Tips for expanding your Australian startup into the UK
Since joining Think & Grow, much of my time has been focused on helping Australian and Kiwi tech businesses expand into the UK. With a history of business connections, common law, a favourable geographic location, large market and most importantly a shared language, the UK is a natural contender for an Australian business looking to go global.
It’s clearly a well-trodden path, with an excellent event at coworking space Huckletree during London Tech Week recently focusing on providing insight from Australian companies that have ‘been there, done that’ and established a presence in the UK.
The natural place to start is with the first person/people on the ground, who’s tasked with growing the business into the UK market. A key mistake is to think that sending a member of the existing team over as your ‘first person on the ground’ is the right thing to do. Yes, they understand your business and the success you’ve already experienced, but crucially they don’t have the knowledge of the UK market, the existing network or the understanding of local business nuances.
Clearly it’s a big decision and risk to put your business squarely in the hands of somebody half the world away with no real way to check on them, which is why at the LTW event it was suggested that you hire two people or send somebody over from HQ to accompany the new, local hire.
Not only does this ensure your business is being represented correctly in market, but gives the chance for the new hire to share their knowledge and network with the existing team member. It can also be a lonely job being one person so far from the rest of the team, so giving that person on the ground support is useful when looking to accelerate growth quickly.
Another key learning is the commitment needed to the UK market when making the expansion. Obviously, a hire on the ground shows commitment, but it goes further than that. You need to make sure your website and communication is geared towards the UK market, so using £ sterling on your website, listing the UK office and even tweaking the content of your comms to take out any local references that may not be understood in the UK market. It’s important for your new UK customers to feel that this is a business which speaks to them directly.
One of the obvious benefits of expanding to the UK is the huge amount of capital available to early-stage businesses. Where the Australian and New Zealand capital markets are still developing (albeit quickly), the money available in the UK dwarves it in comparison, with almost £3bn ($5.36bn AUD) invested into tech businesses in 2017. This means that there is a need to up the pace and expectations when expanding into the UK, as it could well be where the investment comes from that allows your company to grow globally.
There are also some stereotypical cultural differences that it’s important to bear in mind. Fortunately, the cliched image of the reserved and polite Brits and the louder, more outspoken Australian’s makes for a good mix of people within a business, providing some diversity of thinking and approach which can really benefit a company’s culture.
However, one key difference to bear in mind is in approach to holidays. Australian’s typically get 20 days holiday a year and often don’t even use that up. Let’s be honest, who can blame them, considering the almost year-round good weather, shorter working hours, better work life balance, space available and proximity to the coast that most Australian’s enjoy.
The UK however, has a different attitude. With long, cold nights drawing in during the winter, the notorious rain, long working hours and relatively small living spaces, the British have a real love for their holidays, typically receiving 25 days a year with rarely a day of that being missed. This differing view is an important one to consider when hiring in the UK, as offering less holiday can put off potential local hires who are used to a larger leave allowance.
It’s a big decision for any business to expand into a new market, and is certainly not to be entered into lightly without doing the proper due diligence in advance. But for Australian and Kiwi businesses looking to make their first steps overseas, the UK is the natural and (in my biased view) best location to grow into.
As long as you prepare well in advance, bear the above points in mind and are prepared for your business to go into hyper-growth mode when things start going well, then a UK expansion could (and should) provide a huge boost to your business as a first step outside your home market.
Just be prepared to receive a few more ‘out of offices’ than you’re used to!