Top tips for scaling your business overseas
Alicia Navarro, President and Co-Founder of Skimlinks, shared her experience of expanding overseas at our fourth #ScaleUpSeries event in London.
Throughout 2018 O2 has run a series of #ScaleUp events in London, in association with Enterprise Nation, where five successful entrepreneurs share their stories about how they scaled their business, providing tips and advice for other looking to accelerate their business growth.
At our last event we heard from Alicia Navarro, President and Co-Founder of Skimlinks, a platform that helps publishers to turn their content into a scalable revenue stream through embedded product links. Alicia helped the company to grow into the leading content-to-commerce monetisation platform for online publishers globally. It’s now a $50m a year business, running on 4.5 million websites around the world driving a billion dollars a year in e-commerce revenue through their platform.
Although the Skimlinks was founded in London, growth on this scale would not have been possible without overseas expansion. So how did the company grow internationally, and what advice would Alicia offer for other businesses looking to do the same?
Pretending to be there
One of the early lessons Alicia learned about trading in the USA was that US companies like to buy from other US companies. As a result she visited regularly, for six weeks or more at a time, creating the impression that Skimlinks already had a US base.
“Rather than fly in and out for networking events or investor meetings, I spent extended periods in the USA and took the time to engage with other start ups and the local community. It meant that when I did go and live in the USA permanently my network was already established.”
Sending the right person
When scoping the opportunity of an overseas market, a lot of companies will minimise their risk by appointing a local sales agent or hiring someone already in the territory. By contrast, the Skimlinks founders decided that it should be one of them who should go.
“I strongly believe it was by sending out one of the founders – in this case, me – that we successfully extended the Skimlinks culture to the US market, and managed to attract and retain really good talent during those early years.”
Getting the location right
It took until 2010 before Skimlinks had a physical base in the USA, establishing an office and staff in San Francisco. With hindsight, Alicia thinks this wasn’t where they should have started their US base.
“We quickly realised that San Francisco is a really inconvenient location for a company whose headquarters are in London. Quite apart from being a long plane journey, the timezone just doesn’t work well for a London based business. There was only a two hour overlap in office hours between the two sites, which made collaboration very difficult.”
The distance from London was not the only problem. When Alicia moved to the USA full time she realised that San Francisco was not where the business deals were being done.
“I noticed that whenever I was in San Francisco I got plenty of work done because I stayed in the office all the time. But when I flew into New York it was back to back customer meetings and networking events. New York was where the deals were done, and so we took the decision to close the San Francisco office and move to New York permanently.”
Bridging the gap with technology
For several years Alicia was travelling between London and New York on a very frequent basis. She believes that the company would not have scaled in the way that it did without a number of key technology driven communication and collaboration applications.
“When you spend so much time travelling it’s important to be able to communicate and collaborate with friends and colleagues. At Skimlinks we used Slack as our main inter-company communication method, Zoom for teleconferencing and I personally used WhatsApp for staying in touch with friends and family.”
We’ve almost reached the end of 2018’s series of #ScaleUpSeries events now. The last is on Monday 12 November with John Roberts, founder of AO.com, voted number four in the Times 100 Best Mid-Sized Companies to Work for and winner of the Customer Service Initiative award at the Oracle Retail Week Awards.
O2 and Enterprise Nation will be at Tintagel House in London from 6pm. You can find out more, and book tickets here