Landing in the USA

 Oliver Johnston, long-term resident of the Kiwi Landing Pad

 Oliver Johnston, long-term resident of the Kiwi Landing Pad

So you're looking to "land" in the USA? Then it's time you met John Holt, the co-founder and chair of Kiwi Landing Pad - a not-for-profit organisation set up with Sam Morgan in 2010. Its focus is on helping share knowledge through curating a community of entrepreneurs and innovators and helping them land in new markets. For Bite-Size News this month, John weighed in on what it means for business owners looking to enter the US market and the checks and balances they need to be making. 

As the Managing Director of Kiwi Landing Pad in San Francisco, what specifically about the US market would you tell SME owners to be aware of when trying to break into it?

The US is not one market – many try and treat it that way and suffer the consequences as it’s just too broad a challenge. I’d encourage anyone looking to expand there to do the research around where it makes most sense to begin the journey.

Prepare well and summarise your business concisely and your assumptions about markets and people will generally take the time to help add to your research. We’re constantly supporting visitors to the US in their assessment of the market and it still amazes me how many have not done the basics in terms of preparation.

What checks and balances do you need to do before looking to overseas markets?

The US can be a very expensive market to break into – the exchange rate, competition for top talent and the cost in terms of time and money to be in the market regularly.

I would recommend a solid process around these areas and ensure that you have the resources and people in place to execute effectively. We often see folks underestimate the time it takes to gain meaningful commercial traction (revenue) which causes huge issues and stress.

Breaking into new markets overseas is one way of growing your business, but what advice would you offer to companies looking to expand without the resources to go abroad?

It’s a great time to be thinking about all aspects of growth and they don’t necessarily have to be export plays. Longstanding organisations with fantastic customer relationships have never been in a better position in my opinion to take advantage of that asset.

The digital world is all around us yet there are many markets and potential customers who are yet to fully jump into these new areas. Smart, established businesses should be looking for complimentary ways to introduce these new products and services into their models and using their strong brand recognition for customer trust and service as a competitive advantage.

I think there are a huge number of opportunities for good businesses in New Zealand to take this approach and grow their success without leaving the country.

What do Kiwi companies bring to the world that you believe is unique?

I don’t think we bring one single thing not found in other countries or cultures. What I think is unique to New Zealand is the blend of attributes that personify and differentiate us – we’re passionate, innovative, resilient and likeable. This combination is visible to the world right across our culture and history of world-class achievements and international recognition.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Building any business is hard work and risky – it doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. The only fixed resource you have is time so I’d encourage careful thought about building a business, global or local, from the perspective of how much of your life it is going to take you to be successful and ensure that your vision and ambition are high enough to properly reward you for doing that.

In considering this, it’s not all about money – your time to build a business will require diversion from other aspects of your life – family, friends and other interests. Make a well-rounded decision to start or grow something and then go at it 105%.


John Holt is the co-founder and chair of Kiwi Landing Pad, a not for profit organisation set up with Sam Morgan in 2010. He has been named one of the 25 most influential people in New Zealand business by Unlimited Magazine and is a director and advisor to a number of companies including Generator and Revenizer. He is currently focussed on building Homes.co.nz and is also chair of a cool mobile company - www.puttiapps.com - which is changing the way we build and optimise mobile apps. 

Image by Antony Kitchener