5 Tips for Foreign Entrepreneurs Trying to Enter The U.S. Market and Work with American Corporations, from Consultant Ron Kimhi

Tapping into the U.S. market and working with a large business is a major goal and milestone for many entrepreneurs. But sometimes founders don’t consider the many cultural and business differences that go hand in hand with breaking into the American market. Labs mentor Ron Kimhi, program consultant for startup accelerator FIBA, held a session to share his five tips for foreign entrepreneurs trying to enter the U.S. market and work with large corporations.

Tip #1: Focus on pitching your economic value

Your value proposition is always important, but in the U.S. market, economic value comes first. “In general, foreign entrepreneurs like to speak about the value of their product. How their product is great and how the customers will benefit from it,” Kimhi says. “But in the United States, you need to emphasize how your value proposition is being weaved into a very clear picture of economic value.”

When it comes time to communicate your value proposition to corporations, it’s better to come prepared with supporting numbers and use cases to back you up. “You want to be able to show not only that product works but also share the numbers behind it,” Kimhi says.

Tip #2: The biggest market isn’t necessarily the best for you

The U.S. is home to some of the biggest cities for innovation, like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. But don’t make the mistake of overlooking other markets that may be a better fit for you. “The openness to innovation in New York and Silicon Valley is enormous compared to other states. But when you're going there, no matter what corporations you're approaching, you're one of the hundreds of startups that have approached the same organization in the past couple of weeks,” Kimhi says.

Trying to enter these large cities first can be a costly mistake for startups that aren’t prepared to deal with the competitiveness of the landscape there. Smaller cities and markets may even give tax breaks and incentives to startups entering the their market, so it’s important to do your research to determine which market is right for you. “Corporations of 50,000 people can have innovation teams of 10 to 20 people. These people need to absorb, analyze, source, and make a decision on so many different technologies,” Kimhi says. “So it doesn't really matter if your technology is amazing, you still need to penetrate through the noise, and that's extremely difficult,” in those larger, more cutthroat markets.

Tip #3: Find a mentor to help you make the transition  

As an entrepreneur, having a mentor can be a big boost, especially when you’re attending your first set of business meetings in the U.S. Mentors can help you navigate the landscape, make introductions to other entrepreneurs, and can be an overall point of contact for any questions you have. “The go-to strategy today is for foreign founders to come to the U.S. for six months. They’ll make many mistakes, but eventually, they’ll learn how to deal with them. The thing is that those six months cost a lot of money and time, and they can kill the company in many cases,” Kimhi says. “But if they bring a mentor with them to early business meetings, they can help translate your core technology. They can also debrief you after meetings and explain how they felt about it. These things can increase your learning curve dramatically.”

Tip #4: Reach out to the U.S. market as soon as possible

If you’re trying to tap into the U.S. market, it’s important to reach out to your target users as early as possible to get feedback on your product. If you can, go to your target area and do hands-on market research. “You want to go there, you want to meet with them. You want to understand their real needs are, and you want to iterate your product lifecycle by the feedback of your targeted customers,” Kimhi says. “The U.S. user is very different from other users, and if you're doing all of your research with non-U.S. users, it can be very problematic.”

Tip #6: Always be prepared for pitch meetings

Pitch meetings can come up at a moment’s notice no matter what market you’re trying to break into, but it’s important to include here. You want to always be prepared for them and know how to tailor your message to different audiences. “Every pitch meeting has its own cycle. There's the preparation, the arrival, the start, the presentation, and the after-meeting,” Kimhi says. “When you're going to these very high-potential situations, you want to understand exactly what you are doing on each of these steps, how you're going to prepare for them.”

For example, if you’re in a pitch meeting with a group of 10 people from a corporation, be sure to ask them what their names and titles are. When you do this, you give yourself the opportunity to tailor your message to each of their individual functions. Or, if you’re in a “room full of account managers, you may want to dive more into your numbers,” Kimhi says. “Versus if you were in a meeting room full of IT people, you may want to focus a little bit more on the technical aspects of your product.”

Learn more about expansion strategy.

This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

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