William Newton, president and EMEA MD at WiredScore, which recently expanded to France, Ireland and Germany, shares his top tips for expanding a startup across Europe.
There’s no doubt that, for many startups, since Brexit there’s been a big question mark over Europe and how British companies will operate on the continent once the negotiations have finished. But despite the uncertainty, Europe remains a fantastic and critical area for growth for an ambitious British company.
So, what would I recommend to a startup looking to expand into the European market? Here are my top tips:
1. Hire the best people you can
It goes without saying, but ultimately, when you’re expanding your company into new regions, you need somebody you can trust. I think there are two options: send out a trusted lieutenant; or hire someone new from that country. If you go for the latter approach it’s really important to first bring the person to your home office to learn the ropes and get a feel for the business. This is crucial to make sure that, beyond running your operations and selling your products in a new market, they are able to recreate the company culture that’s helped you get as far as you have.
No matter who you hire, it’s important that they speak the language like a native. Despite the fact that everyone I’ve met with in Germany speak perfect English, the feedback I’ve received is that Germans like doing business in German.
It’s also important that your new country leader appreciates the cultural differences in the way they do business. For example, Germany is true to stereotype and quite hierarchical; almost all business decisions must go by the ‘Geschäftsführer’, the head of the company.
2. Talk to people
When starting out in a new country, get as much insight as you possibly can about doing business there. Talk to the people you know. Then talk to the people they know. I’ve been amazed by the number of people willing to spend time talking to me just because I’m a friend of a friend. Ultimately, there’s no coffee that you shouldn’t have if it provides you with an opportunity to learn about the market.
For B2B companies, use your existing advocates to make initial introductions in the new country to their network. And if you have clients that work in international organisations, they may have colleagues in that region who they can put you in touch with. Product advocacy within an organisation is pure gold.
3. Keep an eye on government schemes
Many European countries are desperately trying to attract interesting startups. In the past few months, for example, President Macron has launched a number of new initiatives to make France a “startup nation”.
Investigate whether you are eligible for any subsidies, or whether any startup competitions are being run by the government that offer initial funding when entering a country. If you don’t want to go through the work of investigating, there are a number of private companies whose entire mission is to find and attract startups to the country, so make yourself known.
And if you’re in a footloose industry and it doesn’t matter hugely where you are based, some regions provide funding for those willing to move outside the predictable places – to Wallonia in Belgium – or to some of the more obscure Swiss cantons.
4. Research the market
Finally, when establishing yourself in a new region, it’s essential you demonstrate that you have invested time in understanding the market. Conducting public research is a great way of becoming a thought leader in that country on a specific topic, as well as showing the local audience that you appreciate their specific pain points.
I’ve found that localisation very important in France and Germany. It’s going beyond just speaking the language or hiring local talent, it’s demonstrating that you’ve thought about how the project that you’re bringing is going to work there.
With so much opportunity just across the Channel, British startups shouldn’t be put off by Brexit, but should continue to embrace the potential to expand on the Continent. I hope these tips will help point others down the right path.
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