If you’ve been following us, you’ll know we’re making the big leap from the tiny NZ testing market, to the giant US market. As we were prepping to jump off this particular cliff, we kept getting asked the same question by almost every startup founder we talked to:
“How did you choose where to go first?”
The short answer? We still don’t really know. This is the first real sales-focussed trip we’ve made to knock on doors and shake hands in a market outside of Australasia and, early on in the planning process one thing became very evident:
The world is a really huge place.
In NZ, you often hear people throwing around phrases like “we’re going to expand into the US” or “we’re moving into Asia”. The thing that’s hard to fathom is the sheer scale of these markets. 4.3Million people ride the subway each day in New York city. That’s the entire population of our country. And we’re only counting one group of people, on one day, in one city, in one state of America.
Forget about the country being big, these cities are massive. You cannot hope to move into one of these markets and continue to do sales and marketing the same way you have been at home.
Finding your niche
Whether you pronounce it nee-shh or nitch*, it’s really important you find a way to zero in on the people who are going to be the most receptive and most valuable to your growth.
Your niche will help you understand what cities are worth investigating. Is your product insanely popular with hipster café and bar owners? Maybe include Portland in your list of places to investigate. Are your best customers SaaS founders in rapidly growing companies? Don’t just look at San Fran, maybe also investigate other growing tech hubs in Chicago, LA or Denver.
Research where your best customer base is likely to be and then go there. There’s no substitute for getting your feet on the ground, shaking hands and looking people in the eye. Scouting out cities by going there and making sales is far and away, the best way of understanding whether there’s great expansion potential for you. It’s the old learn-by-doing idea, applied to business development and sales.
So how did we choose where to go first?
In the spirit of full transparency, narrowing down a shortlist of places to scout has been a mix of strategy and accident. Asking heaps of people for advice, using previously booked holidays to have meetings and visit startup hubs and reading acres of market research documents. But beyond those things, here are the steps we’ve taken and things we’re considering so far:
- Where are you already getting traction?
We’ve slowly been building an international user-base since day one so a few spots around the world have organically popped up on our radar (I’m looking at you, Portugal). As these emerged, we’d aim short bursts of marketing activity specifically at those markets to see if that initial flurry of signups would keep momentum. The ones that did were most likely to have big audiences of low hanging fruit, the ones that didn’t were likely to require harder work to get people across the line. It’s a bit of a sledgehammer approach, but it’s been a useful way of working out which places are going to be really easy to sell in, and which are going to be hard.
- Do your channel partners have an established/growing client-base there?
Building good channel relationships was always going to be a key part of our growth strategy. Weirdly is an awesome tool that gets even better if you integrate it with other recruitment apps. We have a pretty good idea of who these partners are going to be now. Since we’ll be selling to similar audiences, it makes sense to consider where their client base is located too.
- Where do you already have established advisor/influencer contacts?
Getting doors open for meetings – whether they’re with potential clients, investors, channel partners or some weird combination of all three, is much MUCH easier if you’ve got friendlies on the ground who can stage introductions. Places where we have good advocates are way more attractive to us and that’s had a pretty major impact on our location decisions.
Also, accommodation is really expensive so it’s a big bonus if you’ve got mates in town who can lend you a couch or patch of floor to sleep on.
- Do people have the right problem in that city?
Ultimately, we’re all solving problems, right? If you haven’t worked out what problem your product is solving, you’ve got bigger fish to fry. If you have, thinking about where in the world people are experiencing the problem you solve is useful. We’re awesome for screening job applicants and helping people get from a huge pile of resumes to an awesome-quality shortlist really fast. That means markets that are having major talent shortages aren’t as good for us as markets where most jobs are getting lots of applicants.
- Is there a healthy investor community?
At some point, we will need investment from outside NZ. Working out which markets have a bigger, more active investor community has been a consideration for us as most of the advice has been that investors prefer you to be based in the same city as them. That said, this seems to be changing – particularly with San Francisco based investors, so it’s worth doing your own research on this one.
- Is the market evolving in the right direction?
Markets change and evolve. We’re awesome for mid-large startups. Companies who are tech-savvy and have moved beyond that early-stage of growth, but aren’t quite being referred to as Unicorns yet. At first glance, this would make San Fran an interesting spot for us, but it’s not quite that simple. You’ve got to ask yourself, are you launching into an aging marketplace? Is it about to tip (grow exponentially), or is it on its way down and about to be succeeded by a new hotspot?
- Can you picture yourself living there?
Expanding always involved making big sacrifices for the business, so this question can seem a bit…frivolous. But that’s why it’s really important to consider. You’re going to be spending a load of time in this place. You might even be asking your family to uproot their lives and move with you to this city. You’ve got to be able to enjoy it, otherwise ultimately, the sacrifice isn’t worth it.
We’re still smack-bang in the middle of this process so we’d love to hear what you think the most important thing to consider is when scaling into a new market. Tweet yours to @weirdlyhub.
If you’re keen to get onboard the Weirdly train before we officially launch ourselves into the States, jump in for a free trial now. It’s takes 30seconds to get going and no credit card required.
*Please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t pronounce it nitch.