The International Startup

How to establish your presence across borders without limits.

GUEST COLUMN | by Justin Hutchings

CREDIT Chegg mobileA startup, regardless of the industry, faces three common challenges: 1) developing a plan; 2) finding the right people; and 3) executing the plan. Add the complexity of establishing a startup across international borders or oceans, and everything becomes much more complex. Recruitment and admissions offices expanding their student search to global markets share many of these same challenges, and can learn much from other startups that have succeeded.

Developing a Plan

When developing a plan in any area, it is important to consider what problems you are solving for, what success looks like, and how big things can (or should) get.

What problem are you solving for? Is it more money for the institution through full-pay international students? Is it diversifying your student body? Let’s take a step

By 2025, the number of internationally mobile higher education students worldwide will double to over 8 million. 

back and look at a more global perspective. Until 1500, Asia was the center of gravity of the world economy. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, urbanization and industrialization vaulted Europe and the United States to prominence. We are now observing a decisive shift in the balance back toward Asia—at a speed and on a scale never before witnessed. But the speed at which the global balance is changing is not simply a China and Asia story. In 2007, the GDP of Latin America’s cities was 26 percent that of their European counterparts; by 2010, that figure had risen to 37 percent. As the global marketplace changes, the additional problem arises of ensuring you are addressing the right markets.

What does success look like? Success can be measured in many different ways. However, if we look at a few industries that have evolved in recent years, it is because they accurately pinpointed what success meant to them: taking care of the user. Look at the communication industry or the transportation industry. By focusing on the user, these industries have evolved such that they now play integral roles in each of our lives. How can you learn from those who successfully defined what success was? Focus on the user; in your case, the student.

How big can (or should) things get? The answer to this question lies in understanding your own organization. It is projected that by 2025, the number of internationally mobile higher education students worldwide will double to over 8 million. The growth is unlimited. So set a limit based off of not just what is best for the institution, but what is best for the user (student).

Finding the Right People

An organization is only as strong as its people, and no plan will succeed without the right people to drive it forward. The three main areas we see most schools struggle as they delve into international markets are 1) lack of institutional commitment; 2) lack of leadership support; and 3) people with the right skill set to execute the plan. When each of these are addressed, you will be grounded in a long-term, well-funded strategy that will be implemented by individuals with unique and powerful skillsets that combine to bring you results that you are looking for.

Executing the Plan

Once you have a plan and the right people in place to support your initiatives, it is time to execute the plan. There are several moving pieces that need to align to successfully execute on your strategy, including knowing the needed tools, knowing when to work in-house or outsource, being aware of partner resources, and having a long-term vision.

What are the needed tools? Focus on the following tools to build success in your international startup: 1) the right message; 2) the right distribution channels; and 3) the right delivery. Working closely with someone who understands the markets you are working in will help you refine your tools, prioritize their use, and trim the excess to ensure a focused approach.

When do you manage the work in-house, and when do you outsource? Outsourcing your work can save you time, money, and quite a bit of frustration. Be sure to carefully vet the organizations you work with to ensure they have common core objectives. But remember, no one is as invested or has the passion for your success as you do. So do what you can in-house before looking elsewhere.

What partner resources are available? Identifying applicable partners requires first knowing the markets you are interested in. Look for potential partners that are experts in the region you are going to be working in. For example, Mezun knows Turkey, ACT360 knows Brazil, and Zinch knows China.

Longterm Vision. Entering a new market takes time. That is the hard fact. It is widely reported that it takes 3-5 years to build a brand internationally. Sadly, it is not widely accepted. You will often face high short-term expectations from leadership while trying to succeed in a strategic long-term market. This takes us back to the importance of leadership support. It’s not just about the money — it’s about the vision, too.

As you look to expand your marketing and recruitment globally, consider lessons learned from a startup: planning is paramount, people are integral, and execution is a strategic dance. Let the passion for your purpose drive you to succeed, and be patient.

Justin Hutchings works in the international marketplace for Chegg. Write to: jhutchings@chegg.com

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