International Strategy as a Startup: Master Thesis by Oliver Wick


How do start-ups with scarce resources internationalise their business? This is a difficult, however very important, topic for startups to discuss.

Oliver was working on this question together with FASHION CLOUD for the past 8 months for his final master thesis. In continuous cooperation with the FASHION CLOUD team and Oliver’s university, scientific literature was reviewed, best practices were drawn from other startups, and therefore conclusions for specific strategies were able to be developed and potential new markets researched. Given all this research, Oliver was able to make recommendations regarding the process of internationalisation for FASHION CLOUD.

FASHION CLOUD, a young startup, faced the topic of internationalisation soon after officially launching its platform in January. On the brand side, customers that were already operating in several foreign markets requested the service of FASHION CLOUD for all of their retailers around Europe. Since FASHION CLOUD is a young startup, resources are scarce and thus strategic decisions need to be made carefully considered.

Startup Developement

First of all, the business model of FASHION CLOUD was examined and the specific characteristics selected to create a categorization cluster. Based on this cluster, scientific literature was researched and other startups were interviewed to learn about internationalisation patterns of startups that are in the same cluster, in other words a similar type of business, as FASHION CLOUD. These findings were then processed to general recommendations and specific strategies. The three most important learnings are:

  1. Business customers require a longer sales period before signing contracts since often the deals are larger and they want to feel confident about where they spend company resources. This fact limits the pace of internationalisation. Moreover, business customers on the whole prefer a face-to-face contact in their own language which requires the developemt of a team and sales personnel in the targeted country.
  2. Business models like FASHION CLOUD can benefit from the platform effects. Traction on the brand side will automatically lead to traction on the retailer side and vice versa. Being aware of these advantages and exploit them will accelerate the growth abroad.
  3. A structured approach is essential. Startups that only answer requests from abroad seem not to be as successful as startups that target and enter countries with specific strategies. These strategies need to be tailored to each market and its conditions.

FASHION CLOUD is now offering its platform in over a dozen European countries. Furthermore, the plan is to target further European markets in the next year. The learnings from the master thesis will be considered in order to ensure a successful internationalisation in 2017.