One common childhood disease for startups is provincialism. The international dimension is often neglected in the struggle of the first years’ Valley of Death. Once founders realise the need to reach out to broader international markets, it’s often too late: the organisational design is not able to sustain the scaling tension and only few ships are ready for continental or transcontinental voyages.
Romanian startup Appscend is experimenting with a vaccine for provincialism. With their fast emerging “all-in-one cross-mobile performance based application platform”, they are currently making work easier for app developers worldwide, as proved by over 2500 referrals, resellers and White Label partners and more than 250 third party applications listed in Apple iTunes and Google Play. Their figures are growing day by day and the Romanian venture with offices in New York and Chile seems determined to rewrite the code of success in this field. According to Alexandra Dumitru, Marketing Manager of Appscend, this recipe relies on “startup common sense”, such as: “focusing on building a great product, gathering an international team, and last but not least, choosing the right partners and mentors”.
Build something that is relevant worldwide
Appscend co-founder and CEO Sebastian VaduvaLike a lot of other startup success stories, Appscend’s journey started by finding an emerging niche market. “In 2011, we saw the tendency of the mobile ecosystem to move to the cloud, but the existing solution providers only offered a small piece of the pie. This led to huge fragmentation of the market and a poor delivery to the client’s needs,” explains Sebastian Văduva, co-founder and business development manager“. Appscend started with a generous goal: to offer enthusiast app builders a WordPress-like platform, so everybody could create an application without touching the code.
This premise proved to be false: “The market has not reached this level yet. The real demand is still coming from the premium sector: big companies with specialised departments or software companies”. They refine their selling strategy accordingly, but still follow every lead that wants to experience their product. The inquiries come from all over the world, from China to Africa and from a large variety of customers: “from young people with a startup idea, middle-sized companies that offer software-as-a-product solutions, digital marketing agencies that want to expand their portfolio, generally people who are looking for a simple all-in-one solution”. Right now, Appscend cover a large number of industry verticals: retail industries, automotive, online publishing, fashion, real-estates or insurance companies.
Develop a scalable organisation
Improvising too much might prove to be unhealthy. Appscend’s founders decided to emulate the organisational structure of their partners and their mentors. Their philosophy was simple: even if your team is small, it is vital to define all the departments and the responsibilities clearly, even if we are talking about one-man-departments. Sales shouldn’t handle support and content managers shouldn’t be in charge of public relations. If everybody does everything you will end up with nobody doing anything. “Although we have a small team of 11 people, I insisted to have a full circle, not to overlap responsibilities. Even if we are only one and a half years old as a venture, we tried to act like a full grown company from the beginning,” says Sebastian. This idea does not translate into autism, they work together and when the founders talk, one can finish the other’s sentences. But this harmony seems to be the result of hard work and internal discipline.
Talk like a native
Especially in the software field, international relevancy and coverage are essential. Appscend opened an office in New York as soon as it was possible and Chile was the next location to connect with Central Europe. It was a logical decision. “Our main competitors, strongly funded companies such as Kony or VertiGO that offer a similar solution, are based in the United States. On the other hand, South America is a very interesting market, closer to the European business mentality”.
Their challenge was to find local representatives who understand the market and already have a functional sales network. Appscend does not believe in improvisations like the export of sales representatives to other countries. They try to bridge the cultural gap by working with local professionals. “In Romania, one of the biggest challenges was to find a near-native English speaker to develop content for us. We believe that we should educate the market as we go and quality content is one of the best approaches. We recently added a new member to our team, Lukas Schongut, in order to focus on the German native speaking business community”. As a result Appscend not only has a great product; it has a distinctive voice that does not bear any trace of local accent.
Choose your crowd wisely
This year, Appscend was the only CEE startup invited at Techcrunch’s Mobile World Congress Meet-up, an elite gathering in one of the most important Mobile Congress worldwide (see our report of the event). It was a confirmation of their international success and relevancy, but also a great occasion to “directly network and create business opportunities with key decision makers, find strategic partners and advisers that could fuel Appscend’s business development,” as Alexandra explains.
“TechCrunch’s meet-ups were in our focus from the beginning, so we gladly took the opportunity and prepared for it carefully. Attending large events such as Mobile World Congress are recommended when used wisely. With more than 60.000 participants during a week of expo and meet-ups, planning ahead is mandatory. It may sound plain, but we found out that without registering before the event, scanning the participants list and scheduling meetings, having an expo area is rather pointless. Companies holding a stand at the event should consider that traffic is impressive, visitors are pulled in all directions, and brands are highly aggressive with promoting their stands: from offering tech goodies to organising extreme sport competitions.”
Appscend’s international legitimacy is the sum of a series of actions and strategies that might almost seem obvious for the bystander. Similar to other startup stories, the magical formula for success lists exclusively common ingredients. The trick is to mix them in the right order and to take the formula seriously to avoid unnecessary improvisations. Because besides hard work and dedication, Appscend managers knew that the cosmopolitan mentality is not a consequence of building a successful business, but a default requirement. The lesson to be learned from them is simple: thinking globally is the best start for a startup!