4 successful approaches for European Entrepreneurs doing business in the US

Oct 20, 2014
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The following is a guest post from Jason McDonald, Director of StringCan Interactive Paris,StringCan Interactive is a digital strategy, design and development agency that helps European startups gain access to the US market. Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, with offices in Boston and Paris. You can follow StringCan on twitter at @StringCanEU and @StringCanAgency

It’s easy to miss a business opportunity or alienate a contact when doing business abroad if you are unaware of the differences between your culture and the culture you are working with. Taking the time to understand these cultural barriers can be the difference between success and failure. As an American who has lived and worked between the US and Europe the last 12 years, I have seen how cultural ignorance can hurt your bottom line. With this in mind, I have created four very important approaches every European entrepreneur should keep in mind when working in the US.

1) Be Direct. Go For The Deal.

I have learned in France that I have to slow the business process down and let my prospects get to know me before trying to close the deal. In the US, often times you need to do the complete opposite. Be direct – Americans value candor. As an entrepreneur, being direct is a good way to show that you are motivated and focused. It also shows you don’t have time to have 5 meetings before a decision is made; you have a company to create that is going to change the world. As an example, imagine you are in a pitch meeting with a potential angel investor or VC. It’s the end of your pitch, and all the questions have been asked and answered. Now is the time to be direct and take their temperature to gauge their interest. You should ask them, “if you had to make a decision right now, are you ready to move forward?” This will force a more focused discussion about next steps, and it will help you understand which investors are seriously interested in your startup.

2) Dream Big And Out Loud

Another big cultural change I have experienced between US and European tech startups is the size of the initial vision. Whereas, an American tech startup is thinking global domination in 24 months, I hear startups in Paris talking about building a company in the French market, then maybe going to Germany, then to the US, and then maybe globally if they have the revenue. America was built by dreamers! If you are going to be successful in this very competitive market you have to talk like a dreaming American. Americans want to see the passion that confirms you unequivocally believe in what you are doing. You need to dream out loud and be convincing. The best way to speak convincingly about something is to believe in the vision yourself. I saw the passion and conviction Americans are used to hearing on display at the recent Paris Founders Event. Oussamar Amar co-founders of TheFamily, spoke about TheFamily’s new London office. Oussamar outlined their ambitious plans to raise billions of euros for French startups (that’s billion with a “B”), and I believe him. This statement is big, it’s bold and it got me excited. When you talk about your company, do people get excited?

3) Failure Is A Badge Of Honor

Last year, StringCan’s CEO, Jay Feitlinger, was in Paris speaking to a room full of Paris entrepreneurs and the title of the presentation was “Failing to Succeed”. Jay talked about the 10 companies he has started; some huge successes and some huge failures. He spoke openly about his mistakes and what he has learned. As Americans, this was a great topic for entrepreneurs as people in the states talk about failing all the time. Usually right before they tell you about their follow up huge success. This is because in the States we see success and failure as one in the same. You can’t have one without the other. Therefore, we were both surprised by the reaction of some of the French entrepreneurs in the audience. They seemed to be amazed and inspired by Jay’s outlook on failure but also, the audience was very confused – why was Jay sharing such private and personal negative experiences? In the US, failure is seen as an amazing opportunity to learn and become better at what you do. It’s a sign of experience and it’s a test to see if you can get back up and try again, take on risk again and shoot for the stars. When you are talking to an American, understand that failure is a badge of honor that proves you are willing to learn from your mistakes. Also, give it a chance yourself. You might find it’s a lot easier to make decisions if you are making them with growth in mind, not unemployment. What’s your biggest business failure you can talk about?

4) What’s Prépa?

At a networking event in the US, you are asked things like, “what business are you with?”, “what part of town do you live in?”, and maybe, “did you see the Monday Night game this week?” (a football reference, you need to learn these if you are going to the states). I was caught off guard in France the first, second and third time I was asked what school I attended. In the US, your school matters on a resume, and plays a role only in your first few years out of school. There are exceptions, of course, if you attended a top university. But, if you have been out of Harvard for 5 years, and your work history is unimpressive, your degree won’t save you. If I am completely honest, you’ll be disappointed if you brag about the French university you attended, because a lot of Americans have never heard of it nor will they care. I recall telling my CEO that he would be speaking at ESSEC on his first trip to France, and he was clueless of the prestige of this big opportunity. I think this is liberating! When you get to the US, you are now in a place where you matter, not your history. You are in the US now, it’s all on you. It’s not about what you have done, it’s about what you’re going to do.

In Review

If I had to pick the biggest mistake I have made doing business in Europe I would have to say I took too long to hire a local business advisor. I lost money and made mistakes not needed. I highly recommend you use these four approaches when doing business in the US and you seek out a local employee, consultant or an agency as soon as you’re serious about doing business in the US. A local team can help you avoid cultural landmines, and as a result you will be a richer, happier business owner.

StringCan Special Invitation

StringCan is passionate about helping European startups be successful in the US, that’s why we are offering 3 free virtual educational webinars for startups at every level. What’s a webinar you may ask? It’s an online live class given by an expert on a specific topic, that you can attend with other people from around the world.

Episode 1 – MVP  Building your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – 4 Critical Questions your Lean Startup Hasn’t Answered. Access the recorded webinar  Hosted by Eric Sullivan CTO of StringCan Interactive and COO & President of Baked & Branded a StringCan company.

Episode 2 – BETA  How to go from MVP to Beta: Developing a Product Investors will Fund. Wednesday October 29th – 4pm Paris time Hosted by Jay Feitlinger, CEO + Founder of StringCan Interactive

Episode 3 – Launch How to Build a 1 Million Person Email List for the Launch of Your Product Without Buying It. Wednesday November 12th – 5pm Paris time Hosted by Chandra Jacobs VP of Strategic Partnerships for StringCan Interactive