Allons-y USA: What to Expect

Bonnie Ravina
Dec 13, 2021 · 7 min read

(Ring Capital’s Impact Growth Day Recap)

Working in and around “La French Tech” ecosystem for more than a decade, I can say without a doubt that this is the best time ever for French startups to go global.

But success and support in France can create a false sense of security for startups and investors alike. To be successful in the US, founders likely need to change their expectations, execution priorities and spending — while maintaining a cohesive company identity and building a culture of collaboration.

We “unpacked” this issue at Ring Capital’s recent “Impact Growth Day” in Paris (where else?) where we brought the community together to explore the future. In a dedicated session on US GTM, we looked at the opportunities and challenges for US growth, zoomed in on one company’s experience in building their US strategy and teams and shared tips on how to accelerate time-to-value. Take a read!

The French ecosystem does more than almost any other country to support its startup community.

The geographic convergence in Paris of talent, buyers, finance, government and media is unlike that of most other countries, creating a beautiful bubble to nurture, fund, accelerate and promote promising startups.

Consider the willingness of the CAC 40 to take on POC projects; the massive government investment and entrepreneurial policies that not only support homegrown startups but also stake France as the center of EuroTech (thanks, Brexit!); the excellence of HEC, Polytechnic and Essec to solidify France’s “DeepTech” reputation; the pay-it-forward commitment of breakthrough entrepreneurs to open doors. Le Hub. Station F. VivaTech.

So why not conquer the US? It’s 50% of the global market and still the epicenter of tech. Thanks to so many factors, from the ascension of global unicorns to open French-US borders to even the pandemic’s influence on digital collaboration — all signals indicate go. But there are surprises that every founder faces.

Coming to the US is not unlike being launched into space: It’s cold, vast and lonely. Here’s what to know:

  • It will cost more than you want and take longer than you think. Start now. The single biggest “fatal flaw” for FrenchTech is that it under-values and under invests in sales and marketing and therefore gets pushed out of the game from the beginning. Almost everything else in “failure to execute” stems from that.
  • No one is waiting for you. There are other solutions already available (including the status quo). They might be better designed, or better sold, or found to be irrelevant and unnecessary. You need to be more than agile — you need to operate from the adage that perfect is the enemy of good and be willing to test and fail. These are difficult but existential cultural adaptations.
  • Money matters. A lot. Money buys access to better resources — it buys experience. (The talent war is its own topic.). It buys reach across your market, which is essential when you don’t have (or want) the infrastructure. It allows you to get above the noise, which is important in building a brand to attract talent, buyers, partners and others.

Of course, it’s more than just money. That’s the raison d’etre of Ring2Success and specifically Ring2US — to bring together resources, expertise and networks to boost the overall trajectory of growth. No fear!

Getting on the ground: Early success is all about building partnerships.

Our breakout session at Impact Growth Day, “Allons-y: USA,” reflected the needs and priorities of the Ring portfolio companies. Some companies are already established, some are in the planning stages.

Proper investment, advanced planning and cross-country collaboration boost the trajectory of US launch

We talked about best practices and interviewed one of our co-founders focused on large-scale B2B enterprises. They had customers here before opening an office. This works when executed carefully.

Here are four key takeaways from that Q&A discussion, with insights to take for everyone:

  1. Grow through customers; scale through partners.

The best market entry is a “soft landing,” with targets who know your customers, can learn about how you’ve helped them and can see the fit for their own needs. Our co-founder concentrated on getting the customers and working with early deployment partners, supported by their best teams to build credibility and experience.

Channel partners should be cared for as an extension of the selling organization — and first need to be “sold” as to why they should support your product. Is it a new revenue channel for them? Does it build loyalty with their current customers? And they’ll expect you to generate the leads for them.

2. Hire for local market experience.

“We realized that we needed people on the ground who really know the market and who’ve been in our space,” said our co-founder. The US team includes experienced executives for sales and alliances, technical account managers, customer success representatives and BDRs — all of whom have been in their category. They are bringing in a US head of marketing to be closer to market messaging and marketing practices.

3. Blend the local team for culture.

“We seeded the US with experienced technical people who partner with our local teams.” R&D is and will remain at French headquarters, but their local exposure in the US is invaluable. "It gives our French R&D team a direct view of customer requirements and partner expectations, which goes back into product improvements and deployment approaches.” It’s also a real job perk for the French team to have a US rotation.

Company culture cannot be underestimated for short-term impact and long-term success. The company has regular cross-company and team-specific events and touchpoints. Travel restrictions during the pandemic were challenging, but the principle is to bring people together in France and the US, and to have a regular founder presence in the US. “Ideally the founder should live there if they can.”

4. Invest in your market ecosystem.

You need to be present and active in “techno-vendor” events and online communities and visible to leading channel companies. Moreover, you need to engage with the analysts (influencers) who are tracking the space and get to know the operational and management consultancies who address process and change. They serve trusted advisors to executive-level buyers. These relationships start “cold” but warm up with time, attention and investment.

Advance work: The secret to success is in pre-flight preparation.

Before I started working with Ring, I did workshops and speed coaching for a lot of company founders. I don’t want to tell you how many said they would move to the US to feel the market. No plan. Just go. That won’t work today (nor then).

There’s a lot you can and should do in advance to increase impact, decrease risk and ultimately accelerate time-to-value in US execution.

Here are a few key elements:

  • Target carefully. Even the unicorns have to start with the first 10, first 100 or first 1000 to get to hypergrowth. If you’re B2B, map your current customer base (wherever they are) to related organizations. Build the ideal customer profiles, define the buying personas (the operational, technical and financial) and create account profiles to know where to focus and with whom. It’s a big enough market. Start (relatively) small.
  • Study the market: Understand the competitors — the gorillas and the disruptors. Find the analysts and influencers and subscribe to their content to see what — and who — they are covering. Dig into the key events, their media sponsors and exhibitors to get a picture of the ecosystem.
  • Fix your brand: Everything starts online. Clean up the website, develop self-serve content — videos, podcasts and other easy-to-consume information — about your solution, including customer success stories. Consider and design for the buyer journey from the first point of awareness to consideration to evaluation and what’s needed to support (and accelerate) each stage.
  • Have something to say. In France, it might be about the quality of ingredients and the elegance of the system. In the US, it’s about the problems you solve. The why — not the how. So focus on the buyer needs, challenges and opportunities that you open as a result of using your product. Educate them. Be provocative. Be helpful. Look at what the strategy consultants publish about your use cases and buyer needs and be sure you can connect the dots to your solution.
  • Find your tribes. This is about the personal and relationship side of coming to the US. You want communities to help you, your teams (and families) set up for success. Expat groups for networking are important — meetup groups and FrenchFounders can help a lot here. Connect with the local tech groups and business groups to help find local buyers, partners and resources.

Bonnie Ravina is the Ring2US Operating Partner at Ring Capital, and founder of Full Circle Communications, a boutique consultancy that works with B2B tech companies to position, enable and scale marketing for growth.

Want to know more? Get in touch with me or learn more about Ring2Success.

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