Mathias Friess compares growing a business in a new market to running a marathon. If you move too fast, you stumble over your own feet. If you get distracted on the journey, you veer off track. If you think short-term, you may sprint ahead and lose momentum down the road.
As CEO of Webjet.com a joint venture launched in April 2010 between Friess and Australia-based Webjet Marketing Pty Ltd. Friess’ vision for Webjet.com accounts for the inevitable changes that come with building an entirely new customer base, while staying true to what Friess calls the “core DNA” of the Webjet brand. By drawing from the past successes that made its $500 million parent company Australia’s largest online travel agency, Friess hopes to establish a local identity on steady pace for long-term growth in the U.S.
Friess points out key ways that CEOs can avoid potential pitfalls when introducing an established brand into a new market area.
Listen to the market first. Nothing beats the experience as the CEO to pick up the phone at the call center and talk to your customer find out what’s working and what’s not working right now, in the beginning, because that’s when you can tweak it and mold it. If you think you just copy and paste behaviors and products from one market to the other, that’s when companies ultimately fail. The consumers may look the same, but they don’t act the same. They have different histories and different behaviors. Have a look at the customers you are targeting and make sure that they really want this product.
Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Make sure you see the nuances of a respective culture.
Obviously, you are not going to change your product fundamentally. But what you have to adjust is the way you communicate with your consumers. Know exactly who your customer is going to be. Know how customers talk, where they read, what they read, what they view, what their views are, and then go after them. Don’t try a bigger approach where you try to be everything to everyone. Don’t try to go after 300 million customers. It’s not going to work.
Set a realistic plan for shareholders. You’ve got to set your own expectations. It’s always tempting to pick up an article and say we could be growing faster or to take something out of context. Obviously, every plan is only as good as the adjustments you make to the plan going down the track. But you have to have an overall understanding of where you want to be at what point. You have to say, ‘Let’s stick to our DNA for the next two or three years, and if it works and is successful, the sky is the limit.’
Share numbers with your employees. You don’t have to slice it down or make it overly easy. People do understand numbers. If you take the big picture and walk people through, you get the buy-in. People understand, and they say, ‘I get that. I understand that this is going to be the driver.’ There are always limitations to what you can or cannot share. But in that framework, the more that you can share, the more you can win.
Bring people who bring ideas. You have to evolve from being your own ideas and the developer into having the right team, finding the right opportunities, the right structure and ways to communicate. …You have to encourage them and say, ‘Why don’t you come up with something? Why don’t you make me a case for that?’ If your core team has the ability to sit on the phone and understand what’s going on and come back with ideas of how to make things better, that’s the type of person we are looking for right now. Good people have the capability to communicate.