Jouko Virtanen from Takeoff Partners has overseen several successful expansions to North America. He says that in 2021, the same laws apply to how to make it successful as before—but you need to also turn the accelerating digitalization to your advantage.
Despite the travel restrictions in place, Takeoff Partners portfolio company Videoly has taken on the task of seeking growth in North America. It is working, and now the startup is opening an office in Toronto to take things to the next level.
There are a few things that work for Videoly’s advantage, when it comes to achieving the almost-unattainable goal of finding successful business growth through expanding to North America in the middle of the pandemic.
One is that Videoly’s product is designed for eCommerce, and eCommerce is seeing an unprecedented boom now that people all over the world are moving from brick and mortar to shopping online. Time will tell, how much of this change will be permanent – but most experts agree that things will not go back to the way they were.
The other advantage Videoly had, according to CCO Paula Poukka, is that the organization was already very used to working remotely—rather logically, considering their line of business. Videoly’s entire tech team was remote to begin with, and salespeople were accustomed to selling via video call.
“We were actually going to go to NYC in March 2020 to start our expansion to North America. Quite soon restrictions started to come in and traveling became increasingly difficult. It quickly became evident that we needed a change of plans. So, we started doing sales calls in the evenings from Finland,” she says.
But, as Takeoff Partners’ Jouko Virtanen who specializes in North America expansion described in a recent article, this will only get you so far. Videoly was selling but they needed to resume their plans of opening an office. Their original plan of going to NYC was still off the table, however, as the city was largely closed. So, instead, Videoly got their sights on Toronto—in which they are now opening an office, and it is turning out to be a great idea.
“The Canadian mentality seems to align well with our Nordic values, and cooperation with Canadians has been working well from the get-go. In addition to this, opening an office in Toronto offers us an opportunity to find great talent —not least because Shopify also has major presence there.”
In Toronto, the cost of living is also slightly lower and getting a working permit is easier. Still, it is sufficiently near to all major eastern U.S. cities.
Videos bring feelings into eCommerce
Videoly’s two customer segments are online retailers and brands, both of which are looking for better ways to make their products attractive and facilitate online buying. Videoly’s solution allows them to get hand-picked, user-generated product and brand videos to online stores.
“At the end of the day, customers make decisions based on feelings—we all know this. With video, it is possible to connect to the customers on this emotional level, which can be hard to do online by any other means,” Paula Poukka says.
“The same applies to B2B sales, by the way. One of our values is keeping it human, which in the sales context means that you want to make it an uplifting experience and really connect with the other person. It’s like Maya Angelou said: people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The eCommerce boom caused by the pandemic is so significant the figures look close to unbelievable: in the U.S: alone, eCommerce sales were projected to grow 40.3% and reach $839.02 billion in sales in 2020.
“At the moment we are targeting the North American mid-market, which from our Nordic perspective consists of large clients,” she says.
But, of course, this is just the beginning.
Paula’s tips for companies expanding to North America
1) Appreciate cultural differences when communicating. Small things create that feeling of connection to the other person. For example, knowing how to make small talk in the North American way helps the other person to relax.
2) Be proud of your story and your culture. Finland—and Nordics in general—are respected in North America and also known for being tech pioneers. But you must know how and when to talk about your background. Do it wrong, and you come across as someone from an obscure country somewhere on the other side of the world. Do it right—use it as an exotic and interesting ice breaker.
3) Remember that in North America, sales is more aggressive. Us Finns tend to be more factual and feel uncomfortable about promoting ourselves too much. Although you can use your natural tendency for honesty and authenticity to your advantage, it still serves to remember that you really need to go out there and promote yourself. In North America, the sales culture is different and they are unlikely to feel you are pushing or self-promoting. Instead, you may miss out on opportunities by not being vocal enough about why you’re the best choice for your potential customer.