1. What was your first export sale?
It was in the U.S. I can’t name the company, but it’s a very large company on the NASDAQ. Our second export sale was a Hong Kong smart-watch company.
2. How did that first sale come about?
The U.S. one came about because we had expertise from our previous startup (Blueslice Networks) that this company recognized. It was an easier sale from that standpoint. It was very early in our company and our product wasn’t even completely ready.
The Hong Kong sale was more interesting because we were invited by the foreign ministry to be part of a mission to a Hong Kong trade show. We basically used the Trade Commissioners as salespeople and we ended up meeting some people there and winning the sale a few weeks later.
3. When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
For some areas, you absolutely need a local presence. We thought because we were a cloud company, we could skip that part. From our telecom experience, we knew the importance of having people on the ground but because we were a cloud service, we made the assumption that we might not have to. It’s not the case. We don’t necessarily need people across the U.S. because we’re so close, but Hong Kong is a different story.
4. How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
In our sector, I now realize that everyone is closer to Silicon Valley than they used to be. You’ll meet companies in Japan that are very traditional and then you find out they have investments in Silicon Valley and that they invest in incubators. It’s less and less the case that the investors are local.
5. What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket. We sometimes have a perception of a market but you need to go a couple of times to see if that market is suited to you. I would also suggest free counselling and help you can get from outside the company. EDC is great help, as are the Trade Commissioners. They can do screening and definitely help a lot. Also, don’t underestimate the culture gap that can exist.