For many of South Africa’s fast-growing technology companies, expansion into new countries and markets is a top priority.
By Leon Coetzer, UK MD of redPanda Software
Indeed, it is a natural next step for companies that are looking to widen their reach, increase profits and become truly global competitors. Given that technology innovation is advancing at breakneck speed, there is also growing demand internationally for skilled IT service providers and talented teams.
Having recently set up a new office and software offering in the United Kingdom, our executive team has gained key insights into what to do – and what not to do – when entering a new market. For SA business leaders and entrepreneurs who have their sights set abroad, here are our key learnings from a successful expansion into the UK…
Find a trusted local partner
When expanding abroad, leaders don’t have the luxury of leaning on their South African networks and support systems. That is why it is imperative to find a strategic partner in your new market who has extensive local knowledge – and is willing to integrate you into their network and business ecosystem.
When working with this partner, it is critical to develop a trusting and open relationship – and to quickly demonstrate the value that you can bring to the table. This means, for example, reducing the legwork that is required of your partner and taking on as much as possible internally.
The key to success here is to be able to move and respond very quickly, providing detailed proposals and quotes that are easy to understand and action. In order to be nimble and responsive, make sure that you have the skills and resources available within your teams. When crafting proposals, for example, we draw on our Business Analysts and Product Owners to provide compelling business cases that are not only informative but also visually engaging and easy to understand.
Master the pain points
Every market has different challenges and pain points, just as every company and client has different pain points. When establishing a new presence, devote a great deal of time to understanding the unique pain points of customers in the market. This understanding should then shape your strategy and your offering. Importantly, be open to change – and to pivoting on the strategy or plan you initially entered with! For example, we entered with a broad offering of enterprise software solutions for retail clients – yet as we became more immersed in the UK environment, we began to narrow our focus and concentrate on developing enterprise mobile solutions for hardware players.
To succeed in addressing pain points, you must not only demonstrate your own credibility and expertise, but you must also innovate within your vertical. For example, our UK customers were often daunted by the cost of software licences which needed to be renewed annually.
To address this challenge, we develop highly customised mobile applications and enable customers to pay a once off fee to own the software, and the intellectual property (IP). If the once off fee is not manageable for clients, we work with finance houses to provide a financing option whereby the software development fee is paid off over an agreed period of time. This allows customers to purchase customised solutions which they essentially own – and no longer have to worry about annual licensing fees.
Take the lead on innovation
Whether you are opening a new office in the UK or elsewhere, decision-makers always have the option of near-shoring or offshoring certain requirements. With this in mind, it is critical to demonstrate the value you can bring as an in-country partner. Given that disruption is the theme of technology today, one of the quickest ways to prove your value is to innovate and bring new (and unexpected) solutions to persistent problems. Be proactive… and take the lead, even when you have not been asked to do so! This might mean investing time and resources into projects or applications that are merely used to stimulate ideas and discussions. In the long term, however, these proactive projects almost always pay huge dividends.
Within the mobile enterprise space, for example, we built demo applications using OCR (optical character recognition) that enabled users to scan various ID documents (passports, driver licences, etc) as a form of verification. This approach also establishes you as a trusted, consultative partner – instead of a once-off supplier or service provider.
On a broader note, South African technology companies are well-positioned to enter developed markets such as the UK and Europe and make an immediate impact. We have a great pool of home-grown talent, our English language proficiency makes us immediately attractive, and the time zone enables easy cross border collaboration. That said, the global marketplace is increasingly cutthroat – and you have to demonstrate your value very quickly in order to become a trusted provider in any market today…