Launching your Australian startup in the States can be a daunting task.
New laws, new lingo and a whole lot more people.
Having recently launched her products in the US, Marion Grasby founder of Marion’s Kitchen, and looking to launch in the market soon, Oneshift founder Genevieve George, may have two very different products but offer the same advice – talk to as many people as you can.
Here are their tips for launching a startup in the US marketplace, and exploring if it’s the right market for you.
1. Understand the new laws for your industry.
For George, whose startup is an online jobs network, she had to consider US employment law.
“In Australia we’re so fortunate to get four weeks annual leave. In the US it’s just one week and expectations from an employer are very different,” she said.
2. Understanding the different terminology.
George says understanding local knowledge and local terminology can prevent any confusion when pitching your product.
“So for us part-time casual is actually temping in the States. So when I start yapping on about part-time, casual no one has any idea what I’m taking about.
And she said there’s no need to be embarrassed if you aren’t sure, “just call it what it is”.
“Humility is a great attribute and to be able to say: I don’t know what you guy call it here, but… Be prepared take it on board because the quicker you learn the quicker you can make better decisions.”
Grasby, whose product is an Asian food range that can be bought at the supermarket and made at home, said she experienced a similar language barrier.
“The main difference is learning the different supermarket ‘lingo’ that goes with launching in a new market,” she said.
“All the packaging instructions, nutritionals, weights and measures had to be re-evaluated and changed to suit the American market.
“Just little things like changing the word ‘coriander’ to ‘cilantro’ makes a big difference to the ease of use for consumers.
“Promotional programs, sales tags, grocery sections and even packaging formats can be called very different things between the two countries.”
3. Business culture.
“In Australia we’re very laid back,” said George, “you can say ‘oh, I didn’t say that correctly, I’m going say it like this’ or you can turn up in thongs and people will still do business with you.”
“Whereas in the states it’s a completely different culture so it’s understanding what the expectations are so that you are respectful, but also staying true to your business culture and values at the same time.”
But Grasby said when it comes to being “open, frank and friendly”, the approach to business is very similar.
4. Finding the right partners on the ground.
Whether it’s a partnership for growing the business or an investor partnership, George says its about getting out in the marketplace and talking to people.
“We’ve been looking for anyone from universities for students to get jobs, to looking for businesses to partner with or a VC. So you’re not necessarily looking for an equity partnership but always looking for that other option and getting creative with that,” she said.
“And it’s not always looking at San Francisco for VCs, there are awesome hotspots, like in Austin, that people don’t really put down as the ‘tech hub’ but there’s actually a lot happening there.
“It’s about getting over there and seeing what will suit our business.
“Just talk to people,” she stressed.
“Getting the awareness out there really helps, because you never know who you’re going to talk to, who they’re going to introduce you to. Just meeting like-minded people, who are trying different technologies and trying different startups, learn from them.”
Grasby agreed saying the best piece of advice she had from the experience would be to “research, travel and speak to as many people on the ground as possible.”
5. Get to the point, and be passionate.
“I find if you’re honest with what you’re trying to do, more often than not people are willing to help,” George said.
“People appreciate honesty and they appreciate you getting to the point of what you’re trying to do. I went over the the States for a week, and I ended up having back-to-back meetings for a week just by talking to people.
6. Just get started!
George recalls going into a coffee shop in San Francisco and seeing startups growing before her eyes.
“There were people on laptops, throwing around ideas, it’s just more tangible, more in your face than in Australia. It’s a city of startups,” she said.
“It makes you realise how competitive the world is, and it makes you remember that ever day counts and everybody is coming up with similar or different ideas. The ones who are successful are the ones who get off their feet and start making it happen.
“So my biggest advice is just start doing something. The biggest regret you’ll have is wasting time sitting around trying to work out what the next big thing is. Start seeing people and something will come to you.”
7. Adjust your product according to the trends in the local market, not the trends in Australia.
Grasby noticed this the most. There was a considerable change in the taste and flavours of Americans, from those she has known in Australia.
“Asian food is better known in Australia than in the US so we decided to launch with a smaller product mix,” she said.
“We spent time researching Asian food trends in the US before deciding on the products we felt would resonate better in the market.
“We’ve already seen some differences – our Thai green curry is our best-seller in Australia but in the US, our pad Thai and Massaman curry products are the most popular.
“A large portion of the American market relies on their local Asian takeaway or restaurant for their taste perception of Asian dishes, which might not be as authentic as in Australia or Asia… [but as it] is becoming more popular across the US and I think this has helped with the amazing responses we’ve received so far. We’ll be stocked in more than 5,000 stores across the US by the end of the year.”
8. Be prepared for a fragmented market.
“The US market is far more complicated than Australia where there are only a few major national retailers that need to be targeted,” said Grasby.
“The grocery market in the US is far more fragmented and there are major players that need to be approached within each state as well as the national companies.
“Each state or retailer requires different brokers, distribution channels and other logistical considerations, which makes it quite a challenge.
“We’ve tackled this by putting together a US sales and distribution team with national experience as well as state-based broker relationships.”
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