Sometimes there are advantages to starting and growing a business in a relatively small market like Canada. One of them, according to veteran entrepreneur Paul Seed, is learning early on how to be flexible enough to successfully serve customers outside of the country.
Seed is President and Co-founder of London, Ontario-based StarTech.com Ltd., which designs and manufactures more than 3,500 products that connect computers and other digital equipment with peripherals and related devices. The company makes crucial but often unsung devices like adapters, converters, splitters, cables and extenders that help the wired world run. StarTech’s products are sold mainly to large technology distributors and resellers, who sell them to IT professionals worldwide.
“When we enter into these markets, we have a competitive advantage because people like dealing with Canadian companies,” Seed says. “They like having relationships that are a little bit more flexible.”
In part, flexibility in his world means staying on top of end user needs in different markets. Developed countries, for instance, use the most expensive and state-of-the-art equipment. Developing countries, on the other hand, tend to be a bit behind when it comes to technology infrastructure.
Flexibility also means staying ahead of an ever-changing technological landscape. “Since things are changing all the time, it’s a bit of a moving target. It’s about the state of mind of the consumer at the time.”
Being able to deliver exactly what distributors need, exactly when they need it is also a key factor. Consider the example of an adapter that allows a laptop to be used in boardroom presentations, says Seed. If a distributor has an order for 1,000 laptops, having 900 adapters in stock to send them won’t cut it. “The focus of their business is to sell laptops, so if you do anything to impede their sale, they won’t want to sell your product,” Seed explains.
StarTech’s successful approach to staying ahead of the curve is founded, in part, by its efforts to host symposiums in export markets, which include participants from all parts of the supply chain – distributors, resellers, dealers, end users and others.
Participating in CEO groups in the United States has helped bring the Canadian mindset into perspective for Seed.
“CEOs in the United States look at us and this say, ‘Global markets are a good idea; we would like to expand.’ And then you tell them about it and when they understand the complexities and the flexibility that you have to have, they say, “‘No, that’s okay, we’ll just keep scaling our business in North America.’”
But flexibility isn’t the only quality that helps Canadian companies compete on the world stage. Canadians also enjoy an international reputation for reliability, integrity and quality, Seed says. The ability to build strong relationships with international partners is also part of the equation. “We’ve found around the world that people like dealing with Canadians.”
The 30-year old company employs more than 400 people and has been expanding its revenue base by more than 20 per cent annually.
In addition to Canada, StarTech’s products can be found in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Japan, Sweden, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, New Zealand, Taiwan and Mexico. The company has recently been focusing on how to serve these markets the best way possible by understanding how its products are sold and used in various places. It has plans to gear up soon to seek new opportunities in South America, other Asian countries and possibly Eastern Europe.
“If you don’t have a strategy to compete in the global marketplace, you’re not going to have a sustainable business model,” Seed says.