Jake Millar: How to achieve blast-off in the US market

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Seven tips for getting your foot in the door.

Are you looking to expand your business into the US?

I don't blame you, there is so much opportunity. The key is to arrive prepared, and ready for success.

I travel around the world interviewing some of the most amazing business leaders on the planet. It just so happens that many of these business leaders are New Zealanders. Kiwis killing it on the global stage.

I recently returned from the USA where I was filming for a new series called Unfiltered in the USA. We interviewed more than 20 business masterminds while on tour, including the president of Y Combinator Sam Altman, the chief executive of Unity Technologies John Riccitiello, and Matt Nordby, president, global licensing and chief revenue officer of Playboy Enterprises.

We flew into Los Angeles, and after a couple of days of driving around, headed to Mojave for an interview with the chief executive of Virgin Galactic, George Whitesides.

Virgin Galactic had just unveiled its brand new spaceship, VSS Unity, so we were there at a very busy time.

Whitesides spoke in a lot of detail about the "business of space", and the greatest opportunities that entrepreneurs can exploit in the industry.

New Zealand is one of the world leaders in this space (pun intended), with Peter Beck from Rocket Lab changing the way satellites are launched, globally.

One of the other major highlights was our interview with Kiwi businesswoman Sarah Robb O'Hagan.

O'Hagan, who had her start at the University of Auckland, was until recently the president of Equinox, a global fitness and lifestyle brand across the US and the United Kingdom with 18,000 staff, before leaving to launch her own startup, ExtremeYOU.

O'Hagan is the former president of Gatorade, general manager of marketing at Nike, director of marketing at Virgin Atlantic Airlines, and has been named among Forbes Magazine's Most Powerful Women in Sports multiple times. She is killing it on the global stage, and she is only 43.

To hear from O'Hagan how she has made it big in the US was truly inspiring. She explained how she was fired from Virgin and Atari, before landing her dream job at Nike.

George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic. Photo / Bloomberg
George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic. Photo / Bloomberg

I've learnt a lot talking to these amazing business leaders in the US, and have pulled together seven of the biggest lessons relating to the expansion of New Zealand businesses into the US:

1. Want to get in a door?

Introductions are vital, particularly in Silicon Valley. In New Zealand, business leaders are often very receptive to being cold-approached, but in the US, an introduction is often the only way in the door.

A trusted introduction ensures your proposition will be looked at. We interviewed Scott Nolan, a partner of Peter Thiel's Founders Fund, who said introductions are practically the only way to get a meeting at Founders Fund. Relationships are vital.

2. Get to the point.

Americans don't muck around. If you don't have your elevator pitch ready, you won't be taken seriously. Learn to sell your business vision within 20 minutes.

3. Oversell yourself.

I was once told by an American friend that nobody would take me seriously as I was "too humble".

As a general rule, Americans often oversell themselves by 100 per cent, while Kiwis often undersell themselves by 100 per cent. Double your enthusiasm and truly sell yourself. Just be sure to turn off the hype when you get back to New Zealand otherwise you'll get killed by other New Zealanders who will hate this.

4. There is no "US market".

If you're looking to expand into the US, realise that there isn't a "US market". Different states have massive differences.

It is smarter to expand into California, or New York, and then expand into other parts of the US later. Going after the whole country at once will likely cause you a massive headache and unnecessary failure.

5. You can't rock up, raise some capital, and go home.

Almost always, founders have to be on the ground in the US, or live there, to raise capital. A huge number of Kiwis go to the US for a few weeks, have a few meetings and expect to raise capital and take over the world. This won't happen. The US is a serious place and requires serious effort.

6. Visas are hard, don't underestimate the challenges you will face.

As Kiwis who value our freedom, it is easy to think that you can rock up to the US and stay forever, forgetting that you will quickly make it to Donald Trump's hit list unless you do it properly. Finding the right visa is hard, expensive and time-consuming. Make sure you really, really want to do it, and don't give it a half-hearted effort, otherwise you'll fail.

7. Kiwis want to help.

There are amazing support networks in the US to help you grow. Make sure you check out what NZTE has to offer, as well as the Kiwi Landing Pad which is an amazing first step. These people have been through it all before, and can save you from making rookie mistakes. Also be sure to chat with the thousands of Kiwis who live in the US as they'll be happy to help you succeed on the global stage.

Good luck, and have fun.

Jake Millar is the chief executive and publisher of unfiltered.co.nz, a business education platform which helps businesses grow in New Zealand and abroad through exclusive video interviews with game changers.

Video

- NZ Herald

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