What it’s actually like to move to the US as an Australian startup

Thirty years ago global growth took years of planning, loads of paperwork and favourable international trade policies.

Now the internet achieved what would have taken policy makers generations – it has created a global market that is accessible, affordable and quicker to scale than ever before.

Technology has democratised the benefits of global trade and created a parallel model for businesses to access markets such as the US and EU. Digitalisation has resulted in the lowering of trade frictions and created a new, more inclusive form of commerce helping create correlated social benefits.

The digital playground of the US has never been closer, with many Australian startups having successfully found their footing there.

Atlassian, DesignCrowd, Nitro, CloudPeeps and many others who have branched into the US or have set up base there, are leading by example.

The importance of Australian startups in the US was reinforced when late last year Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop visited Silicon Valley to discuss technology and disruption with Australian entrepreneurs.

While these early entries into the US market have made it easier for others, there is still a long way to go and more lessons to be learnt.

Following recent visits to New York and San Francisco and conversations with my investment portfolio of startups in the US or those looking to expand there, here are my observations about startups looking to enter the market.

Connections

Connections are of paramount importance to get a startup off the ground in the US, especially for enterprise or business-to-business startups that wouldn’t have had the opportunity to deal with consumers in the past.

Highlighting the importance of connections, Vanessa Wilson, CEO and co-founder of disruptive cloud storage company StorReduce, says that, “it’s hard to get attention in the US market unless you have US connections, referenceable US clients, revenue and key team members are living in the in the US”.

It took Vanessa and her team a year pre-move to make several trips to the US making sure they got the right cloud and backup influencers on board. The year in preparation was spent building connections, getting blogged about as validated and unique technology, getting in front of VC heads and speaking at relevant conferences.

While digital connectivity has made it easier to identify influencers and make connections across continents, it still needs personal investment of time and effort to build the relationship and networks.

New York based social media influencer, tech and lifestyle blogger January Barnes notes:

“It’s the ultimate playground for mass consumption – that said it’s vital to know when to launch and most importantly if you have identified your core customers within that region before doing so. When starting a venture anywhere and especially in markets like New York – you only get one chance! Harness the right connections and be prepared to network! It is all about who you know and if they can help create pathways for you.”

No shrink-wrapped ‘seven steps to success’ model

I was reading Jason Lanier’s book You Are Not A Gadget recently where he talks about what makes a person. Being a person, he highlights, is not a set formula, but a quest, a mystery, a leap of faith.

Likewise, there are no set success formulas that will work for everyone expanding to the US.

Deb Noller, CEO of Switch Automation found that:

“The first year was a waste of time and money. Literally throwing money against the walls. Finally we worked out what we were doing wrong. It takes a lot of time, patience and learning. You have to be here.”

What strikes me while talking to people, there or here, is that although their hopes and challenges are similar, the pathway each takes to achieve their goal is very different. While many entrepreneurs that have moved to the US have made it easier for others, no one can adopt a shrink-wrapped model for success nor follow someone else’s example, as the journey is personal and personalised.

You just have to be there

To run a successful startup in the US, you have to be in the US, and that is a universal conclusion amongst most entrepreneurs. One of the biggest challenges cited often is setting up a business network from scratch in a new country.

But it is a step that has to be taken.

According to Vanessa:

“The last six months since our move have been exhilarating. We have brought on US clients, started to get recommendations from clouds, backup providers, systems integrators and global systems integrators, proved out our unique use case and started to make revenue. These turning point events happened on chat, via direct inbound phone calls and through meeting requests, all in the US time zone. We would have not been able to capitalise on these leads had we not been here.”

While the journey to the US or any global market can take many paths, the one certainty is that a continuous flow of investor support, money and a sound financial model assures the success of any startup, in Australia or the US.

These are the foundations that global growth is built on so make them strong.

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