For many globally-minded UK businesses, the US is the first port of call when it comes to international expansion. The funding rounds, the customer base, the potential partners – everything in the US is geared towards growth.
Here are five quick tips to get you started on your US expansion journey.
Pack your bags
US investors, partners and customers are increasingly interested in UK and European start-ups, but they’ll typically expect you to have key people on the ground.
Investors want to leverage their network and expertise; partners and customers demand responsiveness and accountability.
Get started early on addressing personnel matters. Sorting out immigration issues might take a few months if you’re relocating or sending colleagues. Take your time even if you’re hiring locally – retaining the wrong people can be a major setback.
Location, location, location
Choosing where to launch is crucial. New York is largely considered a naturally attractive starting point, mainly due to its manageable flight-times, the time zone, and the concentration of potential customers.
The West Coast’s robust VC community is also an undeniable lure. Many US locations provide significant tax and other incentives to entice high-growth businesses.
The right decision will take many considerations into account: proximity to customers, suppliers and investors, ease of management, availability of talent, and costs of operation.
Be sure to utilise the US Government’s SelectUSA market-research tools, as well as any local and US-based government advisors available to you, including the Department of International Trade, or Enterprise Ireland, for example. A shared workspace like Spark Labs can also help in this regard.
Protect what’s yours
Your UK or European patents and trademarks don’t extend to the US, so consider filing for US applications. With some planning, your existing filings may allow you to establish US rights prior to actual US expansion.
Adapting your standard terms and conditions to the US market is often advisable. US partners may balk at signing an agreement governed by another country’s laws and respond with their less-favourable form agreement.
Watch your back
US commercial opportunities are vast, but you need to recognise and navigate the legal risks.
The US business culture is aggressive, in part because – unlike in much of the world – each party in a US lawsuit typically pays its own legal fees, regardless of the dispute’s underlying merits.
US entities often use the threat of costly and distracting litigation to negotiate favourable business outcomes. Useful risk mitigation strategies include US insurance policies, good compliance programmes, and unambiguous contract drafting.
Leverage your team
Savvy US entrepreneurs view their advisors as partners, providing a shield against threats and complexities that distract from core business.
You’re more likely to stay focused if you have a seasoned, cost-effective US advisory team around you – a US lawyer, banker, accountant, insurer, etc. And don’t be shy about leveraging their networks for US introductions; US entrepreneurs expect that value-add.
Daniel Glazer is a Partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and an advisor at Spark Labs, a global club for innovators founded by European entrepreneurs who have successfully created, scaled-up and sold start-ups in the US.