Business Abroad: How an Aussie Company Expanded Overseas

International sign post

Australians are known the world over for our friendly approach and strong work ethic as much as we are our love of travel. This goes some way in explaining how 120,000 Aussies are employed in the UK and a further 45,000 in the USA.

But as it turns out, it’s not just the Aussie people that international markets love; Australian products are also in demand around the world, with research by Stripe finding that 66% of online Australian businesses sell internationally.

According to Australia's 2019 International Business Survey, Australian exports are worth around $470billion and growing. SMEs account for 14% of Australia's exports, with the Export Council of Australia estimating that an increase in SME exports to 25% - in line with G7 countries – would raise GDP by $36billion.

These statistics certainly point to opportunities for Australian businesses overseas. But how do you go about securing them? We spoke with Corporate Traveller customer simPRO to find out how they got started in Australia and found success in far-reaching markets.

Steady growth on home soil

simPRO, which stands for Service Industry Management Professional, was established in Brisbane in 2002, and like all great software companies, it started in a garage. Co-founder Steve Bradshaw was an electrical contractor looking for a more cost-effective way to run his business and move away from paper-based workflows when he met software engineering student Vaughn McKillop. Together they created simPRO as a cloud-based, end-to-end operations management software for the trade services industry.

Their days of operating from a garage are well and truly behind them. Still, simPRO’s passion for helping businesses scale and optimise operations remains at the core of what they do, says Vice President of Finance Rhiza Lahoylahoy: “We help businesses of every size to streamline their operational processes, from estimating and invoicing, to project management and business reporting,” says Rhiza.

Listed among the most innovative companies in the Australian Financial Review’s annual list in 2018, simPRO’s growth has been strong.

“Our business is made sustainable based on one of our core values: ‘commercial’. We believe that achieving profitability is a balance of maintaining a high-quality and customer-centric approach and controlling cost. To do that we focus on people, process, partners and products, allowing us to expand the business all over Australia and overseas,” says Rhiza.

Entering international markets

According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the United States is Australia's third-largest trading partner, and it was here that simPRO found their international feet through foreign investment. In 2016, simPRO received $40million in growth capital from New York’s Level Equity, which allowed the company to expand into the Northern Hemisphere and add new industries into their verticals.

“We have always believed that simPRO could have a broad application in the international markets. We had a solid foundation here in Austalia, but the investment has really allowed us to take the business to the next level,” says Rhiza.

simPRO now has offices in the US, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, which all have unique economic landscapes and trading requirements to navigate.

“Working in international markets means adapting to new regulatory requirements, systems, currencies and taxes, and planning to expand a business overseas takes a lot of research and plenty of work on the ground. However, the opportunities that it has provided for our business as a whole are well worth the investment,” says Rhiza.

Finding success overseas

Expansion into international markets has become a vital factor to accelerate growth across the globe.

“We have seen our business move from strength to strength in overseas markets. The US and UK are larger markets than Australia, which affords us a lot of new exciting opportunities, but we are also reaping the benefits of expansion back home. A larger customer base means more input for our development teams in creating tools through our Ideas Portal and gives us fresh perspectives on the different challenges we are seeking to overcome for our customers. We’ve also been able to expand our reach and invest back in our people and processes,” says Rhiza.

And it's their people, culture and processes that have proven crucial to the success of simPRO’s global expansion.

“It would be easy to focus on the differences between our teams across the globe, but the reality is everyone who works for simPRO is passionate about supporting our customers with the most innovative tools. That passion is what makes us unique across the globe. We might be separated by thousands of kilometres, but we have a common commitment which is very gratifying,” says Rhiza.

Factor in the travel

When overseas operations start entering the equation, international travel is unavoidable, says Rhiza: “With four offices around the world, there is a high level of travel involved in simPRO’s operations.”

The company held strategic planning sessions in the United Kingdom in 2019, which involved coordinating the travel of the company’s global senior leadership team.

“As you can imagine it takes a lot of planning to get everyone in the one place. Corporate Traveller has made this process so much simpler by allowing us to maximise our resources and saved us a lot of time trying to coordinate transporting everyone from our global offices to London for the session. Being able to remove the worry about travel arrangements makes that process easier,” says Rhiza.

Looking to expand?

Rhiza’s advice is the do your research before taking the significant step.

“International expansion accelerates growth, offers diversification and delivers better returns. However, expanding too early may put the business at financial risk. Decision will always be dependent on financial and human resources, product readiness, availability of partners, country's culture, demographics and regulatory landscape.” says Rhiza.