Bill English is President of Xanatos Marine, a Vancouver-based supplier of customized maritime domain awareness solutions to enhance safety, security and environmental stewardship. The company has sold more than 20,000 systems and sensors globally over the past ten years and has established itself as one of the leaders in providing advanced maritime domain awareness systems.
What was your first export sale? How did that arise?
I think it was very, very close between the Alaskan Marine Exchange and the Portland Marine Exchange.
We were at a conference in Seattle, about this new technology called AIS or Automatic Identification Systems. They saw that we had already produced what a lot of other companies were talking about getting into. They wanted to lead the industry, so they both approached me at the same time, within hours, and they said: “We’re going to go with it.” One of those two were hours apart from the other signing.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew when you started out?
The customs of the different countries and the process that they have to go through. That takes a very, very long time and it’s extremely frustrating. In Vietnam we’ve got a contract that’s been sitting on somebody’s desk for over a year, and they keep saying: “Yes, next week we’re signing it.” It’s simply the way that they do business there. It takes a long time.
How has the trading world in your sector changed since you started exporting?
From when we first started doing this specifically for our technologies, it’s grown and they understand it. At first it was a real education. Now it’s a competitive environment where education is a lot less necessary, because they understand that they need this.
What is the number-one thing that new SMEs considering going into the export market should know, that you’ve learned along the way?
Whatever time you think it’s going to take, triple it. Nothing happens quickly. You have to have the stomach and the financial backing to make sure that you’re going to be there ‑ and use the Canadian embassies.