I have been counseling clients who are about to enter the U.S. market for the first time not to do so without the uncompromising support of a local partner. Caveat: The advice I am about to give is not right for everyone, but it applies to most small and mid-sized companies seeking to make a real effort to succeed in America.
What should you be looking for in a partner? The persons who might fill that role will make themselves known based on their ability to help you to manage the most difficult stages of your U.S. start-up. Chances are you won’t recognize your partner when you first meet him or her. Remember how the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun defined “pornography”: he couldn’t tell you exactly what it was, but he knew it when he saw it. Do your best to identify your potential partner as soon as you meet him or her.
In the course of executing your strategic plan for the development of your American company, you may be tempted to consider almost anyone who was helpful to you as a potential local partner. These people, however, are not necessarily your partners. You will meet a variety of persons with the qualifications to be your partner. It is even possible that one or two of them will respond positively to an offer to become a part of your new U.S. business. In most of these cases, just exchange email addresses and meet one afternoon for coffee.
A partner has a similar stake in the venture as does the foreign entrepreneur who invests valuable assets and time in the hope of creating a successful business in the United States. Some local partners may be U.S. proprietors who, like you, are looking for a way to open a foreign market. Others may find that your product line suggests to them a possible licensing and distribution program on an international level. It might be that the local bank wants to be sure of recovering its loans and finds that seconding someone to your company is the best guaranty available. Such partners will have to work as hard as you to achieve the international goals that are set in the course of building a market.
The right local partner can help you establish yourself in the American market and will work hard to assure your success because your partner has as much to gain from your collaboration as you do. As entrepreneurs invested in and knowledgeable about the American market, they can save you a great deal of time and help you to avoid mistakes that you might not anticipate as a foreigner in the U.S. market. The right local partner earns its share and has your back. With some luck, a little bit of flexibility and a lot of patience, the relationship should remain that way.