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Ultimate Guide to preparing your startup to launch in the USA


A practical step-by-step guide for foreign entrepreneurs to expand into North America.


This guide is developed in collaboration with Kaya Stattmiller, founder of Linque, and in partnership with Sean Sheppard, founder of Growthx. Designs are provided by Dee Dee Art.



As the CEO of a growing company, one of your biggest decisions is expanding overseas. The US market is large and dynamic, leading to a constant demand for innovation.


A company that can meet this demand can secure predictable and scalable revenue growth. Also, the innovations and improvements the company develops for the US market can give you a competitive advantage in other markets.


Yet in such an aggressive market, a hasty move can cost you that opportunity.


Too often, international CEOs fall short in the USA because they don’t understand the United States. English is the international language, and American culture is everywhere, so many founders believe that they know all they need to know about the USA.


The real story though is in the differences between the US market and the markets they know: They aren’t prepared for American needs and tastes, or the tough competition of American companies.


Founders are eager to make fast sales and often don’t realize how important their company’s readiness and product-market fit are for the new market.


More often than not this results in costly failures. Expanding to the US market is risky, but a methodical approach can greatly increase your chances of success while reducing the cost of failure.


The scope of this guide is to provide international founders with a blueprint of how to prepare for the US market in order to maximize the efforts and results and focus on what matters the most — acquisition of new customers and not losing any opportunities that come their way.



The Basics

When and How to Enter a New Market?

Methodical approach

Product — Market Fit

The Approach

Step 1: Company Snapshot

Step 1 — Activity 1: Company Review

Company Resource Mapping — What resources do you have available today?

Marketing Process Mapping — How do you generate inbound leads today?

Sales Process Mapping — How do you reach out to potential customers and close deals today?

Step 1 — Activity 2: Customer’s Review

The Customer’s Profile Map — Who did pay for your solution until now?

Customer’s Acquisition Mapping — How did you actually acquire each of your customers?

Customer’s Journey Mapping — How do your customers experience your product?

Funnel Map — How does your current sales funnel look like?

Step 2: Competetive Analysis

Step 3: Ideal Clients Profiles

Step 4: Buyer Personas for ICPs in the USA

Step 5: Pricing

Step 6: Market Messaging, UVP and USP

Conclusion

Common Mistakes

The Basics


Before we dive into the step by step process of preparation for the US market, this section sheds some light on some related fundamental elements, that in our experience not all founders are aware of.


Even if you are an experienced entrepreneur it might be worthwhile to quickly review the basics of:


· When and How to Enter a New Market?


· Methodical approach


· Product — Market Fit


When and How to Enter a New Market?


When and how are two fundamental questions that all founders ask themselves when they consider expanding.


There is no one-size-fits-all strategy, but there are patterns that founders should take into consideration.


Jason Davis, former MIT Sloan School of Management Professor and current INSEAD Professor conducted research that sheds some light on this matter. Here are his key findings:


Timing


Timing is everything nowadays in almost all aspects of business, and the same is true with new market entry.


Today’s companies can no longer afford to wait until they become major players in their home market before they go international. The sooner they expand into new regions and markets, the faster they will grow.


Single market or global?


Definitely enter one new country at a time. This allows your company to consolidate and digest the new experience before entering the next market.


It is highly recommended to test your product first in a smaller market before entering a larger market like the U.S.


Seeding or soloing? It’s all about learning.


Successful companies use two dominant strategies when entering new markets: seeding and soloing.


Seeding is when executives begin learning about foreign market entry by looking at what others have done or by seeking advice from experienced consultants or experts.


Soloing is when managers learn about a foreign market through experimentation or improvisation, and then rely on similar approaches over time.


Jason Davis’s research shows that soloing companies, in the first two new countries they entered, took less time to capture their first sale, took less time to break even, and reported higher overall ratings of success than the seeding companies.


But while companies that used seeding did not perform as well initially, they performed better in the long run — when they entered their third and fourth international markets. No matter the method, you need to be ready to learn quickly and learn a lot!


Team


Lastly, Jason Davis’s research reveals another very important insight — the importance of a team’s quality.


Companies with management teams that have broad international business experience are more successful than those whose managers lack it.


Companies with a broad and diverse management team tend to lean more heavily on seeding and are therefore more successful in the long term. They have a bigger network so the knowledge they gain from others is much greater and richer.

Methodical approach

Products and markets are unique, the path to product-market fit is not. - Sean Sheppard

Every product is unique and so its journey. Nonetheless, each goes through the same steps or phases from its ideation to success.


This is also true for introducing products or services in a new market. Knowing the steps and where you are on the path can help you stay focused and take the right actions.


For example, there is no point in worrying about scaling your sales process or hiring when you have no customers.


By focusing on the right questions and tasks at the right time, you can execute without feeling overwhelmed or getting burned out. Not to mention a systematic approach usually helps to prevent unnecessary mistakes and find the truth early. This leads to smoother processes and faster results.


If you follow a proven method of learning, testing, measuring and validating, you’ll be able to decide whether you should iterate or you are ready to scale.


This process allows you to create a functional learning organization, find the proverbial product-market fit, and begin to generate predictable, profitable and scalable revenue, or hit the traction milestones you need to ultimately secure your next round of funding.


Our experience has shown that during the early stages of a company, having a data-informed and market-validated awareness of the predictability, profitability, and scalability of revenue is far more important than the sheer volume of revenue.



Product — Market Fit


There is no doubt that the best early customers are the ones in your backyard. Physical proximity to them helps you to get rich feedback and reach product-market fit faster.


Unless you plan to move to the US early on, it’s usually a good idea to confirm the problem that you solve and prove the benefits of your solution/product with customers that are located near you.


For the purpose of this guide, we assume you have traction and steady growth in your home market. This means your product or service is solving a problem and satisfying a need that people are paying for. Congratulations, you have product-market fit.


However, do not let your local product-market fit mislead you. Success in your home market is no guarantee of success in the US market. Understanding your market fit is vital to any company that wishes to enter the USA.


When entering the US market, you need to refine your product-market fit. Even if you have already done these things in your existing markets, remember that the US market is unique. Be prepared to do this work again as you enter this market.


At this point, we would quickly like to remind you of the basic reasons why companies lack product/market fit. As Clement Vouillon explains in his article, you might identify yourself with one of the 3 main scenarios:


  1. Nothing is aligned: you have an idea, but you are not sure yet who your customers are and how to market your product/services to them.

  2. There is no market or the product is not good enough.


a) When your product answers a need that is a “nice to have” and not a “must-have” and it’s hard to make users excited and to generate repeat business, it means that there is no market.


b) If competing products are better-known, or your current product just doesn’t answer the needs of the customer well enough this means that your product is not good enough.


3. Distribution is broken: You have a product that answers a clear need for defined customers but your distribution doesn’t follow. Your customers are happy, but you have a few repeat customers and poor lead generation. This can be because:


a) You don’t know how to “market” your solution yet. New solutions or complex products can be extremely hard to explain and market to the end-users. Learning how to market a product can be a long and difficult process.


b) The sales model is not adapted. For example, you sell to Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) in your local market, but don’t have a lead generation engine that scales to larger companies. Or you sell to the enterprise market but don’t have a great sales team, or your end-user is not the real decision-maker, etc.


c) Distribution brings the wrong type of customers. It’s totally possible to have a marketing team that performs well in terms of leads volume but that brings the wrong type of leads.

Whichever scenario applies to you, keep these points in mind when you evaluate product-market fit in the USA:


  • Learn how your competitors solve your customers’ problems. This will help you emphasize the advantages of your solution for the US market.

  • Be your own worst critic, and never assume that your solution is the best. You need to study your market deeply, until you know your customers’ problems as well as they do, if not better. Only then can you be confident that you are competitive.

  • Don’t underestimate your customer’s urgency — customers solve urgent problems first. This is the difference between a necessity and a luxury — between a real pain point and “nice to have.” If your customers are out of time and money before they even consider the problem you solve, then you don’t have a market.



The Approach


As we stated in the section Methodical approach, the process of entering a new market is similar for most types of companies. Knowing the steps and where you are on this path can help you stay focused, take the right action, and lower the risk and cost of failure.


We want to share with you the approach we have developed while helping international companies to enter and tap into the US market.


On a high-level, entering the US market consists of 3 main phases:



In short, Market Preparation is about checking whether you are ready for the US market and building your hypothesis about potential customers in the US.


Validation is about testing your hypothesis and determining whether you can scale in the US market. If your hypothesis is right, it allows you to build the first version of a market playbook for the US market.


Scaling is about testing, measuring and pivoting accordingly the market playbook that you created during the Validation to scale in the US.


As the title of this guide suggests, it focuses on Market Preparation, which consists of the following steps:



Step 1: Company Snapshot


How ready are you for the US market?


Company Snapshot is the first step to the US market. Before taking any further steps, you need to answer the fundamental questions about whether you are internally ready. Being internally ready means having resources to support early market presence and having sales, marketing and product development process in place and optimized to support early scaling.


You can check how ready you are by following these activities:


During Company Review, you want to analyze your company to create a map of the people, processes, and technologies. Later during the Customer’s Review, you will compare the data from Customer’s Review against your Company Review data to learn whether your sales and marketing approach led to the acquisition of your customers.


The goal of Customer Review is to learn what kind of customers your company is acquiring and how they really were acquired, as opposed to the previous activity where we were just mapping your approach to sales and marketing along with technologies used. You will do it by taking a deep dive into your current accounts. Later, this data will also help you to build your Ideal Customer Profile(s).

Step 1 — Activity 1: Company Review

The Company Review consist of the following activities:




Company Resource Mapping — What resources do you have available today?


The goal of this activity is to learn about your company’s internal capabilities. This information will help you later during Market Outreach and Market Scaling to explore how these resources and capabilities can be adapted to increase competitive advantage in the US market.


A company’s resources can be divided into three basic stacks: tangible, intangible and human resources.


Tangible assets are typically financial and physical resources the company has access to. Intangible assets are — for example — patents and technology, brand names, valuable relationships, exclusivity contracts, etc. Human resources and capabilities, on the other hand, enable these tangible and intangible resources to create value and competitive advantage for the company.


During this activity, you will have three tasks:

  1. Create a list of all tangible assets with necessary details.

  2. Create a list of all intangible assets with necessary details.

  3. Identify each team member’s roles and responsibilities (in-depth) on both the market and product sides.

a) Identify the distribution of time between roles and responsibilities.

b) Identify and pinpoint opportunities for specialization.

c) Identify and pinpoint potential capacity stress factors and necessary hires to scale.

d) Gain clarity on the product and market-focused teams.


Use the following templates to complete these tasks.


Tangible / Intangible assets:



Team members:


Who should perform this task: Founder | Product Manager | Head of Sales



Marketing Process Mapping — How do you generate inbound leads today?


The goal of this activity is to map the company’s approach to generating inbound leads in the current market(s).


Later during the Customer’s Review, this map will help you to determine how effective your marketing efforts have been so far and which one can be improved. You may skip this step if you do not generate any inbound leads at this stage.


Process mapping is a visual way of identifying activities, tasks, and steps in a work process. Process mapping defines what gets done in a process, who does what, and what is produced at each stage.


A process map is a flowchart that can be drawn from a “higher altitude” to show only the major parts of a process, or from a more detailed, “lower altitude” perspective to show all activities, tasks and steps that go into the process.


The following everyday example shows you how process mapping looks in practice:



Getting back to the marketing process, a higher altitude process map covers all stages from the selection of channels through which a potential customer can reach out to you to become a lead and continue through prioritization to becoming sales-ready. This should also include who is doing what and which tools are used.


Map all the activities, tasks, and steps of your marketing process based on your marketing playbook or any other documents that provide guidelines and instructions for your marketing efforts.


You should also interview employees responsible for marketing. Your employees will be your main source of information if you do not have any internal documents about your marketing efforts.


During the mapping of your existing marketing process, you have to answer the following questions:


  1. What are your current marketing channels?

  2. What is the number of inbound leads per month/year per channel?

  3. What is an overall number of inbound lead per month/year across all channels?

  4. What is your monthly/annual budget per channel?

  5. What are your inbound leads’ prioritization criteria per channel?

  6. How many leads are handled to sales team as sales-ready per channel?

  7. Who is responsible for each channel?

  8. What tools do you use for each channel?

  9. What is your average cost of acquiring each lead per channel?

  10. What is your average cost of acquiring each qualified lead per channel?


The following template will help you to do that.



Additionally, you should know the answers for the following questions:

  1. Is your website in English?

  2. Is your website Search Engine Optimized (SEO)?

  3. Do you have a content marketing strategy?

  4. Do you have any content in English?

  5. Do you use social media? If yes, how often?

  6. Do you have a lead nurturing process?

  7. Do you have a lead scoring system?


Who should perform this task: Founder | Marketing Manager

Sales Process Mapping — How do you reach out to potential customers and close deals today?


The goal here is to map the company’s approach to generating sales in the current market(s). This will help you later in the Customer’s Review to determine how effective your sales efforts have been so far and which one can be improved.


We have found that by mapping your sales process, people in various areas of the company learn how they all fit together to contribute and create value for the company to achieve the ultimate goal, which is sales.


In sales, a higher altitude process map covers all stages from a lead being sales-ready (at the end of the marketing process) to closing or losing the deal. It will also include outbound efforts that are handled by the sales team from the very beginning. The map should also include who is doing what, and which tools are used at each stage.


Map all the activities, tasks, and steps of your sales process based on your sales playbook or any other documents that provide guidelines and instructions for sales. You should also interview employees responsible for sales. Your employees will be your main source of information if you do not have any internal documents about your sales efforts.


When mapping your existing sales process, you have to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the number of outbound leads that you generated per month/year?

  2. Out of all outbound leads, how many are qualified per month/year?

  3. What is the number of deals won and lost per month/year?

  4. What is the churn rate per month/year (If applicable)?

  5. What are your outbound leads qualification criteria?

  6. What does your qualification process look like?

  7. How long is your average sales cycle?

  8. What is your cost of acquiring each customer through outbound?

  9. What are the most common friction points in the sales cycle?

  10. Do you have any supporting marketing collateral prepared for salespeople to send to prospects?

  11. What system do you use currently to track sales performance & metrics (e.g. CRM, Google Docs, etc)?

  12. How are the responsibilities shared among team members for the sales process?

  13. What are your conversion metrics at each stage of your sales process?

  14. What is your pricing model?


You can document those answers in any way.


Who should perform this task: Founder | Head of Sales


Step 1 — Activity 2: Customer’s Review


Once again, the goal of this phase is to learn what kind of customers your company is acquiring and how they really were acquired, as opposed to the previous phase where we were just mapping your approach to sales and marketing.


We will do it by taking a deep dive into your current accounts. Here you will also compare the data from the previous phase to learn whether your sales and marketing approach led to the acquisition of your customers.


Later in Outreach Preparation, it will also help you to build your Ideal Customer Profile(s).


Customer’s Review consist of the following activities:



The Customer’s Profile Map — Who did pay for your solution until now?


The Customer’s Profile exercise asks you to lay out all of your customers for analysis. You will list out the granular details about each of your current and past customers to identify customer trends and characteristics.


Later, during the Outreach Preparation phase, it will help you to build your Ideal Customer Profiles (ICP) for your current market(s) and build hypotheses for the US.


Additionally, it will help you to deeply understand the pain points that your customers face, and how your product is solving them.


Fill out the account review template below in as much detail as possible — the more detail, the better you can build your ICP later on. By now, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. Who are your past and existing customers? What do they use your product for?

  2. Which industry(ies) do they belong to?

  3. Where are they located?

  4. What is their size in terms of employees and revenue?

  5. What is the deal size for each customer? What is the average deal size?

  6. One time or recurring (active) customer?

  7. When was each customer acquired? How long they have been using your product?

  8. What is the current status? Why did they churn (if applicable)?

  9. Who are the decision-makers? Who are the influencers? Is there more than one decision-maker in the sales process? Who are they?

  10. What specific reasons can you identify for why that deal was won?

  11. How, how much and how often are they currently using your product?

  12. How many market segments do you have?

  13. How many customers do you have in each segment?

  14. Does each segment have the same use case? Why or why not?

  15. What is the most common use case of my product? What features are they using and why?

  16. Can you identify any trends across your current accounts and customers?

  17. What is your hypothesis for classifying a good customer vs. a bad customer?


Use this template to do it:


Who should perform this task: Head of Sales | Founder | Customer Success Manager | Product Manager


Customer Acquisition Map — How did you actually acquire each of your customers?


In the Company Review phase, you analyzed your approach to sales and marketing according to your playbooks, interviews with your employees, and other documents that provide guidelines and strategies for sales and marketing.


The goal of this activity is to analyze how your company has really acquired customers. This activity will help you to understand where the leads are coming from, of what size, how much time it takes to close the deal, who generates the most leads, and who closes the most deals.


Later, during the Sales Funnel Review, it will help you to determine whether your approach to sales and marketing led to the acquisition of your customers.


Take the list of accounts that you created in the previous activity and map backward each customer’s acquisition path step by step in the following order:

  1. From lead creation to qualification. Gather the following information:

  • Who brought the lead and how? Inbound or outbound? What was the channel?

  • How many touchpoints did it take to qualify the lead?

  • What type of touchpoints?

  • What kinds of sales and marketing materials were used?

  • Who did what?

2. From lead qualified to deal won, gather the following information:

  • How many touchpoints did it take to close the deal?

  • What type of touchpoints?

  • What kinds of marketing and sales materials were used?

  • Who did what?

3. What is the length of the sales cycle for each customer?

4. What customer type had the shortest sales cycle? Why? What customer type had the longest sales cycle? Why?


Put everything in a spreadsheet for easy comparison. The template spreadsheet you can find below.



Who should perform this task: Founder | Head of Sales | Marketing Manager


Customer Journey Map — How do your customers experience your product?


For marketing, sales and customer success purposes, mapping out your customer journey is a way to illustrate each customer’s buying process and the benefits they receive from your product or service.


While a customer journey map can take several forms, the goal is the same: to teach you and your team about your customers — how your customers discover their needs, how they learn about your product, what factors they consider before purchasing, how they engage with it post-purchase and what information they request at each stage of the journey.


Later, during Market Outreach and Scaling, it will help you to move customers from one stage to the next as quickly and smoothly as possible.