In this new series, we’re interviewing leaders from companies of all sizes, who all face the same challenge: how do you tackle global growth?
Who are you and what is your goal, globally?
Luke Appleby, cofounder of Kontor. We help other startups, scaleups and multinationals find work space. Originally we started with London but now more across Europe in cities like Berlin, Dublin and Stockholm.
Our ambitions are centered around Europe and North America. We want to help startups right from the start all the way up to their shiny HQ, warehouse building wherever that might be found.
What helped you attract your first international customers?
We took the approach of “say yes, and figure it out later”. For example, with WeWork we found all their buildings in London and Berlin, totalling 1M sq ft in London, 500k in Berlin.
However, we didn’t have on the ground expertise or access to properties in Berlin. But we did know of the equivalent experts in that field.
In one sense, they could be considered competitors — but we packaged everything up for the client, so they had one source of contact. Any question, I’m your man, you come to me. If you are touring buildings there, we’re there with you.
In time, it also meant we developed relationships with all the key people in Berlin. So the next time, we had all the contacts and network.
If you deliver a great product, 9/10 times people will want to work with you again.
Which bits of the experience were more difficult than you expected?
The biggest headache was the regulatory environment. In Germany, they have very very strict regulations about employee welfare, even to the point of not allowing sliding doors or chairs back to back in too small an area.
Then there are different ways in which things are priced, or what’s included — it may sound obvious but it’s more distinct than you’d assume.
In London, you pay the landlord then do what you like. In Berlin, within the price is an element of fitout and design. So you aren’t comparing apples with apples at the product level.
What advice would you give people wanting to get good at global expansion?
I’d say getting boots on the ground and committing time to it is the price of entry. I don’t think you can short circuit that in any way.
Everywhere we’ve been, face to face trumps anything else.
Track record obviously helps too. In every expansion team, we have individuals who are there to meet their peers and get into the market. They aren’t even actually doing work early on, no transacting or client requirements.
They’re just networking and meeting.
What’s the role of the “non-business” elements like language and culture?
The British are notorious for lunches, socialising and drinks — but in other regions, it hasn’t been such an element.
The markets we’ve been to are all well regulated, transparent European markets — and I’ve been surprised by how much the cultural experience translates.
People still hold the UK in a high regard and are very willing to work with us.
Part of me was fearful about the ability to work in Germany without speaking German. However, obviously they are a well educated population and there’s no grievances about doing things in English.
How do you decide which regions to move into next?
About 70-80% of our business is word of mouth and there’s a lot of businesses emanating from the market sector that wants to invest in London and expand across Europe.Some have touched down in the UK already, others are via connections and the third is going out and visiting our clients and meeting other businesses, buildings and workspaces there.
Part of our message is: we’re here, we do this in London, we want to come out and meet you.