Call me bullish, but I believe that the United Kingdom has a bright future ahead despite Brexit taking up the majority of news headlines. What doesn’t get covered as much is how the UK’s mobile commerce market set to nearly double by 2022, bringing the market’s total value to £1.77 trillion by then. In fact, the UK is the third largest m-commerce market in the world.
And with the fintech sector currently booming and worth £6.6 billion to the UK economy, it is no wonder that 82% of financial institutions expect to increase fintech partnerships in the next three to five years. Today, fintech is UK’s top tech sub-sector and continues to innovate in mobile as seen in advancements made in mobile wallets and apps, seamless shopping, and consolidation of m-commerce payments.
Fintech + mobile commerce = limitless potential in the UK
I reflect upon the first time that I met Mike Jaconi, co-founder and CEO of Button, a small NYC startup with big dreams of giving companies a better way to do business in mobile. I was on board not only with his vision, but also with the aspiration of bringing Button to the global stage. I pitched him the idea of opening a London office to bring Button’s offering to the European market and landed my job as the first UK (and international) employee of the company.
2.5 years later, we’ve grown our European team by 500%, secured more than $64 million in funding to take on the opportunity in the mobile space by storm, and now work with Europe’s most respected mobile innovators such as Expedia, Hotels.com, ASOS, Quidco, TopCashback, and a host of fintech players. I thought I’d write about what I’ve learned along this journey and share the reasons why an American startup should consider opening a UK office, as well as how to navigate the cross-cultural differences and physical distance along the way.
Put down roots in the UK, get connected to the world
With many international brands and publishers having a presence in London, many of our partners and prospects are within a three-mile radius of our London office in Shoreditch. Even if prospects were in another European country, chances are they are a quick and affordable flight away. This makes in-person meetings very feasible and Europeans are known for putting a lot of value into personal relationships when doing business. In a culture where getting to know each other is imperative to building trust before closing any deal, it helps that most of our partners are mere cycling distance away. Fact: Paris is only a 22-hour bike ride from London. Also a fact: I’ve done that ride with our friends at Acceleration Partners and live to tell the tale.
We are also blessed with the meridian line that gives the UK a competitive edge in financial services since our business hours overlap with that of other global financial markets. If you have ever tried to book a call with team members in both New York and Singapore, you will know just how hard that can be. We are in a great position to conduct business with markets around the world, especially in EMEA and APAC. This has helped us establish our presence in new markets like Singapore and partner with disruptors like ShopBack to help their users discover new products and earn rewards more seamlessly on mobile.
Call me (not) maybe
Us Brits have a very different approach to work and life, which is worth recognizing and being mindful of when you’re considering setting up shop in the UK. First of all, the sales cycles are longer here in Europe. It might have to do with the fact that a manufactured sense of urgency (when salespeople are nearing the end-of-quarter rush to meet their sales quotas) doesn’t resonate as well with a European audience or the fact that Europeans like to take time to get to know their professional peers better in person before chatting about business. Secondly, you have to get comfortable with different types of outreach and what are culturally-acceptable norms — while cold calls are the bread and butter of any American sales team, there are laws in place in Germany that make cold-calling illegal. Instead, we like to take a blended approach of email and social media (the occasional Twitter DM in response to an interesting tweet to a business influencer that you’ve been following goes a long way), followed by in-person interactions.
By listening and tuning into our partners’ needs, offering them solutions to what keeps them up at night, and keeping a genuine sense of urgency to innovate quickly alongside our American counterparts within the organization, we’ve been able to establish rapport with our partners and build long-lasting relationships.
Navigating the physical barrier between the US and UK
One of the important responsibilities of establishing a UK office is to keep everyone in the headquarters up to date with all that’s going on. At Button, we conduct all online interactions over video conference instead of the phone to encourage face-to-face interaction and better understand the conversation. This is particularly helpful when Americans call Z’s “zees” instead of “zeds” and “calendars” instead of “diaries”. Collectively as a team, we articulate our words more and have evolved our verbiage to be more precise — growing together both in business strategy and in communication. Beyond these conference calls, we make it a point to meet with our team over offline interactions at Revenue Team offsites, company retreats, partner meetings, and conferences.
To keep consistent communication, we’ve also launched a weekly European report to keep the organization informed about major milestones, deal flows, and partnership momentum. It is important for satellite offices to over-communicate; this weekly report may be a simple improvement in our communication, but it has gone a long way in fostering cross-continent collaboration to help one another work towards the same company goals.
Brexit or no Brexit, London remains a hub for big tech companies and a VC capital of Europe for startups looking to gain a foothold in the region. There is so much potential in the mobile commerce and fintech landscape in Europe that is waiting to be tapped into, and the UK is a great first port of call for international expansion. By thinking about your audience, honing in on their needs, and tailoring your style and channels of communication internally and externally, you’ll be sure to build robust partnerships in the region and beyond, and ultimately grow your business.
Want to learn more about how Button is helping European companies innovate on mobile? Check out our other stories here.