Unlock the secrets of successfully breaking into the US market in our comprehensive interview with Moty Arcuschin, a savvy entrepreneur who has spent over two years skilfully expanding his FinTech startup, SensePass. Drawing from his wealth of knowledge and first-hand experience, Moty offers an indispensable guide for startups seeking to make their mark in the US. Dive into this engaging discussion to glean powerful insights and tactics that can elevate your startup to the global stage.
Justyna Fabijańczyk: As a founder with experience in expanding into the US market, did you always know that you would move from Israel to the US?
Moty Arcuschin: The idea emerged as we were building the product. We knew that, at some point, we needed to take our technology beyond Israel’s small market. We debated over several options and ultimately, we chose the US – not an easy decision, but we felt it was right for us. Our company is a FinTech for retail, so we sought a large market with uniform set of regulations.
JF: It’s been two years since your move to the US. What key strategies would you recommend for a young startup looking to enter the US market?
MA: First and foremost, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. It always depends on the nature of the business. However, a good starting point is being physically present in the US. This affords you the opportunity to build relationships and meet potential customers in person. So, ideally, I’d recommend starting with relocation.
JF: How would you advise a startup to establish a presence in the US?
MA: Startups should set up a local company to build confidence with American customers. It’s crucial to have a local office, address, phone number, website, and marketing materials that exude an American vibe. The next step is to hire local employees who can bridge the gap between the founding team and the target market. Don’t underestimate the importance of writing emails and answering phones within US business hours.
Startups should set up a local company to build confidence with American customers. It’s crucial to have a local office, address, phone number, website, and marketing materials that exude an American vibe.
JF: What other recommendations do you have for B2B startups seeking to find traction in the American market?
MA: I suggest starting with SMBs or mid-market customers, as it’s easier to forge connections and close deals than with larger B2B enterprises.
JF: Could you share some key strategies for effectively targeting B2B clients in the US?
MA: It’s essential to focus on specific segments within the market, instead of trying to do everything at once. Look at SensePass. Since we target retail, we can go after FMCG clients, electronics, or anything else, but we went with fashion and apparel because our research shows that this is where we can achieve most early success.
Having local employees with relevant experience in the particular segment or vertical you’re targeting is also vital.
JF: What were your initial steps that helped you roll out into the market?
MA: First, we started recruiting employees with experience in the verticals critical to us. As founders, we decided to be heavily involved in the process, especially at the beginning. We wanted to keep a close eye on client feedback to adjust our strategy and offerings accordingly.
One of our first strategic decisions was to establish partnerships with local distributors and reach out to our clients through them. For instance, since we’re in the retail space and offer payment solutions, we targeted point-of-sale vendors and software vendors like NCR and Oracle. As a result, these companies integrated our technology into their portfolios and referred us to some of their clients. That’s how we began rolling out into the market.
JF: Do these distributors sell your product as a complementary offering to their existing solutions?
MA: Yes, these distributors sell our product as a complementary offering to their existing solutions. By targeting technology companies like Oracle and NCR, we have found that our product can add value and enhance their current offerings, ultimately benefiting both parties involved.
JF: How does your partnership model provide benefits for these companies?
MA: Our offering serves as a great incentive because it allows them to differentiate themselves from their competitors. We also provide a commercial model where they can earn revenue from partnering with us. We use a revenue-sharing model, so every dollar we make on sales, we share with them. This creates a new revenue stream for our partners.
JF: How did you find these partners?
MA: Once we decided to target specific types of clients from particular segments or verticals, we approached the vendors serving those verticals. For example, when we targeted fashion retailers, we reached out to point-of-sale vendors that sold solutions to fashion retailers.
JF: What potential pitfalls should startups be aware of when taking their first steps into a new market?
MA: Many things can go wrong during these crucial early stages. For instance, choosing the wrong people can set you back months and lead to wasted money. From my experience, it’s crucial to find the right people and not compromise on that.
Additionally, when establishing partnerships, it’s essential to ensure that partners are committed to promoting your technology, not just keeping it on the shelf.
JF: What are the hallmarks of a good partner, and how can you measure their level of commitment?
MA: First, it’s important to understand the partner’s business plans and gauge their interest. Adding commitment components to the partnership agreement is crucial. For example, if they have to pay a minimum fee for distribution or if they must meet certain targets, this helps build a strong partnership and ensures that your partners are engaged in your success.
JF: Concerning company structure and organization, is it necessary to have local people in the founding team when entering the US market?
MA: If a startup doesn’t have a founding team yet, building around US-based founders would be ideal. However, I assume most startups considering entering the US market already have a founding team. In this case, the startup needs someone to help with business strategy, business development, and sales. This person should be experienced in the specific segments and verticals targeted.
JF: What level of seniority and experience should startups seek when hiring their first key employees for the US market?
MA: Startups should look for someone experienced, but not necessary senior. At the beginning, you need working hands – someone willing to chase customers, make phone calls, and send emails. Don’t hire someone too senior who only wants to manage people, as there’s no team to manage in the early stages. It’s a one-person show. Ideally, hire someone who has previously worked for a startup, as they’ll be accustomed to the startup mentality. Bringing in someone from a large corporation like Citibank or Walmart may not work.
JF: When expanding to the US, what are the benefits of engaging with local advisors and building a strong advisory board?
MA: It’s very important to build a strong advisory board for the company. Ideally, people that come from the industry, they have the knowledge, experience, connections and network. They can contribute, help you with strategy, and with connections. Those people should be from the US. They should know the market, work in the market, they should have experience in helping startups. If you’re able to find the right people, that could be a great way to start your infrastructure, your foundation over there.
JF: How significant is the process of hiring, and what are the compensation differences between employees and advisors? How can a startup approach this with a limited budget?
MA: Hiring the first employees is a critical decision and could be the only differentiation between success and failure. You need to be very careful to find people with the right attitude and experience who can be a fit for a small company that is still trying to find its way into the market. They need to be flexible because there will be many changes down the road. When it comes to compensation, there are different ways to compensate employees and advisors.
Employees are entitled to a salary, commission, bonuses, and stock options based on their results and success. Advisors, on the other hand, are normally paid a retainer or equity or both, also based on results.
When funds are limited, you can hire someone part-time as a consultant and then hire them full-time if they bring results.
JF: When should a startup start considering expansion into the US market?
MA: I think the sooner you make this move, the better. Because it’s easier to say, “Yeah, let’s start in our country, because we know the language, we know the people, we have connections.” That’s the easier decision to make. The harder decision is to go to the US. I believe the sooner you jump into the water, the sooner you learn how to swim. And if you already have a position in your home country, you don’t want to lose it, so your focus is split.
JF: Is it essential to have a proof of concept, MVP, experience, or clients in the home market before deciding to expand to the US?
MA: There are at least two significant problems with relying on proof of concept from the home market. Firstly, in many types of businesses, what works as proof of concept in the market of origin may not be relevant for the US. This means you might build something that has no applicability in the US, although this isn’t always the case and depends on the nature of the business.
Secondly, the longer you stay in the market of origin, the more entangled you become, making it harder to leave. After building something in the home market, you might be tempted to postpone the decision to expand to the US. As you become increasingly tied to the home market, it weighs down on you, and you have obligations to serve clients. This becomes a burden, and it strains startups with limited resources, as they must now divert efforts to maintain their business in the home market while simultaneously starting a new venture in the US.
These limiting decisions are often made by people who are afraid to jump into the unknown. The sooner you either shed your ties to home market or bypass that stage and head straight to the US, the better.
The sooner you either shed your ties to home market or bypass that stage and head straight to the US, the better.
JF: For a startup aiming to enter the US market, what should the pre-flight checklist consist of?
MA: As I said, you need to have a US entity and focus on building the US look and feel of it.
It’s important to hire local people to help you build the business over there, whether as advisors, employees, consultants, or any other roles you can find.
Hiring the right people is crucial, and the sooner you do it, the better for you.
As a startup we have to talk not just about business, but you also need to take care of funding in parallel. It’s an ongoing job to maintain relationships with investors, even if you’re not actively fundraising right now.
It’s imprtant to stay connected with a few investors who can see your progress, and then after six months or a year, when you have something to show, you can come back and say, ‘This is what I managed to do in the past year, and now I’m looking to raise $2 million, $5 million, $10 million.’ You need to think about this all the time, not just in terms of building relationships with investors, but also in setting targets for yourself. You need to plan how much money you have and how much runway you have, and determine when you need to start raising funds. Likewise, you don’t want to wake up at the last moment before the money runs out and say, ‘Oh, now I need to raise money.’ You need to plan in advance all the time.
It’s important to stay connected with a few investors who can see your progress, and then after six months or a year, (…), you can come back and say, ‘This is what I managed to do in the past year, and now I’m looking to raise $2 million, $5 million, $10 million.’
JF: In a few words, how would you describe your experience with entering the US market?
MA: It’s been exciting and very rewarding. We learn something new every day, make countless mistakes, but learn from them. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, as long as you learn and adjust quickly. Overall, it was difficult and challenging, but looking back, it was the right decision. I only wish we had done it sooner.
JF: What advice would you give to a startup wanting to enter the US market but lacking funding?
MA: There are a few ways to go about that. Joining incubators or accelerators is a good place to start. If you can get into one of these accelerators, that could be a great way in. It’s still recommended to try to raise funds. If that doesn’t work, don’t waste all your time on that, but feel the market and gauge the reaction from VCs. If you don’t have money, and you can get into a local accelerator or incubator, then I wouldn’t say no to trying to build something locally in the home market first. With this proof of concept, you can then raise your seed, and with that money, enter the US market. It’s possible to raise funds from a VC at the pre-seed or seed stage in the US if you have a good team, a solid idea, a prototype, or a proof of concept already. It’s worth exploring and trying.
JF: Considering the current economic conditions and varying industry dynamics, would you say it’s an opportune time for startups from CEE or Poland to enter the US market?
MA: In general, now is a good time to enter the US market. The economy is strong, and the stock exchange is positive. Each startup should examine the economic atmosphere and the market around their segment. There’s almost always a good time to enter, even during a crisis or an unusual situation, because it is naturally a time of opportunity.
Justyna Fabijańczyk: We appreciate you sharing such invaluable insights with Maverick Nation comunity.
Moty Arcuschin: It’s been a pleasure to contribute and help fellow entrepreneurs on their journey.