Earlier this summer at London Tech Week entrepreneurs from around the world descended on the UK’s capital. Amongst them was a large contingent from home: countless Australian and New Zealand-based founders visiting as part of a Global Tech Mission, coordinated by organisations including the UK Department of International Trade, Tech Nation, Tribe Global Ventures, Think & Grow and Investment NSW.
With years of disrupted travel – and physical separation – now hopefully behind us, there was an atmosphere of incredible excitement. These ambitious antipodean entrepreneurs had plenty to show off, as they looked to propel their businesses into the UK, Europe and beyond.
One of the key takeaways from the week was that, in spite of legacy Brexit noise, and the aftershocks of the pandemic, the UK is still very much seen as a phenomenal launch pad for entrepreneurs from all over the globe. Its thriving financial services, healthcare and deep tech sectors, not to mention a host of others, coupled with cultural alignments extending through a common language to a shared love of a pint in the sun, set it apart as a start-up hub.
Aside from being an easy place to do business, and a useful foothold from which to step into mainland Europe – or the US – the UK also has a population double the size of Australia and NZ’s combined. For these entrepreneurs, it resonated as the perfect place to catapult their company’s globalisation efforts.
As an Australian myself, it’s a subject that’s close to my heart. I’m inspired by the potential the convergence of the thriving tech scenes of my homeland and my adopted home has to offer. At Octopus Ventures, we’ve been advocating for the UK to pioneering antipodean founders with global ambitions for years, and we’ve put our money where our mouth is. We’ve backed a number of Australian/NZ based companies including APLYiD, Seatfrog and most recently Fergus, all of whom have scaled their businesses successfully from down under into the UK.
I’ve been thinking back on the terrific conversations I had with visiting founders in the weeks since London Tech Week, and reflecting on everything we at Octopus Ventures have learned over the years, as we supported our antipodean portfolio companies. The prospect of expanding into the UK can – like the distance – be intimidating, but as one of the UK’s most active VCs, with our expertise in the market and experience working with founders from elsewhere, I can say that it’s not as hard as you might think. Here are my top 10 tips for founders who are considering going on this journey from a VC’s perspective – and as ever, if you’ve got a pioneering business, honed Down Under and ready to change the world – we’d love to hear from you!
1. Obsess with building a network & do your homework before launching!
Use friendly allies like DIT, Newfound, Think & Grow, attending London Tech Week to grow your network, and do your research before launching. Demonstrating tangible evidence of both local market feedback and a strong network already in place carries a lot of weight with UK investors if you’re looking for a local funding partner. The right UK investor can add serious fuel to the fire, but they won’t be able to replace the hustle involved in making those initial key connections.
2. Get customer & product feedback.
Roll up your sleeves and leverage your network to get as much customer and product feedback from the local market as you can before going live. Sectors where you’ve had success at home may have different characteristics in the UK – and your product needs to be adapted for them. Failing to do so before you ramp up your go-to-market (GTM) efforts can be a costly mistake, and investors will want to know why you can win over here in specific sectors. The simple assertion that your ‘product is better’ isn’t going to be enough to win them around.
3. Use that feedback to guide your short term GTM plan.
Collate your learnings and use them to shape your initial GTM investment and resource allocation. Be methodical, don’t just throw things against the wall to see what sticks. You’ll keep experimenting, of course, but make sure your first few bets are backed by a solid foundation.
4. Don’t forget home! Ensure leadership is decentralised correctly.
If you, as the founder, have moved over to scale the UK operation, you need to ensure that staff morale, culture and performance in Aus/NZ are all still optimised. If you’ve been operating from a bedrock of founder-led sales, will these drop off? (Check out Edward Keelan’s blog for advice on securely transitioning away from these). UK Investors will see the Aus/NZ business as the ‘stable base’, so present a plan, proving that even if the UK growth fails, there’s still a great and dependable business back home.
5. Tweak your GTM messaging.
Brand and tone really matter, and what sells in one market might not fly off the shelves in another. Make sure you’re au fait with the cultural quirks of your new market, and build a top content marketing plan that takes in all the nuances.
6. Don’t be afraid to dominate a niche (or two).
Aus/NZ founders are used to the need to abroad, because focusing on one particular niche is risky and restrictive. In bigger markets, knowing what you stand for and where you have a competitive edge can help drastically with giving a clear purpose – both internally and externally.
When you’re looking at potential candidates for a Head of Country role, remember: a black book isn’t going to be enough. You need someone who’s prepared to really graft. If the founder isn’t re-locating to lead the UK operation, you need to be outrageously picky about who you hire instead. Never assume they share the same hustle as you. Local hires will need sector specific knowledge, but this is also an area where the right investor can help: at Octopus Ventures our People and Talent team pools expertise from across territories, and is dedicated to helping our portfolio companies find – and retain – the talent they need to thrive. Finding the right person is part of your homework and patience is a must – Be very picky about who you choose for this. Firms like Newfound and Think & Grow can also be a great help for this.
8. Clarify your operating model before scaling.
Getting all aspects of your operations, including roles and responsibilities, straight is essential. Scaling in multiple geographies is challenging – and exhilarating. Things move fast, and there will inevitably be fires to fight and opportunities to pounce on, so make sure everything else is figured out first. This means instilling best practice tools and processes for performance measurement, clear OKR’s, culture (our People and Talent team can also help with this), sales playbook and enablement, and so on.
9. Founders’ time is a commodity.
Do not underestimate the demands scaling in a new territory will place on your time! Remember that you can’t be everywhere at once, and you can’t be present for every tiny decision. Pick the most strategically important place, make sure your team is primed and as good as it can be – and prioritise.
10. Only raise capital from a UK investor when you’re ready.
Some founders assume that, because London has significant pots of capital, raising in the UK right away makes sense. We’ve seen it before. But raising capital from VC funds always comes at a price and you want that capital to be smart money. Only look to raise from a UK fund when your product and GTM have reached a stage that will benefit from the introduction of a smart investor. The right investors bring more than capital to the table, and your company needs to be placed to make the most of everything they have to offer. Instilling them with the right level of confidence will also guarantee they introduce your company to people in their network.
The most important take away is this: the UK offers a host of benefits to businesses looking to grow beyond their Australia/New Zealand markets. But international expansion can be a costly distraction. In more Australian language: it’s not a thing to half-arse! The benefits, though, are enormous. So if you think your business is ready to scale up, and what you’ve read chimes with your outlook and ambitions – get in touch. You can reach me at [email protected]