With a newly opened office in Warsaw and full time staff in Belarus, Romania and Russia, Edinburgh-based Web Foundry has come a long way since being launched by entrepreneur Phil Holt in 2006. BQ found out more.
What is it your company does?
We bring ideas to life on the Web. We help ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners to translate their business concepts into effective websites and apps. We provide design, build, support and digital marketing services.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
Phil Holt founded the company in June 2006. The vision is all about making life easier for our clients, removing obstacles, making stuff happen, demystifying technology and creating highly user-friendly sites that solve a business problem or create new or enhanced revenue.
So we simplify everything – design, language and access to support!
How long has the company been exporting?
We’ve been working with overseas clients for more than five years.
What do you currently export, and where to?
We run projects for businesses based in France, Belgium and Australia. In January this year we opened our first overseas office in Warsaw, where we now have five full time employees. In addition we have full time personnel based in Belarus, Romania and Russia.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
In 2007, shortly after starting the business I attended a web tech conference in Chicago. Meeting so many digital entrepreneurs was highly motivating, but also insightful.
It was incredible how many US companies were engaging with European and Asian firms, providing and selling services. I made a lot of good connections and friendships that have continued to grow to this day.
The nature of our work means we can operate without boundaries and opportunities are almost limitless.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
For us, being English speaking is extremely convenient! It’s the language of the Internet and is the common language at nearly every overseas event we attend. Round table discussions and workshops are all in English and of course the Web itself is a great enabler for getting divergent teams and clients sitting around a virtual meeting table.
And the most challenging part?
The technology is the great enabler, but culture and language subtleties can become a challenge.
It’s crucial to be clear and direct in communications and I think that our often indirect and softly softly British manner can confuse others.
Of course time zones also create small issues and when dealing with EU clients we need to be mindful of exchange rates and make sure we remain competitive.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Yes, absolutely! All of these have caused difficulties, but nothing is insurmountable and you just have to work through them. Sometimes that can add a lighter moment to proceedings, like during one Google Hangout, when one of our developers who is based in the Philippines could be barely heard over the sound of a nearby cockerel!
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
Scottish Enterprise has been very supportive and remains keen to assist growing Scottish firms with exporting aspirations. Additionally, when setting up our office in Warsaw it was incredibly useful that our technical director had dual Polish British nationality and this made the process of recruiting our team and finding a suitable office so much easier.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
To leave the comfort zone of their office and PC and just get out there! Book a flight, go to trade events, meet people, invest in relationships and stay in touch. Build your international contacts and get help from the many sources that are available on your doorstep – both formal and informal. It can be a huge amount of fun and gives your business a whole new world of possibilities.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
Right now we’re opening a sales office at MediaCityUK and will continue to grow our technical teams in Warsaw. We are also launching a new outsourced tech brand called “Off Canvas” and this is aimed at provided UK businesses with direct access to lower cost, high quality technical resources. Right now there is a gap in the market to provide businesses with managed tech services – businesses that don’t need a full digital agency offering.