Think Big: How these women took their businesses global

Many entrepreneurs kick off a new business by focusing their efforts on a strategic market. But the most successful business are designed with room to scale... big time.

Going global might seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. We asked a few female entrepreneurs and strategists about how they took their companies global.

Maxine Ryan, Co-Founder of Bitspark


Did you plan to go global from the beginning?

"Scalability should always be at the forefront of any business and it means going global. Bitspark [blockchain remittance platform] focuses on growth, as it means value-add to the company and what it can offer customers."

"If your business can't go beyond its initial growth then it can be hard to enter new markets, acquire funding, find additional revenue streams and so on."

How would you describe your expansion strategy?

"Bitspark makes sure that anyone in the world can pick up our services no matter what country they're from. This is particularly hard in the remittance market as it has nuances unique to the landscape we target, so Bitspark focuses on simplifying it through our services and unifying customer goals across the board."

Why did a global strategy make sense for your brand?

"Everyone sends money! This matched with more people needing to send money cheaper, faster and efficiently via the internet. With personal devices all over the world, a global strategy was the only way forward for Bitspark."


What were the biggest challenges?

"The biggest challenge for all Fintech companies is regulation. It's well known that regulation always follows innovation, however, it means innovation is limited by fear. Another challenge is building products which make hard things simple, in payments this is becoming less of an issue as more accessibility is made possible with technological advancements like cryptocurrencies."

What surprised you the most?

"How quickly an idea can catch fire. When I started in 2013, no one knew what the blockchain or cryptocurrencies were and, now in 2017, we see many in finance, other industries and people engaged in the technology somehow. Just two months ago, I invested money in Ethereum [a blockchain app platform] for my nana, who is in rural Australia, after she heard about it."

What advice would you offer new businesses looking to expand globally?

"Understand the core of your business and how it can impact peoples lives in a way they would appreciate. Study the problem that your company is trying to solve: Why does it exist? What are the existing solutions? Why don't they work? And remember: You don't have to build within the lines just because 'It's always been that way.'"

Jenniffer Green, Founder of Namasme

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Did you plan to go global from the beginning?

"Yes! One of my primary goals for starting Namasme life coaching was to have complete location independence and a global impact."

"Because of this, I chose an 80% digital business model -- meaning my coaching practice runs on Skype, but is complemented by in-person workshops, retreats, and such."

How would you describe your expansion strategy?

"It is actually quite simple but also changing. Currently, I try to do as much in-person work as I can, whenever I find myself in a place for more than 3 months. I try to incorporate at least one or two work-related things when I travel for pleasure."

"For example, I will be going to Dubai in March of next year for a wedding and have lined up a retreat and a workshop the week prior to the festivities. This will give me the opportunity to dip my toes in a new market and will introduce the Namasme brand to the MENA region in a powerful way."

How do you harness social media to build awareness? 

"Almost two years ago, I also created and run a women's personal development group on Facebook that has members in 15 different countries as a passion project. Through our members, other women from all over the world join the community and are exposed to the Namasme brand through me."

"As a perk of membership, our members receive free workshops and discounts on all Namasme services. This has proven to be a tremendous way of getting positive word of mouth out there for the company among qualified potential clients."

Why did a global strategy make sense for your brand?

"My brand is all about the achievement of personal satisfaction. Thankfully, that desire is pretty universal and, if the goal is really about making people happy again, then we shouldn't discriminate on the basis of where they come from in order to be able to help them achieve that."

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Any research tools, books or resources that you would recommend?

"I would definitely recommend the book The One Thing by Gary Keller. In it, he will teach you a way of thinking and prioritizing what you have to do in the most intelligent way I've found so far. His method is what keeps me sane managing my business."

What advice would you give to new businesses looking to expand globally?

"This came directly from my mentor... Know the market you're getting into firsthand. Get curious. Talk to people. Spend sometime in the region you want to open and listen before you make a move."

"People appreciate it when you know about and respect their culture and will tell you what you need to know if you have the patience, humility, and the wisdom to hear it."

And how does that translate to business success?

"Selling is a conversation about needs being met. In order to sell effectively, you must understand the needs of the person in front of you. In order to communicate effectively with them, you must be able to convey genuine empathy."

"For example, I've learned that running a workshop in Hong Kong is very different than running one in DC, or Paris. Understanding why may mean the difference between a successful launch and an unsuccessful one. Although the topic discussed may be the same in all three cases, other details like the venue, the time, and the delivery method I choose for the message will all differ if I want to be truly effective."

What's next for your brand?

"My strategy is changing -- I'm actually looking to transition more of my business into motivational speaking. I spent 3 years of my career as a successful singer and television host and feel like I should be using what I learned from that experience to impact as many people who are on their personal development journey as I can."

"In order to achieve this, I'm hiring a PR team with a global reach, will be attending as many conferences as I can, and will be forging strategic partnerships worldwide."

Isolde Andouard, CEO Asia Pacific at ba&sh


Did you plan to go global from the beginning?

"At the beginning, founders Barbara & Sharon’s wish for ba&sh [womenswear line] was to create their own ideal wardrobe -- a mix of all styles and fabrics they’d personally like to wear. It’s above all a story based about friendship, not business, and even less about global business."

"Fortunately enough, it has led to the creation of an aspirational and authentic brand that raised LVMH's attention in 2015, who acquired it through its private equity fund. And that’s when globalization became the plan."

How would you describe your expansion strategy?

"I would say it’s bold and carefully thought out. In January 2017, the launches in Asia and in the US were simultaneous -- quite an unusual move indeed. So far, ba&sh has opened 8 stores in Asia (Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing), 2 stores in the US (in New York and Miami), and plans a lot more."

"From the outside, it might have looked risky, but we knew ba&sh benefited from its success in France and Europe, the expertise of [consumer growth investor] L Catterton on the US and a convenient, timely positioning on the Asian market."

"However, for ba&sh, being global is not only leaving its footprint through a worldwide presence but it also implies an extensive range of products and prices in order to reach a cross section of women. That is why we are developing our products categories and strengthening our accessories line."

What were the biggest challenges?

"The globalization of ba&sh really started in early January 2017, so most of the challenges are still to come. Our first challenge has consisted in choosing and devising the proper organization fit for each country, choosing the right partners when needed and hiring our local team."

What surprised you the most?

"As it is the second time that I set up from scratch the Asian subsidiary of a French apparel brand -- previously SCMP (Sandro, Maje, Claudie Pierlot) from 2013 to 2016 -- I had already experienced and gone through lots of surprises!"

"However, I would say that what surprised me the most this time is probably the maturity of the market. In 2017 the affordable luxury market in Asia is not the same as it was then. It facilitates business relationships and increases the awareness of customers to our segment."

"What was also astonishing is the speed at which the local community adopted this new brand in its shopping environment as well as the strong interest of local and regional operators willing to build partnerships with ba&sh."

What advice would you give to new businesses looking to expand globally?

"My main recommendation is more on the human side of this adventure. I would advise people willing to expand their business to travel as much as possible, go on site, meet with people, ask them questions, be curious, observe, understand, challenge themselves and make their own opinion on what strategy should be adopted for their own business. According to my experience, this is the key to a successful globalization."

What about on a logistical level?

"On a more organizational point of view, make sure your main structure and headquarter is strong enough to absorb this complexity -- that your team speaks English well enough, and hire a trustworthy local right hand and team."

Elaine Chow, Executive Director of Sales & Marketing at Euro Properties

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What going global always part of the plan?

"No, not at all. An international properties investment firm, Euro Properties was pretty self-contained doing just the Hong Kong markets."

"However, I was invited to visit Shanghai to do corporate finance. It opened a window of opportunity for me and made me aware of the moving trends in the global finance world."

How would you describe your expansion strategy?

"There were lots of visits and field studies, and then we looked at the macro-economics -- the demand and supply criteria -- to confirm whether or not we really wanted to move into that market."

"I had an office stationed there, so I saw a lot of opportunities, we saw the cost of properties being very low. Probably there was a lack of supply of real estate that was of international standards."

"Our friends were all expats, so we all lived in the prime area where we were looking for properties that were equivalent to Hong Kong standards. There weren’t many, so we started to think about expanding there before the developers came."

"We bought some buildings and re-furnished them up to international standards. We hired some interior designers and we were able to get very, very good quality o furnishing. A lot of these items were from Europe, exported to China. We were very lucky."

"Expansion made sense in the end. We were trying out the proven strategies we have deployed onshore to offshore markets by implementation and trial and error. Then we brought the same concept to other places we go."

Where else do you operate now?

"We currently have a presence in US, London and Sydney. We also had more than 20 properties in Singapore, though we exited a lot of them except one -- which we built. We are holding it for rental. We sold our last one that we were not holding for rental on a four-time exit multiple."

What are the biggest challenges in going global in the real estate industry?

"Local laws, taxation and regulations. We have to consult the lawyers to ensure we have a proper structure and strategy."

"We've decided to only go to jurisdictions where we speak the language. So places like Australia, US, UK, Singapore... places that speak English, where we can speak the same language and the legal system is more transparent to us. Either it’s common law or civil law, to us it’s easier manage. We would not dare to go to places where we can't understand the law."  

Any research tools, books or resources that you would recommend?

"I would recommend joining an industry association and talk to as many people as possible. A lot of entrepreneurial skills are not by the book but rather by common sense and financial discipline."

"I also read a lot of successful people's stories and biographies as well as history, science, math books for inspiration as well. I learned a lot from Sheryl Sandberg, the COO from Facebook, and her book Lean in. In her book, she shares how she trust her spouse to do a lot of things which I think is really important. "

What is your recommendation for businesses that are keen to expand?

"I tend to think that you have to look around and see what the market really needs. I hear that some entrepreneurs, when they go to a new market, they will actually live there for some time to see what the needs are there."

"We don’t go and live there for a year -- we can’t afford it. But our principals will go and visit there a lot of times, we’ll go and talk to the people from the local countries where we are investing, and we will talk to a lot of different people that are related to our business."