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Lessons Learned From Launching Internationally

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Bonjour, Ola, Hallo, Hola! This year, Trello went international. People around the world can now use Trello in Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, German and French.

Behind the scenes, launching internationally was a huge technical and marketing challenge. Before we actually launched, we decided to test a few different launch strategies with three initial languages. The idea was to see what we could learn about localization strategy and growth that could be applied in future launches.

Historically, Trello has grown almost 100% organically to reach ten million users.  With this in mind,  we wondered how we could encourage that level of organic growth in new markets. Here were our initial tests:

  • Brazil: Do as much of a marketing and PR launch as possible without having an actual physical presence.
  • Germany: Do some PR through our existing US based PR firm and market to the business community.
  • Spain: Control group. Localize in Spanish but don’t do any marketing or PR.  

The idea for having a control group was to see if just having the local language available would spur organic growth through word of mouth.

These initial strategies came out of talking to locals in each market as well as companies who had launched internationally and were willing to share their battle stories.  In forming our plan, our primary goal was to foment and support organic growth, rather than do paid acquisition of international users (hey, we’re still a startup).

Here’s what we learned:

Talk To Your Users

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Trello has users in just about every country in the world (excluding a few tiny island nations —   we’re looking at you, Tuvalu). We started by sending a survey to Trello users in each country we planned to localize. We asked them questions like:

  • How did you hear about Trello?
  • What do you use Trello for at work?
  • What do you use Trello for at home?

With the surveys, we learned about Trello use in each respective country as well as shared the news that Trello was launching...soon. This way we started to build momentum around the launch.

We saw clear differences in responses by country. For example, people in Brazil used Trello 40% for consumer use cases while Germany was 90% business. With this data in hand, we reached out to individual Trello users to get a clearer picture.

While there were definitely differences country by country, we were surprised at the magnitude of similarity. Developers tend to be early adopters of Trello everywhere we asked. This is not surprising considering that kanban is more of an established framework in the technical world and developers are accustomed to using non-localized software.

Internationalize By Country, Not Language

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One thing we learned early on was to localize by country rather than language. While languages are mostly similar from country to country, marketing is important to do on a per country basis.

Not surprisingly, in our control country of Spain, there was no shift in user growth when Spanish became a language setting option. Just having the product available in the local language did not spur organic growth.

In Brazil, we did a whole campaign around Brazil being the first international launch country for Trello, and the local news media really appreciated the gesture. We also made sure that our marketing was “tropicalized,” a term we heard over and over as a way to know something was Brazilian.

This was also a key point in designing marketing materials by country. Our choice of colors and themes was instructed by local preferences that really made the launch feel personalized. You can see Taco, our world traveling spokes-Husky, shown in Brazil, France, and German marketing materials below to see the difference.

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L-R: Marketing materials depicting Taco in France, Brazil, and Germany

Local Relationships Are Key

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There was only so much I could do sitting in my office in Chicago to get people in Germany and Brazil excited about Trello. Getting connected to the right people in each country proved to be crucial in determining outcomes.

In Brazil, we met Alexia, a French expat who helped international companies launch in Brazil. Alexia seemed to know just about everyone in the tech and startup community, and things were just easier to execute.

A local Brazilian PR firm did outreach “Brazilian style,” which meant sending stuffed Taco dogs to Brazilian reporters as part of our outreach, and hosting an event with local reporters. We generated over 100 publications writing about Trello’s launch with this strategy.

Local users also played a big role in getting the word out about Trello’s launch. We incentivized existing users to share the news about Trello being available natively with localized email campaigns and free Trello Gold for those who shared on social media.

Localize Your Localization Strategy

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Launching internationally meant dealing with the quirks and cultural differences in each locale. In Germany, we had a stronger focus on Trello’s security and privacy policies, which is paramount for users. Our German marketing materials featured a deeper dive into those areas than any other country. In Brazil, we played up Taco as our mascot in our marketing materials because Brazilians have an appreciation for light hearted mascot fun.

We also had to be flexible when it came to marketing efforts and requests for information. In Brazil, interviews would get scheduled and rescheduled multiple times and in Germany, we abandoned the idea of incorporating social media since our research showed the German proclivity towards privacy meant people aren’t as active as other countries on social networks.

Language Alone Will Not Growth Make

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In our control country there was no shift in user growth when Spanish became a language setting option. In Germany we were featured in a few top business publications and saw a modest bump in user signups, but nothing crazy.

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In Brazil on the other hand, we doubled our user growth over the launch period.  As part of our launch in Brazil we also experimented with providing localized content on a Brazilian blog as well as newsletters, which we continue to do due to their popularity. The mantra of “you get out of it what you put into it” definitely rang true.

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Another interesting side effect of our successful launch in Brazil was an uptick in signups from other Latin American countries. We saw increased signups in Argentina, Chile, and Colombia, potentially due to network effects and the connected nature of Latin Americans across the region.

We applied these learnings to our launch in France last month, and we’re seeing encouraging results. For France, we hired a local PR firm and had a physical presence at over 30 events in the last couple of months. We’re seeing growth take off in France similar to that in Brazil.

These initial launches have informed our international growth strategy, and we’re excited to continue growing Trello all over the world.

Stay tuned for our next blog post about international expansion with advice on how to build a successful crowdsourcing campaign!