Anu Shah, CEO of ZAG, discusses the possibilities and opportunities in the fallout of Brexit after the deadline to leave the EU was extended.
As part of a growth consultancy and as an investor in start-ups, I am often meeting people powered on a “glass half full” philosophy. As CEO, the glass is, of course, always half full and half empty. Our task is to manage tapping into new opportunities while also future-proofing the organisation against adversity. Brexit is a great prism to test this approach.
Right now, Brexit could end up in all manner of outcomes. We just don’t know. On the one hand, the EU might welcome a fresh perspective and unilaterally remove the 31st October 2019 deadline, giving plenty of time for the new prime minister to manage political manoeuvrings and for business to continue as usual without an immediate threat. On the other hand, the EU may be inflexible and we hit unchartered and potentially rocky territory on 1st November.
For businesses, managing new opportunities and future-proofing is particularly tricky with so many unknowns ahead. However, in this instance, corporates can learn from what start-ups do as a matter of course to help themselves prepare and to catalyse important actions ahead of time.
- Look bigger, act global
Often urged on by investors, start-ups have harnessed excellent brand design and product experience skills to create adaptable, global-facing brands from day one. This is, of course, easier to do from a Greenfield start. However, there are now so many established businesses that look ill-prepared for a more global outlook given the potential prospect of suddenly being in the position of having to forge new relationships, fast, in new markets and territories. In a post-Brexit scenario, being seen to have a more global approach and reach could prove essential.
This is easy to de-prioritise (at Zag, we are guilty of this ourselves) but there are simple measures around language, look and feel and even content that can directly target potential future global consumers and partners. Even if you are only targeting the English-speaking world, the differences in consumer attitudes and reactions is diverse enough to have significant impact on your product and marketing strategy. It’s time to seriously think if your business is ready to start talking to a potential new wave of global customers and partners.
- Ensure you have a diverse workforce
Fostering a diverse workforce should be a priority for all businesses, but it takes on increasing urgency with the prospect of negotiating with a different and more diverse range of people, countries and markets. In my opinion, a diverse workforce incorporates cultural diversity, geographic diversity and diversity in the type of commercial arrangements. Across these parameters, start-ups by design or by necessity often seem to have workforces that are more diverse. At Zag, we have seen how overseas clients in meetings and presentations often empathise better with people who do not have English as their first language. And it seems obvious that if we are going to create more business in markets like India, China, Africa and other developing markets, we need to build this diversity now so that we future proof our core product thinking for these future growth markets.
- International “playbooks”
While most start-ups do not have the resources to expand internationally quickly, they have developed smart ways of testing international appeal for their product and services. As part of developing a “playbook” for new geographic launches, start-ups often stealth-test their business appeal through digital marketing and rapid consumer testing, all with the aim of having the right data to convince investors (or their board) that with funding, they are ready to go global. It also provides clear guidance on the likely minimum level of local infrastructure needed.
For example, UK pet services company Tailster has been testing multiple geographies to ensure its established marketing funnel in the UK can replicate in territories as diverse as Australia and France with limited presence in those territories (at least initially). In the face of having to explore previously unchartered or untapped markets, established businesses should look at this approach and develop their own playbook and stealth-testing strategy to expedite growth in new markets for if and when the time comes.
- “Last Mile Globalisation”
With a truly global outlook, we will face some new unique challenges (or miss opportunities). For example, there are some amazing product companies in Japan, outside of the big conglomerates, who often struggle to find the right local partner to help adapt and deliver their products in the UK and Europe. Conversely, in many African countries where there is a growing demand for international products, but a lack of an ‘Amazon’ platform, it means finding a local aggregation partner that can hack the supply chain by taking care of local purchase and delivery and, in essence, spoof an end-to-end global e-commerce service for a local audience. These businesses are already in place and growing, perhaps waiting for a knock on the door from Amazon, or a challenger brand thinking one step ahead. While the looming repercussions of Brexit are, quite rightly, a cause for concern for many business leaders, it’s these kinds of golden opportunities that emerge from taking a truly global perspective that should be the focus as they prepare for the coming months and years ahead.
While many of these ideas and outlooks may be familiar already, the current uncertainty facing the business community imbues them with a new urgency. Start-ups can teach us how to do things much faster and more cost-effectively using new platforms for testing and validation and new technology to manage distributed workforces and supply chains. But perhaps the most important learning here is to ensure the business brand and product culture can attract and nurture a more diverse talent pool, that in turn will attract more diverse customers and partners, to genuinely future proof the business while helping tap new opportunities that this period of change may bring.