This study analyzes how exporters begin their internationalization leveraging information collected through interviews with 109 Chinese textile manufacturers. It examines whether firms that found their first international clients through a “proactive” search are likely to export faster, more intensively, and to a larger number of markets. The findings illustrate that the proactiveness of the search for the first client in a foreign market is an important predictor of the intensity and geographic scope of the firm's internationalization path but not of its speed. They support the view of internationalization as an actively pursued entrepreneurial process, which may also be affected by serendipitous events. This study provides new evidence on the first international business discovery of Chinese exporters, contributing to the literature on international entrepreneurship, international new ventures and the network approach to internationalization.