The International Expansion Playbook

Introducing Landed, an audio interview series creating the "collaborative playbook" to help founders, operators, and investors expand their companies internationally.

Overview: I am launching an audio project called Landed where I speak with founders, operators, and investors who have played key roles on the ground and in the boardroom for the international expansion of the world’s most successful companies.

These conversations are highly tactical — focused on pulling out actionable ideas and real-world frameworks that you can use to win as you expand your company into new markets.

The first episode will be released next Wednesday, October 21st. Here is the trailer:

You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your audio content.

I have incredible lineup of guests already recorded and a bunch more in the pipeline. Huge shoutout to Sari Azout, Josh Constine, Nikhil Basu Trivedi, Vincent Touati-Tomas, Leon Lin, Turner Novak, Pietro Invernizzi, Niklas Jansen, Matt Clifford, and Matt Jessen-Howard for making the intros that led to some of these early episodes.

The rest of this post goes into why “collaborative playbooks” are so critical and why there is value in creating one to help companies go global.

— Brett

The Marketplace for “Collaborative Playbooks”

There’s a collaborative playbook that’s being built in Silicon Valley — which is kind of the set of best practices for how we do things.

John Collison, Stripe

Since hearing Stripe’s John Collison discuss the importance of “collaborative playbooks” in kickstarting and sustaining the success of Silicon Valley, I haven’t been able to get the idea out of my head.

These shared playbooks — around hiring, understanding core metrics, and raising capital — are akin to AWS, pulling away the need to invent every capability from scratch in order to sustain over the long term. In theory, this frees up resources to focus on the core innovations a company is trying to bring to market.

Understanding these playbooks isn’t itself a differentiator — in many ways it is simply table stakes in increasingly competitive markets. But quality execution is scarce and implementing these playbooks inside of companies can compound core advantages and accelerate the path to market power.

And while nothing can replace direct experience, studying the paths others have taken and accessing their hard earned wisdom is the often next best thing.

Making the Playbooks Legible

Over time, the market for Silicon Valley’s “collaborative playbooks” has become more liquid and the knowledge within them has become more legible to those from different backgrounds, industries, and geographies. This has happened for a number of reasons.

  • Transparency around culture and strategy has become a tool for companies seeking to craft their narrative and lower their cost of human and financial capital. Netflix’s culture deck is an example of this. It is also quite central to Shopify’s strategy.
  • The rise of one person media companies is creating opportunities for operators and investors in possession of this hard earned knowledge to build significant businesses by sharing these playbooks publicly. People like Web Smith at 2PM (Commerce) and Lenny Rachitsky (Product/Marketplaces) are good examples.
  • Semi-private or paid professional communities built on platforms like Slack, Discord, and Telegram are facilitating the sharing of cross-company learnings more than ever before. Communities like Fintech Today and Femstreet are good examples of the power of these communities.

Some of these playbooks are quite mature — we may be hitting an asymptote on “how to raise your seed round” advice, for example — while other categories are significantly under-studied. One of these under-studied categories is international expansion.

Landed: The Playbook for International Expansion

International expansion is often a critical inflection point in the lifecycle of an early stage company.

With the emergence of global distribution platforms, converging customer tastes, and increasing access to cross-border capital, many companies are expanding internationally earlier and more aggressively than ever before.

But adding people and operations around the world comes with significant complexity. I know this first hand from my time leading international operations at Krossover in India and have experienced it again moving from Chicago to Paris to launch TechNexus’ European office.

While each company’s expansion story is unique, there are lessons and frameworks that can be drawn from every situation and from the personal experience of every leader that has spent time on the ground executing a global growth strategy. And that is why I am launching Landed.

What to Expect from Landed

Landed centers around conversations with leaders who have played critical roles on the ground and in the boardroom for the international expansion of the world’s most successful companies.

These conversations are highly tactical — focused on pulling out actionable ideas and real-world frameworks that you can use to win as you expand your company into new markets.

Along with the release of each episode, I will send an email sharing my key takeaways from the discussion as well as a transcript and resources. These emails will stay on the main Venture Desktop feed. You can subscribe below (it is totally free).

Over time, this will evolve to become an evergreen resource where founders, operators, and investors across geographies, stages, and business models can find tools and tactics to help on their international expansion journey. I also have plans for a few community-focused initiatives that will amplify the value of the resource.

The First Three Episodes

But getting there starts with good, helpful conversations with my guests. So far, I have found the interviews incredibly enriching and am excited to share them with you.

Here is a bit more about the first three episodes.

  • Caen Contee (Twitter) – Caen is a member of the founding team at Lime and led the company’s international expansion efforts opening over 100 cities across 30 countries.  Today, he is a founding partner at Ozone X Ventures, a firm backing purpose-driven tech companies founded by underrepresented founders across the world. He also plays an operational role as Chief Business Officer with Linear Labs, a very exciting electric motor company that just raised money from Chris Sacca and some other great investors.
  • Laura Gonzalez-Estefani (Twitter) Laura spent nearly nine years with Facebook in a number of key roles leading the international expansion of the company. She was the company’s first executive in southern Europe, leading expansion into Spain and Portugal. Laura then moved onto led the Growth, Mobile & Partnerships team for Latin America. Today, she is the founder of TheVentureCity, a venture investment and growth firm campuses in Madrid and Miami, as well as offices in San Francisco, São Paulo and El Salvador. She is truly a connector across the European, Latin American and U.S. innovation ecosystems.
  • Paul Murphy (Twitter) – Paul is a General Partner at Northzone, the venture capital firm that has backed iconic European companies like Spotify and Klarna. At Northzone, Paul has led investments in the likes of TIER and Hopin, which we discuss in the context of global growth in the episode. Prior to Northzone, Paul founded and was CEO of mobile games company Dots which gave him an incredible set of experiences growing and raising capital internationally.

Again, you can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple, or wherever else you get your podcasts.

International Expansion Podcast

International Expansion — Reading List

While international expansion playbook remains under-studied, there have been some incredible resources shared by experienced founders and investors. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started.

I also wrote a post on international expansion drawing on the lessons from Goldman Sachs, which used a unique and effective international expansion strategy to ascend to the top of the global financial services market.