More often than not, gaining entrance into new markets is a ‘make or break’ point for fledgling companies. Reflecting the global nature of the startup eco-system is an important part of fostering relationships that open doors and minds to untapped niches. For Boston’s most recent two classes, 25% of the companies came from outside the United States. Countries included Estonia, Israel, France, and the United Kingdom. We have an active interest in making that list even longer.
Paris based Spring 2012 alum, docTrackr, is a great example of the role mentoring and exposure can play in the making of a transatlantic success story. Founders Clément Cazalot and Alex Negrea started out as employees of larger companies. As technologists, they were troubled by the conundrum presented by the increased use of online collaboration tools. This type of sharing helps teams communicate more effectively and streamlines workflow but also makes internal financial and proprietary information vulnerable.
By December 2010, they quit their jobs to fight the good fight against increasingly savvy (and often malicious) hackers trying to get their hands on your data. Within one month, ‘Silicon Sentier’ (the nonprofit behind France’s first seed stage startup accelerator program) took note and offered them a spot in the prestigious Le Camping. The opportunity was a great springboard from which they achieved their first goal: building a system that allows users to maintain control of shared digital documents, long after pressing the send button. Now corporate executives and small business operators alike can rest easy knowing their documents are as secure in the cloud as they would be in a vault.
While at Le Camping, Clément and Alex also benefitted from the most valuable thing any accelerator has to offer– its network. They struck up a fortuitous friendship with Entrepreneur in Residence, Aaron O’Hearn. His time in France was followed by a move back to the U.S. to join TechStars in Boston as Program Manager. Aaron called Clément to encourage them to apply. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Aaron asked, ‘Do you want to bring your business to the next level? You’ve had some early traction. Come to the U.S. for three months and you can speed that up.’ We said ‘Why not?’ and we applied. Two months after, we were going to the US.”
The process moved forward quickly. However, this isn’t a move that Cazalot would have undertaken before being approached. The best-kept secret in E.U. startup circles is that TechStars doesn’t care where your passport is from or whether you intend to keep a U.S. presence after the program wraps. “Everybody knows TechStars, but as European companies we don’t apply because you think there is a big gap between Europe and the U.S. People think we are not eligible or their companies are not mature enough. Just applying for a U.S. program is a big deal. That’s cultural, I think. We were definitely focused on the French market, only the French market, French companies. All of your employees, all of your partners, all of your mentors are French. You are speaking French. Same thing in Germany, Spain, etc. – you have to force yourself to think globally. Because markets are so segmented, you never see a way you can reach everybody in one shot.”
Clément and his team found that the TechStars network eased the transition to a different way of doing business.
“We were introduced to lawyers who took care of everything. That’s something I didn’t have this conception of; you give a task to a lawyer and they help you figure it out. You meet companies that already went through this process. You have to recreate the company in a legal way before entering the country. It takes a week. You have Visa issues. You get through it.”
Actually, docTrackr did more than get through it. Even with the heartburn of the immigration process, Cazalon says making that leap is one of the best decisions they made for the business. They emerged with the clarity, focus, and plans to expand their team on both sides of the pond.
“We arrived with technology and we are going out of TechStars with a real company, a real vision, a strategy for the future. We know what our big challenge is; things that three months ago, I was barely able to understand. The first year and a half, we tried to find people willing to buy what we build. With so many potential channels, it was difficult to say, There’s our sweet spot. Our mentors helped us realize that we needed to think less about use cases, and then made intros to strategic partners. Instead of going alone in the wild, fighting to get 11 million users, box.net integrated us into their network. Microsoft Bizspark (45,000 startups) and Bizspark+ (100 startups) put us in front of thousands. We had an increase of 100% having opened up this new market.”
With bread and butter clients lined up, docTrackr’s round of seed funding recently closed, anchored by prominent Boston VC firms. This just goes to show that the language a company’s original business plan is written in doesn’t matter. Great ideas translate and immersion into the TechStars mentor network helped the founders become fluent in communicating their company vision and strategy to anyone, anytime, anywhere.