Expanding a business from Europe to the US: what to expect when no one's expecting you

Expanding a business from Europe to the US: what to expect when no one's expecting you

Two years ago I helped expand a French firm's operation to the US after they had just raised their Series A.

Here's what I learned:

  • No one cared: I reached out to industry-related websites, blogs, groups, events to generate some content around the "arrival" (I even had solid budgets tied to this), no one gave a damn

  • Three weeks after, we attended an industry-related event in Boston, MA, and it was the harshest learning experience we ever had: all of our assumptions about the market were severely reshuffled. We learned a lot about terminology, objectives, how the market was structured, and the dynamics between established firms. Amazing lessons, albeit tough to swallow.

  • Hiring a good salesperson is tough, but hiring a good salesperson in a new environment is extremely complex. Here's what we had: a budget set by our CFO in Paris for 3 AEs and 2 SDRs. Here's what we didn't have: the average salary for an AE with 5+ years of experience in Boston, MA, brand recognition (my favorite question at the time was "why would you join us when no one knows about us (even our WeWork neighbors don't)?", understanding of the "quality" of the pool of applicants and the expectations we should have for the first 3 months of onboarding

  • Make sure you understand as quickly as you can the "HR dynamics". In France, letting someone go can be extremely tricky. Even if we could legally let go of someone pretty "easily" in Boston, our Frenchness got the best of us and we kept some bad apples one quarter too many. Deep down, I attribute a portion of our slow start in 2019 to this.

  • On the legal side, keep your friends close, and your lawyer closer. Our law firm asked for $40k to draft our US contracts. We said no, we'll make our own. Our CEO took a swing. I did too. When we started sending our first IOs/MSAs, a lot of issues came up. We lost a couple of deals due to what I would refer to as "redline fatigue". We called the law firm back, spent the money, been using the draft for 20 months now, best $40k ever spent (our industry can be tricky legally speaking with TCPA and CCPA).

  • Team spirit. In the beginning, I was all about creating that sales atmosphere for the team, with contests, prizes, steak houses, etc. The real atmosphere started when I actually stopped shoving these games down their throat and we closed our first major deal. Also found the hard way that French people's sense of humor (or is it just mine?) doesn't always land here.

  • Operations: we relied a lot on our Paris operations to take care of our clients at the beginning. Costly mistake. We realized we had to hire locals for roles that weren't even considered "strategic" by our investors because of timezone but more importantly cultural differences. I attribute a good portion of the churn decrease due to these hires.

  • Europe's success/portfolio: again, no one cared. Since we were new in the country, we couldn't namedrop any US clients, which was typically a question we received often ("cool cool, so who do you guys work with here?"). When trying to namedrop our successful European clients, it almost created the opposite reaction, where prospects felt confused and eventually felt like "it's too different here so you guys won't really be able to deliver". We had to suffer through around 4 months of these weird conversations (our sales cycle is around 60 days) until it wasn't a subject anymore.

Happy to chat if anyone wants to keep the conversation going!