A year ago I joined GoodPractice as Business Development Director.
Although GoodPractice has built a strong reputation for the quality of its online leadership and management tools in the UK, my aim is to help the business go global.
I thought I had a pretty clear idea of what I needed to do to achieve this objective and, more importantly, how I was going to do it.
The reality has been quite different.
I was all set for a couple of months of desk-based grunt work - doing market assessments, developing plans and writing business cases - a conventional approach based on the theories I learnt about market penetration during my studies and my previous experience.
"As I soon discovered, GoodPractice is anything but a conventional business."
We have adopted an agile approach to software methodology that has permeated all aspects of how the business is run. Within days of taking up my new role here, we had identified Australia as our first international target market.
Before long, I was on a plane with a packed schedule of meetings.
We had positive results from this initial foray into international markets and have lots of exciting new opportunities to follow up on. Sticking with an agile methodology, I was able to adapt and improve our market strategy based on the new information and insights that I gathered.
"I can’t help but think that if I had stuck with conventional wisdom about entering new markets, I would still be drafting the business case!"
Reflecting on the success of my Australian trip, I wonder how much of this was down to luck, how much was a result of me leveraging my experience, and how much was because we adopted an agile approach.
The initial market selection process was fairly straightforward, as the Australian market is ideally suited to the type of learning solutions GoodPractice provides. We could have carried out detailed comparisons with other markets, but would probably have arrived at the same conclusions.
Desk-based market research was replaced with face-to-face conversations with people already active in the market. We responded quickly to new information, allowing us to switch tactics mid-visit and set new objectives.
Because we were adaptable and flexible in our approach, I think we made our own luck.
Building on our positive experience in Australia, we now plan to take GoodPractice Stateside. For a business such as ours, this is a very exciting market. The differences in US approaches to learning and development make it a great opportunity to broaden our horizons, though the competitive nature of the market increases the level of risk.
But the risk won’t change the nature of our approach.
I am heading out to Boston (where our parent company has an office) and the ATD conference in Denver, with the objective of finding out more. This may result in new opportunities being created. On the other hand I may come back with no more than debunked assumptions and the need to start over.
Either way, I am excited by what this trip will bring.
I recently spoke with a friend in the L&D industry about his experiences of entering the US market. It took six attempts to get it right!
Now, I know of businesses where one failure would be deemed disastrous, and you wouldn’t get the opportunity to fail more than twice, let alone five times. I am convinced that by learning from failed attempts, and applying these lessons to subsequent iterations of their strategy, they have been able to build a successful US operation quicker and cheaper.
"Does the entrepreneurial nature of a small business mean that the textbook approach to international expansion doesn’t apply to us? Or is the new paradigm of failing fast a more efficient way to get results?"
Of these two theories, I prefer the latter.
Any risk of failure is mitigated by limited investment and an understanding that, at every wrong turn, new information is secured which can improve the overall approach you take. And apart from anything else, getting stuck in is just a lot more fun!
At GoodPractice we love learning, and that includes learning from our mistakes.
I am really interested to hear from people who have had similar experiences when it comes to tackling new markets. If you work in learning and development in the US I’d love to hear your story.
Dog agility image credit: Wikimedia Commons (accessed 17 April)
USA telescope image credit: Flickr Rian Castillo (accessed 17 April)