Our series on successfully expanding to Europe

When Airbnb was only focussing on the U.S. and facing a crowded space in Europe that saw the launch of two well-funded copycats, myself, along with my eventual Expansion Partner co-founder Georg, were part of the core team that helped grow the company 100x. In 2011, I was hired by Airbnb to establish dedicated European offices, build a world class team and fend off the competition to dominate Europe. Part of Airbnb’s expansion strategy was also to acquire some of the European competitors – among them, Accoleo, a Hamburg-based startup co-founded by Georg. We were both successfully leading Airbnb’s expansion to Europe for over four years. We made plenty of mistakes along the way, went through sleepless nights and last minute pivots to achieve hypergrowth, and we also established guidelines and built our playbook of strategies for companies looking to scale in Europe.

With a combined GDP of 22 trillion, the EU’s economy dwarfs even that of theU.S., its tech labor market is plentiful and investments in the industry are growing rapidly. While only a few years ago the entire continent’s unicorns could be counted on one hand, today there are too many to name and what was once a sleepy tech backwater is now an essential market for expansion and growth. The problem, however, is that Europe is composed of over 40 countries and almost as many different languages, vastly diverse markets, and a dizzying array of regulations.

The opportunity for expansion that Europe offers is undeniable, yet companies looking to put down roots on the continent are sometimes hindered by barriers to entry and ongoing complexities with nowhere to go for help. We’d like to tackle that problem with this blog series by highlighting the opportunities and challenges that the European market offers, keep you updated on what’s going on in Europe along with some of the tools and personal stories that will prove valuable to those looking to expand here. What that means will range from outlining common problems, to exploring specific cases of clients from the starting strategy to successful execution.

Making Europe Possible

We left our respective companies (and in some cases geographies) because of one powerful core belief: Europe is already on its way to becoming one of the top tech markets in the world and that we can help companies ride that wave. But we also saw the challenges that present themselves to those looking to seize those opportunities, even those as well established as Airbnb. To be sure, there are considerable challenges to be overcome to succeed in the European market no matter who you are and that’s at the heart of why we founded Expansion Partner.

Expansion Partner is a boutique consulting firm that helps startups succeed in Europe. We bring a similar playbook that helped Airbnb grow 100x in Europe, along with a team of experienced tech entrepreneurs who enabled countless companies to scale across the continent. From market research and market-entry-strategy to recruiting and interim management, we work to provide tailored solutions based on each client’s specific needs. 

We work with high-profile clients from various industries, applying our expertise from scaling previous companies to solve their challenges and successfully establish their European operations. Past and current clients include pet sitting marketplace Rover.com, education robotics creator Wonder Workshop, event location marketplace Peerspace, hospitality disruptor Sonder and mobility service provider Bird. Whatever we touch – we are output-driven, ambitious and passionate. 

Whether it’s defining a go-to-market strategy, hiring local talent, or figuring out how to localize a product for specific European markets, we’ve been there and done that. And we’re seeing interest from companies looking to make the leap and open European operations as never before, and for good reason. Europe is poised to be amongst the global leaders in tech growth, and one of the most fertile grounds for those looking to enter a market and scale their operations. Europe’s attractiveness is also due to the relative economic stability in recent years and a faster growing GDP than in the U.S..

Why We Love Europe

To start with, EU GDP stands at 22 trillion dollars (PPP), has a population of 513 million and a cell phone penetration rate that stands at nearly 70 percent. Compare those numbers to the U.S., which has 325 million people and a 20 trillion GDP and it’s not hard to see the potential the European market brings to the table. Yet critics contend that despite these general numbers, when it comes specifically to tech, Europe just doesn’t have much to offer. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Europe is far more densely populated than the U.S. and that means a greater centralization of both consumers and potential employees. For startups, this means that instead of having to come up with specific strategies and tailored efforts for each region, they can move quickly — rolling out successfully in Paris means you’re well on your way to succeeding in the French market while setting up shop and rolling out products from London means the same for the UK. Even the physical distances between most cities can be bridged in two hours or less by plane, implying that you can easily manage operations between different countries. 

Talent is abundant. While most startups venturing from the U.S. to Europe keep their software engineers stateside, Europe offers plenty of localization experts and translators. It’s especially important to have talented professionals who are familiar with the tech scene and can make an app or website feel local. Translating from English to German, for example, can prove much more complex than a simple translation. German words are typically 30% longer and necessitate a complex and creative process of finding alternative descriptions that are shorter.

Challenges We’ve Tackled

While the EU offers many common standards, Europe is still composed of a dizzying array of countries, languages, and cultures. This complexity can make a quick jump across the pond into a long journey to simply figure out which countries to expand to. From more broad factors such as GDP and the total available market to more detailed aspects, such as a competitive analysis of each country, along with an evaluation of GDPR and specific national regulations moving “quickly” into Europe can be a slow process. We’re specialists in market specifications across each of these countries and evaluating the competitive environment is the same process we routinely undertake in a myriad of markets.

Every company, even if they’re completely compliant and localized perfectly in the right markets cannot succeed without the right team. It’s a challenge to hire that team even under the best of circumstances and when startups expand to Europe they’re often facing even more of an uphill battle because of brand anonymity and a lack of familiarity with hiring platforms, methods, and other particulars. Expansion Partner has hiring experience across nearly every market in Europe and a track record of success. With Rover.com, a Seattle-based pet sitting and dog-walking platform, Expansion Partner hired a U.K. team out of their Berlin headquarters and onboarded additional talent through an acquisition. Those hires proved instrumental in establishing Rover.com as the leading platform in their vertical across Europe, operating in eight European markets within a year of expansion.

Expanding to Europe has a lot to do with tackling issues and following the lessons of specific cases like Airbnb, Rover.com and others. Before being able to take advantage of those lessons, one must understand the European tech landscape. In our next post, we’ll be giving a straightforward, infographic-filled overview of the macro trends shaping the continent and how they compare to other tech hotspots. Seizing an opportunity begins with understanding it.