The art of starting a business with global appeal

Virgin Atlantic’s Business is an Adventure series touches down in LA this month, with the aim of discovering how great business ideas can become a success on the global stage. As Alison Coleman discovers, making it happen is no mean feat...

Launching a start-up has never been easier, but turning it into a global success with millions of users is a feat achieved by a relatively small number of entrepreneurs.

Brands like Facebook, Uber, and Snapchat are some of the best examples of 'no brainer' ideas that have crossed borders and penetrated overseas markets very quickly, but they are few and far between. So what is the secret of a meteoric rise from small business to global player?

For any start-up to be a global success that is transferable it needs a product or service that solves a mass market problem, says Neil Westwood managing director of Magic Whiteboard. Whilst not a tech start-up, it experienced rapid overseas growth following its 2008 success on BBC’s Dragons Den. Today it exports to 20 countries.

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"The solution needs to be better, faster and cheaper than the existing solution," says Westwood. "Uber is easier to use, a better experience, cabs are clean, you can track journey and it is cheaper. Payment is taken by card so you don't have to pay with cash. Ultimately, you need to have a product or service that customers want to buy at the right price."

Location could also have some bearing on a start-up’s global fortunes. Historically, some of the world’s most successful brands were launched from the founder’s spare bedroom or garage - think Jeff Bezos and Amazon – but nowadays, success rates are higher for business ideas nurtured within the setting of a tech business hub.

Silicon Valley may still be synonymous with the global tech scene, but today, cities all over the world have become hotbeds of tech start-up activity, providing a culture and a support infrastructure that fosters innovation and attracts talented entrepreneurs and investors.

Read: Five LA start-ups that went big

LA’s tech scene is one that has come of age, and among its most notable start-up successes is the dating app Tinder. It was launched from an InterActiveCorp (IAC) start-up incubator in 2012, and by January 2014 had more than 10 million users, according to Bloomberg. By the end of that year, it is had been downloaded more than 40 million times.

Admittedly, the start-up had the clout of a major media conglomerate behind it, but that on its own is no guarantee of success. Tinder’s founders clearly had a finger on the pulse of consumer trends, and many analysts have attributed the company’s rapid growth to the emergence of a generation that predominantly uses smartphones. With the success of Tinder, the online dating sector very quickly went from being mainly PC led to mobile-domination.

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One of the most compelling explanations for the success of a ‘no brainer’ business idea is scalability in the domestic market.

Nik Pollinger, a digital anthropologist who regularly consults on the human factors influencing technology adoption, says: "The US market is wealthy, large and highly digitally connected, providing an excellent environment to develop an early stage business to the point at which it can consider overseas expansion."

Read: Virgin Atlantic announce US entrepreneur event series

However, it is a mistake to think that once the home market is cracked the rest of the word is a shoe-in, he says. 

"Sometimes the issue is political, for example Facebook is prevented from operating in China leaving the field clear for the likes of WeChat. Sometimes another player has first mover advantage, for example Ola in India has stolen a march on Uber," adds Pollinger.

Clearly, a business environment that is conducive to innovation and growth is a significant factor in the success of a tech start-up. But the most important factor has to be the people behind it; their drive, their ambition, and their motives - and as history has shown, the most successful entrepreneurs are not driven to innovate by the prospect of money.

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Tim Taylor, founder of leadership consultancy, Making Great Leaders says: "The common strands behind the success of Airbnb and Uber are the simplicity of the ideas, and the passion, enthusiasm and curiosity of their founders to see if they would work.

"They are all answers to universal and societal needs, and profit was not behind the motivation. Aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to crack this nut simply need to focus on doing something interesting, fun and that which they will enjoy developing. You’ll make money as a result of that formula as long as it’s not the main motivator."

Ultimately, the real key to going from small business to global sensation may simply lie in the ability of an entrepreneur to think big about their business idea from the outset and create a global vision for their brand.

Sammy Blindell, founder of How To Build A Brand says: "If you brand yourself as a small business, you will stay a small business. If you brand yourself as the global sensation you want to be in five years from now, you'll create a brand, a strategy, an infrastructure, a team and a culture that will quickly grow into that global sensation brand. Your brand will grow to the environment you create for it"

The first Business is an Adventure event, featuring Richard Branson and a panel of prominent LA business leaders, takes place in Los Angeles on February 18th. The event will be available to stream for free on virgin.com from 16:00 (PST).

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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