By Carl Holmquist, CEO and Founder, Freespee.
In 2009, I founded Freespee, an advertising technology company facilitating algorithmic and programmatic media buying for businesses whose customers want to talk to someone before they buy, in my home country of Sweden. When I started the company I always imagined that expansion was a possibility as I knew our technology, essentially transforming phone calls into data that matters to advertisers, would be applicable across several markets. By 2013, Freespee has expanded into Denmark, the UK, Germany, France as well as the USA and Canada. With the future of the business in mind, we also made the decision to move our HQ from Uppsala in Sweden to London, UK.
Expanding any business can be a quite a task, especially if not given considerable thought and planning. Ten years experience as an entrepreneur in the telecoms and software industry, have given me a lot insight. I‘d like share six key lessons with you that I’ve learnt to help grow Freespee and plan for the future.
1. As a B2B startup, your brand is unknown in any market you enter into. Any customer signing up for your service takes a risk. Even though your software is brilliant and you have great customers in many countries, you’re unproven in this new market. Hence, you have to identify the risk takers who will be your first customers and, in turn make them your ambassadors. You can only make someone an ambassador by providing them a really great product, and constantly exceeding their expectations.
2. Find the right PR partner. PR costs a lot of money and it takes time before you see the result. You have to be really selective on who you work with, and they have to understand your business. If you are in B2B, like Freespee, it’s not a sexy consumer product that can be written about for the mainstream. But even in B2B, your target audience will always be consuming media. You have to work with a PR partner that understands which media. And, only do PR in countries where you have physical presence. The rest is junk spend.
3. As a native European, I learnt – during my time at University – that European markets require local people that speaks the local language. As many people often do, we made the mistake in believing that this didn’t apply to us. Well, it does. Europe is still very local. Think global, act local.
4. Choose your city wisely when establishing your local offices. We have chosen to establish all our European offices in the main startup city of the country, instead of the one where most of our customers are. The latter is the traditional way of doing it, by being close to your customer. By having a local office in the market, we’re close enough. It’s more important to make sure your small satellite team sits in a vibrant environment, with other startups with similar challenges you both share.
5. Hire slow. If you think it takes time to find the right team members in your home town, it will take you 3x more time to find them in a foreign market.
6. Never stop trusting your gut feeling. That’s what took you here, and it will take you through next challenge as well. The bigger you grow, the more brilliant brains you have in your team. But sometimes you simply have to trust your gut feeling.
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