3 Key Steps for Cross-Cultural Startup Success

As you prepare for life as an entrepreneur in a cross-cultural context, there are several key steps to prepare you and ensure your business is set up for success. When we decided to spin off our team building and leadership program into a for-profit business, our launch team did several key things to ensure our success. Today, I’ll be sharing some components of that process to give you some things to think about as you begin your journey.

  1. Do It Right

Our launch team wasn’t new to Kenya. Occasionally, circumstances may require you to launch your company immediately, but ideally, you want to have some time on the ground to learn the business landscape and meet the right people. Since we were familiar with the culture and local expertise, we were in a good place to ensure we had the right people on board. This included both expats and nationals. In addition to myself, our launch team included the founder of our nonprofit and Tom, my Guide in navigating the business culture.

Together, we took the time to find the right person to guide us through the legalities of setting up a business in Kenya. Not only did we need a lawyer with a reputation for being honest and trustworthy, we also needed one who was experienced with the legal requirements for expats in local business. By taking the time to find the right lawyer, we ensured that we started out on the right foot, without making any mistakes that would present obstacles down the road.

  1. Do It Yourself

Once our launch team got our new entity up and running, the others moved into advisory roles while I took the reigns. In the early days, I did everything, and I mean everything. I worked to find office space. I went to government offices and set up government health and retirement accounts for current and future staff. I paid the utility bills. I registered phone lines and set up our internet. Once I completed the taxes, I stood in a ridiculously long line every month to report them to the government.   

Doing pretty much everything myself did save us a little money. But more importantly, it taught me everything I needed to know about the ins and outs of running a business in my current context. I already had the experience that I needed to run a training and development program, but during this season I learned what it would take to keep the doors open. I didn’t want anything to fall through the cracks. As we grew, I would begin to hand tasks off to other people, but my experience allowed us to keep moving forward when problems arose. If there was a issue with payment, I knew where to go and with whom to speak. If someone got sick, I could fill in for them. If someone quit, I could train someone else on how to do it. We were poised for success.

  1. Stop Doing It

Once we began to grow, it was time to put together a team who would handle many of the tasks I had been doing. The knowledge gained during my season of doing everything gave me the tools I needed to ask the right questions and find key, trustworthy people with an expert knowledge of the system.

Since I had been doing each job myself, I was equipped me with the ability to clearly communicate my expectations for each hire I made. This is very important in any role, but especially when working cross-culturally. You can’t assume your team members share your expectations.  As a leader, it is your responsibility to be very clear on what success looks like and communicate how you will hold them accountable for these expectations. Setting low expectations or failing to hold staff accountable does not do your business or your team members any favors.

Some things were harder to stop than others. I’m pretty good with numbers and did our accounting and submitted our tax payments much longer than was necessary. One month, due to my busy work schedule, I asked my very pregnant wife to stand in line to make the payment.  She walked into a two-story tax office, jam-packed with people and lines moving in every possible direction. She didn’t stand a chance of finding the right line until a kind security guard saw her look of desperation and took her to the front of the correct line. No one else in line seemed to mind, I guess everyone but me knew that this was not the place for a pregnant foreigner. I picked her up after my meeting, and before she got in the car, I knew by the look on her face that it was time to delegate this task as well.

As you launch your company, it is important to have a good idea of all the requirements your country has for starting a business. Preparing in advance will help you stay on the right track. One of the best ways to sit down with someone who has done it all before or a legal or accounting professional who can advise you in everything you need to know. Then I recommend using a business model canvas to get all your thoughts on one page. Have you put together a business canvas or business plan for your company?  Go take a look and make sure you are prepared to do it right, do it yourself, and stop doing it.