Six tips for combining international sales and impact in your startup

Six tips for combining international sales and impact in your startup

by Startup Montréal
11 April 2024

International sales are considered an important growth lever for startups. Jérémy Boucher, CEO and co-founder of VadiMAP, an artificial intelligence-powered solution that enables entrepreneurs to decarbonize their real estate portfolio, and François de Kerret, CEO and co-founder of Zeffy, the only 100% free fundraising platform for non-profit organizations, share their top tips for facilitating the international expansion of an impact startup. By strategically positioning themselves in diversified markets, companies will reach the right customer base faster, maximizing their impact potential and growth opportunities.

1. Get into sales early, rather than dwelling on theory

When defining its target market, a startup that aims to do business in several markets should start working in more than one country at the earliest stages of its project, so that it can quickly demonstrate its ability to succeed abroad. “You shouldn’t make plans that are too precise, but rather adapt, because things are going to be extremely different [from one market to another],” explains François de Kerret, speaking of the approach he has advocated at Zeffy. Within this organization, the first international sales were

2. Analyze the market with the greatest impact

It’s a good idea to start in markets where the impact seems strong from the outset. This was the case for VadiMAP, which chose New York as one of the locations for its international expansion, because it was a place where the energy used by businesses is both polluting and expensive, and where its use is governed by a strict regulatory context. It was therefore an optimal environment to maximize the chances of success for Jérémy Boucher and his team.

3. Adapt processes and expand sales channels internationally

Sales channels that work well can be very different from one country to another, requiring adjustments. This means being open and flexible as soon as a company enters a new market. What’s more, in an internationalization strategy, you need to know how to minimize the costs of necessary changes, while ensuring that you meet customer requirements locally. The Internet makes this rationalization of effort possible, which in turn ensures profitability. To promote itself in the USA, Zeffy used Google Ads on a small budget and SEO with the right keywords.

When it comes to administrative processes, we need to be well-informed about the particularities of the country in which we wish to sell. If we take the case of Zeffy to the south, the company had to put in place various specific measures to protect itself and its customers from financial fraud, which is much more prevalent there.

4. Make yourself known abroad through trade missions

Don’t hesitate to sign up for trade shows and conferences to make your company known in another country. This is often the starting point for conversations that will open doors,” emphasizes Jérémy Bouchard. He took part in a trade mission with a Quebec delegation in the early days of VadiMap, an initiative that led to sales on the spot thanks to some excellent face-to-face encounters.

5. Don’t underestimate the impact of partners in opening international doors

We can’t say it often enough, but the people around you, your partners and your entire network all play a key role in a startup’s deployment abroad. Project investors often have leads to propose to the startups they support. Don’t hesitate to approach them. These are the same people who can also offer very concrete tips on opening a business entity and a bank account.  In Zeffy’s case, this is how the organization came to know Stripe Atlas, a program that speeds up the administrative procedures associated with starting up in a new market.

6. Start with smaller customers in a new market

The “snowball effect” generated by the first customers abroad, even if of modest dimensions, is an important lever, not to be underestimated. As Jérémy suggests, it’s sometimes worthwhile: “to cut your teeth [with smaller international customers] to have success stories that allow you to repeat the experience with larger companies later on.”

The tips and tricks of these two CEOs are part of our Startup, the impact reflex campaign, an initiative presented by Startup Montréal in collaboration with the Quebec government. This allows us to keep the conversation around impact alive, even a few months after Impact Week.