How to Conquer Silicon Valley from Sydney, Stockholm, or South Africa
A short (hopefully helpful) guide for B2B founders
One of the secrets of B2B entrepreneurship is that a good enough product with exceptional distribution will win more often than an exceptional product with mediocre distribution.
This runs contra to a dominant strain of thinking in Silicon Valley that suggests your distribution strategy should be the agglomeration of “growth hacks” embedded in your product.
Startups in the heart of SOMA can sometimes get away employing the “build it and they will come mentality,” but founders in far-flung geographies need to give more thought to their go-to-market strategy. Here are some tactics I’ve seen prove really effective.
✈️ Learn to love airports
If a startup has an ACV >$20,000 and the CEO and VP of Sales aren’t traveling four days a week, it’s very unlikely that you’ll build a successful B2B business. Your best salespeople/execs are probably going to be home less than 50 days/year.
🗣️ Hire for extroversion
On the margin, look for people who are willing to pick up the phone and call key accounts. Ask potential sales execs what level of airline status they achieved the prior year — and be wary if the answer is less than Diamond Medallion or Premier 1K.
🥇Treat early customers like gold
Your first dozen customers should feel as if they’ve received the very best of “white glove” treatment. Spare no expense to turn these customers into enthusiastic references.
📣 Cultivate local cheerleaders
It’s an imperfect heuristic, but assume you’ll need one blue-chip trustmark for every time zone that separates your HQ and your target market. Focus as much on the referral value of the brand as revenue for your first 20 or so customers.
🌐 Hire territory managers
As soon as you have one customer in a major city, someone should be responsible for expanding upon it. You may need to cycle through a few people to find the right fit, but there’s no substitute for showing up.
📞 Get local phone numbers
It’s a small point, but make yourself feel local in every geography you operate in. Have some customer service on staff during any business hours your product serves. Being local matters — in all things.
📊 Distribution is about more than geography
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Here are some companies that have employed these techniques to great success:
A Swedish FinTech startup with ~2,000 FTEs and a $500M+ run rate started selling before they had a product. By the time they made it to the US, that bias towards extroversion helped them process $1B in sales in < 3 months.
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The founders of Australian SaaS juggernaut Atlassian are proud that they scaled to $100M in sales without a sales team:
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However, their first hire was an experienced commercial leader based in SF:
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A SaaS CRM startup with 7,000+ FTEs/$300M ARR is based in Chennai, but it established an early beachhead in off-strip Las Vegas hotels for key trade shows. Ultimately, the CEO had no issue relocating to the US.
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NB: There aren’t many company towns left, so these lessons apply to domestic startups too. Just Showing up is a Superpower (So please do it!) Do you have any favorite international sales tactics that I’ve overlooked?
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