Friday, January 4, 2019

Lesson #306: Startup Ecosystems Accelerate Success--Why Bigtincan Relocated from Australia to the U.S.

Posted By: George Deeb - 1/04/2019


& Comment

I was recently introduced to David Keane, CEO at Bigtincan, an AI-powered sales enablement platform founded in 2012 and now publicly trading on the Australian Securities Exchange with a $60MM market capitalization.  I learned his story on how he relocated his business from Australia to Boston to give his business a higher likelihood of scaling revenues and startup success.  Since relocating the business to Boston in 2013, the company has seen consistent annual growth in excess of 45% per year (with sales of $13 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2018).  In my interview with David, he shared many of the key differences between the U.S. and Australia startup ecosystems, that I thought was worth sharing with all of you.  And, I think this serves as a great case study of how the health of the startup ecosystem you work in, can help or hurt your success.



After listing Bigtincan on the Australian Stock Exchange, we realized to continue to grow the organization, we needed to expand outside of our current market. As the biggest global economy, the United States was the obvious choice in order to create more opportunities across the world and be part of the open economy. Without the capital, the market or the customers we needed to succeed in Australia, you reach a plateau where you cannot grow anymore unless you expand to a new market, which is what drove Bigtincan to move outside of Australia. We also wanted to expand our customer base globally, especially within the United States, and having that in-market presence was increasingly important to build these relationships. 


The Australian startup ecosystem exists, but it is not as established as the United States. Australia is a developed country with English speaking people and great education along with good government programs that support entrepreneurs and startups. Without Google, Apple and Amazon to compete for resources with, so many startups have the luxury to regularly employ PhD-level graduates with data science experience.  However, despite the sun, beach and a strong talent pool, there is no significant source of venture capital and the overall business ecosystem is not as prolific or mature. 


When determining where to put down roots for Bigtincan, Boston felt a lot more established than San Francisco or even somewhere like Austin, Texas where the business landscape is still very young. The Eastern seaboard still remains a business hub with a heavy industrial focus as opposed to the pure software technology and social network-based companies of the Silicon Valley. Boston itself has decades of experience in both hardware and software and the infrastructure like Internet and fiberoptic to support continued growth. Boston also offers numerous support agencies like public relations firms, capital management groups and marketing agencies that can help companies in the area get started.

Another challenge with Silicon Valley is that the talent market is highly competitive. With new companies and opportunities constantly springing up, you often watch employees leave for next big thing whether it’s a Facebook, Uber or Google. Boston has been churning out superior business and technology hires for decades with a number of the top colleges and universities residing within, or just outside, the city limits. This gives us a huge opportunity to source young, smart employees where they are already residing. A successful enterprise cannot be built alone, overnight – you need to have long term partners and talent to help build great companies.


When moving from Australia to the United States, you realize pretty quickly the cultural differences between the two countries – and even within the US – which yield varying approaches to business and the global market. In the US you have the big guys like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple dominating the tech market, making it harder and harder to stand out if you have something special.

Today's organizations need to think globally and build a more diverse base than enterprises have before. For Bigtincan, Australia was a good place to start, but the entry into the US market has really allowed us to grow. During this process, you quickly realize the cultural differences in another country. Not only did that present a challenge but learning the nuances of the different regions in the United States (Southern hospitality vs. laid-back Californian-style) did take some getting used to. This ultimately helped us establish what locations made sense to house the various teams – sales, marketing, engineers – and determine the location of our U.S. headquarters.


No doubt moving Bigtincan from Australia to the United States was the right thing to do for us. It was a wonderful experience to go through and enabled Bigtincan to be successful. Since 2013 the company has seen consistent 45 percent year-over-year growth, which would not have been possible if we had not moved into a bigger market. So many smaller companies and startups don't make it because they neglect to fight in the big markets, where there are more opportunities.

The only way to determine whether an organization fails or succeeds is to have two feet in right from the beginning. Our goal was not just to move to the United States, but truly become a U.S. company - to act and feel like a U.S. based startup. Now that 98% of our revenue now comes from U.S. customers, we truly believe we attained our initial goal.



So, the morale of the story here; if you find yourself operating in a city or country that does not have a robust startup ecosystem that can help propel your business to new heights, maybe it is time to consider moving your business to a better location.  Whether that is from a foreign country to the U.S. (or vice versa), or from a smaller U.S. startup market to a bigger U.S. startup market, there are plenty of learnings in this Bigtincan case study that proves where you locate your business really does matter.  Thanks David for all your insights here, it was great learning your story.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

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