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International expansion is no walk in the park. Our 3 top tips for success!

Author: Robyn Keet

So you’ve done your market assessment, you’ve built a solid business case and you have planned your go-to-market strategy... Now what?! In October 2022, BrightWolves officially launched in South Africa – a far way from our Belgian roots. They say experience is the best teacher, and we could not agree more. Through embarking on an international expansion ourselves, we gained first-hand experience of the trials and tribulations often associated with such a move. In true BrightWolves style, we wish to share with you the three key insights we wish we knew (or appreciated more) beforehand.

  1. Trust is the nucleus of success “A team fused by trust and purpose is much more potent. They can improvise a coordinated response to dynamic, real-time developments.” - General Stanley McChrystal Building a business is hard. Building one in a foreign environment only amplifies that challenge! There are a multitude of moving parts, uncertainties, urgencies and vastly different stakeholders. In such a dynamic and uncertain environment, it can feel as if you are building the airplane while flying it. The key to successfully manoeuvring this airplane is acting fast upon a solid foundation. And the foundation we speak of here is trust. In his book, The Speed of Trust, Steven Covey speaks of the high-trust dividend and low-trust tax. In high-trust environments, speed increases while costs decrease. These are two very important ingredients when expanding your operations internationally. At BrightWolves South Africa, we took great care in selecting our founding team and surrounding advisors to ensure that the trust component was uncompromised. The result? A fully operational business in seven months – 13.000 km away, no less! Of course, trust alone is not enough. With a poorly executed business plan, even a high trust organisation will surely fail. However, the only way to sustainably execute on a well-considered strategy is having trust so deeply embedded into your organisation that you have the advantage of acting nimbly, time and time again.

  2. Being boots-on-the-ground will be critical “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.” — James Cash Penney, founder, JC Penney To illustrate this point, it is best to tell a story about the BrightWolves South Africa expansion. After doing an extensive market attractiveness exercise and building out our high-level business plan, we felt relatively confident in our assessment and understanding of the market. We proceeded to plan a three-week exploration trip, in which we would put our hypotheses to the test and build up our network in South Africa. We knew this exploration trip would be important, but we did not realise the true value of a physical presence until we set foot in South Africa. In those three short weeks, we managed to more than double our direct network. Perhaps it is worth pausing here to touch upon the network topic. The true power of a network reveals itself when there is an alignment in values, a mutual trust and an openness to exploring win-win opportunities. It is by sharing our stories over an informal coffee that we discover important synergies which form the basis of any (business) relationship. And as with any relationship, it needs care and attention in order to flourish. Virtual coffees can only get one so far – in our experience, the value of being boots on the ground cannot be underestimated.

  3. Bet on multiple horses and remain agile “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill The journey of building a business – be it by means of an international expansion or a greenfield opportunity – is not linear. There are successes and there are failures; there are highs and there are lows; and naturally, there are things that work and there are things that don’t. In our experience, the best results revealed themselves when we continuously tried different approaches. Let’s take business development, for example: we tried the more traditional, “by-the-book” scenarios, and we tested out some crazy ideas. We’d be lying if we said they were all a success; but it was when we truly thought out-of-the-box that we saw the fruits of our labour. There is no single secret to success. But if you had to ask us, we’d say that a combination of agility, creativity, trust and excellence is surely a ticket to Success Boulevard.

If you are in the midst of an international expansion, or hesitating to take that leap, we’d love to hear from you and explore ways in which we could be of assistance. Please reach out to Domien or Robyn for a conversation.


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