“About six months!”
I was devastated. The developers in my team had just told me that launching CLINQ in any other country besides Germany would take us six months. It was part of our strategic intent to create the first truly international sipgate product. And now we would block the whole team from launching cool new features for our customers for half a year. The business opportunity of launching internationally was exceptional, but what about our customers and the team spirit? I was sure they would suffer from a half year long project without any direct customer value.
Speaking of customer value: a 6 month long venture to launch a product in multiple countries outside of their own does not look that bad for a twenty year old telecommunications company. Ten years ago that would have been our approach and we would have been happy with it. We would probably even have ended up with an exceptional result – after just a few years. Our culture has changed, though. Like so many others we have started “being agile”, in fact we are living and breathing agile these days. Long projects with an uncertain outcome are a thing of the past. We try to only create small updates that have instant customer value. Big results are created through iteration towards a greater goal. This approach works great for us, but sometimes a big project appears – like internationalization – and we struggle to fit it into our iterative approach.
We knew we would not start the project, so we took a step back and focused on the cool features we had in our backlog. Voicemail transcriptions, our unique callback list, opening hours, a new design, and our awesome desktop app were created. In the meantime we refined our internationalization backlog – almost once a week. We tried Kano and all backlog prioritization techniques we knew. Every now and then a developer would add some small improvements to the backend that made internationalization easier, we translated our website and we collected data. How difficult is telecoms regulation? How much does it cost us to buy phone numbers and who are our competitors?
We finally ended up with “The List”. The list answered a few simple questions: “Are phone numbers cheap?” – “Does the country have the euro?” – “Are they a member of the European Union?”- “Is regulation for acquiring phone numbers low?” – “Are the countries in the same time zone?”. The list allowed us to segment the countries we were targeting. We took the countries that (we thought) matched all of the criteria and defined them as the first step on our way towards internationalization. Fortunately, we did not do our research thoroughly and there was a country in the list that didn’t have the euro. This lead to discussion about currencies for SaaS products and we figured that the euro being the national currency was not really a hard criteria. So we added countries that didn’t have the euro, but matched all other criteria. We now had six countries on the list, a nice amount to start with.
That is what we did. We created a backlog, estimated two weeks of work, and started building. We were even able to add value for our existing customers in that process. The ability to book international phone numbers and credit card payment are the most prominent examples. After three weeks of work (there were some external constraints) we were ready to launch CLINQ in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Luxemburg, Poland, Spain, and Sweden.
The first signup came from Poland, the first paying customer is Czech and we have doubled our overall signup rate – all despite the fact that we are only marketing on Facebook with (mostly) English ads at the moment.
Eating our own Dogfood
As you might have guessed we are using CLINQ for our own customer service. We wanted to know from which countries people were calling us, so we created a channel for every country and attached an international phone number to each one. When our customers visit https://clinq.com/en/contact/ they will always see the phone number for the country they are visiting from. This way we can display country specific statistics for each country we support. When customers visit from a country we do not yet support, we display a fallback number.
We can now greet customers with a personalized welcome. We can invite our colleagues from Poland or Spain into the countries channel to welcome their compatriots in their own language.
Try for yourself
If you live in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany Luxemburg, Poland, Spain, or Sweden you can start today and sign up on clinq.com. If you live in any other country, we would love to hear where you are from to be able to prioritize our next steps.
To Be Continued
We will keep you updated on our internationalization efforts. There are still more than enough new markets to explore and we are looking forward to coming to you r market. If you have any tips on how to approach your country – let us know. We appreciate your participation and we might even find a way to say “Thank You”.