Slightly more than two years ago I participated in a conference that was aimed at helping young entrepreneurs start and grow their own business. Among many presentations, one in particular grabbed my attention. It was presented by a student that was providing web development services to a local Polish market and almost by accident started delivering services to some U.S. based customers. Soon, this “transatlantic work” became a significant revenue stream for this developer, which allowed him to hire a team of developers and grow his business. The presentation highlighted a case that these days being located thousands of miles from a customer is not a problem for a services organizations. If a company has competencies and capabilities to deliver, it should seek new customers and grow its market everywhere.
Andea is headquartered in Poland but from day one we were pursuing business with international companies. Our initial focus was on companies based in the European Union due to their geographical proximity and ease of doing business in the region. Nonetheless, we knew that in order to better serve our global customers and grow our company, we would have to setup operations on other continents. On the surface that sounds easy, but we had our concerns.
For a small organization, going international is a significant effort and investment that must be well thought-out. Ultimately it is all about performing an in-depth due diligence, having a detailed business plan in place and picking the right time to go international. Finally in the second half of 2015, we have decided to expand to North America and here is why we think this was a good time to take the plunge:
1. Right People
You will need people to help setup, run and grow your international business. It’s crucial to make sure you find the ‘right’ people to help you do that. ‘Right’ means individuals that you can fully trust and depend on. We were fortunate enough to find a person that we knew could help bring in new clients, build a friendly culture in the organization and has the competency to serve as a mentor to newcomers. This person was someone we worked with before and had a good personal relationship with. This meant that we knew what to expect. If possible, look in your close professional and personal circle to find people that will be responsible for getting your international business ‘off the ground’.
2. Network / Connections
Legal, tax, payroll, banking, real estate, insurance is a list of services you will need to go international. Having people in your network that can either provide good references for or provide these services themselves can save you a lot of time, money and headaches. Finding the right company/person, picking the suitable service and taking care of all the legal mumbo jumbo can be a minefield for the unwary. With an extensive help of our friends and their connections, we managed to save a lot of time and money and most importantly, not get blown-up in the process.
3. Sufficient Capital
Plan for the worse – set aside enough cash to cover all your expenses for a minimum of 6 months, taking into account that you will have no cash coming-in during that time. This can be a good chunk of change but we considered this as a strategic investment in our 2015 budget… Something we probably could not afford a year earlier.
4. Pinpointing Your Customers
Expanding internationally can be very risky unless you first analyze the market very carefully and identify some clients you can sell to. We have been in active discussions with five different N.A. clients before we finalized our decision to open an office there.
5. Being Attractive Enough
Finding potential new international customers won’t be easy unless you have something attractive you can offer. This is especially true for new startups that have no references. Interest in our services in N.A. was driven by our competencies and references in delivering complex, multisite MES projects. The success we had in the E.U. was tremendous in helping us establish a base in the Americas.
Andea is at the beginning of its American adventure but things look promising. Three new customers in the first couple of months is more than what we had expected. Our U.S. team is managed by a very experienced and dedicated person that we are sure will help us ALL be successful.
Now we just need to keep up the momentum… Happy 2016 to all of you!