How Do You Plan Your Startup’s Scaling Into Multiple Markets?

“Do you have a VP Sales lined up?” The investor asked me during a diligence meeting.

“I do,” I answered (I’ll get back to this later).

Not only should you start planning your go to market strategies for the various countries you are going to enter, you should start planning BEFORE you start your company.

Thinking through how you are going to expand your company into the various markets is critical to the long-term success of your company.

In our case, having a well-thought out go-to-market strategy was a key reason we got funded. If I would have answered, we don’t need a VP Sales because we’re going to sell through our website I would have been laughed out of the room.

We needed a VP Sales. We needed sales reps worldwide. And most importantly, we needed a distribution network worldwide.

The challenge is how do you get a worldwide sales network when you’re just starting out?

The answer is one step at a time. But the thought process of what you need should be there from the start (or before the start) of your company.

In our case, our plan was to start out with North American distribution and then expand into Europe and Asia. We knew the two big names in electronics distribution, Arrow and Avnet, wouldn’t touch us because we were too small.

So, we set our sights on the third largest North American distributor, Future Electronics, to get started.

Use your network!

Through a contact of mine, We were able to arrange a meeting with Future’s President, Robert Miller.

So, we flew to Montreal to meet with Mr. Miller. And not only did Miller want to distribute our products, Miller wanted to invest in our company. Future ended up as our first distributor (we didn’t take the investment, but that’s a longer story…).

Future gave us credibility and a reasonable footprint in North America. But the distributor we really wanted was DigiKey.

Getting the right distribution and representation takes time.

It was clear to us before we started the company that DigiKey would be critical to our success. And it became really clear after we started the company without DigiKey representing us why they would be critical to our success.

Every customer we visited asked us the question, “Are you on DigiKey’s line card? We kit everything we do through DigiKey.”

I hated saying “Not yet” because not having DigiKey was a barrier to growing sales.

It took close to two years, but we finally got DigiKey to distribute our products. Sales took off once we were on DigiKey’s line card.

Asia was our next target. And again, after a two year courtship, we landed one of the largest distributors in Asia, WPI otherwise know as World Peace (you’ve gotta love the name!).

Find the path for your products.

I realize the examples I’m using are ideal for an electronics company, but the key takeaway is to start planning the way to gain reach in your market before you start operations. It will take time to execute your strategy, just like it took us time to execute our strategy.

For more, read:  How You Can Avoid Nine Startup Sales Killers

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