Geographical expansion of a startup is always a key and exciting process where uncertainties are high and usually brings a lot of pressure. When opening our first home in Germany in January 2020 as a web developer in the technical team of Colonies, I was surprised by the few resources available on this topic in the field of web project management.

Since this process can be common and critical for a startup, I decided to share the lessons I learned from this experience to help anyone facing similar challenges.

Geographical expansion of a startup is always a key and exciting process where uncertainties are high and usually brings a lot of pressure. When opening our first home in Germany in January 2020 as a web developer in the technical team of Colonies, I was surprised by the few resources available on this topic in the field of web project management.

Since this process can be common and critical for a startup, I decided to share the lessons I learned from this experience to help anyone facing similar challenges.

1/ WHEN FACED WITH UNCERTAINTY, MAKE QUICK, SIMPLE AND REVERSIBLE DECISIONS.

Opening a new country means uncertainty on the commercial side and therefore also on the technical side. For example, opening a holiday camp in Germany meant that the company had to use a new type of business model, which required learning and automating new processes. As web developers, we didn't know how far we should take this automation. We had to find a balance between complete change and rapid adaptation to make it work.

As a web developer, a complete change seems attractive as it will allow you to have a cleaner and more efficient system, even if it means more work. However, in this case we did not know if this new business model would be needed again in the future, so the uncertainties were very high. We therefore decided to follow the principle [YAGNI] ([https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_aren't_gonna_need_it](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_aren't_gonna_need_it)) ("You Ain't Going to Need It") and implement a rapid and reversible adaptation of our system to make it work.

I can't say how grateful I am to have made this decision. At the moment, the new business model only applies to 10% of our tenants and we have not opened any other houses in Germany so far.

Reflecting on this experience a few weeks ago, Simon, our Technical Director, shared with us [this excellent article](https://blackboxofpm.com/making-good-decisions-as-a-product-manager-c66ddacc9e2b) which supports this way of dealing with uncertainty.

2/ DO NOT TAKE COMPLIANCE FOR GRANTED AND CHECK THE LEGAL REQUIREMENTS THOROUGHLY.

In Germany, as a landlord, you cannot mix your tenants' deposit with your company's cash. This means that for each tenant you have to open an escrow account.

This simple legal requirement makes the changes we had to make to our system in order to open a summer camp in Germany very complex. Fortunately, we discovered this requirement before we expanded and were able to find a viable and scalable solution.

My point here is that you should not underestimate legal compliance when launching a product in a new country and you should be proactive about it. It could well save you time and money!

3/ FIND OUT HOW LOCAL COMPETITORS SOLVE THE PROBLEMS YOU FACE AND BUILD STRONG RELATIONSHIPS WITH LOCAL PARTNERS**.

For our deposit management problem described above, we needed a system that could provide a platform for rapid implementation and at the same time offer an API to automate the creation of deposit accounts to support future growth.

None of the proposed solutions seemed to meet our needs. However, we ended up checking how competitors were solving this problem. That's how we discovered [Mietwise](https://www.mietwise.com/landlords): a German-based platform that offers online management of rental deposits.

However, we didn't want to compromise on the digital experience we offer our tenants and we didn't see a way to automate our offering on a large scale. By simply getting in touch with Mietwise customer support, we learned that they were building an API and were open to adapting their platform to our needs to ensure a smooth customer experience. After a bit of man-to-man communication, we ended up asking them to modify their platform to suit our use case.

And that was it! By simply checking out our local competitors and proactively contacting a supplier, we were able to resolve a complex situation that could have limited our future growth. In general, web developers tend to take what is online for granted and not contact the service they are looking for. The more I work, the more I think this is a mistake, because you learn a lot from talking to customer support.

4/ HAVE TOTAL CLARITY

The opening of a holiday home in Germany was a project for us that spanned several months, with a lot of complexity, changing information and new tasks discovered along the way.

We were very excited about opening this new shared house, but the further along we got, the more complicated things became. We kept asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Who is responsible for all this?
  • What remains to be done about it?
  • Who should I contact in the company to obtain this information?
  • Are the members of the other teams in line with our current vision of expansion?

To address this, we have put in place the following actions:

  • Designation of a person in our team in charge of the project.
  • Centralised information on a Slack channel which also made it accessible to all stakeholders.
  • Definition of all tasks in a Trello board in addition to our existing project management tools. This board was dedicated to the project and allowed us to assign related tasks and track the progress of the project.
  • Identification of formal and informal stakeholders in other teams.

Please note that these actions were appropriate for this particular problem, but may not be appropriate for others. The main objective is that all stakeholders have a clear vision of the problems to be solved. How you achieve this is not very important.

Conclusion

We hope that these few key points will help you in your own expansion project. Remember that it is rare to get it right first time and that it all depends on what you learn from the experience. The completion of this project has helped us a lot in other long-term projects.

Lionel Debauge is a Ruby on rails developer at Colonies.

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Colonies