Aiming your startup at the US – without leaving the UK

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Four guys in Edinburgh now run a site aimed entirely at the US. Even the UK section of the site appears under “International”. What have they learnt? The following is a guest post by Nigel Eccles, co-founder and CEO of Hubdub, the prediction trading game.

Many start-ups in the UK face the challenge that their major market is the US. While Hubdub is based in Edinburgh, 75% of our users reside in the US. That was a deliberate marketing decision and here are our top tips on how to better compete there.

1. Decide on your target market and focus

Very early on in the development process we decided that the US would be our target market. The US represented a much larger market and is home turf to our main competitors. Winning there was strategically important for us. Before launch we considered launching in US and UK simultaneously but quickly realised that running two sites would significantly increase our costs without any clear strategic benefit.

2. Launch at a tech conference

We launched at DEMO in January. It was expensive ($18,500) but worth it. We got a huge amount of exposure and also probably pulled forward our launch date by two months (which stopped us from developing a bunch of features our users would never have used). While DEMO was good for us, TechCrunch 50 is probably better tailored to web start-ups and also happens to be free.

3. Use a PR agency for the launch

There is quite a lot of debate about whether or not web start-ups should use a PR agency. If you are a UK company trying to launch at a US tech conference, then the decision is a no brainer. You need a PR agency. There will be 50-80 other companies out there all screaming for attention. No matter how great your product is you need a way to get to key journalists and bloggers.

4. Build a US based board of advisors

Look at the advisory board of US based start-ups in the same industry (but obviously not competitors) and work out who could add value. Use your network to get to those people and start building a relationship.

5. Always write in US English

Dates, spelling and phrases – UK readers are generally used to reading both UK and US English. Many US readers aren’t so don’t make understanding your product harder for them. Also US English will be better for your SEO.

6. Travel stateside regularly

Pack out an agenda of who you want to meet. Work UK hours in the morning and US hours in the evening. Sleep on the flight home.

7. Ask fellow entrepreneurs for help

Nearly every successful entrepreneur I have met is happy to help entrepreneurs starting out. Work out who can help and use your network to get to them. Go direct if you can’t network to them. Make sure that you are asking for something that they can easily help with (e.g. making an intro, quick piece of advice etc), explain who you are and concisely ask for help. At least 80% of the time you will get it.

8. Use web tools to track your industry and competitors

Use Google Alerts and Summize RSS Feeds on your product name and your competitor names to track what people are writing about your industry. Get involved in that discussion.

9. Build a virtual team from your US user base

Apart from you, no one will be more passionate about your product than your top users. If you need someone to evangelize your product then look to hire from your US user base.

10. Start the US visa process early

Skype and Last.fm show that UK based start-ups can compete with US competitors and win, however geography still matters (I know start-ups in Seattle that feel their location is a handicap). Most UK based entrepreneurs want to stay in the UK and help build the start-up community here, but if geography is becoming a serious issue then move to the US, successfully sell to AOL for $850 million and then invest in some UK start-ups.

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