Silicon Valley, the heart of the US startup ecosystem, is the homebase of big tech giants, thousands of startups, hundreds of millionaires, and close to a hundred billionaires. The allure of this high-tech and high-class extravaganza is still strong, yet barriers to accessing the US market are starting to lower. As a result, in the CEE region, we see more and more founders building their tech startups with the goal of eventually scaling to the US market.
To assist founders who are eyeing an US market entry, The Recursive talked to founders in Bulgaria and Romania who have already successfully scaled to the US. This is part one of a series of articles dedicated to helping founders with insights and recommendations on how to enter a new market.
Here are eight pointers from the analysis on how to scale to the US, before you dive into the founders’ stories below:
- Study the market diligently and gather all the advice that you can;
- Weight the market opportunities and advice against your own circumstances;
- Build an initial network of business contacts and keep nurturing it;
- Analyze the cultural and business differences between the target market and home market;
- Have one of the founders relocate temporarily to the new market to get the grassroot feeling;
- Create a high-level plan that considers your strengths and weaknesses, and then be agile in executing it;
- Have as many market-based resources as possible;
- Be prepared to make mistakes and adapt along the way.
Why would you scale to the US
There is a mix of factors that makes the US startup ecosystem a key target for companies in Central and Eastern Europe.
The obvious one is higher access to venture capital: “Investors have more of an appetite for big, risky ideas, and there’s much more capital in general, so you’re likely to raise larger rounds and grow faster,” Andrei Dunca, Board Member of Endeavor Romania, says in an interview.
But further than that, the US is a more advantageous market in terms of size and homogeneity. This is the reason behind many startups’ decision to enter the US market, including that of Romanian-founded healthtech startup Bespoke Nutrition.
“Our journey in the American market started with the strategic decision to launch our mobile app in the US first, before targeting the European market,” begins founder Cori Gramescu. “We arrived at this decision because the US market is homogenous and there is virtually no language barrier in North America.”
Cori Gramescu further gives a hint of why founders may want to live the experience of scaling to the US:
“I personally found the business ecosystem in Silicon Valley to be nurturing and encouraging, with amazingly knowledgeable people willing to offer feedback and warm intros when needed. It’s a unique environment, equally challenging and stimulating. So don’t be afraid to take the leap of faith, it will be an incredibly rich growth experience for you as a founder and as a person.”
What founders who scaled to the US want you to know
First, everyone will tell you there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The decision to enter a new market depends on the specifics of the business, the opportunities ahead and strengths it can count on, the team, and the operating style.
“From blog posts to case studies, the internet is filled with insights and best practices for entering new markets. But it’s important to remember that not all advice is created equal, and what is working for one company, may not work for yours. Gather all the advice you can, but be sure to weigh it against your own unique circumstances,” Radoslav Georgiev, Chief Technology Officer at Bulgarian startup Quantive advises.
Quantive (formerly Gtmhub) is a leading strategy execution platform based on the OKR management methodology. When the team decided to enter the US market, they started with some basic research and then took the plunge by booking tickets and setting up shop.
“It was a bold move, but one that paid off in the long run. As we grew, we learned that there were better locations for our operations, and we pivoted accordingly,” Radoslav says.
Radoslav Georgieve further gives three pieces of advice on how to enter a new market:
- Create a high-level plan that considers your strengths and weaknesses, and then execute that plan as agilely as possible;
- Be prepared to course-correct along the way, and don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes;
- Consider having some of your founders present during the early stages of your expansion, as their vision and leadership can be invaluable during this exciting and challenging time.
Elsewhere in Romania, Bespoke Nutrition started their journey of launching into the US market by participating in Invest USA. Here, they started creating an initial network of business contacts and got a better understanding of the US ecosystem. They also became members of the Romanian-American Chamber of Commerce, following their participation in InnovX – BCR Accelerator.
Cori Gramescu gives three further pieces of advice on how to scale to the US:
- Try to live in the US for a while in order to get a feeling of the market dynamics;
- Make sure to network and build relationships in order to understand the local business landscape;
- Create a local team and local assets.
“My first advice to companies looking to tap into the US market is to really go and live in the US, in the target areas they are considering. It’s mandatory to have this experience, to really live the American dream before launching business operations there. Especially if they are launching direct-to-consumer businesses,” she illustrates.
She further adds: “Try to have as many US-based resources as possible, especially when it comes to copywriting, paid media, ads, and branding strategy. It’s complicated to operate such a project from Romania, without having in-depth knowledge of the target market.”
US-specific differentiators to keep in mind
When entering a new market, it is also crucial to be aware of cultural and business conduct differences from the home market, which could present opportunities or challenges for the company. What works in a market, may not work in the other, and vice versa.
Andrei Dunca from Endeavour Romania notes one important difference in the US market, which makes it so attractive for foreign startups:
“People are much more willing to take risks, start working on a random idea with a small team, and go all-in in making it happen; people are much more likely to go for moonshots.”
When it comes to the specifics of doing business, Cori Gramescu says: “One thing that I found is significantly different in the US compared to Romania is the email reach-out. A good amount of US business people reply to cold emails, especially if they are personalized with useful information and they have some follow up messages that are equally personalized. Especially in the startup ecosystem, reaching founders or C-level executives can function like this, so don’t be afraid to have a reachout strategy.”
At the end of the day, will the process be easier or more difficult than launching a startup in a CEE-based market? It’s a bit of both.
“Launching a business in the US is in a way easier than launching one in Romania, you can do almost everything online and the process is pretty straightforward. But investing enough time into understanding your beachhead market and initial growth strategy is mandatory for success, as is having a strong network of contacts among startup founders, strategic corporate partners and investors,” Cori Gramescu observes.