Canadian software maker ScribbleLive (Scribble Technologies Inc.) was only three years old when it launched its London, U.K., office.
The company had won some big clients in Europe, including the Press Agency and Sky Sports, but the time difference was making it difficult for ScribbleLive’s staff to provide customer support from the firm’s Toronto headquarters. Some employees were coming in to work at 4 a.m. to answer support questions from European customers.
Vincent Mifsud, ScribbleLive’s chief executive, says it’s common—and often necessary—for Canadian business-to-business (B2B) software companies to expand outside of the country early in their life cycles. “Because the Canadian market is relatively small relative to Europe and the U.S., most Canadian [software] companies that succeed will expand outside Canada very quickly on the sales side,” he says.
Global expansion should not be feared, says Mifsud. Given the boundary-less nature of the software industry, expansion can be taken on with relatively little risk. Canadian software companies can easily sell to non-domestic markets from home, and put off opening physical offices or hiring staff outside of the country until the demand necessitates it. But, eventually, time zone and language issues will require you to decentralize your sales team, says Mifsud.
That’s what ScribbleLive did back in 2011, when it launched its U.K. office in response to an overwhelming amount of interest in its products. Since then, the firm has attracted an even greater number of European customers.
Engaging sports fans: A new niche
While the company started out selling its real-time online publishing platform in the Canadian media sector, ScribbleLive now is gaining traction in the sports industry as teams look for ways to engage with their fans online.
ScribbleLive recently signed a deal with the U.K.’s “The Football League” to power the websites of 90 soccer teams. Domestically, ScribbleLive has signed a deal with the Canadian Olympic Committee to power coverage of the Sochi Games.
“We’re getting a lot of interest in our products to do fan engagement,” says Mifsud. “That’s a really logical expansion that we’re concentrating on.”
Today, about 80% of ScribbleLive’s customers are outside Canada, and 12 of ScribbleLive’s 60 staff are based in London. The company also opened a New York office late last year, and plans to have another on the U.S. west coast and yet another in Germany within the next 12 to 24 months.
ScribbleLive, which currently has annual revenue of $7 million to 10 million, also is tackling secondary markets in the Middle East and in Australis using resellers.
Mifsud says that as the content-engagement sector evolves, there are plenty of opportunities for Canadian companies to tackle certain aspects of this market, such as content marketing, content planning, audience interaction, social curation or analytics.
One of the challenges is in hiring a talented team in a foreign market once you have enough demand to support the expansion.
“Your first employees are really critical in these markets, especially your leadership team, because they’re going to be a mini version of your company down at that market level,” says Mifsud.
“Picking your locations,” he continues, “where you want to be, what your primary markets are and secondary markets that you want to go after is obviously important, too.”
But, he adds, Canadian startups in the digital space shouldn’t be apprehensive about expanding globally.
“In Canada, the good thing is we can easily support these markets,” says Mifsud, “because we have a lot of great language capability within Canada, so you can support customers and do products that are multilingual and can win market share a lot faster.”