On the 29th May I unsuccessfully captained America in a match against Rhys Williams' European Team. Whilst this was for charity, playing the match on the 2010 course fully kitted up in my 'American flag trousers' allowed me to take it seriously (I'm a little too competitive I guess ha!)....so after the heart felt defeat it was great to get over to America, courtesy of Shell Let's Go Trade (http://letsgotrade.shell-livewire.com/about).
My trip to the states was a short one but what the hell it made sense to pack in as much as possible. I decided on an organic 'back of the fag packet' trip (see photo), but not because I don't believe in planning (I'm a huge advocate), and not because I didn't plan my trip (I'd been planning it for 4 weeks), but because when it came down to it spending some time becoming familiar with the US consumer, the general way of life, and general B2B approaches would be essential to deploy a team out there.
So from LA, to Universal City, to Santa Monica, to Santa Barbara, to San Francisco, to Oakland, to LA, and finally back into Heathrow I ate, drank, and drove like an American; which meant eating too much, drinking 'light' beers, and beeping my horn a lot; all good fun though ha!
I think this might explain why I feel hungover in work; the similarities between hangovers and jet lag are frightening (& no I didn't drink during my trip my body just feels out of sorts).
I did however make the most of the first few days and chose to utilise the weekend to do some of the 'touristy' stuff; a trip to Universal City was thrown in with muscle beach.
But of course the trip had a pretty clear objective for me.....'build a successful partnership, exclusivity over a US product for resale in the UK, and start the journey of trading in the States'.
To that end I had to make my way to San Francisco and that was quite some journey from LAX (a slight overthink from me that I would enjoy the drive up taking in the sights; one of the worst 7 hour journeys to take on driving the 101 North from LAX to SFO).
During the first 2 days, and amongst my 'touristy' part of my trip I was able to get under the skin of sales techniques in the states and to experience what it's like to be sold to.
Jumping into the first TESLA shop (which was on the high street!) it was great to see where the US positions itself, where green is on the agenda (if at all?), and how the appetite for amber energy may sit.
Overall, it was clear that we could position ourselves in the same way in the states but the more interactions I had the more I felt bespoking the offering for the states would be necessary.
It's not that the product wouldn't sell 'off the shelf repackaged' in the states it's just that sales would be slower by not re-designing. In general our type of offering wasn't readily available, however, to an extent this was because of where the price of fuel sat.
Having refuelled on the 101 for less than a takeaway I started to understand why I'd struggled to park my car the day before; due to the number of pick-up trucks parking simultaneously (my parking isn't actually that bad ha!).
With the cost of fuel at around 40% of the UK price the necessity to consume efficiently, the returns on investing in efficiency, and the need for advice to achieve these goals isn't sitting on the shoulder of the US business or consumer.
In general the conversations I had, whilst varying vastly from South to North of state, were similar in the sense that less 'greening' pressure existed and less of an appetite for lowering energy consumption existed. On the other hand, less muddying of the water existed and less previously bad experiences dealing with energy brokerage firms (a big problem created in the UK by a lack of transparency in the energy sector).
Once out of LA, and on the way from Santa Barbara to San Francisco I could see why people love Cali; what an amazing way of life (and quality of life to that extent!). Notably, both places were some of the most vibrant and beautiful places I've visited. From a business point of view it was clear that focussing on a particular city would be the best way to start in the US; the geographic's mean an enquiry from the Eastern states whilst set up in the West would be as useful as an enquiry from Spain when in the UK at the moment; not un-serviceable but certainly more difficult to deliver on.
That said, take somewhere like San Francisco, and noting less competition, establishing a city by city deployment would work; state by state is a bit too heavy on a commute as large as the UK so it makes sense to ring-fence a starting point. SFO is fairly close to the partner company I was spending time with and only 30 minutes in a cab over the water to their offices in Oakland.
Oakland was a vibrant up-and-coming area; simply because San Fran had an average price for an apartment above the average price of a 4 bed townhouse in the UK- you need deep pockets to live there!
The offices in Oakland were pretty cool; we were spread over 1 floor but perhaps in 6 or 7 different areas and housing some 60 of the 85 staff the company now employ (from only 20 a few years ago). The company had been going for over 10 years and from the sales board I noted; over 3,000 buildings were now 'online' using their product; described as an energy management platform.
Welcomed by both the national BDM (who I've been speaking with for sometime) and the CEO, as I came through the lift doors I was both excited and relieved. Excited to be spending some time at the offices, excited to have arrived, and excited for what was to come (& relieved that they'd not forgotten, given me the wrong address, or hadn't taken the trip seriously- hey it happens!). So great, a reputable, well organised, structured, start-up culture with the strength of balance sheet to be doing some great things at scale- it was awesome to see (as in truth they are a step ahead of us in the UK).
Not a competitor to amber in anyway we were able to talk freely, to discuss pipelines, the future, the process & the brand/co-brand nature of what we want to achieve. All squeezed into a run of 5 meetings, a coffee, and a lunch (over-sized salad from a local), I felt we'd smashed the agenda & objectives had been complete.
I took a moment to debrief with the team before heading off and there were notable results that simply wouldn't have been achieved/suggested/discussed without the face-to-face time. It's always the case that an hour's meeting (or 7 in this case) will deliver greater results than perhaps a dozen conference calls- we're certainly 6-9 months, perhaps even a year, ahead of where we would be (so I'm hugely grateful to Shell for sponsoring the trip and making it possible).
From here we are looking to complete the partnership paperwork in the next 2/3 weeks and to begin re-selling the US product in the UK. Adding value to our offering, increasing our revenues, protecting our client base (due to the value add) and opening the door to the cross-sell into the US market (watch this space!).
A few 'you heard it hear 1st's!'.....Watch out for;
- Filling up your car with fuel without having to stand next to it and to hold the button (they've solved this in the states).
- More SME's taking card payments with attachments onto their smart phones or via Ipad 'please sign here' set-ups (they've solved that one too).
- More import from the likes of Salesforce and cloud based silicon valley start-ups (they currently have better incubators than we do in the UK).
- The UK trying to replicate (3) in regional incubators- it makes sense!
For support on a trip of your own I'd seriously suggest checking out your eligibility for Shell Let's Go Trade; Start Your Trade Trip