Posted: Fri 30th May 2014
Nimble online tenacity and tapping into local social networks can mean the most determined new online brands can outperform their bigger, less tech-savvy competitors, a delegation to 10 Downing Street heard this week.
Shaun Loughlin and Benjamin Robert Richardson, co-founders of action sports online clothing store Freestyle Extreme told the small business pow wow that they had taken their eBay store into Europe, the US and Australia by pioneering a translated EBay page - no mean feat for a site listing more than 15,000 ever-changing products.
Tim Williams, founder of design your own T-shirt brand YR Store, said: "Ten years ago people got immensely burned by going abroad. Tesco is still suffering. Yet all these people around the table today have had successes overseas online."
Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of virtual workforce platform Time Etc, expanded his curated freelance marketplace into the US six months ago. He said the experience of living and working in the country, is important to understand your products' relevance when considering exporting, but he appreciated this was a costly way of operating.
Former city financial director Emma Blake's online boutique for professional female city slickers, Pinstripe and Pearls, said her collection of independent design-wear had built a global customer base - with more than 50 per cent of its market now based in the US.
She told the Prime Minister's special adviser on small business Daniel Korski that of the 37 brands stocked on her international platform, 100 per cent were founded by women - many of them establishing design houses to escape the banking and law sectors.
She said: "The fact that all of the brands we have on our platform are founded and run by women was not intentional at all."
Former investment banker Rachel Thomas and founder of designer bicycle brand Brake Bikes said she took two years out in LA to find her creative side before launching her colourful brand.
She said: "I love cycling and wanted to develop a bike that was more like a fashion accessory, that looks good, as well as being functional."
Knowing the US market was an advantage, she said, although import duty made her product very expensive across the Atlantic, doubling its actual RRP for US customers.
James Hardy, former Alibaba EMEA director, described how he had returned to live in the UK following almost 15 years living in China and before that the US.
He said he was preparing to launch a business which would offer British producers a chance to market their products to the growing Chinese market via key platforms in China.
German-born Nico Schumann said his very British Brixton-based clothing brand inspired by a poignant scene in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland - and called Alice's Pig - saw 90 per cent of its sales from overseas.
Luke Brynley-Jones, founder of Our Social Times said his firm taps into already-established social media networks to help firms to export overseas. The Cambridge-based social media firm said this tactic gave small online firms with a tech-savvy workforce an advantage to slower, more established, old-school firms.
The assembled group, curated and led by Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones, concluded that UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) was helpful for forging trade agreements and maintaining good relations with foreign countries, but that disruptive startups could navigate their own way through customs and the export experience"¦ with a little help from the marketplaces on which they operate and their small business peers.
Liz Slee (@lizziepin) is Head of Media for Enterprise Nation