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Internationalization Strategy: The Difference between Nimble and Random

December 15, 2021

Link to podcast found HERE

Podcast transcript found below:

Bill : Hey, and welcome to the belly to belly podcast. In this episode I’m really looking forward to this is a topic that we see quite a bit. And it’s all around the difference between being nimble and random and your internationalization strategy. And we’re privileged today to welcome Karina Sotnik from World Upstart to help us to kind of dive into this topic. Welcome, Karina

Karina : Thank you so much, Bill. I’m looking forward to this conversation as well. It’s near and dear to my heart.

Bill : Well, yeah, let’s dive into it. So when you think about, you know, companies that you work with, and that you’ve worked with, over time, that are either nimble or random, or both, what kinds of things come to mind for you, as you sort of think about this topic?

Karina : Yeah. So, you know, I worked over decades, on and off with helping companies come to different markets. And I see this, a lot of companies just take a really opportunistic approach. You know, they might be successful where they are, they start enjoying success in revenue, maybe in sort of scaling up their companies, maybe they’re well established companies have been in their country for 20 plus years. And they suddenly had a really good conversation with someone from us at the trade show, right? Or they might even have a first client in the US. And that usually triggers this, oh, there’s a big market, let me try to expand. And so without any sort of strategy, or any preparedness, they dive in. And we see not great results from that. Because US market is big and desirable. But really difficult. As we know, in almost any industry, I cannot think of industry where it would be easy. And so to have a fleshed out strategy becomes really important if you really want to scale here and not just have one more client to your to your belt.

Bill : Yeah, so when you just talk about sort of the random approach, we just sort of are drawn in, and you’re looking at the shiny objects, and you say, oh, there’s, there’s an interesting opportunity. Let’s go there. And then the next week, you see another opportunity over here, and, and you just go, yeah.

Karina : And the client that you might get first might not even be the client that you will end up serving in a larger scale in the US. So having strategy, and you can still be very nimble. But having strategy in what I called four buckets, is really important. You need to have your legal strategy. How do you incorporate that will affect you later, right? How do you bring people here from your country that has no how it will affect you later? How do you deal with your IP rights, all of this falls into this legal bucket, and then your industry specific bucket, you really need to have a strategy on regulatory, and we can talk a little bit about that later. But without that strategy, oh, my God, you can lose that one client pretty quickly and you cannot obtain others. And the thing to understand about us when it comes, for example, to regulatory is it’s not one country, it’s 50 different countries, right? And when it comes to packaging, when it comes to taxes, when it comes to regulatory, I deal a lot with med tech companies, when it comes to telemedicine, there’s still many states that don’t allow it legally. Right? So understanding that you’re dealing with 50 different regulations is important than your strategy. And then the third bucket is operations. And that falls into how do you hire people here because there’s so many mistakes in not bringing the right team to actually execute on that nimble strategy, right. And finally, you know, a lot of companies think that they don’t, they’re not going to fundraise in the US. They have revenue and where they are, and they’ve just like, naturally will expand to us. And then they understand that that expansion actually is expensive. And so they, most of the companies that I deal with, ended up trying to fundraise in the US, or companies come here, thinking that money will flow because us is so incredibly welcoming and rich. And that’s just not the case. Fundraising is difficult, no matter where you are, but it’s very difficult in the US because you face really stiff competition with so many other companies coming from all over the world. So those are the four buckets that companies need to think about and they can do very well. then vote and ah, but they need to address all for

Bill : It. So I have legal regulatory operations funding, where does sales fit in?

Karina : Oh, that’s really good question. So I think sales fit into operations when you start thinking, who to hire, and who is going to be in your team. And there you have your sales, your marketing, your people that know your product from your own country, plus people who know us market from this country. Plus, I always tell people to start thinking of adding to their advisory board with local key opinion leaders, because they can open doors. So it has to be a comprehensive strategy, strategy. You know, hiring one US person, and hoping that that person will bring sales, that never happens, it might be one client, but you know, in the larger scheme of things, you really need a combination, you need the team. And more often than not, the senior management person needs to be here, at least for the first few years, in order for the company to succeed. So thinking how to do that, while you still have your company in your own home country? It’s all part of strategy. Yeah,

Bill : Right. So what would be a strategy? Or what would a strategy look like that would allow a company to be nimble and nimble being the ability to adapt quickly to learn quickly and to evolve their business model to best advantage themselves in the new market with a new client and client type or buyer persona? But what would How would you develop a strategy that was particularly focused on helping a company the nimble?

Karina : Yeah, so again, keeping in mind that you need, you really need to address all four buckets. But what I would say you don’t need one expensive consultant, and sorry, to all the consultants around, you know, we’re all consultants. But I see companies making mistake of hiring one person hoping to hit all the checkboxes, it doesn’t work like that. So bringing in the right expertise, at the time when it’s needed. I think it’s really important and will be nimble at the end, but also, just thinking, sort of thinking through what exactly what is the end goal, right, the end goal is not just to have first client, the end goal has to be bigger. And so thinking through all the checkpoints, when to bring right people, who this people are, where to find them, all of this will, will sort of create this lien strategy for the company at the end. And then understanding that what they budgeted for the expansion needs to be doubled, because everyone underestimate in terms of time, and in terms of budgets, how expensive it is to come to us. And if you don’t think that you need to fundraise in the US, you will end up finding fundraising in the US. So you need to create that strategy as well. So, yeah, to me, these are the most important components. Again, not not just to dive in, but to really take time to create strategy, and understanding what elements the strategy has to contain. So, you know, we will talk about a little bit later of what my company does, but basically, we uncover what companies don’t know that they don’t know. So understanding what is it that you don’t know, in order to be successful? becomes sort of like a hunt. That is probably the most important.

Bill : That’s great. Just a editorial note, your microphone, you’re moving around, and it’s causing some 

Karina : Microphone that’s right here. And I thought it was right here.

Bill : Yeah, that’s better. 

Karina : Good. Sorry. 

Bill : So yeah, so So, let’s maybe advance a little bit to when you are nimble when you have a nimble strategy. What changes what, what evolves for the company that wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have a nimble strategy? 

Karina : Yeah. And I think part of the strategy has to be openness to receive recommendations to receive help, right? We see so many CEOs, so many heads of companies coming here, kind of cocky if I can say that, kinda, you know, we were successful where we are are you to tell us what to do. And we see them burning because of that. So I think companies need to be open to receive the qualified help that they need along the way, maybe a good lawyer or a good immigration lawyer or a good accountant or investor who freely gives advice that becomes really important. So, yeah, I think, being open to that being open to bring people to be advisors, and getting help and getting, you know, the right advisors from the right industry, and also understanding that your strategy that you might think, you know, might not fit into US market at all. Right? I see a lot of companies coming from smaller countries, you can find very few company countries that as big as us, right, so the majority of companies come here from much smaller countries. And the strategy that worked for them there might not work here at all, their product might not fit the problem that they’re trying to solve here. The problem in the US could be completely different than what they’re solving in France or Germany, or elsewhere or in Asian countries. So being nimble also means being flexible, and being open to pivot if you need to pivot. And I think that’s the key to the success of the companies here.

Bill : Yeah, that makes sense. You hit on something really interesting and we see it on the sales and marketing side quite a bit. And you know ego is important right we wouldn’t you know leave our bed in the morning we wouldn’t start businesses and we certainly wouldn’t cross orders with our business without having a certain amount of ego and confidence and all that but it It it’s dangerous at sort of an excess when We whether it’s don’t listen to our advisors Go listen to our team we don’t listen For our customers we make some challenging assumptions and there have been some entrepreneurs that have been successful With Uber he got Steve Jobs comms jobs comm to mine but they’re very few Steve Jobs most of us don’t have that I capability to anticipate Markets Like Steve and others But I Guess when you win Do you think about You know being nimble and I’m thinking specifically about sales and marketing strategy now but my sense is it would also Although it’s not my expertise would also to apply to a variety of other buckets In In the process like You know, in sales and marketing, we do A B testing, we have hypotheses and we A B test certain things and and, and we use that too as our as our guide in order to develop strategy because the, the challenge we see quite often is that we we collectively with our clients can get very narrow in our focus in terms of, you know, sort of accepting one person’s hypotheses or another. And ultimately, the only hypotheses that matters is the market. And so how do you what are your thoughts around nimble strategies as relates to doing things like A B testing when you talk about marketing and whatnot, versus, you know, sort of, let’s do what, what worked in our home country and sort of, you know, sort of go down that road and really invest in that? Yep. Thoughts about that?

Karina : I do. Um, I think in sales and marketing, no matter what the strategy, I think the most important sort of component and you probably will agree is the passion that comes through when you’re doing your sales pitch. But what I also see is that sometimes, so companies coming from smaller markets sometimes need to be sort of going after many sources of revenue, because it’s a small market, and they need to develop many different sales pitch for many different clients. What my advice will be, again, being nimble and focused is to figure out who is your clients in the US and sometimes it might not even be the client that you serve in your own home country, right? And so doing that AB marketing and figuring out who is that first client that you need to focus on and then really focus, it’s good to have down the road, that sort of platform approach with multiple verticals that you will go after To later, but to have that zero focus and to bring your passion with also understanding that the product market fit might might change here. And so and that leads me to, yes, you need to have your ego to be successful as an entrepreneur, but you also absolutely have to be nimble. But I’m flexible and that flexibility I think is the key component to being successful here you will fail you will need to pivot and that Steve Jobs failed many times right until you until you find that One kernel that will give you know the roots beautiful tree So it could be very metaphorical here

Bill : Huh yeah but That idea of Listening and whether it’s you To your point advisor Are two Markets are early customers all of that So I want to go back to A comment you make last question before we talk about Roll Up start And that is you talked about You kinda the key resources you have time Money And obviously there’s lots of Attention that that gets paid to money you know people talk about fun raising us and so on but but Let’s talk about Time in time obviously is how much time do we have But one of the things that I See and I’d love your thoughts About It is not really as much appreciate about how actually little time you Have so When you think about the idea that you know companies coming in to any kind Have you know put together, whether it’s a team, they’ve put together advisors, maybe funders, salespeople, just a whole myriad of resources that they brought together. And that group, their attention is generally short, right, you’re, you know, you’re going to compete for salespeople, if they don’t see early success, they’re gonna go somewhere else, your funders, obviously, they need a return within a certain amount of time. There are always constituents that have sort of a short window. And, and there’s obviously a lot of ways to address this, some companies come in, and they look for big wins early, others come in and look more for sort of base hits or small wins, and build on that to sort of build team confidence test operations and so on. But when, when you think about the time component of market entry, how, I guess, how do you advise companies to sort of make sure that they leverage sort of that time and don’t let the sand run out of the hourglass? Before the other resources sort of, you know, evaporate? Like, what are your thoughts about that? 

Karina : Yeah, and that’s, that’s why strategy is important, not just diving in, but really putting strategy together. It might depend a little bit where the company is where it’s well established company, or still an early stage company. But a lot of companies who come to us essentially are startups, no matter if you’re 20, 30 year old company, if you come here, you’re a startup and you need to think as a startup and you need to understand your runway, in terms of the budget, how long you can sustain that startup operation until how long the parent company can support it. What are the most important milestones where you know that you hit so that you can continue the operation? A lot of companies have couple of false starts until they learn their lesson right and then put the strategy together. And just like with a startup, you know the runway, the golden standard is you need to have a runway of at least 18 months before you will start fundraising again for your next milestone. So I would say you know, give yourself two three years to really see where you are, but again, be nimble and flexible so that if you need to pivot your pivot if you need to Hold and restart it’s cheaper and more efficient to do that than to keep pushing to the dead end right so I think The key word as you said is nimble and agile um And so but also Not just an unfocused I would say nimble agile and focused would be the three elements in terms of What are the most important but they also want to Say one more thing I think a lot companies a lot of companies that we see I’m completely under estimate their competition And I think that’s it Until You know one of the buckets and sure maybe all of the above It’s just this again this cockiness that you know we know our competition And we dismiss our competition with Much better of course we will be successful here because we do y and z I see it biting companies A lot of biting companies in fundraising, it’s fighting them in sales, if they don’t respect their competition, and give it due respect, and also don’t understand what is the value benefit that they bring to the customer that does better than their competition? I think that’s a really key position that the companies need to understand. Yeah. 

Bill : Yeah, no, that’s a really good point, we see that as a challenge quite often as well. And it even to the extent where there are competitors ahead, using those references in terms of, you know, how did they get there? You know, what, what are their message? How is their messaging compared to yours? And all that? Yeah, lots of really great lessons from hundreds as well. And probably some good validation is as well, that yeah, there is a market opportunity, and, you know, and all that.

Karina : Biggest red flag to me and to a lot of investors is if you say, there’s no competition, oh, my God, I throw my hands up. I’m like, well, then you don’t have a market? Or you need to invent your market. Why even bother? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Very, very expensive market to enter. Yeah, yeah, exactly. So wait. So let’s talk about 

Karina : Sorry, go ahead.

Bill : I was just gonna say let’s, let’s talk about your work and World Upstart and what you’re doing to help companies internationalize, I’d love to hear more about it. 

Karina : Yeah, so we’re zero focused on helping companies enter the United States market. And right now with zero focused on medtech, and life sciences and medical devices, digital health. So we run accelerators three, four times a year, where we sort of hit all four buckets. We organized our crater where we have, we address legal issues with experts, we’ll bring in experts to talk about how you should incorporate in the US and why. And we have very small cohorts so that companies can get expert advice almost on a one on one basis. We talk about, you know, immigration strategies, there are 11 different ways you can get visa, why this particular way is important for you in the long run, we talk about IP protection. So many companies think that they will have their IP in Belgium but will fundraise in the US Well, no one will invest into sales and marketing. So how do you license IP to a US entity? So we do all of that, then we concentrate on healthcare markets, specifically the reimbursement strategy? My God, if you don’t have reimbursement strategy coming to us? How are you going to survive here? So understanding how US healthcare is so fundamentally different from other countries and how to approach it?

Karina : Regulatory obviously, but also how to market to patients, providers and payers. We have companies here that sell directly to doctors and surgeons in their own countries. Oh, that will never happen here. So how do you hone the strategies to do it here, and then operations, how to hire, where to find talent, how to do international banking, which is so not trivial. Moving money across borders is days. And then finally, fundraising, US investors are spoiled, and like to see things in a very specific way. And we train companies how to do it, and then we’ll put them in front of the investors. And they work weekly with experts from the industry with mentors. So that’s sort of the comprehensive program that will bring to the table to companies that are open and ready to enter market. And our mission is to uncover for them again, what they don’t know that they don’t know. So by the end of it, they have a roadmap and they can start hiring the right consultants to help them with specific tasks that they need to do. And so that’s why a lot of our mentors are also consultants that can pick up the pieces and run with them. So that’s what world upstart is focusing on. As I said, in the past, we really been focused on healthcare. This year, we’re also thinking of adding a vertical and that probably will be FinTech or smart city. So one of the technology verticals to run accelerator for those companies. That’s what we do. 

Bill : Yeah, that’s great. So us there, obviously, med device and life science is a big space. And companies are all different stages. Is there a profile of company that is particularly relevant to and particularly valued in the world upstart accelerator?  Yeah.

Karina : Yeah, we all Let’s say that we work with companies that have proven traction in their own country. And sometimes that proven traction could be well funded company, the investors believe in that. Because in life science, you might not have revenue for 7, 10 years, right? Sometimes attraction is revenue. And you don’t have to be an old established company to come to us, you could be a startup, but you need to have some proof of product market fit in your own country. Before you come here. A lot of startups coming from smaller countries have to look at us as their big market. But I always advise companies to test all the hypotheses and product market fit and validation, where they are, where they know people before they come to us. So that’s the only I would say criteria. We don’t take equity in the companies yet. We take a pretty small fee for our accelerator. And I just want to give you statistics, so in two years, 39 companies, actually, we’re close to 45 right now, but I keep saying 39, because we’re not done with the latest cohort went through us and 15 of them are now in the United States, and just in two years, establishing growing for our FDA approved, so I think our method works for for them to be successful. Yeah. 

Bill : Oh, that’s fantastic. Really, really great news. Well, this has been fantastic, Karina. And is there a book certainly put your contact info and website whatnot in the description? Do you have an ongoing application process or Yep, so people can apply at any time. 

Karina : And it’s ongoing, and application is open right now. But our next cohort starts on January 17, which is pretty soon. And we have  few slots available right now. So if anyone is wanting to start the new year, right, we welcome them. It’s fully online. It’s six weeks, pretty intense online accelerator, you will meet with experts twice a week for hour and a half. And then with mentor once a week for one hour. So it’s four hours weekly, or six weeks, but you will get so much out of it. And by the end, you will have your strategy laid out. So I welcome companies to apply. We will have another accelerator probably later in the spring. But I think our January one is gelling to be a really interesting one with very interesting companies right now. So yeah. 

Bill : Fantastic work. Well, we’ll invite you back to talk more about this and other topics as we go forward with it. Again, thank you for taking the time. 

Karina : Oh, thank you so much for inviting me. This was fun. And this topic is so near and dear to my heart. Because just like you we see the mistakes that could have been avoided. And if we can preventively do it. Yeah, I’m happy to talk about it every day. Yes. 

Karina : Thank you, Bill. So Much, much appreciated.

Bill : Oh, that’s fantastic. Great. Well, cool. This has been so nice. And thank you for taking the time today to talk to us about being nimble versus random. Because it’s such a I think you use the term focus which, yeah, likewise, I would put that at the top of the list. But this is certainly this notion that there’s a big difference between being nimble and, and being random. So it’s just it’s great to talk through the topic with you today.