Jon Jain has held leadership roles at Kry and AWS, and is now head of product at elderly-care startup Birdie — where he's been leading product expansion into Germany, Birdie's latest market. “We’ve found significant overlap, at a high level, in the care journey across markets but there are always key differences that you need to adapt for,” he says. Here he shares his top tips for growing into new markets.
Find early adopters
Build a base of early adopters who have issues with their current solution. Set up user interviews to better understand their workflow or current user journey and formulate hypotheses on the main differences between your primary market and the new one you’re entering. You can find these early adopters by engaging with local communities — in our case, that involved calling professional associations and care agencies directly.
Build prototypes, test and iterate
Translate your current product with no product changes and ask your early adopters to try it out. This will help find starting points for what needs adapting for the new market.
Don’t copy others
The level of adaptation necessary for a new market is dependent on your industry and business model. Messaging apps, gaming and productivity SaaS products typically require less adaptation. Industries with greater regulation — such as fintech and healthtech — will need deeper product investment to expand to meet that market’s needs and requirements. For Birdie, a key difference is how billing and reimbursements work for social care. In the UK, for example, social care is typically funded through local authorities and rates are calculated by time. In Germany, care is billed through an insurance-based system and rates are calculated according to task. We’ve needed to build adaptations upstream in our product to ensure that users in each market get properly paid for their services.
Understand your new market
Understanding and reflecting the cultural norms of a new market is critical to connecting with users. Changes can range from small adjustments, such as decimal point formatting (period separator vs comma separator) to ordering of first and last names. Think about the communication style and tone of your product as well. For example, while a playful voice might work in some markets, other markets might prefer a more direct approach.
Hire a local team
You can leverage the knowledge of your current product team to build the adaptations, but you need support from a local team who can find the gaps quickly. They must build relationships and strong empathy with users — having a similar cultural background is a huge enabler for that.
As you grow, it can be difficult to balance the need to scale a stable product in your core market and move fast and break things in a new one. Build out a new product team on the ground in your new market who are accountable for that market alone. Then invest time in building close collaborations between the new market and core teams — this will help share and grow knowledge across the company.