Tampere, the largest inland city in the Nordic Countries, is rapidly internationalising. With an estimated €6 - €10 billion being invested in the city, and an expected population increase of 23% by 2030, many companies are attracted by the diverse pool of native and international talents in the area.
In order to succeed, Finnish companies must internationalise. There are many ways to do this; however, breaking into a new market it a great way to get started. The UK is currently facing massive upheaval, with Brexit possibly presenting many threats and opportunities for business start-ups. We spoke to three Tampere-based companies about their experiences doing business in the UK. We discussed the difficulties they faced, and the strategies they came up with for maximising their success in Britain. Finally, we asked if the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union had had any effect on their business, and what threats and opportunities these Tampere-based companies saw in Brexit. Read on to discover some useful tips and tricks for doing business in the UK for both start-ups and established companies.
Silverbucket is a Finnish IT company based in Tampere providing tools for project portfolio resource management. The company's main product is an easy-to-use SaaS tool for resourcing and following the project portfolio.We spoke with CEO and Customer Service Manager Tuomas Mikkola.
This autumn, FirstCo Ltd became your first customer in the UK. Congratulations! How did that happen?
Our first project in the UK took place during spring and so we gained our first customer there. We didn’t expect this to happen in such a short time, but we are very excited about it. Getting the first deal in a new country is always the most difficult thing. But it gets easier once you have the right contacts and references in the area. It's an important step for us.
Did you approach FirstCo or was it the other way around?
We approached them. We first bought a list of potential customers, engineering companies located in Greater London area and simply started to call them. Our target was to arrange a roadshow to introduce us to companies we could visit and demonstrate how Silverbucket works.
Can you tell us a bit more about the internationalisation of Silverbucket? What made you choose Great Britain as a target market?
We’re in the beginning phase of internationalisation, and our software services are currently available in Finnish and English. In the long run, we plan to have more languages supported by our system. For example, German will undoubtedly be supported in the future. But since we’re a small company employing ten people, we are still concentrating on the European market. Sweden was our first choice due to being our neighbouring country, and the business culture there is quite similar to the one we have in Finland. Then Great Britain followed. Our target markets are English speaking countries and countries in which English is a business approved language.
What are your thoughts on Brexit? Have you developed a marketing campaign with Brexit in mind when you approached the British market?
Personally, I hate the idea of closed borders and appreciate if people would be more open-minded nowadays. From the company’s perspective, I don’t recall Brexit being mentioned at all in the meetings and negotiations we had in the UK. We are a software company. We don’t deliver any physical products that might be affected by Brexit. Software doesn’t acknowledge any borders according to my experience, so our strategy is more or less the same no matter the country.
Of course, not all details regarding Brexit have been unravelled yet. You never know what can happen, but at the moment, I don’t see Brexit as an obstacle.
Does this mean Silverbucket’s plans include expanding in the UK? What are the possible challenges?
Definitely! We’re currently looking for resellers and partners in the UK who could help us with searching for new customers, negotiating contracts and provide support services. Those resellers should already have connections in the IT and engineering industries, and not build the network from scratch. Our customers are mainly engineering or consulting companies like Sweco and Ramboll.
The experience we need is how to develop the partner network. This is something we’re still learning. The bottleneck is building the international business model; how to systematically round the process and find good resellers for Silverbucket. We want to get to the right tables as we build our brand and reputation.
At Silverbucket, we’re confident that our product is excellent and we have already proven that. It’s only a matter of time to set foot in more countries.
Best of luck with all these brave goals! Do you have some tips for Tampere based companies looking to try their luck with the British market?
Based on my experience with software business, my advice is: build your business model to be scalable. Nowadays, cloud-based software services are accepted even by the major enterprises as long as you can take care of the security issues. Brits are a bit conservative with new ideas and solutions, yet it has never been a better time for cloud-based software services. SaaS applications in business software are not spread widely in the UK. This phenomenon has just started, and I’m confident the trend will continue and be “the thing” in the future. Or to quote our brand new UK customer: “When it comes to resourcing solutions, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
HappyorNot is an internationally minded company based in Tampere that offers a unique platform that provides instant customer and employee feedback. Through their innovative smiley consoles they have helped over 4000 organisations from 117 different countries gain valuable feedback on their products, services, customer service, and employee satisfaction. We asked Executive VP and, Co-Founder Ville Leväniemi a few questions about HappyorNot’s operations and experience in the UK.
How many resellers and partners do you currently have in the U.K.? When did you established your first contacts there?
We have 5 authorized HappyOrNot resellers in the UK. Our first UK based customer was Heathrow airport, who purchased our service in Spring 2012 to help their security staff to revolutionize the way how they communicate with passengers. Heathrow was our first airport client and today we have over 120 airport clients and new airport joining the family of happy clients almost weekly.
What were the crucial factors that helped you conquer the British market? Can you describe your experience with entering the market, challenges you faced and accomplishments?
Heathrow was the break through to the market. We made sure that they got the value they were after, and we have always tried to exceed the expectations of our clients. They have referred us to many other UK clients. Entering the market took a lot of time and patience, traveling, meetings. As a foreign start-up we faced the same challenges than in any other country, such as: not enough local industry references. Accomplishments include fantastic clients like Heathrow, Dixons Carphone, IKEA and many many more.
When pressed about any effects post-referendum, Ville stated there HappyorNot had not seen any significant changes in within the market, with regards to either revenue, or sales. However, he does not believe Brexit presents any significant opportunities for HappyorNOt eihter.
Have you received any concerns regarding Brexit from your resellers in the U.K.? How do you plan to overcome them?
Not really. The great thing about HappyOrNot is that it is about improving organisations’ service performance. The changes in the political environment or economy do not remove the fact that organizations need to perform. But of course they have impact on organizations’ budgets.
Do you have any useful advice for Tampere-based companies looking to expand in the British market?
Work out what is the value that you think that your customer is ready to pay for, then validate it at the customer. It is ok to ask from the customer how they value your service/product. It is ok to talk about the money. Make sure your business/concept/idea is sustainable and scalable. Fail fast is not one of my favorite lines. Failing fast continuously is not a good idea. Respect the customer and try not to fail on their expense.
Make sure that you talk to your target group, message your value proposition to them and manage the expectations so that you meet the expectations (and preferably exceed them), instead of building the time bomb of inevitable disappointment.
Gofore Plc is a digital services company operating in the private and public sectors. Their mission is to change the world for the better through digitalisation and renewing ways of working. In 2017 Gofore officially changed its name from Leadin. Their services cover the entire value chain - from management consultation to service design and implementation as well as cloud services. Gofore currently employs over 360 people in Helsinki, Jyväskylä, Tampere, Swansea and Munich. Gofore was chosen as the best workplace in Finland and the second-best workplace in Europe in the Great Place to Work® survey in 2017. We spoke to Managing Director, Harri Mansikkamäki to ask him about internationalisation, and working in the UK.
Gofore, previously Leadin, has been present in the UK since 2014. Why did you decide to expand your business to the UK?
We had been a very international company since the beginning. At the time, we already had a good existing client, Jaguar Land Rover. So, then we thought, if we are able to serve Jaguar Land Rover, we most probably will be able to serve other clients in the UK as well. Furthermore, personally, I had been working with clients in the UK and elsewhere and I knew some of the kind of business life in here as well.
So, you had one customer then, what is the situation now?
In the beginning it was me, myself and I here in the UK. In the first two months, we hired the two first employees, and since then it has been growing steadily. At the moment we are 17, or actually 18, I just signed one more employment contract!
What were the biggest challenges you faced doing business in the UK?
In the beginning, there was only myself here and then a couple of other people joining - so we didn’t have a strong presence in here, at that time. Then, you’re trying to secure new clients and hiring people who are going there at the same time and you don’t want to get off balance in either one, because it’s bad for the business.
Another thing is, of course, that when you’re coming to a new market, you don’t have any name or reputation, neither good or bad, no reputation whatsoever so you have to build that all up from the beginning.
Did the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU have any effects on your business?
The direct impact on our business, back then after the voting, was that there became quite a lot of uncertainty, even for the international companies that were based in the UK. We had some negotiations with some big clients about starting the projects but they threw away all the plans and they kind of panicked, at least for a while, and those things did not proceed. I think since then, it has calmed down.
On the other hand, we are part of the bigger company or group with headquarters in Finland, which remains in the EU. There we can try to get all the benefits that there are in the EU. So, I think, from our perspective, we try to utilize the best of the “both worlds” and so far, it has been going well.
Do you have any useful advice for Tampere-based companies looking to expand in the British market? What are the dos and don'ts?
It requires that you do your homework well. You study the market, you look at what’s available there, who are the potential customers and clients, and what are they expecting.
There’s a lot of expertise that we have in Finland, but there’s more and more competition coming from the local (British) market. You have to be quite good in what you do, but it’s not enough. You have to have presence in the market. In the beginning, it requires a lot of “leg work” so you have to get your name and face into the awareness for the potential clients. And then convince them with what you can provide them.
Anything else you would like to say?
I moved here from Tampere and now I’m looking how Tampere is developing as well - there are a lot of things going on. They are now building up by the Lake Näsijärvi and, of course, the Kansi things and tram and so on... There are big things happening now and I have said that “now it’s a really good time to be away from there and maybe return then when they have gotten everything sorted out (*laughing*).
Internationalising in the UK
With the rapid internationalisation of many markets, it is more important than ever to do business in other countries. The UK, with its large economy, and long track record in internationalisation posses some valuable opportunities for Finnish companies. As SIlverbucket noted, if your company’s product language is English, then the UK is a natural place to start with internationalising. As Harri Mansikkamäki of Gofore says, to break in to the market it is important to ‘do your homework’. Brits are famously conservative and can be sceptical about new solutions. It’s important to take one’s time to clearly explain the benefits of one’s company. But, once you have that all important first client, things should be more straightforward as Ville Levaniemia of HappyorNot points out. One thing that all out interviewees seem to agree on is that one shouldn’t let Brexit stop a Finnish company from expanding into the UK. While it may be desirable to maintain open borders and open minds, as Silverbucket point out: cross border cooperation is always possible.
Title photo by Sangyune Lee