This article by @EnisHulli from @500Startups was first published in February 2018 issue of CoFounder.
US startups still top the unicorns list, with their access to a large, unified market from the get-go. But the US is slowly becoming the best place to sell a product, not to build it, and international startups are emerging to challenge their US competitors in their homeland.
The US presents a key opportunity to increase customer base, get in front of downstream investors and unlock massive opportunities. This requires significant research and careful execution, but above all, a team’s mindset and vision are critical to turn the wheel in the correct direction and Americanise the company when the right time comes.
Start with a global mindset: build local, scale global
International teams can do cost-effective product development and achieve early sustainability much faster than their US competitors. The unlimited runway and the freedom to test out new markets are vital in creating global success stories with locally-incubated teams.
Shift to an English-only workplace
English is an enabler that boosts the whole team to become more efficient while operating across geographies. This universal culture sets the precedent as the team grows and drastically affects the company’s destiny while recruiting, selling the product or raising funding in the US.
Hire employees from a variety of backgrounds
Cross-cultural diversity brings different skills and views to the table, while also strengthening the team’s ability to expand the business. Communicating effectively around the globe helps the team build cross-border relationships and understand cultural nuances for doing business in different countries.
Test different markets, but start with the US
Entrepreneurs should not be afraid of the US market, in fact they should consider it a valuable opportunity and experiment with it from the early days. The US market, with different dynamics to the rest of the world, usually has a lot of competition but also has huge openings in niche verticals. International teams have to iterate the product, business model and market multiple times before achieving product-market-fit. The sooner this happens, the better.
Get backed by respected investors
Most investors in the US do not take international teams (with international traction) seriously, so try to reach them through people they respect. Convince local, prominent and resourceful investors first; warm introductions matter.
Entrepreneurship is a game of attrition. Startups must continuously reinvent the business and pivot in new directions, based on feedback from the market, but the US is not just another market. Entrepreneurs need to have the right mindset from day one to experience the micro failures that will lead to the macro successes.