First published on the BDO Blog Site, by Jakob Sand
The enormous market potential, great access to funding and is conduciveness to rapid scaling makes the US market very popular amongst companies in the technology, media, telecoms and life sciences sphere. Done right, there is no doubt that the US market represents a great opportunity for companies to take a step up in regards to scaling at speed and funding opportunities. This is doubly true in the country’s main technology and start-up hubs, like New York and Silicon Valley. “In my opinion there is no place as conducive to moving your company along at a fast pace as Silicon Valley. It is a wholly unique area with an immense concentration of talent. Just being here gives you global recognition. It is, however, also an area where understanding the ecosystem and the likely challenges you will encounter is essential,” Aftab Jamil, Partner at BDO USA and Global Leader of the BDO Life Sciences team, says. In the first part of the top ten list of secrets to successfully breaking into the US market, I focused on issues that should be addressed before the move, or in the initial part of the move. In the second half of the top 10, I want to focus on challenges and issues related to establishing a beachhead, securing funding and building up your presence in the US market.
6: Be careful of the no-man’s land between yes and no
As described in the first half of the top ten list, American work culture can be somewhat different. The same goes for relations with potential clients and customers. For example, Non-American business leaders will sometimes leave a first pitch meeting in the US thinking that they have just signed on a new customer. Their counterpart will think that it was a good first meeting that was a bit more direct and to the point that they are used to.
It is not unusual to spend 30 – 40 minutes of an initial meeting with informal conversation, which will likely include talking about your contacts – an aspect of doing business in the US that is very important.There is also a general social rule of not wanting to say no to anyone, and to be both supportive and enthusiastic when presented with new ideas, products and business proposals. This can lead to confusion and to situations where meetings land you in a no-man’s land between yes and no.
7. Get ready for moving both slower and faster
That being said, decision processes can also move much quicker in the US than you might be used to. “Many companies are simply not prepared for the speed at which things happen, especially here in Silicon Valley,” Alfredo Coppola, Co-CEO of the US Market Access Centre (USMAC), a tech accelerator helping companies enter the US and international markets, says. “You will often find out in two meetings if something is going to work out, or not at all. That can be very scary, if you are not used to this kind of process. Asians and Europeans generally like to work through all parts of an agreement and business proposition before actually beginning, whereas Americans often prefer to work out the bumps along the way.”
8: It is about who you know – and for how long
Getting to meetings with potential customers or investors has a lot to do with who you know. Aftab Jamil explains how VC companies in and around Silicon Valley will look at around 100 companies before investing in one or two of them. Getting in to the shortlist of 100 companies is a challenge in its own right. “VCs are inundated with business plans and pitches from hopeful start-ups founders and CEOs of young companies. The most efficient way of getting their attention is often through personal recommendations from people in and around the Valley, whom the VCs know and trust. The same could be said to be true of establishing other business relationships,” he says. An important early step for any company looking at entering the US market or looking to for funding from VCs is networking early on, and as often as possible.
9: Your background can be a unique strength – and challenge
Your company’s cultural background is part of what makes you unique for both customers and employees. It is a strength to draw on, if you can do so in the right way. “For example, I think that Danish companies, which we work a lot with, have a great approach to design, that is in line with the simple, intuitive and efficient design the Nordic region is known for. As CEOs and founders, they are also very good at creating great working environments, where they can laugh and have fun with staff, while still getting things done on schedule,” Mik Strøyberg says.
Melissa Lamson, President and CEO of Lamson Consulting, has written several books on how foreign companies can best enter the US market, agrees: “American employees with for example European companies generally experience a better work-life balance. Retention rates for these companies seem to be higher, because they are good at creating stable, comfortable working environments,” she says. As is often the case, a strength can also be a weakness in some settings, Ralf Drews, CEO of German company Greif-Velox, says. He has previously worked as top representative for several European companies in the US market. “While it is definitely a pro that employees feel more safe, it can be a con if an employee misses the pressure to constantly perform that permeates many US firms,” he says.
10. Get your Band-Aid ready
The quest for performance and speed also leads to a different approach to fixing things like issues with products. For many tech companies today, especially in the US, the main philosophy is to launch a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and to get in front of customers as soon as possible. The approach requires companies to be prepared to hammer out potential problems as they arise, often relying on ad hoc solutions. “A German company I worked for encountered a hitch with a product. The task of fixing it was sent to engineers back in Germany, asking for a quick solution. That turned out to take a while. They came back with a perfect solution, but the process took nine months, and in the meantime, we had lost good connections and even clients,” Ralf Drews says.