hopefully, through networking and visiting, you have identified a few key locals who you want to work with.
In my explorations, I had made such strong friendships, the real challenge was to decide which market to start in and how to proceed. My friends and partners that I had established through networking and traveling helped me figure that out.
A local partner is essential in order to test the waters, navigate the market, identify resources and figure out the logistics. In fact, Malaysia and some other Southeast Asian countries require you to have a local partner in order to benefit from extensive government programs for startups. Most of the emerging markets have reliable government agencies actively investing in entrepreneurship, so a local partner will help you uncover these resources. Once you have identified a market, established trustworthy partners, and uncovered government funds, your local partner can help evaluate candidates to hire. Essentially, once the research and visits are complete, you just have to choose to move forward with it.
In the U.S., your startup is competing for resources with every other entrepreneur out there. You are a little fish in a big pond. By spending some time and energy looking into global alternatives, you can give your startup a real chance to have an impact. You can be a big fish in a little pond.