Location, location, location: why founders must bring international savviness into the fold

Recruiting for international experience can help businesses master global expansion

By: Michelle Scarborough, Managing Partner, BDC Capital Strategic Investments & Women in Technology Venture Fund

When we think about ways to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace, most of us naturally focus on greater gender and racial representation. Those are certainly crucial elements, but I’d encourage founders to consider an aspect that often gets overlooked: geography.

That’s because location isn’t only a prime concern in real estate; it’s also a vital component to building a well-rounded team. Where we live and work greatly shapes who we are and how we perceive the world. Teams that can draw from these unique perspectives tend to be more creative, productive, and ultimately successful as the data consistently proves.

That’s why companies with global ambitions need to let go of geographic biases and recruit talent with international experience from around the globe. If founders truly want to address long standing issues with diversity, inclusion, and representation, they need to take off their blinders and hunt for talent with first-hand knowledge of what international consumers want and how to take on foreign competitors.

There are significant benefits to hiring with international experience in mind. Recruiting from a more diverse pool of candidates that includes geographic reach will increase the chance of a “best fit”. This can make or break a start-up, as recent studies suggest that a bad hire costs Canadian employers anywhere between 1.5 and 3.5 times their annual salary. In a scale-up it can mean the difference between success and failure. Over time, making the right hire raises the overall quality of a company’s talent pool, reduces employee turnover, and makes it a destination for top tech talent seeking flexible working arrangements.

Building a team steeped in global experience can also help businesses develop more inclusive products that resonate deeply with global consumers. Team members who have worked abroad offer first-hand knowledge of the local market and therefore understand what local buyers care about, how product features might be received, and how to sell to these consumers — especially online. This can supercharge global expansion efforts in an increasingly digital-first economy.

What’s more, the unique lived experience of international hires can bring fresh perspective and creativity to their colleagues. That goes a long way to sparking innovation and novel ways of approaching product development. A PwC study found that companies have the potential to reach four times as many consumers through inclusive design.

Crucially, geographically diverse teams can also avoid crippling design blind spots that alienate consumers. Poorly designed facial recognition systems that misidentify people of colour and ill-fitting virtual reality headsets are just two examples that underscore the importance.

Teams that lean on international talent also gain strategic insight into the best practices of local competitors in new markets. For example, a salesperson who worked extensively in a given market may have a more granular understanding of successful marketing strategies used by rivals. They will have spoken with sales prospects in that market about what they like about a competitor’s product offering. And they may know suppliers in the area that can help a business hit the ground running.

Bringing in talent from another jurisdiction comes at a cost, as being too early can be a detriment and not a plus. Professionals used to the working style in one market can experience culture shock when shifting to another jurisdiction. Onboarding processes need to be high-graded; founders must ensure they have a strong corporate culture and the resources in place to ease that transition. Entrepreneurs should also strategize how they will manage an international expansion well before hiring.

There’s no better time than the present for businesses to broaden their hiring horizons. The global pandemic has ushered in remote working arrangements that are likely here to stay in some form. Consider that 45 percent of working Canadians say they want to work remotely at least three days a week, according to a survey by ADP Canada.

With the infrastructure and workflows to support remote working now firmly in place, it’s easier than ever to integrate employees with international experience. Founders shouldn’t hesitate to seize this incredible opportunity.

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Industry news, insights, research and portfolio updates brought to you by BDC Capital’s Strategic Investments and Women in Technology Venture Fund

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Industry news, insights, research and portfolio updates brought to you by BDC Capital’s Strategic Investments and Women in Technology Venture Fund

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