Lessons on Scaling Your Business Globally (And Quickly)
Growing a fast scaling company is hard.
The challenge of fast growth is even more terrifying and complicated when your scope is spread across the globe.
Most startups and fast-growing companies are strategically obsessed with learning to scale.
Sustainable success depends on your ability to grow at scale.
But behind the scenes of the ‘unicorn’ success stories of the next Uber’s, Amazon’s, and Google’s of the world are the brave founders enduring an emotional bungee jump of unexpected, euphoric highs and soul-crushingly vicious lows.
Founders of these growth-thirsty companies keep taking that plunge. Sometimes that bungee cord wears thin. For some founders strands begin to snap and the emotional lows hit a brutal and final rock bottom.
But there are a collection of fiercely passionate founders who survive those emotional free falls and find that elusive scalable growth. They are determined to grow and scale their company.
There’s no simple formula, clear manual or structured blueprint to sustainable business growth on a global scale. However, you can (and you should) learn from the mistakes, wins, successes and failure of those who have made it happen.
Learning Scalable Growth From the Pipedrive Story
Pipedrive’s founders have been through this wild journey and survived to tell the tale.
Since launching in 2010, Pipedrive has been striving to scale globally.
Somehow, Pipedrive’s founders and our rapidly expanding and equally passionate team managed to make it happen.
From a garage in Estonia, Pipedrive has achieved truly global growth and our founders have managed to scale that growth relatively fast. The following six results are markers of our global growth and results Pipedrive is genuinely proud to share:
- Over 170 countries covered
- Over 70,000 customers
- 350+ employees
- 6 offices in 4 countries
- Over $30 million in funding
- 16 languages & multiple currencies
So, how can you grow your company globally from the beginning?
Going from a small startup to having over 350 employees across four countries doesn’t just happen overnight.
There are many moving parts, and many times throughout the strenuous process of growth, those parts break and need fixing.
We want to share the lessons learned by Pipedrive’s founders so you can avoid our mistakes and capitalize on our successes in your quest for fast global growth.
How Pipedrive Grew From an Estonian Garage Into a Truly Global Team
Timo Rein, the co-founder of Pipedrive, knows a thing or two about scaling across borders.
From a little startup in Estonia to a 350+ employee firm with offices in New York, Lisbon, and London – Timo has seen his fair share of ups and downs.
Timo recently shared his story on the fascinating SaaStr podcast, and he expanded on what it means to be a startup founder, as well as the unique challenges you must confront on your quest for global growth.
Timo and four other co-founders went global with Pipedrive from the very beginning – and this decision was made out of sheer necessity.
The reality was stark – Pipedrive was operating in a small market.
If the founders were serious about scaling their business, this growth would need to happen well beyond Estonian borders.
In order to move forward they had to broaden their horizons to find a broad customer base.
You Need a Simple and Clear Mission
Pipedrive’s mission was simple from the very beginning:
Why Pipedrive? To help salespeople sell more – no matter what or where they were selling.
Thinking globally from the start helped Timo and the founders focus on making sales easier for everyone. This mission helped to make sure their cloud-based software was already built to be globally accessible through the web.
Taking a cue from his knowledge of door to door sales, Timo knew he needed to knock on the doors of international venture capital firms if he was going to accomplish the global growth Pipedrive needed to survive and scale.
After acknowledging the need to push beyond their immediate borders, the startup team sent a few ambassadors to California as a first step towards making this global reach a reality. Timo explains why the US was the logical first target:
“The US has more VC’s and angels. There are more companies, and the concentration of them makes it a better learning base.”
Timo and his team were able to tap into deeper pockets and they also plunged into the wealth of knowledge of this experienced, global-minded community.
Pipedrive was able to get their product in the right hands by joining accelerators like Angel Pad, who help companies get into early adopter circles of innovative SMBs and important industry influencers.
While this was an excellent decision made early, Pipedrive didn’t just grow without obstacles, challenges and missteps.
There were so many valuable lessons learned by finding out what not to do – and Timo and the team learned these lessons the hard way.
The Global Growth Challenges That Taught Pipedrive How to Survive and Thrive
Sustainable, scalable growth is the aim.
But how fast is too fast?
Those businesses looking to scale globally from inception will agonize over this question.
Rocket Internet alumni, Shaheen Javid, says that while rapidly scaling a firm globally is good for PR – there are a few critical considerations you cannot afford to overlook:
“Make sure you are doing well and delivering on your selling proposition in the city or country in which you originally launched. While staying local and focusing on a single country strategy lowers a startup’s risk of losing focus, many startups should consider globalization earlier because to stay local and insular creates the risk of losing important market share and growth opportunities.”
As the number of markets Pipedrive targeted grew bigger, so did the risk of positioning their product incorrectly.
Salespeople know that understanding your customers is the key to closing deals.
To close on a global scale you almost always need to tailor your pitch to each unique audience.
New Global Markets Means New Standards and Expectations
Before the team even thought of marketing their product to consumers, they had to sell their plans to a team of VC reps with a very different mindset.
Pipedrive’s European founders weren’t familiar with these alternative perspective. But they had to learn fast and adapt their message on the run. If you plan on accessing international funding to fuel your global growth, you need to know what makes each VC market tick.
According to Timo:
“The US is more aggressive about the growth mindset, where short term growth goals makes founders look out to 18 months instead of 3 years. There’s also truth in the sayings about the US-based VC’s and angels about growth goals. The West Coast looks for user growth, where the East Coast looks at P&L and budgets, and the UK looks at time to profitability.”
Within the US alone, there were regional differences in what investors were looking for.
While the team overcame this challenge and succeeded in acquiring $30 million in VC backing – the real challenge came when Pipedrive’s team had to scale growth on this global scale.
Selling products in new markets is where your global growth strategy will face a make-or-break examination. And this exam is a test you might not be able to afford to sit twice.
Why Localization is Key to Successful Global Growth
Pricing your services globally has a big impact on potential growth.
There are a lot of questions to consider:
- Should you price locally?
- Should you price regionally?
- Or should you favor a global one-size-fits-all pricing strategy?
Your business will have unique criteria and influences.
Pipedrive attacked this question with an agile mentality.
Timo and his team decided that:
“It has to be set somewhere, and then we can gauge it globally from there.”
Despite the decision made, he still felt that sticking to one universal price would mean that some areas were overpriced while others were under-priced.
That is why they needed to find a different way to cater to the unique demand of different markets.
Timo and the team were determined to adjust their product to best suit the market in question and to do this successfully – they needed to have representatives in all corners of the world to keep their finger on the pulse.
By offering localized payment methods and support, Pipedrive managed to solve this conundrum effectively, allowing the product to flourish with speed across so many new markets with so many unique challenges and requirements.
The Benefits of Having a Global Team
Localization may be the key to delivering the best value across a wide variety of markets, but how does Timo cope with handling hundreds of employees across multiple time zones?
“It’s just hard. When you have one place, everyone is there and you know where everything is. You need to manage the separation and manage the communication between the locations”.
Timo also emphasizes that you should never underestimate the importance of keeping people in the loop with communications. If you have a number of remote teams or multiple offices in different regions – you must make sure they all know they’re part of one passionate global team with a clear and unified mission.
Support from global leadership members through regular visits, direct communication and organized meetings can help communicate that each of the company locations “matter” equally.
In the mission of global scaling, separation of teams across offices will be necessary.
What will ultimately stop them from falling apart is successful internal communication.
But how do you know which teams to split?
Timo found that some divisions could be split, like support and engineering.
However, there are different considerations for some functions of the business. Timo found the core marketing team works best when together in one place.
In order to deliver a unified message, they need to work together in person.
And as for leadership, well, their office can only be described as the place where they are needed the most. You need to start hopscotching around timezones if you plan to scale your business across borders.
‘Remote leadership’ is not a concept Timo and his team can ever endorse.
One Takeaway to Help You Plan to Scale Globally With Speed
There’s one key piece of advice that Timo always shares with foreign founders who want to scale and grow big:
Spend some time in the US.
While it may be expensive personally and for the business – the price you pay is an invaluable investment.
Having a presence in the US allows you to be surrounded by the successes and failures of other startups, helping you learn the ropes at the most granular level. Do not startup from afar; make a global presence part of the very first phase of your plan.
A Mission That Unifies the Efforts of 300+ People
Piruze Subunchu, a McKinsey alumni and Stripe’s Head of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, says growth occurs when you adopt a user-first mindset.
“Listening to users and trying to better understand them, they will be the ones who will help your company expand in your mindset.”
Subunchu also says that one of the keys to startup success is to love what you’re doing, of course it always makes it easier when you enjoy it, but the other is that you need to begin with a mission in mind from the outset.
That mission must become a team mission, and in Pipedrive’s case – a global mission. With over 350 passionate Pipedrive employees responsible for driving the growth of our business – Timo knows there needs to be a strong and compelling “value fit” for all team members to sustain the pace of growth.
Pipedrive’s HR department has a lengthier hiring process and more people involved than most companies do. The process also ends with an interview with one of the founders, included as a strategy to gauge character fit instead of just professional fit.
They look for people who are driven, with exceptionally high standards, and don’t make excuses. The ideal Pipedriver wants to work in a team and refuses to negatively affect the mood of other team members.
You need to develop a recruitment process to reflect the culture your business needs to grow. You must learn how best to find your ideal employee and how to spot the traits you don’t want to encourage in your team. Your people are your growth engine and you need each of those critically important growth drivers to work smoothly together.
You might break down here and there. The road might be rocky. But you’ll eventually find your way to that destination.
You need to start building that global growth engine.
Don’t let a little challenge or two hold you back!
For more insights on how to scale a global business successfully, or if you want to hear the more about Pipedrive’s story, listen to Timo’s full SaaStr podcast here.
Wondering what Pipedrive is all about?
Find out all about the product that allowed Timo and the Pipedrive team grow to help over 70,000 sales teams all across the globe. You can use Pipedrive to speed up your growth journey right now. Sign up for our free 14-day trial and take Pipedrive for a spin.