Lessons learned by high-growth startup PageProof tackling the US market

pageproof

Launched in June 2015, PageProof is the world’s first fully encrypted cloud proofing and approval system. Growing rapidly, PageProof has customers in more than 85 cities around the world. This post has been adapted from a recent video interview with Gemma & Marcus, the founders of PageProof.

Lessons from the US

One of the most common mistakes that Kiwis make is thinking that the United States is a single market – the cultural differences between states are vast. It’s worth remembering that there are close to 320 million people living in the USA. California alone is more than 1.5 larger than New Zealand in terms of geography and has close to 10 times as many inhabitants. There’s the concept of scale – “when we [PageProof] talk about business in New Zealand we were trying to target medium sized agencies and we thought that was about 40 people. Well medium sized in the United States is at least 500 people. There’s a huge scale that we discovered was not going to work with our initial structure.”

One of the main things PageProof wanted to solve was understand why they had a 70% signup rate on the West Coast, but only a 30% signup rate on the East Coast. “We quickly discovered that the language we were using when we were talking about our product was completely wrong for the US. For example, instead of talking about proofing (which is a common way of referring to what we do in Australasia) the Americans use the word reviewing – we talk about workflows, while they talk about review routing.”

Along with the changes in language and structure there’s a need to cut through the noise in America. The normal Kiwi approach of starting with small talk – asking how it’s going and so on – it simply doesn’t work. While Americans are friendly, they want to know why they’re talking. There’s a need to ask very direct questions of potential partners and customers in the United States – it’s not what we’re used to, but Americans respond well to it.

Scaling

San Francisco and Silicon Valley has a breakneck speed that is a bit of a step up from New Zealand, with the Bay Area home to thousands of technology companies that range from multi billion dollar giants like Google, Apple, Facebook and Oracle right through to waves of tiny startups that are just getting started. For PageProof, going to SaaStr was an experience “that really opened our eyes to the fact that the businesses we look up to are not stopping. While they’re doing incredibly, they’ve always got another plan that they’re looking to expand, to grow more and so on.”

We learnt a massive amount at the SaaStr Annual and came back with pages and pages of notes. We came home and realised some of the early decisions we’d made weren’t right for the scale of growth that we wanted to with the company. “We’ve just had a week where a large number of new customers came on quickly, so a lot of our systems started loading up much faster than we thought – and while you can always make things bigger or faster we decided to take a slightly different approach. We looked at the problem and tried to to chunk it into small pieces and then try to improve each of those pieces in the smallest way. It was about avoiding turning up all the dials and rather optimising all of these little things – that’s had the biggest impact on us, and now we’ve got twice or three times as many customers, we haven’t had the same sort of stress on our systems because everything is very optimised.”

On the ground – Visiting the Kiwi Landing Pad

What we found is that the Kiwi Landing Pad is about connections – it’s about the people who are physically there, and also in there extensive network. It’s also about having a welcoming place in a foreign country. It’s a place where you can base yourself and set up an office within a few minutes. That said, it’s really important to be prepared and make sure you can let the Kiwi Landing Pad know what you’re planning to do while you are in the United States – specific objectives are really important, and it enables them to trully help you, they basically roll up there sleeves and get to work making connections and recommendations for you.

In summary

While New Zealand is growing a great ecosystem and has a number of factors that make it an attractive place to start a technology business, the expertise and intensity doesn’t come anywhere close to Silicon Valley. If you’re able to, get on a plane and get over to the US for an “on the ground” view or “lay of the land” as the Kiwi Landing Pad team refer to it. While the KLP is able to help with introductions and providing a space where you can “plug and play” getting over to the United States is also great in understanding some of the less obvious cultural nuances that you’ll need to understand as you deal with American customers.

PageProof travelled to the United States with the assistance of the BNZ Shoulder Tap program which mixes some cash support with networks and enhancements like desks to work from while you are in the Kiwi Landing Pad.

 

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