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January 17, 2011 at 12:26pm
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6 tips for overseas tech start-ups coming to the USA

Since I recently touched down in London for a visit I thought it might be a good time to reflect on our first five months in New York.

We started Snapr from New Zealand and following the launch of our v1 product we headed to the States to get closer to the action (will blog about why we picked NY over the Valley soon). It’s been a great experience so far, but it definitely hasn’t always been easy.

Starting with the most obvious here are some tips for other people trying to get started bringing a company to the US.

Meetup.com

New York has so many tech related meetup groups that you could probably hit 3-4 events a week and still be missing some.

The monthly NY tech meet is huge, and there are some great local ones like the North Brooklyn Breakfast Club. The format of a meetup could be anything from watching demos / pitches, to sitting around a table with twelve people having beers and chatting.

Going through members lists of meetup groups is a great way to find local people to follow on Twitter too and this can help you keep tabs on less obvious events that are happening and get an idea of who knows who.

We met some great people at meetups who helped us a lot including Teddy and Emily from Hashable - which brings us to our next point:

Use Hashable

I was meeting with Nihal (of Eniac & Local Response) right before I left and we both agreed that Hashable is doing great things for the start-up scene in NY. It encourages people to open up their address book and help people connect. Its also a great way to make sure you are gathering the Twitter handles of interesting people you meet.

Hashable CEO Mike Yavonditte was one of the first people to give us an hour of his time after we arrived, he gave us lots of good advice and of course made us some great #intros. 

So we got onto Hashable fairly early and I managed to scrape into the NY top 100 for November and attend the Hashable launch party.

Get togethers among the people on the leader board are a great way to crystalize the value of ‘hashcred’ and I hope this is an aspect of the product they will build on. We got some of our first US press through a contact we made at the launch party.

Find a creative agency to adopt you

Co-working spaces are great for start ups, but an alternative that you don’t often hear about is to find a friendly creative agency that will give you a desk space. 

In our case we had developed a relationship with a mobile marketing agency (The Hyperfactory) before we left New Zealand and they generously offered us a desk space for free. (Please don’t spam them with free desk requests, we are coming back soon!)

For an innovative agency its another way to keep a finger on the pulse of whats happening with new tech, and we helped out occasionally with pitches, especially in cases where Snapr could be a useful base platform. 

Get US lawyers

If you are going to do business in the states it is inevitable that at some point you will need legal work done by someone who knows the US legal system (not your home country lawyer, even if they are awesome as is the case with ours). This can be expensive, but not nearly as costly as if you make mistakes that you will have to fix later.

You can sign an engagement statement with a lawyer which means you have formally agreed to let them represent you, even though you may not yet need to do any actual work (i.e. you don’t need to pay them anything until the time a deal needs to be done, or you need to set up properly in the USA).

Your lawyers want you to grow as a client so they can be a great advocates. Pick a lawyer that has a well established background working with start-ups and technology companies and they will be able to intro you to people, they may well be happy to give you a lot of free advice, and in our case we even got some party invites and a free lunch!

We signed up with Lowenstein Sandler who are associated with First Round Capital and also have a guy who had done flip ups of New Zealand companies before. I believe Chris Dixon also recommends a few firms on his blog .

Be prepared to pivot, but don’t be too flimsy.

A hazard of meeting with a lot of people who have already been successful is that they will have their own ideas about where you should take your business. 

These are often great ideas, but its also not uncommon for two very smart people to have contradictory thoughts about what you should be doing.

At the end of the day its your company and you have to stick to what excites you, and the directions that fit your strengths.

If people are constantly suggesting a lot of ideas for you it could be a sign that you aren’t articulating a compelling vision for what you are doing. 

If people who know technology well can’t grasp your pitch then your product will most likely also struggle with consumers.

This isn’t always going to be the case (think Twitter.. how did anyone ever define that?) but if when you discuss your product things inevitably steers towards changing the direction of what you are doing instead of how to realize the goals you have set out than maybe your core proposition needs some work.

Don’t pivot constantly to follow someone else’s vision, get the core hook of your product right on terms that you are happy with, then find people who will help you realize those goals.

Things will take longer than you hope.

It took us almost three months to get a meeting with Hyperfactory CEO Derek Handley after we arrived, but this led to an office space, connections with lots of great people, and some great input from Derek. Don’t take it personally if people are busy.

You may well be fresh off the boat with lots of big ideas, and from the point of view of the local tech and investment you are just that. People will be happy to help you, but when it comes to writing a cheque they will most probably want to wait around for a while to see if you are not just going to give up and go home.

Most of the people who have started successful companies might have started several companies before their current one, or worked in a key role for one that was successful. In order for people to trust you you will need to spend some time building relationships and proving your smarts / staying power, either that or you better hope your product has mad traction!