During the second edition of StartupFest Europe, The Dutch government seized the opportunity to organize an extra event on how to expand a business to the United States.
The event also had representatives and startup founders from New York, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago who shared their knowledge and valuable insights on how to successfully enter the US market from abroad.
Dashmote’s CEO Dennis Tan was one of the panel members and spoke about their own journey of expansion into international territory so far. This blog will go through the top highlights of StartupFest Europe and offer important information that every startup looking to expand abroad should be aware of.
1. Adapt to the local culture
Just like the Dutch, Americans also have a unique startup culture and being aware of some distinctions would be helpful for any business trying to integrate into foreign territory. For starters, the US is a country that is known for having one of the most individualistic cultures in the world – and in business this is no different. This is particularly reflected in the way that people within organizations communicate with their colleagues, where each employee is considered to be an individual with their own unique strengths and talents. In other words, everyone can make a significant difference for a company, and every person has a vital role in the success of a startup.
Another important thing to consider as an entrepreneur looking to expand abroad is the nuanced differences within the work environment. Other than looking at colleagues as equals, you’ll also find Americans to be openly receptive to new ideas and business ventures. In comparison, while the Dutch also like to brainstorm and discuss new ideas, they also tend to be more conservative when it comes to change and to err on the side of caution. Paradoxically though, Americans have a habit of being “overly positive” about things that can be hard to differentiate for someone not familiar with that part of their culture.
While Americans tend to “beat around the bush” to avoid awkward interactions, the Dutch get straight to the point. They are known for being direct communicators, and even though this can be considered an advantage in business, it can also come off as harsh if the recipient is not familiar with this cultural difference. The Dutch like to speak their minds and to communicate their points openly. The difference with Americans is that while they also do this, it is in a more indirect way. For example, if someone in America says your work is ‘okay,’ this means there is room for improvement and that it should be worked on. In comparison, a Dutch person would take ‘okay’ as a confirmation that he or she is doing a good job. Ultimately, communication styles across cultures are vastly different, and when in doubt just honestly discuss what is unclear to you. This will avoid a lot of uncertainty down the road.
2. Come prepared
In reference to doing business in the US, a trusted investor recently told us: ‘The Netherlands is in the Premier League, while the US is in the Champions League’. This means that Americans like to see you prepared for everything, and if you have a meeting planned there is no room for unpreparedness. Americans want to know what you want to get out of the meeting – so make sure to come ready with your goals and how you would like to achieve them already in mind. As Americans like to say: “time is money” and when it comes to pitching your business this certainly rings true. In this sense, their business culture is perhaps even more direct than the Dutch one.
With that said, make absolutely sure you have done your market research and don’t rely on much if any improvisation along the way. It also wouldn’t hurt to have some baseline knowledge of some current events going on. Having a meeting in New York? Look up how the local sports teams are doing. Americans like to have a little chit-chat before they actually start a meeting, and this small interaction could set you apart from a competitor.
Important tip: make sure you have developed your elevator pitch to perfection. This is most likely one of the most important ways when it comes to acquiring new business contacts while in the US. Americans like to chat, so if you can’t briefly explain your business to someone then you might be losing a potential future client.
3. Do not underestimate legal matters
We found this to be a major pitfall for many fellow entrepreneurs. Understandably, Dutch people will tend to underestimate the complexity of legal issues in the United States. This involves things like setting up a business entity, forming contracts, hiring employees, insurance, taxes and protecting your intellectual property. One has to take into account that these issues are handled much differently from those compared to the Netherlands. For example, do not be surprised when your counterpart brings his or her lawyer to a business meeting. Negotiating a contract takes longer, and is more complicated in the US as compared to the Netherlands, and one of the reasons for this is because, by default, Dutch contract law covers more than in the United States. It is therefore advised to acquire legal advice in the early stage of negotiations.
Ultimately, the legal aspect must not be underestimated and we would recommend you to gather insights from experienced advisors within your field. In case you have no clue on where to start with this, do not hesitate to contact a Consulate or an Embassy to connect you with the right local people. For an extensive weekend read, check out this booklet provided by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.