This is the second in a series from Vision & Execution expanding on research we did in fall 2014 about what it takes for an international company to be successful in the U.S. In each case Vision & Execution was retained to assist at some point in the process. We hope you will find these interviews illuminating as you go forward with your U.S. expansion.
International Entrepreneur Interviews
Gregory Renard, Co-founder, CTO – Chief Visionary Officer, xBrain
Mack: What inspired you to expand to the US market?
Renard: I had the opportunity to participate in Stanford’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate Program in 2011. While I had already created several companies in Europe I was impressed with the creative freedom to innovate that I experienced in Silicon Valley during this program. Europe teaches you “don’t fail.” The US has a much more supportive and nurturing culture towards innovation, and failure, so I felt I needed to be here. In the US when you work hard and have a good idea, you have the ability to win big. I worried if I would be good enough to succeed in Silicon Valley so I was not without fear moving here. Being here in Silicon Valley has completely changed my point of view about risk – I’m now fully committed to the US mindset.
Mack: Was it always your intention to be a global company? What did becoming a global company mean to you?
Renard: With my personality I really needed to be my own boss so I was destined to become an entrepreneur. I needed to have a bigger challenge than what was possible in Europe. I had some lofty goals and I wanted to have a global impact. My goal was to be the number one guy in Silicon Valley for my domain, and globally with our solution.
Mack: How did you go about deciding where to expand first and why do you chose the region you did?
Renard: The US is where AI (artificial intelligence) is happening, it’s the epicenter with a very small community of less than 100 experts. I wanted to be part of that community because despite being competitors it’s still an open and collaborative community to exchange ideas. I believed that by being part of the right innovative culture we would ultimately be more successful in Europe as well as make an impact in the US.
Mack: What was your initial vision and timeframe was for achieving success in the US?
Renard: I ended up moving here in fall of 2012. I didn’t really have hard expectations about what we would achieve by my being here. As the Founder and VP of Innovation I run R&D for xBrain so it’s my role to drive innovation throughout my company. It was less about having sales in the US than it was about designing the right product for the global market opportunity we envisioned.
Mack: How well has reality matched up with your expectations?
Renard: After 3 years I can say as a company we are ten times faster at innovating and in just the last year we are ten times even faster partly because of the move to Silicon Valley and partly because we caught the wave for the AI movement.
Mack: What was the most surprising difference between what you thought would happen and what you experienced?
Renard: I can’t say it was a difference between I thought would happen and what happened but there was something that took me completely by surprise. When I was in Europe and wanted to get a meeting with a top CEO I was the crazy IT guy so the meetings were hard to come by. Now that I’m here in the US if I want a meeting with a top company I can easily get a meeting with a top executive at that company. In Europe it takes 10-12 people to get a decision for that meeting take place. I think of it as the Sorbonne effect; you get taken more seriously because you’re coming from the US. Not only was it easier to get a meeting the size of the deals we were discussing were 10X the size of the deals we were discussing in Europe. Part of it was the time we spent completing our platform vision and executing against R&D goals rather than rushing to revenues. The rest of it was the difference in mindset between Europeans and Americans. American dedicate less technical time for innovative new concepts so they need companies like ours who have thought through everything.
Mack: How much did you need to change your original vision for your company to take advantage of the scale of the US market?
Renard: Our vision hasn’t changed. It’s simply become more achievable because I’m here in the US. The effect on xBrain has been incredible simply because I’m here in the US. I would say that I’ve never worked so hard to take advantage of this opportunity. I have to manage my development team overseas often working through the night but it’s worth it because of the rate of progress we’re able to achieve.
Mack: How quickly did you expect to generate revenue from your U.S. expansion and do you meet your expectations?
Renard: When I came back to the US after my Stanford program to test the market opportunity for xBrain we worked with Vision & Execution. They secured about half dozen meetings for us while I was here. It was clear that we had demand across a broad number of industry verticals. Because of the strong interest we experienced from these early meetings it was clear that we should expand to the US. We are just now at the point where we expect to generate revenue. We are selling to the top companies in each industry vertical so our total number of customers is small. We are in pilot or industrialization programs with several of these companies already and in conversations with a significant number more to begin more pilot programs using our platform.
Mack: Based on where you expected to be by now, how successful have you been in your attempt to enter the U.S. market?
Renard: We have been extremely successful however not by measuring revenues to date but rather by measuring our ability to rapidly execute on a disruptive platform utilizing artificial intelligence to make life easier and simpler for end-users.
Mack: What do you think was the most effective thing you did in planning to enter the U.S.?
Renard: It was twofold really. First it was important to test the US market opportunity for our technology. Secondly was to move here and engage in the Silicon Valley community and adopt the Silicon Valley mindset.
Mack: Based on your experience, would you still have tried to enter the U.S.?
Renard: Without question! Now executives from around the world are coming to the US to find us. That would have never happened if we had not expanded beyond Europe.