We wrote this article for Straight Up, a monthly startup resource that tackles common sticking points of early stage startups. Get yourself on the list for the rest of May’s market validation edition here.
Mish Guru help brands to be better at Snapchat storytelling and with people tracking about 10 billion views per day, it’s a good market to be in. Mish Guru are Lightning Lab alumni who went through the programme back in 2014. The team has come a long way in the past 2 years. We have been following their progress closely as they break into international markets, both in the United States & Australia. We spoke with New York based CEO and Co-founder, Tom Harding about his experiences running a startup overseas and he had heaps of great pointers for early stage startups.
Tell me about what Mish Guru does and about the journey you’ve taken to break into international markets?
Mish Guru helps brands to be better at Snapchat Storytelling. More specifically we’ve built a platform that streamlines uploading, scheduling and publishing of content as well as providing the critical analytics that lets brands know what is resonating best with their audience.
We also offer our clients a full range of implementation services to help get them up and running – from creative and design to full-service takeovers and community management.
We are still a long way from being properly “global”. That being said, to get to a point at which we felt comfortable testing new markets there were a few key milestones that we had to first knock off:
- We had to build a functioning product.
- We had to prove that our product did what we claimed it would. i.e. case studies.
- We had to learn how to sell our product.
- We needed to adequately finance our company, both through investment and sales streams.
- We had to ensure that our team could continue to function remotely.
How have you determined the right market for your business and what general factors did you have to consider to get the ball rolling?
We are currently targeting two markets for expansion, the US & Australia, both of which have quite different factors to consider.
US: The rationale behind chasing the US market was largely focused around the scale of the market and the high penetration of Snapchat usage there.
Australia: Having started and proven out the business in New Zealand, it was a fairly obvious decision to then push into the Australian market. The initial determining factors for Mish Guru were: we found the market was large enough to scale in, culturally we are very similar, we can leverage already existing networks and the similar time-zone makes it easier for us to provide support from New Zealand.
Was the decision to move to the US difficult? What were some of the things you had to consider?
The decision wasn’t difficult, we’d been targeting the US since the beginning of the Mish Guru journey, there are however lots of considerations to be aware of when moving to America. You have to think about visa’s, the ideal location for your business, your financial situation, your team and how you’re going to support each other in different time-zones.
With regards to visa’s pretty much every Kiwi I’ve spoken to over here has a story about their situation and for good reason, it’s very hard to get set up properly. Coming over on the ESTA /B1 isn’t too difficult, but take note that there are a limited number of times you can enter and exit before you start to get a grilling from immigration. Most lawyers I spoke to weren’t that useful, try and pin down another Kiwi who’s done it before you successfully if you want the best advice. Full disclosure – I’m still working this one out!
There is a common myth that Silicon Valley is the only place for tech startups, but really it depends on what you’re trying to achieve in the States. Our goals were largely focused around making industry connections, so as a starting place, New York made a lot more sense for Mish Guru.
It’s not a cheap exercise to set up a business in the US. Thankfully we have a very supportive set of investors (shout out to Sparkbox and GD1) behind us that enabled us to do this earlier than we otherwise could have.
Being on the East Coast I have an 8-hour time difference with our NZ team. With time-zone differences you have to be prepared for late nights or early mornings (depending where you’re based). Mish started out life as a remote company so a lot of our workflows were already set up to handle having distributed team members – even still, it’s tough. Make sure you factor these things into your thinking when looking at moving offshore.
What have been the main benefits for taking Mish Guru to an international marketplace so far?
While New Zealand was a great place to develop our product and business model, it is not a very big market. There are simply more opportunities for us in international markets.
Have you had any issues with cultural/language differences and how have you dealt with them?
People do not do business in the US in the same way that we do in NZ. My biggest observations so far have been:
- Americans don’t expect small talk. They like to get to the point very quickly and expect the same in return.
- Kiwis are very willing to try new things. Americans like to see validation in use cases that they can relate to. i.e. they don’t really care about case studies from NZ.
- While we can understand Americans easily, they quite often have no idea what you’ve been saying the last 5 minutes – they won’t tell you either. Speak slowly and clearly. Don’t use the word “bro”.
What advice or key takeaways do you have for other startups looking to make an impact in an international market, what common pitfalls can others avoid?
- Preparation is key. Again, it’s not cheap to be move into a new market. Ideally, you should already have plenty of meetings lined up before you even get on the plane to go somewhere.
- Utilizing Kiwi networks based in your market can play a large role in this. There are so many Kiwis doing awesome things here in the US and as long as you have a clear set of asks (not just “let’s grab a coffee and chat”) people will usually make time for you.
- Having experienced mentors behind you that have done it in the US before (or the market you’re looking at) will accelerate your business greatly.
- It will always take longer than you expect, so be prepared for that and have time up your sleeve.
- Get your elevator pitch down.
- Startups in the US often aren’t as far advanced as they imply on first impression – don’t be intimidated, keep doing what you’re doing.
- Last but not least by any means, be focused. Conferences, Meetups etc might seem like a good idea, but ask yourself “is this Meetup/conference actually going to help further my business more than picking up the phone and calling a potential customer?”
For more insights from local mentors and startups, get yourself on the list for the next edition of Straight Up – Creative HQ’s monthly startup resource that focuses on a different topic startups struggle with each month.