Global expansion: how do entrepreneurs know when the time is right?

In business timing is everything. Moving too soon or too late could spell the end for your chances of global domination. So to get a better understanding of what a good battle plan looks like I spoke with two entrepreneurs well versed in scaling internationally, along with one in the process of doing so...

"If you have a great business idea you shouldn’t just think of the country you live in. If you’re in Great Britain don’t just think about Great Britain, think of the world as one country - it’s a lot more fun to do business this way," explained Richard Branson at Virgin Atlantic’s recent Business is an adventure event in LA. "The key is to come up with a brand for your company that can work internationally. You need to think globally from the start."

Joining the Virgin Group founder at the event was Tinder founder Sean Rad, himself an entrepreneur with significant experience of scaling a global business at speed. "We have users all over the world and are now opening up offices in lots of different countries to get closer to them,"revealed Rad. "What I’ve noticed when expanding is that your culture dilutes with distance, so if you don’t have a strong home base then what you stand for will eventually mean almost nothing. Before you start expanding you need to have a strong understanding of who you are and what your role is in the world."

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"It’s true," remarked Branson. "But you have to think global and a lot of people don’t tend to. Earlier I was speaking to Jamie Siminoff from Ring [which he recently announced an investment in], another great LA business. He has built a formidable company and now people are starting to copy him overseas. It’s difficult as he’s so busy but he needs to find the time to get people in other territories and focus on expansion, it’s a real winning formula that needs to go global."

Intrigued by Richard Branson’s comments on the predicament Ring currently finds itself in, I decided to stop by their headquarters and get the founder’s view on things. I’m not sure if there’s a Tumblr out there called Entrepreneurs Who Look Like Their Office, but if there was Jamie Siminoff and Ring would have to feature high on the list. Scruffy, charming and instantly likeable, you don’t have to spend long in the presence of either to get a good sense of what the business is all about.

Read: What LA’s top investors look for in a start-up

We made our way through the various rooms in the office, each of them a scene of frantic work and yet somehow exuding an air of calmness. Guys shipping products into boxes, customer queries being settled on the phone, reports being filed, 3D printers buzzing away, soldering irons making adjustments to new prototypes and not one ping pong table or thinking pod in site. A lot goes on at Ring’s headquarters. As we make our way into Siminoff’s office, where he chooses to stand all day with two doors wide open to allow a healthy footfall to pass through, I ask him if he heard what his latest investor had to say about Ring’s global future.

"Ha, I missed it. But my phone’s been very busy with people ready to relay the message!" But before we got onto his response, Siminoff was keen to let us know the state of play domestically.

For the uninitiated, Ring is a WiFi video doorbell that lets you answer the door from anywhere using your smartphone and like all the best inventions, the story behind it is an entertaining one.

Ring, Jamie Siminoff

"It all started out of my garage in LA, I built a little lab in it that I called 'Edison Junior'. I’d just sold a small tech company called unsubscribed.com, so I hired a couple people and decided I was going to build things that could enter big markets with a unique advantage. We would have built anything, a parking garage of whatever, if we could have found an angle that would have given us an advantage. The funny thing was that the doorbell was not a product on our roadmap. I built the doorbell as I couldn’t hear the door and there was no WiFi doorbell on the market. Then my wife loved it, she could answer the door when I was gone without actually opening it and felt a lot more secure. 'Mmm, this is interesting', I thought.

"Then people would come over and wouldn’t want to talk about any of the other shit I was doing, just the doorbell. I’d be like 'No! Don’t look at that thing, I’ve got all these great inventions going on here', but they didn’t want to know. After a while it became clear that it needed to become the product, quite soon it became the business. It took about four years to grow the product, they were quite a struggle, then around March of 2015 things changed. We’re a year into our hyper-growth, we’ve gone from being this dinky little product, to a legitimate player in the market."

Read: Is LA really the 'hottest place in the world' for social entrepreneurship?

As well as receiving some sizeable financial backing as of late, Ring has also experienced success in relation to its overall mission of reducing crime in neighbourhoods – something which Siminoff is clearly very proud of. With the company announcing details of a test carried out with the LAPD, which saw video doorbells installed free of charge at 60 homes in the Wilshire Park region of LA last summer. During the test period there was a 55 per cent reduction in crime compared to the prior year, outperforming surrounding areas, where there was a 24 per cent reduction.

 "We’re not a technology product company, our mission as a company is to reduce crime in neighbourhoods – it’s that simple. We will only do products that drive towards that goal, if we could do a product that would sit on the dashboard of a car then I don’t care unless it reduces crime in neighbourhoods. Ring means the ring of security around your front door, that’s the most important ring of security in any house. Crime starts in a home, more often that not, at the front door. To start with someone needs to see if you’re at home, before going around the back or breaking through a window," notes Siminoff.

Ring, Jamie Siminoff, 2

"We’ve also built a ring of security around the whole house, which is a stick up camera. We’ll keep building more in that area but the next step is the ring of security around the neighbourhood – that lies in data. How do you use it, share it around and make people feel safer – we’ll be launching products tied into that this year."

But before Ring starts releasing these new products, is Siminoff conscious that overseas territories need to be conquered? "Yes. You have to expand quickly into markets, you can’t leave them unattended and it’s very hard to get share back. If you’re not there then it’s not the fault of somewhere in Europe, Australia or whatever market you’re not in, it’s your fault.

"A few people have announced plans but nobody has actually done anything yet, so I believe we’ll be able to close off the major markets from allowing someone to get big and the encroach on them. That’s always the trouble – should you fight someone on their soil or yours? I think you always want to fight on someone else’s soil."

Read: The Dollar Shave Club guide to going viral

So when will the fight take place? Is Ring now at the stage where there’s no time like the present?

"Too soon and you’re dead, too late and you’re dead. Choose the right time and all is good. Typically the only way to choose the right time is to get lucky! You only know some time after that it was the right thing to do. We’ll go into Europe and two years later you’re either like 'yeah, that was the right call' or otherwise it’s 'oh boy, that was a fucking mistake!'.

“Too soon is a guaranteed way to die, you’ll run out of resources, not have the time to get the product right and lose focus. Dead. If you go too late, it’s so hard to get into markets that are already entrenched, it’s such a fine balance."

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