Situation: An early-stage software company is expanding internationally, both offering services to international companies from their Silicon Valley base, and building a presence overseas. What land mines should they avoid? How do you expand internationally?
Advice from the CEOs:
Be more strategic than opportunistic. Europe is very interested in start-ups. Investigate potential locations thoroughly. For example, Luxembourg and Spain are not the most reliable markets or locations for basing a business.
There are already good networks in Europe that you can plug into so that you don’t have to build everything yourself.
There is a European organization called Open Coffee Club that attracts high tech and social media start-ups. You might consider either partnering with them or buying into their network.
You can set up a corporation in Cyprus to leverage tax advantages and build a network covering Europe.
To have geographic reach across Europe, you probably want two locations in Europe and one in Russia. Look at Ireland and Romania.
Many Russian oligarchs have their investments in Cyprus and may provide a source of investment funds.
Investigate the European Investment Fund and their sub-funds like the JEREMIE Holding Fund. This is a large government-funded investment pool focused on technology, innovation and start-ups.
Foreign companies are attracted to the US because we have the right ecosystem for technology development. However, a bridge strategy for European companies who want access to US funding is tricky. The key issue is visas which have limited duration and may be difficult to renew. Also, immigration frowns on foreign business people who visit the US too frequently.
Have you considered helping start-ups build through their early stages – reducing risk of early failure – before helping them come to the US?
Situation: A company targets mid-sized clients with pricing that is similar to its competitors. They believe that their principal differentiation is their relationship with their clients. The problem is that this is also what all of their competitors claim. They are considering testing a new pricing concept – a monthly fixed fee that will provide a pre-negotiated set of services at a favorable discount, with a weekly presence in their clients’ offices. How to you test a new service delivery model?
Advice from the CEOs:
This looks like an appealing concept. With this arrangement there is no clock ticking and the client may view your various services as a more open menu of options available to them.
Another company has a similar relationship with their CPA firm and have both enjoyed this and are using more services from this firm.
Just a regular presence in the office is worth the retainer.
Another appeal is that this allows regular participation in management and Board meetings.
Another CEO offers a similar program for her professional service company’s clients and have found it successful.
Since there appears to be strong support for this model within the group, what is the best way to implement this new offer?
Negotiate an initial monthly rate for a set level of services as a retainer without a clock.
Agree to a periodic review and adjustment of services and pricing – perhaps quarterly – based on the time and services that have been provided during the preceding period.
How do you sell this program to those within your own company who are skeptical?
Try the program with three clients on a limited trial basis and measure it.
Situation: A professional service company is intrigued by LEAN and Six-Sigma approaches to increasing production efficiency and reducing costs. Most of the examples that they see of LEAN and Six-Sigma in action are in production or manufacturing settings. Do LEAN or Six-Sigma programs apply to processes in a professional services environment?
Advice from the CEOs:
LEAN and Six-Sigma are heads-down approaches to process improvement. In a customized solution environment, standardization of processes has less pay-off. As an alternative, consider Agile Development and similar heads-up process solutions.
Agile Development is both a philosophy and a process. Steps to introducing Agile Development to a professional services environment include:
Identifying high risk areas of individual project plans,
Double resourcing high risk areas to increase the likelihood of fast, satisfactory solution outcomes,
Looking for collaborative synergies and scenarios,
Scheduling regular team meetings to enhance collaboration,
Working opportunistically rather than systematically to increase efficiency, and
Using project post-mortems to refine systems and processes.
One professional services company which has adopted Agile Development assigns Senior Engineers as outside consultants on projects. These individuals bring a more experienced perspective, and can identify more efficient ways to find solutions and produce a more cost effective and timely result.
Situation: A company wants to reduce their cost of engineering. They are considering outsource options, both domestic and overseas, as well as remote offices in lower cost regions domestically. How can you best reduce costs?
Advice from the CEOs:
An emphasis on cost may be misplaced. Consider instead of where you can offer the best value to your customers or clients. Focus on and compete in best part of your market – the place where you possess the strongest advantage; then worry about cost.
Outsource companies can be dangerous partners. Assume you only profit from the first job that you give them and that they may be your competitor the next time around.
We’ve learned from the last decade of experience in Asia that cost advantages are often temporary. Salaries for top talent in India and China now approach those in the US. This experience is likely to be repeated in Southeast Asia.
Focus on high dollar services and opportunities.
There are limitations to offshore talent – especially in complex, multi-step development projects. Keep high dollar projects in-house because they justify higher prices and margins.
When you outsource, negotiate retainer contracts with additional charges for work above and beyond the scope specified in the retainer.
What do you want to be? Consider your options:
Become a project management company and outsource development.
Be a development company and just look for cost effective sources of labor.
Start your own outsource company – a split-off staffed by your own employees – and feed them work.
Before you invest substantial time or money, do a test.