- Aspiration-level performance model
- Early internationalization
- First-time exporting SME
- Internationalization process
- Late internationalization
- Social and historical aspirations
This article aims to determine whether pre-internationalization conditions improve the performance of first-time exporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Two pre-internationalization conditions are discussed here: firm performance and age at internationalization. Building on the aspiration-level performance model of March and Shapira (1992) with sequential internationalization and international new-ventures approaches, this article develops two research hypotheses proposing an effective alignment with pre-internationalization performance and age at internationalization. These research hypotheses are examined using a panel database of 522 French SMEs that began export operations for the first time in 2014. The statistical results partially support our first hypothesis by showing that early-internationalizing SMEs with a lower performance relative to their peers significantly increase their post-internationalization performance. Contrary to what we predicted in our second hypothesis, we observe that late-internationalizing SMEs, which deliver a much higher performance than their historical aspirations, significantly reduce their post-internationalization performance.