“Understanding the target is key”

How can a start-up expand internationally with only eight employees? Zkipster knows because it has done it. Founded in Zurich in 2011, the start-up’s system for managing event guest lists is now available in more than 60 countries. To do this, the company opened offices in New York, London, Hong Kong, São Paulo and Amsterdam. David Becker explains how he managed the expansion.

Technologist: When did you decide to open a foreign office?

David Becker: When we realised that our product couldn’t be sold to a large audience in a single country. Our app helps organize guest lists for large private events. There are only a few tens of thousands of these events in the world. We needed to spread as quickly as possible to capture the many niche markets around the globe.

T. What mistakes did you need to avoid?

D. B. We were cash poor, like many start-ups. So we had to remain focused on a specific goal. We concentrated our efforts on the U.S., which we identified as a key market. The other foreign branches were more trial runs to help us compare regions and set priorities.

T. How did you create the foreign offices?

D. B. One of us went on site to study the market: tech habits of the inhabitants, rate of smartphone use, reach of the 4G network, etc. If the area appeared promising, we hired someone whom we then placed in a shared office space.

T. If your app is sold online, is there really any need for physical presence?

D. B. Yes, it allows us to better understand the target market, to help clients if they have problems with the app and to create partnerships. Every time we’ve set up shop in a country, our sales have increased. For example, we often travelled back and forth to the UK, but since we opened an office there in 2013 our sales have tripled.

T. What were the first things that had to be adapted to the local market?

D. B. First the website needed to be translated into the local language, then the currency.

T. How do you maintain team spirit when your eight employees are spread so widely?

D. B. They can easily participate remotely in the technical development, which is done online. But to create a real team spirit we need to make sure our employees see each other in the flesh at least once a year. Without this cohesion, a start-up can’t survive.