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Establishing your international startup anywhere

There’s been a growing trend for startups to base themselves anywhere and have their employees scattered across the world, and in the process erase the concept of the old-school HQ. This trend seems to be even more prevalent for startups that operate online, with the WordPress/Automattic team being a great example.

Over at WooThemes, our team is scattered across five different countries and we have a central office (which houses half of the team) in Cape Town, South Africa. Our whole business is online and we’re able to manage all of our daily activities from the comfort of our chosen country of residence.

Building a startup from within an emerging market and developing country obviously means we haven’t had the benefits of being based in one of the world’s tech/online hubs (such as Silicon Valley, New York, etc). But we have still managed to be successful, which tempts me to say that it indeed possible to create a startup with international appeal, irrespective of which country you call home.

But being based outside of a tech hub presents unique challenges, limitations and considerations – but the four factors below have made our life a whole lot easier.

Networking
The biggest downside to not being based in Silicon Valley, New York or London is probably the lack of networking opportunities with like-minded individuals, as there are fewer conferences to attend and there just aren’t that many smaller online startups in emerging markets. This means you need to make social networks your best friend, as you need these to connect with people who are active in your space. It is definitely possible to establish valuable relationships this way.

Getting over the stigma
There seems to be a stigma that if your office isn’t next door to Google, Microsoft or Facebook you can’t be a serious startup. You need to address those concerns via your marketing, and you’ll see that other people start taking you more seriously.

Face time
As dynamic as the internet is, it still isn’t a replacement for real-life, human interaction. This means you need to ensure that your team members get enough “face time” with each other on a regular basis, as that is the only way to build the bonds within the team. Here at WooThemes it’s company policy for us to meet up twice a year, when we’ll normally relax and catch up for a week.

Proper team management
It’s much harder to manage a distributed team and it’s very easy to have things drop off the radar as a result. So the whole team needs to be on the same page every day if you are to ensure that your processes run efficiently and effectively. A project management system similar to Basecamp is recommended.

One of the most exciting things for entrepreneurs is starting and growing a new business, and the added challenges of being based in emerging markets should definitely serve to thrill even further. Its greatest benefit is that the inspiration you derive from your environment is unique, and sets you apart from all the generic startups that are located in the massive tech hubs of the world. If you use your geographical location to your advantage (and address the unique challenges presented by that), you’ll certainly have a pleasurable and inspirational startup journey.