With Felix Ohswald, Co-Founder and CEO at GoStudent
As part of our work on international expansion, we hosted a portfolio session during which we presented our survey analysis of 60+ Edtechs’ expansion experiences, and hosted conversations with Felix Ohswald, CEO and Co-Founder of GoStudent (GS), and Patricia Matey, VP International Growth at Genially.
Felix is a Specialist Advisor to Brighteye and Genially is a recent addition to the Brighteye family.
In this, the second of two pieces, we focus on the conversation with Felix.
GoStudent is the leading global tutoring business, offering private 1-1 lessons and tailored learning plans, covering all school subjects and age groups. The company became Europe’s first Edtech unicorn in June 2021, securing funding from SoftBank and Tencent among other firms in a $244m round.
1. If a company is raising VC funding for international expansion, what does it need to present to investors?
To raise VC funding for international expansion, you need to do 5 key things:
Show consistent and ideally accelerating growth
Present a large addressable market(s) with solid justifications for entry and priority order
Present solid plans for how you can address the market(s)
Acknowledge foreseen challenges from investors and address them head on in your investor meetings
Create FOMO for investors!
2. How do you consider your expansion options?
There are two main aspects to assessing market suitability: market analysis (pursued first) and operational elements, particularly human resources (pursued second).
Our approach to market suitability is quite simple. We consider:
- Size of the market
- Possible appetite for our product
- Relevant Google search volumes
- Competitors bidding on the same key words
Our approach to the operational elements is similarly straightforward. We need to find an appropriate country manager and early team. We won’t expand until we are sure we have the right person in place to lead the market. It’s worth taking time to execute the right hire.
We will often have several market options on the table at a given time- the personnel decision dictates the order and priority of the market entry.
3. How has your approach to expansion evolved in time?
Given that GS is an Austrian company (bordering and sharing a language and time zone with Germany), we were able to start working in and serving customers in Germany quite early in our journey.
We then sought to capitalise on the team’s presence in social media groups of French people living in Vienna, utilising our existing connections, so that GS could begin expanding to France. This was made easier by GS’s Chief Growth Officer being French and having grown up in France, particularly on the HR front, as we were able to secure a high number of quality applications for relevant roles in a short period. We were able to use a similar approach to launch Spain.
When you’re first launching your business in new markets, it’s very easy to hire relatively young, junior, inexperienced team members. Companies should focus on hiring more experienced, senior people. Entering a market is difficult- there is so much you need to learn to successfully enter a market, including good understanding and knowledge of necessary product localisations.
With this in mind, we now exclusively head hunt people at Team Leader level and above.
With or without head hunters, a good place to start looking for this talent is in high growth companies in the new market you’re seeking to enter- not only will they have experience working in a high growth company, they will be used to working towards and achieving high growth targets (of around 30% month over month). Country managers oversee the local sales team, so familiarity with sales targets is a priority.
4. How do you approach setting up in the new market?
When setting up in a new market for the first time, you need to consider whether you want to be a centralised company or a decentralised company.
Are you setting up a new company in the new market? Or are you localising a strong core that remains in the central company in the home market? This can dictate your early hires. GS focuses on a strong, centralised structure that we roll out to the new markets.
With this in mind, we focus on hiring someone that can be a country manager, head of sales and head of culture all in one, so that we can maintain as much of what works for us in Austria and elsewhere as possible.
5. If you were about to expand for the first time again, what 3 pieces of advice would you give yourself?
3 things I would tell myself are:
Make sure your first hires are a strong cultural fit with your organisation
Hire senior talent for new markets as early as possible. Prioritise seniority and experience.
Over-hire rather than under-hire in the early period so that you end up with the appropriate talent in each market