There are plenty of challenges in setting up a business in your own country, but those challenges are often multiplied when the task is to expand internationally.
Marketplacer started out as two young Australian guys with a hunch that we could bring shoppers and retailers together in an online marketplace called Bike Exchange. Our beginnings were pretty humble – a typical ‘backyard’ operation that survived for the first year or so on the smell of an oily rag.
It was a massive learning curve, even though we both had solid backgrounds in sales and finance. The nature of successful businesses, though, is to grow. When you get that growth cycle right, it creates momentum. Eventually you start looking further afield for opportunities, including overseas.
You have to remember that Australia, while one of the richest countries in the world, is only a relatively small part of the global e-commerce story. The fact is that the potential for international expansion and growth in e-commerce is huge. We’re just beginning to grasp this truth here in Australia. It’s something that puts the fire in the belly of everyone at Marketplacer.
Marketplacer now has offices in Melbourne, the USA, New Zealand and Germany, and we’re opening an office in the UK very soon. The online marketplaces, including Bike Exchange, powered by Marketplacer’s technology are also growing their overseas customer numbers.
In the wake of the recent 2016 federal budget, I had an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald (syndicated across the Fairfax network) expressing my disappointment the government had given lip service but not much more to the idea of innovation and the tech sector in the budget:
I would have liked to see more support for an Australian economy looking to shift from its traditional sources of revenue to new streams of income. An Australian economy that’s ready to back itself and go online and global. An Australian economy that’s not just exporting raw materials to China, but has tech companies that can compete with 21st century giants like Google, Apple and Alibaba.
To take this step up, to compete on the international stage, is something all ambitious Australian businesses should aspire to do. This is especially the case with businesses engaged in the online sector, where the traditional problems associated with Australia’s “tyranny of distance” have been mitigated to a large degree.
It’s still a big challenge – but tech-based online enterprises are well placed to go global. Just look at the ongoing success of a company like Atlassian, as well as Marketplacer.
We’re just at the beginning of our path to international expansion. We’ve certainly faced challenges, such as understanding and navigating the cultural differences of every new country we have launched in.
Along with this comes the need to research the legal, banking and business differences in each country. There’s a lot of homework to do and you have to be able to trust the people you are working with to be across all the relevant regulatory details in each country. It helps if you’ve already developed a strong network in the countries in which you are planning to launch.
Speaking to people on the ground always gives you a far better grasp of the lay of the land. We have always made an effort to meet with potential clients and partners in person. This gives you the opportunity to carefully run through your business model and really demonstrate how it works in person.
The real magic in overseas expansion is when you start looking at scale. Australia’s population of 23 million people is an excellent testing ground for businesses. It’s a country with a sophisticated consumer market and a competitive business environment. As long as you establish good processes, systems and adapt to the local culture the scale in the USA, Europe and Asia is immense.
So far we have seen over 30 million annual customers from eight countries around the world use our online marketplaces. Our team has created a business that can scale and is resonating with our global customers. We can’t wait to see those numbers continue to grow.