How to expand a European business into the USA

Richard Lewis

09 October 2020

Last week, Downing Ventures hosted a session with Jjellyfish (a B2B sales consultancy for early-stage start-ups) to advise our portfolio companies on how to break into the USA. With 95% of European start-ups attempting to expand or build their business in the U.S. doomed to fail, it is a hard nut to crack and a daunting prospect! We therefore thought it would be helpful for any founders out there to see the summary of what we discussed in our session.  

Your starting point is to research, research, research. We call this the Discovery phase. Allow this to take up to a year of time to fully get an understanding of your market. Identify U.S. buyers you would like to learn from and reach out and make contact. In addition, start building a network of trusty advisors learning from their previous experiences of what has worked vs what hasn’t. 

Many businesses make the mistake of investing huge capital in hiring a U.S.  based representative from the get go – don’t even think about this until you, as a founder or major stakeholder in the business, feel confident as to who your target market is and have a founder that can take them on the journey. 

If you get to the stage where you have proven sustainable interest with key players in the market, you should be ready to find a local salesperson who can work and collaborate with you and make sure you’re part of the sales conversation every step of the way. Founder-led selling is key at this stage when your brand has limited trust or ability to be referenced in the U.S. market. 

Essentially, the right partner on the ground will help you navigate most pitfalls and the American procurement process. Remember that the U.S. is the largest, most competitive, and complex B2B market in the world so you need a U.S. led strategy backed by evidence from target buyer conversations.  

If you can be specific rather than generalize, clearly outlining the solution to a singular job or problem that you are able to provide then follow that niche as ultimately, focus drives quality and will help you build the right team from the outset. 

At Downing Ventures, we have just welcomed Silicon Valley based Joe Raffa, who joins us as a Venture Partner. Joe brings a wealth of technology and scale up experience and is helping our portfolio brands expand into the U.S. and answer these localised questions. For us, as much as for you as a founder, finding the most appropriate person to help conquer a new market will open the right doors to help you succeed.