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Lessons on scaling your business globally (and quickly)

Learning scalable growth from the Pipedrive story
How Pipedrive grew from an Estonian garage into a truly global team
The global growth challenges that taught Pipedrive how to survive and thrive
New global markets means new standards and expectations
A mission that unifies the efforts of 900+ people
Final thoughts

Growing a fast scaling company is hard.

The challenge of fast growth is even more terrifying and complicated when your scope is spread across the globe.

Most entrepreneurs, startups and small business owners looking to scale a business are strategically obsessed with their scaling strategy.

Behind the scenes of the “unicorn” success stories of the next Ubers, Amazons and Googles of the world are the brave founders enduring an emotional bungee jump of unexpected euphoric highs and soul-crushingly vicious lows.

There’s no simple formula, business plan or structured blueprint to sustainable business growth, let alone scaling a business on a global scale. However, you can (and should) learn from the mistakes, wins, successes and failures of those who have made it happen.

In this article, we’re going behind the scenes to tell you our very own story. Read on to learn about how Pipedrive scaled a business from a garage in Estonia to a global phenomenon.

Learning scalable growth from the Pipedrive story

Since launching in 2010 from a garage in Estonia, Pipedrive has been striving to scale up globally.

Somehow, Pipedrive’s founders and our rapidly expanding and equally passionate team managed to achieve global growth relatively fast.

The following six metrics are markers of our rapid growth and scalability and results Pipedrive is genuinely proud to share:

  • Over 175 countries covered

  • Over 100,000 customers

  • 900+ employees

  • 10 offices in 8 countries

  • Over $1.5 billion in investments and funding

  • 21 languages and multiple currencies

So, how can you ensure your business model is primed for scaling a business globally from the outset?

Going from a small startup to having over 900 employees across eight countries doesn’t just happen overnight.

There are many moving parts and many times throughout the process of business scaling that those parts break and need fixing.

We want to share the lessons learned by Pipedrive’s founders so you can avoid our mistakes and capitalize on our successes in your quest for fast global growth.

How Pipedrive grew from an Estonian garage into a truly global team

Timo Rein, the co-founder of Pipedrive, knows a thing or two about entrepreneurship and scaling across borders.

From a little SaaS startup in Estonia to a 900+ employee firm with offices in New York, Lisbon, and London, Timo has seen his fair share of ups and downs.

Timo recently shared his story on the fascinating SaaStr podcast and he expanded on what it means to be a startup founder, as well as the unique challenges you must confront on your quest to build a scalable business.

Timo and Pipedrive’s four other co-founders didn’t necessarily aim to scale a business globally from the outset – this decision was made out of sheer necessity as Pipedrive was operating in a small market.

In order to move forward they had to find a broad customer base.

You need a simple and clear mission

Pipedrive’s mission was simple from the very beginning:

Why Pipedrive? To help salespeople sell more – no matter what or where they were selling.

Thinking globally from the start helped Timo and the other founders focus on making sales easier for everyone. This big picture mission helped to make sure their cloud-based software was already built to be globally accessible through the web.

Taking a cue from his knowledge of door-to-door sales, Timo knew he needed to knock on the doors of international venture capital firms and capture early-stage funding if he was going to accomplish the global growth Pipedrive needed to survive and scale.

After acknowledging the need to push beyond their immediate borders, the startup team sent a few ambassadors to California as a first step towards making this global reach a reality. Timo explains why the US was the logical first target:

The US has more VC’s and angels. There are more companies and the concentration of them makes it a better learning base.

Timo and his team were able to tap into deeper pockets and they also plunged into the wealth of knowledge of this experienced, global-minded community.

Pipedrive was able to get their product in the right hands by joining accelerators like Angel Pad, who help companies get into early adopter circles of innovative SMBs and important industry influencers.

While this was an excellent decision made early, Pipedrive certainly faced obstacles, challenges and missteps.

There were so many valuable lessons learned by finding out what not to do, lessons Timo and the team learned the hard way.

The global growth challenges that taught Pipedrive how to survive and thrive

Sustainable, scalable growth is the aim, but how fast is too fast?

Businesses looking to scale globally from inception will agonize over this question.

Rocket Internet alumni, Shaheen Javid, says that while rapidly scaling a firm globally is good for PR, there are a few critical considerations you cannot afford to overlook:

Make sure you are doing well and delivering on your selling proposition in the city or country in which you originally launched. While staying local and focusing on a single country strategy lowers a startup’s risk of losing focus, many startups should consider globalization earlier because to stay local and insular creates the risk of losing important market share and growth opportunities.

As the number of markets and economies Pipedrive targeted grew bigger, so did the risk of positioning their product incorrectly.

Salespeople know that understanding your customers is the key to closing deals.

To close on a global scale you almost always need to tailor your pitch to each unique audience.

New global markets means new standards and expectations

Before the team even thought of marketing their product to consumers, they had to sell their plans to a team of VC reps with a very different mindset.

Pipedrive’s European founders weren’t familiar with these alternative perspectives, so they had to learn fast and adapt their message on the run. If you plan on accessing international funding to fuel your global growth, you need to know what makes each VC market tick.

According to Timo:

The US is more aggressive about the growth mindset, where short-term growth goals make founders look out to 18 months instead of 3 years. There’s also truth in the sayings about the US-based VC’s and angels about growth goals. The West Coast looks for user growth, where the East Coast looks at P&L and budgets, and the UK looks at time to profitability.

Within the US alone, there were regional differences in what investors were looking for.

While the team overcame this challenge and succeeded in acquiring $30 million in VC backing, the real challenge came when Pipedrive’s team had to scale growth on this global scale.

Selling products in new markets is where your global growth strategy will face a make-or-break moment.

Why localization is key to successful global growth

Pricing your services globally has a big impact on potential growth.

There are a lot of questions to consider:

  • Should you price locally?

  • Should you price regionally?

  • Should you favor a global one-size-fits-all pricing strategy?

Your business will have unique criteria and influences. Pipedrive attacked this question with an agile mentality. Timo and his team decided that: “It has to be set somewhere and then we can gauge it globally from there.”

Despite making this decision, he still felt that sticking to one universal price would mean that some areas were overpriced while others were under-priced.

That’s why they needed to find a different way to cater to the unique demand of different markets.

Timo and the team were determined to adjust their product to best suit the market in question, and to do this successfully, they needed to have representatives in all corners of the world to keep their finger on the pulse.

By offering localized payment methods and support, Pipedrive managed to solve this conundrum effectively, allowing the product to flourish with speed across many new markets, all with unique challenges and requirements.

The benefits of having a global team

Localization may be the key to delivering the best value across a wide variety of markets, but how does Timo cope with handling hundreds of employees across multiple time zones?

“It’s just hard. When you have one place, everyone is there and you know where everything is. You need to manage the separation and manage the communication between the locations.”

Timo also emphasizes that you should never underestimate the importance of keeping people in the loop with communications. If you have a number of remote teams or multiple offices in different regions, you must make sure they all know they’re part of one passionate global team with a clear and unified mission.

Support from global leadership members through regular visits, direct communication and organized meetings can help communicate that each of the company locations “matter” equally, which in turn promotes a positive company culture.

In the mission of scaling a business globally, separation of teams across offices will be necessary. The only way growing businesses can make this work is with seamless internal processes and communication so that everybody is on the same page at all times.

Of course, some teams are easier to split than others. Timo found that divisions like support and engineering could easily be split, but other teams work best when together in one place in order to deliver a unified message.

As for leadership, well, their office can only be described as the place where they are needed the most. You will need to hopscotch around timezones if you plan to scale your business across borders.

One takeaway to help you plan to scale globally with speed

There’s one key piece of advice that Timo always shares with foreign founders who want to scale and grow big: Spend some time in the US.

While it may be expensive personally and for the business, the price you pay is an invaluable investment.

Having a presence in the US allows you to be surrounded by the successes and failures of other startups, helping you learn the ropes at the most granular level. Do not startup from afar, make a global presence part of the very first phase of your plan.

A mission that unifies the efforts of 900+ people

Piruze Subunchu, a McKinsey alumni and Stripe’s Head of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, says growth occurs when you adopt a user-first mindset.

Listening to users and trying to better understand them, they will be the ones who will help your company expand in your mindset.

Subunchu also says that one of the keys to startup success is to love what you’re doing. Building new products, acquiring new customers, hiring new employees and securing partnerships is always easier when you enjoy it, so you need to be mission-driven from the outset. This type of growth is difficult to sustain if you aren’t excited and eager to hit the ground running every day.

Besides your own desire to scale your business and make it a success, the people you surround yourself with need to add fuel to the fire to help you scale. After all, you can’t scale a business without a deep well of support, from mentors to freelancers and everything in between.

With over 900 passionate Pipedrive employees responsible for driving the growth of our business, Timo knows there needs to be a strong and compelling “value fit” for all team members to achieve sustainable growth.

Pipedrive’s HR department has a lengthier hiring process and more people involved than most companies do. The process also starts with an interview to gauge character fit instead of just professional fit.

They look for new hires who are driven, have exceptionally high standards and don’t make excuses. The ideal Pipedriver wants to work in a team and refuses to negatively affect the mood of other team members.

You need to develop a recruitment process that reflects the culture your business needs to grow. You must learn how best to find your ideal employee and how to spot the traits you don’t want to encourage in your team. Your people are your growth engine and you need each of those critically important growth drivers to work smoothly together.

Final thoughts

When scaling your business, the road might be rocky at times, but you’ll eventually find your way to your destination. Don’t let a little challenge or two hold you back!

For more insights on how to scale a global business successfully, or if you want to hear more about Pipedrive’s story, listen to Timo’s full SaaStr podcast here.

Wondering what Pipedrive is all about?

Find out all about the product that allowed Timo and the Pipedrive team grow to help over 100,000 sales teams all across the globe. You can use Pipedrive’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform to speed up your growth journey right now. Sign up for our free 14-day trial and take Pipedrive for a spin.

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