Neil D’Souza is a Co-Founder of Mass Fidelity – an innovative audio technology company from Toronto.
What was your first export sale?
It was the Relay, our Bluetooth digital-to-audio analog converter to a custom installer in March of 2013 at a trade show in Montreal.
How did that first export opportunity arise?
Canada has a reputation for having great audio manufacturers, and an installer from New Jersey came by our booth and said “I will take a pack of Relays.” It was a $600 sale and it was awesome.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
The complexities. Having someone from an overseas market approach you and tell you that he/she wants to sell your product is the very first step in a very long process of determining whether or not that makes sense. You have to carefully consider the logistics behind your ability to support that market and that dealer, otherwise you might as well be selling directly from your website. Once someone wants to establish a commercial relationship with you, all kinds of issues arise. Local regulations, what currency are you selling in, the legal as well as language requirements and tax rules all have to be taken into consideration. And of course finding the right partner and ensuring you are selling into the right channels. It’s easy to find yourself selling into the wrong channels and to destroy all of your efforts in establishing a brand. They can damage your brand in that market for a long time and it’s very difficult to salvage.
How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
The world is becoming smaller every year. In some respects, it’s easier to gain brand recognition because it’s easier to find us through social media networks (or in our particular situation through crowdfunding success) and the ability to share amongst friends. At the same time, on the commercial side of things it is becoming more standardized. Processes are becoming less unique and more universal as trade starts to increase between different markets through sheer demand. As an example, through our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, we sold to 102 countries. How could anyone imagine just a mere five or six years ago, launching a product and having customers from any more than 10 countries? So the crowdfunding campaign helped us identify potential hot markets as well.
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
Definitely to understand how hard it can be and what actually makes sense. The first time you get a call from overseas or the U.S. you get very excited, and then you realize that there’s a whole lot of work involved — it’s a process and it takes research to get to the conclusion that going into a particular market is the right move for you at that point in time. Exporting is trickier than people imagine.