Early internationalization is critical for a firm’s growth, maturation, and profit. Yet early internationalization is also risky due to the dual liabilities of newness and foreignness. However, academic findings about early internationalization rest on an important yet untested assumption: that the factors that explain new venture internationalization after the fact influence the entrepreneurs’ decisions before the outcomes are known. To address these limitations, we develop a model of the cognitive processes that drive entrepreneurs’ early internationalization decisions.

We draw from decision-making theory to propose that when entrepreneurs consider whether and when to internationalize their ventures, they make comparisons between potential international opportunities. Contemporary research on similarity judgment highlights three cognitive outputs of the comparison processes: commonalities, alignable differences, and nonalignable differences.