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Exploring The US Market And Competition with Trena Blair

Arin V., EA , MBA
Arin is an Enrolled Agent (EA), authorized to represent taxpayers in front of the IRS, and holds a BA and MBA (Management) degree from California State University, Northridge.
PoloTax’s new podcast Start-Up Nation explores various aspects of building a business and important tips to know as a founder.

In this first episode, expert Trena Blair discusses how an understanding of the market you are entering is pivotal to growing your enterprise.

To listen to the podcast, click play below:


Arin Vahanian:  All right, Thanks very much indeed for joining us today. As the very first episode of the Polo Tax podcast joined today by Trena Blair. Thank you very much, Trena, for joining us today. It’s a pleasure and an honor to have you and very much looking forward to having this discussion with you. Today’s topic is going to be: Exploring the market and competition. And I do think it’s fair before we start, maybe we just get kind of an introduction from you, Trena. That would be great.

Trena Blair: Right, thanks, Arin, really great to be here. Delighted to be on your very first podcast for Polo Tax and talking about all things USA, particularly between Australia and the USA say I’m the founder and CEO of Global Connections based in Sydney, Australia, and we work with Australian businesses to prepare and launch into the US. The business started in 2014. Now why the US? I love the US. I lived and worked in New York City for a number of years prior to starting my business. I have a passion for the market. I love the people, their enthusiasm, their positive approach to innovation, and I couldn’t resist starting my business to really showcase great Australian businesses into my network, into the US.

Arin Vahanian:  that’s a great introduction. Thank you very much. And also thanks for the kind words. And so before we dive into the topic of market and competition, what have you seen in the last one to say 18 months in terms of the competitive landscape? What sort of changes have you seen from your side given you started the company in twenty fourteen? We find ourselves in twenty twenty one.

Trena Blair: Well, I think, first of all, when I started the business in 2014, tech was beginning to get to its fore in Australia, so the Australian federal government announced their innovation policy. They invested one point one billion over four years. And that really got the attention of entrepreneurs in Australia. Previously entrepreneurs, were, those hidden people kind of in the back room doing some weird things. But the federal government really put them on a platform and gave them the confidence to really come to the fore. So tech businesses have really been built up over the last number of years, and that’s made it easier to build successful businesses and certainly in the last 18 months, we’ve had some amazing businesses. Can Atlassian we’ve seen after pay be bought by square? Thirty nine billion dollars, I think, in the last week. In the last 18 months. There’s definitely been a shift in terms of the pandemic and what that has done in terms of the industries which are now getting significantly more focused than what was prior to the pandemic. So Australia always had amazing scientists. Research capabilities and medical solutions were world class, but they’ve really hit the world stage in a big way due to the pandemic. So in terms of industries that have really taken off during the pandemic, it’s been those medtech It’s been food and beverage, particularly the organic food and beverage and those other industries which support telehealth as well. So we have seen a shift. We’ve also seen a massive shift, as you’d appreciate towards digitization. I was speaking to a colleague in New York recently and they were saying that big insurance companies in the US, where it previously it took 12, 18, two years to digitize back offices, they’re now doing that in three or six months because of the pandemic. So there has been a great impetus and a shift towards digitization as a result of the pandemic as well.

Arin Vahanian: That’s some great points there. By the way, just to add, I’m a huge fan of Atlassian and their products,

Trena Blair: We’ll give them a shout out. Why not?

Arin Vahanian: I agree. They are good. And you’re so right about the digitization, Trena. And I think on some level, despite how disastrous the pandemic has been, in a sense, don’t you think? It’s kind of. Pushed us toward the future. Right, and in terms of previously people saying, well, this kind of work can’t be done remotely. And so forth. And by and large, we’ve proven that, it’s possible to be done remotely. So do you think on some level that we’ve been sort of forced to go into the future faster than maybe we were doing prior to all this?

Trena Blair: Absolutely, there’s no doubt in my mind that the pandemic has pushed us forward much faster than many of us wanted or many of us would even dream about, just given the example of the insurance industry, the digitization, that’s not unusual. It’s happening right across corporations. But the other big feature is around working from home and a lot of corporations, not so much in the startup world because I think startup leaders are very agile. They understand the value of virtual work policies. But in fact, in those bigger companies, working from home was still not something that they would embrace fully. But they’ve now had to really learn how to collaborate, engage, keep meetings running with all these new technologies, Zoom, go to meetings and so forth. I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. I think the productivity levels that have been demonstrated through the pandemic for many businesses has highlighted that working from home policy is a good policy to have. It offers flexibility. You can recruit from anywhere in the world and I say that there will be a hybrid work from home policy. That is, if it’s not 100 percent work from home and if it’s not fully virtual that a few days in the office and then a few days at home, I think that’s what people look for. Normal commuting. what’s bad about that?

Arin Vahanian: Right. Yeah. Great point. you just mentioned startups. And so I’m just curious from your perspective, why would they want to come to the U.S.? What’s sort of the competitive advantage coming over here as opposed to going somewhere else or as opposed to just building out the business at all?

Trena Blair: Yes, so it depends on where they’re at in terms of their business life cycle, so, know, I recommend to Australian businesses that they really need to establish that their souls, their the value proposition here in Australia, built their business here and make sure that they’ve got those clients in Australia, they’ve got their products and their processes better done in Australia. All those operational processes. Once they’ve done that, then look at their scalability and why the US? Well, the relationship, even at a geopolitical level between Australia and the US is well. In fact, twenty twenty one is the 17th anniversary of the alliance between Australia and the US. And it’s such a strong trading relationship. The US is Australia’s foreign direct investor, and also Australia is the US’s biggest investor. So we have free trade agreements in place. They weren’t removed under the previous administration and one of the very few countries that wasn’t impacted by that. And so the relationships extends not only in government, but also in business. There’s over 100000 Australians living and working in the US. There are many, many businesses that are very successful in the US. And so there’s a deep network of Aussies living in the US and for scale up that’s looking to go into the US, that is a goldmine of network right there that they can leverage. And so why the US? There is so many similarities between us. Yes, we speak English, although there are some differences in language. You know, culturally there are some similarities. Again, some differences. But, you know, we Australians also grew up on American television. We grew up on American music. And so we feel as if we’ve got some kinship with America and Americans love us. What can I say? They love our sense of humor. They love our work ethic. And they’re also fascinated that this little country of twenty five million can produce some pretty amazing tech companies and other businesses.

Arin Vahanian: Yeah, well, thanks for all that and look at unaccompanied agreement, we love having you. So I could just speak from my side and of course, with our business a large number of our clients are Australian and really cherished relationship. And of course, we love seeing Australian companies come over here. And in a sense, we love growing with them. Because as they grow, that we grow. And so you just mentioned a company back home in Australia, Let’s just say it’s a tech startup. You recommended, obviously operationally for them to get everything in order and be kind of a well oiled machine, as it were. And how early is too early. Do you think for a company to go into a foreign market? Because I think there definitely is a point in which maybe it’s too early. You also don’t want to be late either. The whole first mover, last mover advantage. Right. But what, in your opinion is there such a time as maybe too early to enter the US or some other foreign market. What do you think about that?

Trena Blair: You know, look, I do think there are points when businesses are ready to go into the US or scale globally, what I look for, for businesses is repeatability. So if I think about scalability there, there are a couple of areas that I look at. One is repeatability. And what does that mean? So if I think about marketing, if I think about sales, and if I think about customer support, I want to see repeatability in those three areas. How do you generate repeatability in sales? So that’s a question I get when I talk about scalability. Repeatability in sales is making sure, for example, that you have a CRM, that you have a set process step right through to sales win and that is understood and utilized and measured Is in Australia. Yeah, if you don’t have a serum, if you’re using Excel spreadsheets, you know, if you’ve got a spreadsheet on the laptop of your sales manager, you don’t have repeatability and predictability. So for me, that’s a really key aspect of scaley. So, again, in sales, in marketing and in your customers support, repeatability is vitally important for customer support, because if you don’t have that and you go into a market without really understanding your processes around customer support, your measurement doesn’t exist. If you’re not managing it effectively, it’s going to break. And particularly in the US, you don’t get an opportunity to break things too many times before your brand will be damaged. So if you’re a production, you’re a manufacturer. Repeatability and predictability of fundamentals in your business already apply that to those other core activities. You would not go into a different market if your manufacturing processes were broken and if you weren’t measuring those, if you weren’t monitoring those for predictability. So you have to apply the same mentality to customer service, marketing and sales so there’s some of the things that I look for. If you don’t have those, if it’s all manual, if you’ve got Excel spreadsheets, again, my advice is step back, those get those predictability aspects in place and then look at launching.

Arin Vahanian: Yeah, that’s just such a great point, because if you look at companies, can’t remember who said it, but it was one of these tech gurus using that using that term. But it is a fact of a company that’s broken at the foundation will always be broken. Right. And so I think that’s kind of what you’re saying here, Trena, right. That if operationally they’ve got to have all their ducks in a row, obviously having the manufacturing and supply chain issues and also operational SoundWorks, they’ve got to succeed back home first. Right. And then, as you mentioned, repeatability and scalability, which is obviously for tech businesses. It’s huge. Without it, I don’t see that one can have a tech business. you’re going to have something that scales, right.

Trena Blair: I was going to mention a number of years ago, a business reached out to me, they had scaled into the US, into Texas, in fact, and they were a business that hadn’t really considered the customers support for their software. They were relying, on their team back in Australia to do their customer support in Texas. They thought they could manage that. But what was happening is because of the time zone differences, their customer support team were not only managing Australia, they were also managing in the US Texas based alliance. And of course, what that did was damage the brand in Texas and in Australia because there were lots of negative feedback from clients in both jurisdictions about responsiveness, quality of advice. So that business actually put a halt on the Texas business to reset. And that was a critical thing that they had to do because they were doing so much damage to their brand. They did that. They raised it. They put in the resources and now they’ve done amazingly well. My prediction is and I don’t want to mention who it is that my prediction is they might be another billion, another unicorn out of Australia in the next few years. They’re doing amazingly well. But that was a really hard lesson for them, that they launched damage their brand a bit, but thankfully took the advice and stopped and put in place the processes to be able to support those Texas based clients.

Arin Vahanian: Now, that’s a great story, and I’m really glad to hear that they were able to recover and learn from that and then go back to repairing the brand and improving upon it. Right. That you don’t like to hear those stories, but you do like to hear that a company pivoted or just did something differently and got back on track and then just, you know, exploded toward eventually becoming a unicorn. And I would have no doubt that we will be seeing more unicorn companies in Australia. Definitely. And speaking of valuation, that brings me to my next question. A lot of foreign startups. When they’re looking for funding, they look to the US to access funding. Now, in your experience, what would the sweet spot be as far as the growth stage for accessing capital early stage? how would you recommend the startup to approach seed funding if they need and access US markets for capital?

Trena Blair: It’s a really tough situation, and particularly at the moment in the pandemic where our international borders remain closed. It was tough enough when the borders were open and businesses, business leaders were able to get on that flight and do a road show with investors and so forth. It’s even more difficult now. But the sweet spot, clearly having your own working capital to launch is the ideal situation that early stage scale up some as they’ve been in Australia for 10, 15 years and have got that really strong financial foundation. Don’t have that working capital. Every business is different. Although what I would suggest is that unless you’ve raised your age or your seed round and getting into your series in Australia, then it’s going to be really tough, I think, for you to secure funding in the US. And the reason for that is if you need funding in Australia to build out your startup, that is going to have to validate the work that you’re done in Australia. But and that will by securing funding in Australia, let’s say it’s a series, say there may be investors there that have connections into the US and therefore you can leverage that investor network. If you haven’t, then to get into the US, I would suggest it’s normally around a series that businesses typically go into the US sideways. But again, doing that remotely is really challenging. So tapping in your Australia based investors, they know you, they trust you, they’ve invested in you. They will hopefully have networks in the US, invest in networks in the US that you can be introduced to. But if not, it really is a matter of doing your research, deep research of those investors in that segment that you’re looking for. And once you get your first investment in the US, whether it’s a series A, you know it. Once you secured your first investment, then you can go from there. So it’s easier because you’ve built that network and the trust in the US investor base.

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Arin Vahanian:  that just such a good point, because I think on a deep level, investors are not only investing in the startup, they’re also investing in founders. Right. And if the founders can demonstrate these qualities investors are looking for and especially they have the track record of a result, at least in the beginning. And I think that’s another great point you brought up, is to leverage existing networks in Australia, especially given sort of the travel limitations. It’s just like before where you were able to jump on a flight and be somewhere in a few hours or the next day So I think in this sort of scenario, it becomes even more important to leverage existing networks

Trena Blair: It does indeed, and I can give another example. So it is much more challenging at the moment to find and secure investors. But what I’m hearing from clients, however, is those that are looking for investment into the US, once they’ve tapped those networks, they’re meeting with many, many more investors and what they would have if they were in there in person, because they’re much more productive, because they’ve worked on a really great pitch deck for their zoom call. And anybody who doesn’t produce a great pitch deck will receive you know, we’ll get short shrift, particularly on Zune. We spend so many times, but also because you can fit so many Zune calls in a day. And so getting around investors and doing a 30 minute, forty five minute pitch, initially, you can get through a lot of investors. So what I’m actually saying is that time frame, the typical time frame to raise capital is between three and six months. That is actually now being shortened because businesses are able to meet with a lot more investors in a shorter period of time so that time to raise actually is being reduced, which is a good thing, but it’s definitely possible at the moment. But it said initial research that is absolutely fundamental to the ultimate success at the moment.

Arin Vahanian: All right, thanks for that. Those are really great points, and you’re right about the zoom. If you don’t have to travel anywhere, you can probably fit a lot more meetings in your schedule. Right.

Trena Blair:  Unfortunately, yes.

Arin Vahanian: I’m going back to let’s just say we have a startup and they don’t need to raise capital, but they’d still like to access the US market. What would you say? How would you recommend these early stage companies in terms of accessing US customers for the first time? What are some tips you might be able to give them?

Trena Blair: In terms of accessing customers, they must do their go to market strategy, the go to market strategy is all about the customer and it looks at areas such as defining specifically who your customer is. It looks at their buying patterns, what the value proposition is that’s only resonate within what your pricing needs to be for that market. It looks at your competitors and your competitive positioning and message against them. It looks at your distribution channels. So where are your customers based in the US. And often that’s a reason to locate your business in those areas. So you’ll go to market. Strategy is fundamentally important for businesses to spend the time and invest in getting right. It is such an important part of the scale process. So the go to market strategy is number one.

Arin Vahanian: Yeah, thanks for that, Trena. It’s just such a great point, I’ve definitely heard that before. And if one of the up hasn’t got that go to market strategy ready. Just going to be so difficult here. obviously Australia is a big country in terms of land mass. The US is even bigger. Right. And so speaking of speaking about location The US is a big place and start ups get overwhelmed in terms of where they can go and expand geographically, right. You’ve got different cities, different atmospheres in terms of startup life. And so what is maybe something you might recommend a startup that’s looking to get? So what would you recommend startups do to make that geographical choice maybe a little bit easier?

Trena Blair: It’s a really great question, Arin, and we’ve done a lot of studies for clients over the years in determining which state, city, county they should set their office or their manufacturing hub up. I think there are so many different aspects to this. You know, it’s about time zone. It’s about access to transit. It’s about access to the skill set that you’re looking for if you’re a deep tech companies. So where are those skill sets versus retail where those skill sets? It’s about the culture as well. But it’s also about and let’s be clear. It’s also about the financial incentives that are available within each of those jurisdictions. So at the moment, there are some amazing financial incentives that the various state economic development corporations are offering businesses to set up shop in their areas Australian businesses really must be looking at those as well. So it’s a myriad of different requirements that the Australian company needs to, first of all, set for themselves and what’s important to them and make sure that as they do that research or they engage experts to do that research for them, they remain clear on those priorities. So so that there are a couple of the areas that I would say.

Trena Blair: The other thing I would say is, you know, America is a massive country. There are 50 states. And one of the places I always talk about when I do workshops is that if you look at California, California is the fifth largest GDP in the world. It is a massive market. And so when businesses talk to me about we’re launching in the US, so go, wow, that’s a massive undertaking. I would encourage them to really consider specifically which state they’re going to launch in, because you can be a very, very successful business. Only by launching in a state could be California. It could be New York State, which has exactly the same population as Australia and a massive GDP. Texas is the size of Canada. So I, I really encourage businesses to truly understand the detail around their requirements, but also the macroeconomics of each of the states that they’re looking at because it will give them a sense of comparability with Australia and therefore the support and the resources that they will need to be successful in that state.

Arin Vahanian: Well, it’s just such a great point, and I love the way you illustrated it by making the comparisons in terms of population related to this. What do you think are some mistakes that startups tend to make And what would be your advice on how to avoid them?

Trena Blair: So first of all, one of the the biggest mistake that Australian businesses make, and I think actually all businesses around the world make when they launch into a new market and particularly the US, is they forget about the fundamental principle. They are a start up again. They’re launching into a new market, they have to think themselves as a start up again. Yes, they’ve got great runway in the local market and they wouldn’t be scaling or shouldn’t be scaling if they don’t have that. But nevertheless, when they go into the US, they are an unknown. So they have to think about building a brand. They have to think about their value proposition that will resonate in that market. They will have to probably pivot some of their product to fit the market. And so making sure that they understand that core fundamental they are a startup when they launch into the US. And if you think like that, then that’s going to help you with planning your marketing strategy.

Arin Vahanian: So in summary, we always like to close out our podcast with five tips, so therefore, what would be your five tips for start ups in terms of US market entry?

Trena Blair: Oh, my gosh. Top five tips, number one, get expert advice and there are a number of different areas in establishing your US entity that we haven’t talked about, but which are critical. So what is the right formation for the business? How do you set your entity up to make sure that it is set up in terms of a global structure that’s going to support the growth of your business? And of course, with that comes advice around tax liabilities and so forth. So making sure that you get expert advice in those areas, protect your IP, your business insurance, as I mentioned, your tax, that’s number one. Number two is prepare, prepare, prepare. We’ve talked about your market industry strategy. We’ve talked about your readiness in terms of repeatability, predictability of sales, marketing and customer support and production if you’re a manufacturer. So prepare your business and make sure you do that assessment for readiness. Then know the market, so we’ve talked about the best location for your business, don’t have the stars in their eyes, the syndrome, as I call it, just be very realistic about what you can achieve and the timeframe in which you can achieve that. So remember, 70 percent of Australian companies that launch into the US fail and primarily because they haven’t done their research. So, no, the market do your research really well. And number four is no where your designs are. your go to market is vitally important for them. And number five is, consider that you are a start up again. So approach the market with that same mindset that made you successful in Australia. There are going to be alterations that you need to make to your product, to your processes as you launch. But the market doesn’t know you. So build your brand again as you did in Australia. You’re successful here and go for it.

Arin Vahanian: Wow. Thank you so much. That was five excellent tips, and once again, I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your day to join us today and talking about market entry, competition, marketing and the vast array of topics that we discussed today. I would urge after this conversation, Every Australian tech startup to reach out to you, Trena, because I think that you really know this business and, you know, based on the advice you were able to share with us today, I think it’s very valuable, not just to our listeners, but to startups who are looking to get involved here in the US. So, once again, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it.

Trena Blair: Arin, thank you for giving me the opportunity. It’s great to speak to you and hopefully the companies which listens took away at least one tip and said I’d be very happy. But thank you very much for the opportunity. I’ve enjoyed our conversation.

Arin Vahanian: Thank you. Same here. Take care. Thanks.

Contact Trena at [email protected] for more information on market entry.

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