Breaking into the U.S. market is a huge milestone for any ambitious upstart whether they’re an artist or an entrepreneur. After working in the music industry and starting Universal’s venture arm before doubling down on tech by starting my own fund, I’ve seen what it takes to break America.
Just as great bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones navigated the cultural shift to win over American audiences, today’s European founders face certain cultural challenges when striving to establish their startups over the pond.
Here are five key tips for founders looking to make their mark in the U.S.
Back yourself to thrive abroad
Table of Contents
Immigrant grit and perseverance have often proven to be an X factor in the startup scene and the data doesn’t lie: 25% of U.S. companies raising venture capital boast an immigrant founder; 50% of unicorn companies with a $1 billion valuation have immigrant founders; and 60% of companies that go public have immigrant founders.
Today’s European founders face certain cultural challenges when striving to establish their startups over the pond.
This basically means you’re twice as likely to be successful in startups as an immigrant founder, and this is one of the core tenets we’ve built our fund on as investors at Tapestry.
Clearly this is a case of correlation not causation, but the point is that the underlying determination needed to make the jump across cultures will mean you’re also far more likely to thrive in a tough, taxing role like being a founder.
Project a future-focused vision
Americans love a winner. So make sure you present like one.
European founders often outline the vision for a company narrative by analyzing today’s metrics, comparing them to the past and offering future predictions based on that. The American ethos is different. Founders in the U.S. paint a grand picture of the future and work backward to the present. At the end of the pitch, they might make a reference to the past.
Emulating the U.S. approach doesn’t mean forsaking authenticity. Stripe, founded by the Irish Collison brothers, is a perfect example. The duo’s ambitious aim to “increase the GDP of the internet” is not just about wanting to make payments easier, but also saying they want to grow the pie for the world.
A big vision can be audacious and inspiring without appearing arrogant. And, the truth is, if some people don’t like it, you’ve got bigger problems to worry about.
Find the right connector
The Silicon Valley scene is like a country club with two ways in. Either you get all the signatures of recommendation or you bust into the middle of the garden party with a parachute and make a real entrance.
You can’t afford to wait for introductions, so get out there and meet as many of the right people as you can. Go to events where you’re likely to meet people who can connect you to the U.S. market and make the most of digital tools to find second-degree contacts within your own network.
Crucially, when you do get in front of the right people, don’t be afraid to ask. Americans value confidence and audacity, so don’t be afraid to make a clear request for an introduction or meeting.
If you have trouble, just remind yourself: There are people with less talent and inferior companies getting ahead. So get to it.
Engage Americans investing in Europe
I remember a VC in San Francisco telling me many years ago that New York was a long way to go to invest in a company. But the geographical dynamics of startups have evolved dramatically over the last decade and have accelerated exponentially due to the pandemic.
Silicon Valley’s once impenetrable dominance is waning and its global market share has dwindled. Back in 2000, 80% of venture capital deals were made in the Bay Area but by 2021 the number had dropped to just 17%.
We have seen a spike in entrepreneurship worldwide as it becomes a more viable career path for millions more people. It means there are plenty of Americans outside the U.S. but still plugged in. European founders should reach out to American investors managing assets in Europe and see if they can help them get a foothold in the U.S. market. They’re likely to be more receptive and have a clearer grasp of the European market and its potential, so they will be in a good place to advise.
Be bold and never boring
Cultural nuances matter. In Europe, soft selling might imply modesty and be interpreted positively, but in the U.S., underselling looks like a lack of confidence.
European founders need to put themselves in the listener’s shoes. Imagine trying to get the attention of a sound engineer at a Stones gig who is used to a noisy environment with people shouting instructions all day long.
Just like the engineer behind the mixing desk, investors in the U.S. are bombarded with noise from every direction. They need clear, compelling, and bold messaging. That’s how to get their attention — and to hold it.
Ultimately, breaking into the U.S. market is no small feat. But with resilience, a bold vision, the drive to make the right connections, and a willingness to adjust communication style, talented European founders can make this happen –– and if you play your cards right, just like the Beatles and the Stones, an American dream might just become a reality.