Jean-Yves Deschênes is the President of Phantom Intelligence – a Quebec-based company that develops collision prevention sensors and components using laser-based technology.
You can learn more about their export success story here.
1. What was your first export sale?
Our first small export sales were to the U.S.
2. How did that first export opportunity arise?
We were lucky enough to be able to convince our American client to buy the very first few prototypes. In the next few years, we have made inroads with tier-1, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and aftermarket suppliers, who currently have programs in place to evaluate our sensor technology.
3. When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
We knew that the sales cycle in the automotive sector and adoption of technology would be long. What we did not anticipate was the complexity and time required to finance a production contract when there is still some development and customization to be made to meet client requirements. Even though the technology risks have been mostly ironed out, the introduction of customized features and new processes to facilitate production is still perceived as a “risk,” and that limits access to a lot of financing sources.
4. How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
Communications are so much easier than they were 30 years ago when only the fax and mail could be used. Apart from the timezones, international collaborations are now pretty transparent. But even though it is easier, sometimes nothing beats a handshake or “touching” your product. So be prepared to travel a lot. (Fortunately, making travel arrangements is also much easier than it used to be.)
5. What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
Actually, three things: First, if your product is well defined and well differentiated, and you have targeted your clientele well, going global is not so scary. There is probably only a handful of people you need to be exposed to in order to generate business.
Second, don’t try to do it all by yourself. Have a local representative steer you and represent you in each of the local markets. They can guide you through the local administrative and cultural obstacles. And they can provide a physical presence when you can’t be there.
Finally, federal and provincial trade commissioners and local representatives should be your first contact into a new country. They can really accelerate your critical networking and are very pro-active.