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Campus - 24.03.2023 - 15:56 

START Summit 2023: Is the US the land of endless opportunities?

Looking at expansion to the US can be a strategic decision good for your company and it can also be an oasis, luring you away from your strengths. Knowing what is best for your company’s future can be difficult to assess.

Entrepreneurs Maximilian Würh, Bettina Hein and Roger Dudler assembled at START Summit 2023 to discuss their experiences with expansion into the United States. The session was moderated by Reginald Bien-Aime who is head of community at Mindstone, a collaborative platform dedicated to changing the way we learn and collaborate.

The first thing the moderator Bien-Aime pointed out that with his work with several start-ups in Switzerland, at the end of every pitch, everyone always says that they want to expand into the US and wanted to learn from the entrepreneurs on stage how it happened for them and how the decision was made to enter the US market. What became immediately clear was that everyone’s own personal journey started differently.

Frontify Founder and CEO Roger Dudler concentrated for about five years on his European-based business before he considered a strategy which included the United States. After a successful series A financing round which netted the company over 8 million dollars in 2018, Frontify started looking at setting up shop across the pond. “We have been in New York for about three years…it has been a bumpy road. We were about 150 people before we went to the US.” Dudler continued saying that it was a bold move for Frontify and it took us a long time to figure it out all the challenges. “It takes time and it is expensive.” It took them about two years before they started feel comfortable.

HSG Alumna Bettina Hein is a serial software entrepreneur that has built technology companies in both Europe and the United States. Her life-long goal is to create 5,000 jobs. So far, she along with her husband, they have created 900. She is most recently the founder of digital health startup juli, her third software company. Hein, who has created several companies, said that each journey to expand into the US came with a different experience. Her first one involved hiring a representative, who was based in the States, and after a while he stopped responding… it had turned out that he had died.

The second time around, Hein sent one of her co-founders to San Francisco. The co-founder had experience in Silicon Valley, he had contacts, but for some reason, it just didn’t work. The third time Hein tried to expand, it finally worked. What she did was because her company had a lot of contracts with the automotive industry, she opened up an office in Dearborn, Michigan. (home of Ford Motor Company) “Dearborn isn’t as fancy as New York but essentially it is about being close to your customers,” said Hein.

Maximilian Wühr with his car-subscription company FINN has recently celebrated his first year since expanding his company into the US. Recently his start-up raised a 115 million US Dollars from European-based investors and, “they were very critical of the idea to go into the States.” For Wühr and his co-founders, they always had a big ambition to go to the US and they wanted to build their company there. With their conviction and the huge market potential, they were able to do so.

What all the entrepreneurs agreed on is that understanding that expansion into a new market brings with it changes that are hard to anticipate. Wühr for example has recently moved to the United States to better understand his clients. Hein has noticed that her role of CEO is different in the US than it is in Europe.  She stated that she likes to be on eye-level with her employees and not above them.

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