Social Playground founder, Annabelle Smith

Social Playground’s five lessons from international expansion

Kate Jones

It’s inevitable - fast growing start-ups will need to spread their wings overseas. This was the case for Social Playground – the company best known for introducing live Instagram printers to Australia. This start-up recently expanded to 10 new countries in less than six months, bringing their total international portfolio to 16 countries.

Social Playground specialises in bringing their photobooth software technology to corporate events, including this year’s Australian Open, and private events such as weddings. The popularity of their products, including a GifGif Booth and branded selfies, saw Social Playground’s revenue shoot to $330,000 in its first year. Projections for the third year are now at $1.5 million.

Naturally – leaping into the fast-lane of the start-up world has taught founder Annabelle Smith some invaluable lessons. She shares her top five here:

Research the market

“We closely watch the trends for Instagram usage and the emerging markets where consumers are adopting Instagram at a fast rate,” she says.

“These markets demonstrate an opportunity for us to find a partner and introduce something new to the market as Instagram demand increases.”

Research the competition

“Are there any established brands in the market? Are any potential partners going to struggle to establish themselves and compete against these other companies?” Smith says.

“Markets that have never experienced the product before represent the best opportunity.”

Not everyone is a suitable partner

“While it may be tempting to say yes to every partner who approaches you, there is a lot of work involved in getting your product in the hands of your partner and getting them trained on how it all works,” she says.

“Are they going to be worth this investment and will they have the time and experience to be successful?”

Setting up a local office is costly

“While some markets may offer such a great opportunity that it's worth setting up shop locally, it’s an expensive exercise and you need to capital and cash flow to really invest,” Smith says.

“There will be lots of trips to the market - sourcing office spaces, meeting with recruiters, signing bank forms, researching competition.

“All of these things take time and money, plus it’s a foreign market. This has to be weighed up against bringing on a partner who has the local expertise and connections to hit the ground running.”

Get used to evening Skype calls

“With Australia's time zone, evening Skype calls become the norm,” she says.

“Be prepared to put in the hours to answer questions or troubleshoot technical issues at all hours of the clock.”

Kate Jones

Kate Jones writes for the business and money sections of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. She also writes for The New Daily, TAC, RMIT and is a news writing tutor at Monash University.

Check out our range of content to help you deal with fast growth in the start-up phase, or even if you’re looking to find out when the time is right to expand, here or overseas. There’s plenty of advice to help you decide how to go the best way about it.