Targeting international markets, a cultural adventure

Targeting international markets, a cultural adventure

by Startup Montréal
19 December 2019

Our Startup Ecosystem Portrait reveals that a little over 80% of Montreal entrepreneurs want to go international when in fact, these same entrepreneurs travel, on average, only 2 times per year (2018 figures).

In a survey conducted in November and December of 2019, Montréal Inc. found out there is a lack of information on the resources available to go international and entrepreneurs would benefit from interacting with other startups. In this context, it is  important for a startup to establish an international sales strategy and to rely on a startup ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs’ ambitions to reach new markets.

Wanting to explore new horizons is not only beneficial for the startup’s growth but also impacts the ability to innovate (by adapting your technology to a different market), to create (by getting inspiration from those new markets) and to gain access to additional resources (talent, academic, funding). What are the steps to go from local to international? To avoid missteps, here are a few advices and best practices.

On an exploratory mission

There are many steps to take before considering entering a foreign country. Catherine D’avril, Co-founder of Montreal-based Locketgo, participated in several international events – some of them sponsored by Bonjour Startup Montréal such as Collision in Toronto or Web Summit in Lisbon.


“Before trying to go abroad, there are many challenges to overcome. First of all, you need to understand the ecosystem on many levels: legal specificities, perceptions and consumption habits.”

– Catherine D’avril, Locketgo

Exploration is an essential step to improve your understanding of how other companies are positioned on your prospective market. Many organizations offer exploratory trips and missions (Ministry of Economy and Innovation, Montreal Chamber of Commerce/Acclr)on a regular basis. They help entrepreneurs in many ways and can even help set up meetings with potential clients or partners. These trips are a great way to test your ability to adapt culturally. Keep in mind that a traveling entrepreneur  has a role of ambassador for his city, his region, and his country!

Cédric Tawil, Director, Business Development and Entrepreneurship – Foreign investments, for Montréal International, explains that in some very specific fields, travelling is a way to explore how your industry is evolving:

“The Fintech or live sciences industries, for example, are highly regulated in Canada,  so it can be interesting to explore what others are doing abroad to test and validate your idea.”

– Cédric Tawil, Montreal International

Sales mission and beyond!

Once your product is ready for market, it’s your time to shine!  You’ll find many organizations available to support you in your quest for new markets. A complete list is available in our internationalization’ section. Quebec international offices, for example, are able to put you in touch with key contacts and sometimes even offer their offices for free so you can hold business meetings at their facilities.

But the benefit of traveling goes way beyond this, as explains Cédric Tawil:

“People usually think that targeting international markets is useful only to sell products or find new clients. However, there is so much more to look for: partners, mentors, but also investors and talents.”

The Ten Commandments of Montreal entrepreneur abroad

  1. Questions, you will ask!
  2. Answers, you will listen to.
  3. Canada embassies and Quebec offices, you will target (they are a wealth of information and experience and a great introduction to the country)
  4. Montreal startup community, you will sollicite: it can always provide a key international contact or recommend a specific company to approach
  5. Local players, you will contact: to better understand the culture and specificities of the country
  6. The foreign culture, you will learn about: when in China, plan to have a lot of business cards! In Spain, when you get a dinner invitation, be prepared for a late evening! But in Sweden, don’t expect to go for afterwork drinks during the week, family is their priority.
  7. A few words in the foreign language, you will learn: it is always appreciated and valued
  8. Marketing and communication tools, you will prepare: flyers, discount on products, but also typical Quebec gifts.
  9. Business cards you will prepare: specifying Montreal/Quebec/Canada, in English and French, with the country code +1514, etc.
  10. Follow ups, you will do!

A few additional resources to get more documentation:

  • Our ‘internationalization’ section which includes a handful of useful information for your take off towards foreign countries
  • A portal with key country insights by the Government of Canada filled with information on more than 110 countries’ culture
  • The last Startup Genome report for additional information on international startup ecosystems