How to Build a Global Brand (the journey from a local company to a 7-figure global agency)?
Everywhere you look there is a digital agency that is offering web and app design services at dirt-cheap costs. It's one of the most competitive industries, and yet, we have been successfully helping our clients for almost 20 years.
Let me share my story of building a global brand from scratch, beating the competitors, and sustaining in the business for two decades with no outside investment. Take it as a blueprint for people who want to start their own company or go global.
- From zero to a multimillion-dollar company
- From local clients to global clients
- From $200 dollars worth of projects to $500,000 dollars worth of projects
- From a teenage dream to a globally respected agency
- From one room to an award-winning 3 story building
- From “it looks good” digital services to “we get more customers” digital services
- From Bratislava to San Francisco and New York
It all started 20 years ago. In the early '00s, I was designing HTML and Flash websites for small local businesses. I was just 14 years old but I had enough courage to sell my skills. I was visualizing myself in a beautiful office and dreaming of working with global brands. That's where it all started – in my mind. The Slovak market was not large enough for a global-minded teenager like me. Since the early days, my dream was to build a global design agency.
Today, PLATFORM is a globally respected design agency working with brands like BMW, Spotify, Mattel, Avon, HP, and dozens of other companies across the globe. PLATFORM runs its own award-winning co-working space PLATFORM House and it's building a game-changing digital product QUAN (coming soon) with one of the best drummers in the world.
From those early days to the present, web design has taken a long journey, and yet, PLATFORM is still helping our clients grow. We are not flunky freelancers designing colorful pixels, we are a consultancy company helping our clients succeed.
Please, let me share just a few success stories from the last few years:
- Our client Tatra Bank was recognized as the most innovative digital bank in the world among 300 participating banks from around the world after a complete revamp of their digital presence including hundreds of web pages, internet banking and other apps
- Our client Caribu was named one of the “Best 100 Inventions of 2019” by Times magazine and “Best of 2020 App” by App Store after a successful app redesign
- Our client Careem NOW was acquired by Uber soon after a successful app redesign
- We've helped startups around the globe win pitches and secure millions from investors thanks to our unique process of building MVPs
Thanks to my amazing team, we were named as Global Leader in UX Design based on verified client feedback two years in a row. Just sayin'!
An entrepreneur's life is never a joyride. Each phase is filled with obstacles, pushing your spirit to lie low or die completely.
For the record, there are many phases in an entrepreneur's life and it is never a joyride. Each phase is filled with obstacles, pushing your spirit to lie low or die completely. You will experience a lot of bumps along the way. The easiest way is to succumb to failures. The other way is very tough and you will need to sustain many turbulent times and keep moving. Upon reaching a certain level of success, there will almost certainly be haters that enter your life. Haters may simply talk about you behind your back, but they might also try to stop your success. Running into these toxic people (sometimes people you were close to) is inevitable as an entrepreneur. Again, one way is to let them affect you and the other way is to take advantage of the situation. In my case, haters always motivate me. It's a great feeling to prove them wrong.
Most of us have probably dreamed of starting a company and building a successful business. If you want to follow your dreams, you have to say no to all the alternatives. Your dreams are why you wake up in the morning and try again. Unfortunately, most people don’t follow their dreams simply because they are afraid of failing.
Take this as a blueprint for people who want to start their own company or go global with their products and services. I hope this will help you to follow your dreams and turn your ideas into a successful business.
Step 1 – Dream big and visualize (science approves it)
Have you ever dreamed that you will be one of the best in your field? Have you ever thought that one day your business will go global? Have you ever dreamed that your product will be used by millions of people? If your answer is a yes, then you are dreaming big! That's great and it's very important. Dreams serve as a driving force. Especially when you don’t get much motivation from the people around you. Dreams give you a constant flow of motivation.
In addition to physically working to make your dream a reality, mental preparation is equally important. You need to keep visualizing and dreaming. When I was a teenager, I didn't know how important this is. Fortunately, I was dreaming and visualizing all the time. I was dreaming of working with two leading agencies from the U.S. Guess what! Both are on our list of clients. I was visualizing myself in a beautiful office with a slide. Guess what! I have a slide in an award-winning office. I was dreaming of collaborating with specific people on the other side of the world. Guess what! I collaborate with them. I don't want to brag, I just want to tell you that the power of visualization and imagination is unbelievable. I can share plenty of similar examples but let's not go off-topic.
Your thoughts are energy, your words are energy, and your actions are energy. As you bring more energy to any thought, any conversation, and any action, you increase the chances that something will happen. Something you always wanted. Again, keep dreaming and visualizing. It's one of the most important and powerful things.
Even science proves it. It has been shown that the torsion field couples to consciousness. It is a higher dimensional field that can produce stable energy forms without the need for matter. These fields explain many kinds of “spiritual” phenomena ignored so far by mainstream physics. It appears to be the missing ingredient that makes it possible to develop a true science of consciousness and understand the nature of life. I strongly recommend you to learn more about Dr. Gennady Shipov (Director of the Science Center of Physics of Vacuum, Moscow, Russia) and his works.
Shoot for the moon. Work your way up from the ground rather than waiting for a mythical rocket to take you for a ride. Believe in yourself. Don't listen to people who never followed their dreams. Your dreams are there for a reason. There are hundreds and thousands of examples of people succeeding and making their dreams happen, seemingly against all odds. These are the people you want to be listening to.
Step 2 – From dreams to goals (write it down)
Ok, so you have a dream and you believe in yourself. That's amazing! But if you want to actually accomplish that dream, you need to physically work on it. Write it down. It will serve as a map that gets you there. How many of your dreams have you actually written down? How many of your goals have you written down? The act of putting something into words on paper is very powerful. I write down my dreams and goals daily. Yes, every day. It's an essential part of my 5AM morning routine. Let's call it a life hack that makes life much easier.
However, most people have no clear focus for their day. They haven’t written down any goals so they easily forget what is important. Furthermore, most people are addicted to their phones. They get distracted so easily. Rather than being clear and focused on goal achievement, they scroll through their social feeds 100x per day. They are stuck in distractions. You can dominate your domain or you can be playing with your phone all day long. You can't do both.
Create your map. If you don't know what you want, or where you want to go, you’ll lack direction. Lack of direction means lack of focus. Writing things down enables a higher level of thinking, and therefore, more focused action. Writing things down can help your brain prioritize what you should focus on. When you see something clearly on paper it creates change in how you act. Writing goals on a daily basis is magical. It will change your life.
Start with goals that are challenging, but achievable. Accomplishing a dream can take years or even a lifetime and you can easily lose motivation. Make it real. Shift your dream from something vague to a tangible goal. Break it up. Once you have a real goal in mind, break it up again. Yearly goals can be broken down into smaller goals or actionable steps.
I'm following the 90/90/1 rule by Robin Sharma and it's helping me to accomplish my goals 10x faster. I devote the first 90 minutes of my workday to the one best opportunity in my life. Nothing else. Zero distractions. Just trying to get that project done. Period.
Step 3 – From goals to an actionable business plan
Novice entrepreneurs often do not understand the significance of the business models. A business plan is essential if you're thinking of starting a business, but it's also an important tool for established businesses. Review your business model before you go global.
In the last two decades, the industry I work in has changed significantly – both in terms of design and functionality, as well as its deeper role in modern society. Reviewing the business plan helped PLATFORM to sustain itself in the business for two decades and still offer world-class services.
A basic business model helps you figure out very important things such as:
- what problem are you solving for whom;
- how you will create customer value;
- how your product or service will get to customers;
- how your business will stay competitive;
- and all revenue and costs you can anticipate.
The easiest way to write down your business plan is to use the Lean Canvas method. Using the Lean Canvas method, you can identify your core business offering, competitive advantages and customers. With those insights, you can form a concrete view of your business’s plan. Lean Canvas is utilized to validate your ideas and concepts. Companies often add more sophisticated business exercises when they have validated the business.
Start or review the problem your company is trying to solve. Review it again. Do not focus on the solution too much. Starting with a solution is like building a key without knowing what door you want to open. You will end up trying many keys on lots of doors. What if you start with the door you want to open? Look at things in the most simplistic way. What problem do your customers have? Have you ever been in their position? Do you understand the problem? Do you have the right solution? Customers are results or outcome-driven. The obstacles or problems getting in the way of achieving their desired outcome are where you’ll find space for innovation.
Another important thing is your unique value proposition or unique selling point. It is a key marketing tool that differentiates you from other companies. It clearly tells your potential customers how they will benefit from your offering. It is often the first thing a potential customer or client reads when they arrive at your website.
Uber's value proposition: One tap and a car comes directly to you. Your driver knows exactly where to go. Payment is completely cashless.
Step 4 – Find your niche and become the best
Before you go global, you should stand out on a local market. For most companies, competition is intense, so finding your niche is vital to stand out. You can then focus on a smaller audience that’s interested in what you offer. You will quickly gain more experience in that specific field. You will be able to build a strong portfolio faster. In the end, you will have a better offering and easily become a true master.
Narrowing down on specific skill sets allows you to significantly improve your skills, knowledge and become a master of your craft.
Finding your niche can speed up everything. In the beginning, we were a full-service marketing agency. It was hard to stand out and even harder to beat our competitors. It would be impossible to compete with marketing agencies on a global scale. So I decided to change our business model to a digital design agency. I loved designing so it was very easy to identify my interests and passions. Suddenly, everything was much easier. Narrowing down on specific skill sets allowed me to significantly improve my skills, knowledge and become a master of my craft. We gained more experience, learned a lot, and quickly built a strong portfolio.
How should you spend your time in order to be the best in your field? Hard to say. Different disciplines require different types of practice. The practice required to be the best drummer is different from the practice required to be the best martial artist and different from the practice required to be the best designer. In summary, the more you do the same thing, the faster you do it, the better you do it and the less it costs to do it.
But I still think there are three key areas in which you should spend your time if you want to be the best at something. They are highly related, and all three are required.
Educate yourself daily
You need to constantly educate yourself and understand as much as possible about your field. But don't get stuck in one topic. Broaden your perspective as much as you can. I mean all kinds of non-fiction books like autobiographies, leadership books, business books, science books, history books, etc. You may want to explore the "syntopic reading" strategy – reading a few books simultaneously. It will help you capture multiple and diverse perspectives and let your brain absorb knowledge across different topics. Write notes at the end of each chapter and try to make it personal if possible. Don't just read, study the topics.
I read about 30 books per year and listen to a ton of great audiobooks. It gives my eyes a rest without stopping educating myself. Becoming a student for at least 30 minutes per day is another essential part of my 5AM morning routine.
Note: People spend hours consuming news because they want to be well informed. But is that time well spent? News is, by definition, something that doesn’t last. And as news has become easier to distribute and cheaper to produce, the quality has decreased. News misleads. News is irrelevant. News is toxic to your body. News increases cognitive errors. News inhibits thinking. News wastes time. News kills creativity. Stop consuming it altogether! Instead of consuming news, shift your time and energy to time-tested books.
Knowing is not enough. You must put to practice what you learned. If you are a drummer, you must also play drums - a lot. It's not enough to know just music theory. Through practice, you build skills. Also, you are building muscle memory and brain capacity.
Designing websites and later apps was my passion. I loved the creative process. I was designing stuff all of my free time. When I finished school, I continued designing all day, all night. Often, I've put in more than 80 hours of work every week. My peers had parties and lots of entertainment. I was practicing every possible minute of the day.
Today, I still work hard. But it's less about working 24-7. It's more about working really hard when I work and then taking the time to recover and rest. Most days, I start working at 6AM when others are still sleeping. I work without any disruption until 12PM (sometimes 3PM) when I get my first meal of the day (intermittent fasting). Most people interrupt the first half of the day with breakfast, 3x coffee breaks, a few small talks, a heavy lunch, another coffee break, and checking their social feed. Who is more productive?
I recommend you to work in cycles. Work really hard, especially in the morning. But it's very important to take a weekend off. Every month, try to take at least a few days off. It's called the method of the High Excellent Cycle and the Deep Recovery Cycle.
Once you reach a certain level of skill in your field, start teaching others. It should happen long before you become one of the best. Teaching forces you to learn even more, and build more experience. Teaching does not only happen in the classroom. Write articles, become a speaker, write books or record educational videos. Teaching helps others become better, not only you.
Beyond the improvement in ability to learn the material, you improve communication skills, increase confidence, and improve leadership ability. Do you have something valuable to share? Share it with others.
Step 5 – Going global
Going global can be the next step to great success for your company. A lot of companies have massively increased their profits when they've started offering their products or services globally. It’s not something you can do overnight but if you have an established and stable company, you should definitely consider it. If your company has a unique product, unique service or any technological advantage not available to international competitors then going global should result in major business success abroad.
Going global was one of the smartest and most profitable moves I've ever made. It helped me to increase sales, gather new knowledge and most importantly, significantly increase profits.
But global expansion comes with its own unique set of obstacles. Between establishing a customer base, learning new laws and regulations, finding trustworthy partners, translating all your marketing and sales materials, becoming familiar with the local customs, the road to becoming a global brand is not easy to navigate.
Before you decide to make this step, you should consider these things:
Understand local person's perspective
As you can expect there are differences in laws, so hiring a local lawyer and accountant is a must. There are differences in language, so you would probably want to hire a translator. Not the best idea. I recommend finding a native speaker from your field and work with a local person's perspective to better understand the market. I worked closely with people from San Francisco or New York to prepare all our marketing and sales materials. To be honest, any translation was a disaster,
Our clients are located in San Francisco, New York, Texas, Portland, London, Edinburgh, Dubai, Qatar, Melbourne, Berlin, Vienna, Chennai and Slovakia to name a few. Just as you expect differences in residents of California, the Midwest and New York, you need to understand the nuances between Edinburgh, Melbourne and London. The differences in communication, customs or expectations between the UK and Dubai are huge.
Understanding a country's culture is a sign of respect. It also helps to foster effective communication, a vital factor in business success. If your company plans to expand into international markets, it’s vital to understand and appreciate the culture of the people with whom you’ll be doing business.
Create a bulletproof unique value proposition
Why should they work with you? Why should they buy your product? What is your unique value proposition? What is the competitive advantage? It's not easy to persuade a foreign customer to trust your brand when a similar company is offering the same on the other side of the street. You need to have very good arguments. Again, having a strong unique value proposition will make everything much easier.
Small and midsize companies need to work harder to convince the international market that their brand is trustworthy and better than the competition next door.
Staying a little later or getting up a little earlier
Do you want to manage people in multiple time zones? Do you want to have clients on the other side of the world? Then you need to adjust your work schedule. I think some people will be happy to sacrifice staying a little later or getting up a little earlier to accomplish their dream. Staying up a bit late or getting up an hour earlier isn't a bad tradeoff for work you love. But how about 3AM?
Staying up a bit late or getting up an hour earlier isn't a bad tradeoff for work you love.
Working with clients from different time zones is not easy. For many years, I needed to wake up early to catch our client from Australia or stay in the office until midnight so we don't miss the opportunity in San Francisco. I was younger but some days were really crazy and I was feeling exhausted. I would not recommend this to anyone. But even still, if you want to work with brands and people across the globe, you need to accept a time shift. You will need to take phone calls late in the evening from folks that don't realize you are on the other side of the planet.
If possible, give that part of the job to someone who is working (remotely) in the desired time zone. Can anyone else do the early morning calls? Can anyone else do the job required in the late evening? Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly. This can impair your cognitive abilities: to concentrate, think clearly, and process memories. Healthy sleep helps you to make better decisions. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy. Do not underestimate this. It almost killed me.
Find the right team members
Your competitors probably have more experience doing business in the new location than you have. Without a core team on your side with the necessary cultural, language and local business understanding, you'll be competitively disadvantaged. Working with someone local can help you communicate your company's unique selling point in a way that is meaningful to the local market. But hiring a country manager is very expensive. Especially if you are entering the U.S. market. An experienced manager from the U.S. can cost you 5-10 times more than someone from Central Europe. Are you willing to take the risk?
Find the right team members. It's very important because it can make you succeed or fail completely. I recommend you to follow the hiring tips from Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman: how to make better hiring decisions.
Expand your company, one country at a time
It’s important to establish your company in one country before moving to the next instead of expanding to multiple global locations at the same time. What works in the U.S., doesn't have to work in the UK. What works in New York doesn't have to work in Dubai. Your marketing campaign should be adjusted to every single location and every location needs its own marketing budget. Launching your marketing campaign in any new country will come at considerable costs. Not to mention operational expenses, including office rent and legal fees, can be extremely high, especially in big cities.
However, the high costs of living and working in major metropolitan cities shouldn’t surprise you. When you are physically operating in a new country for the first time, take advantage of coworking spaces, hire slowly and cut all the unnecessary costs.
There are many other important key success factors that can make an entrepreneur become a global entrepreneur. The willingness to take action, entrepreneurial creativity, persistence, the ability to work with other people, risk-taking, self-confidence, and many more. Thinking for yourself, looking at the world in new ways, and making new connections between things.
Lastly but most importantly, don't be a sheep! Be thoughtful, creative, aware, focused, and analyze data and make self-directed decisions based on facts, not the opinion of others.
Thank you for reading this article. I wish all the global-minded business owners good luck. Switching scenes to a global stage is an amazing journey. Enjoy it!