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How Crowdsourcing App Tilt Is Approaching International Expansion

Tilt (formerly known as Crowdtilt), is a crowdfunding app that makes it easy for groups and communities to collect money from people. Like Kickstarter, people pledge an amount but the money is only collected if the goal is met. But Tilt focuses on a more personal and simple type of crowdfunding (they’ve gained the most traction with college students). Campaigns range “from things as profound as helping people in Nepal to as frivolous of a keg party,” says David Lee, one of Tilt’s investors.

Even though the crowdfunding space is crowded, Tilt is steadily growing and earlier this year raised $30 million at a $400 million valuation. They plan to use that wad of cash to ramp up their global expansion efforts.

In 2014, Tilt was available in the U.S. and Canada; as of fall 2015, they have expanded to include the UK, Australia, and the Netherlands. According to their AngelList profile they’re looking for a growth manager in France, which suggests they are building out a team for expansion there (and are nearly done—since they don’t have a French country manager position listed, it seems that they’ve already filled the position). Their former country manager for Canada, Tim Ryan, is now Head of International for the company. This all seems to signify that they are about to go after the rest of the world, hard and fast.

They launched in the UK in July 2015 and the company reports that it’s quickly gaining traction. What their international expansion comes down to is this: the problem that Tilt solves isn’t just present in the U.S. People have this problem everywhere and the market will continue to grow as more of the world comes online. James Beshara, cofounder and CEO, says, “The market is going to be massive. Full stop.” Tilt plans on riding that massive wave all around the world.

First mover advantage

The crowdfunding market is already big and crowded. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe are growing like crazy. Each product is marketing themselves as solutions to different kinds of problems. Of course, differentiating from your competition by strategic positioning is nothing new, and when it comes down to it any of these products could work for any use case.

That’s why first mover advantage can be a huge advantage in the space, and that’s why Tilt is so focused on international expansion. If they can be the first-to-market around the world they set up a situation where, when other competitors arrive, users will be hesitant to try a new product due to the switching cost: they’re already familiar with Tilt—why would they use a different product if it solves the same problem and isn’t significantly better?

An anonymous user on Quora put it well: “Tilt is looking to foreign markets for that first mover advantage. They think they can march into another country and basically outspend the local competition to grab market share and keep it from the established crowdfunding players.”

This is obviously speculation, but it’s a common strategy, and it works.

Having the right mindset

Something we stress in this blog and when talking to our potential and current customers is that to succeed with international expansion and localization you have to have the right mindset. You can’t just translate your website and be done with it. In an interview with TechCrunch, James mentions a quote by Jeff Bezos: “We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.”

That’s the approach Tilt is taking when preparing to launch in new countries. As James said, there are different nuances in every culture. They are approaching each company with eyes wide open.

At Unbabel we’ve found that that’s the most important thing to keep in mind when looking to expand beyond familiar territory.

Tilt found that even between the U.S. and Canada there were differences in how people used the product.

“Canadians culturally are quite a bit more utilitarian, more conservative, more practical in some ways. We have to get people used to the service in small bites. Once they get used to it, every subsequent total will be bigger and more people will be involved. We start by focusing on the seemingly boring things, like students getting groceries and people getting cable bills.” – Tim Ryan

Putting the mindset to work

This open minded way of looking at new cultures works its way into every facet of a company—or it should, in a perfect world. But it’s not always that easy. Tilt has a big challenge ahead of them to prepare their teams for globalization.

Marketing needs to know how the target market differs and adjust their message to reflect that. Customer service should offer support in a user’s native language.

Copy should make a serious effort to sound natural and not like something that was run through Google Translate and quickly double checked by a bilingual employee. Partly because you get bad writing that way. And partly because no machine translation creates content that sounds like real live human communication, with slang and abbreviations and grammar shortcuts and all of the natural aspects of real communication. (That’s where Unbabel comes in, by the way.)

Their product team needs to take these cultural differences into account as well. People are different. We interact with apps in different ways—even within our own society. But those differences are significantly more marked when spanning cultural gaps. Something inherently obvious to an American user may not make sense to users from other parts of the world.. Or parts of your product may even be alienating to users, which can signal to them that you don’t care about them.

The Facebook notification icon is a great example of that. For years the icon was an image of the planet that showed the Americas. People at Facebook didn’t really think twice about it—why would they? They grew up with that view of the world, and that’s how they perceive it. It’s one of those things that’s so small it’s almost impossible to notice.

Billions of people were excluded from that image and eventually someone at Facebook noticed. They designed two additional notification icons based on your current location: one showing Europe and Africa, and the other showing Asia.

Pretty cool, right? The great thing about this is that it’s a tiny change. It didn’t cost Facebook much money but it signals to users that Facebook cares about them, that Facebook is truly a global product and they appreciate their users from all over the world. This win was as simple as someone at Facebook looking around with an open mind and a thoughtfulness about other types of people.

Mobile

Tilt, like everyone else, has been focusing on improving their mobile experience. While this is important everywhere, it’s especially important in the many, many places around the world where people interact with the internet solely through their mobile phones. This segment will only grow, because of two things:

  1. People abandoning desktop and laptop computers for mobile devices. I read the other day that Oprah hasn’t used a computer in 3 years—she just uses her iPad. Oprah is an extreme example, sure, but she is just part of a larger trend spanning socio-economic groups of people.
  1. People in developing countries coming online for the first time, which nearly all of the time is via a mobile device.

The experience on mobile has to be simple and quick. No one wants to go through a bunch of steps to send some money. It’s already hard enough to part with our money, am I right? Tilt wants to be the best crowdfunding product on mobile, period. If they get it right, it’ll pave the way for future success in their plan for world domination (uh, I mean global expansion).

Conclusion

As James sees it, “A startup has to do two things to scale internationally: solve a problem for the user and solve a problem for distribution.” After all, solving a problem is what sets a crappy startup apart from a great one. Everyone, regardless of where they live, likes it when their problems are solved. Obviously. If Tilt focuses on solving culturally-specific problems with empathy they will succeed internationally. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

 

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