Startup Life/Opinion/

Five things we didn’t expect when we scaled our French business to London

Scaling a French business in the UK comes with its own set of challenges. There is the language barrier — of course — but there are also legal and regulatory hurdles. Here’s what one French scaleup learnt about expanding to the UK.

Mylène Gosset, CFO of Foodles
Mylène Gosset

By Mylène Gosset

We found surprises and success across the Channel — while learning some interesting things about British views on chicken bones.

The relationship between the French and the English is a bit like that of rival schools. We’re fiercely competitive and always comparing ourselves to each other, but deep down, we know we’re stronger by having the other one around. Just look at the fact that France is the UK’s largest European trading partner. 

Scaling a French business in the UK, however, comes with its own set of challenges. There is the language barrier — of course — but there are also legal and regulatory hurdles. Here’s what we learned about scaling across the Channel. 

Arriving in little Paris

When we first started to advertise for new hires for the London team, the origins of these applicants took us by surprise. To be more precise, we didn’t expect to be inundated with so many applications from our own countrymen and women; around a third of applicants came from French-native Londoners. 

It’s estimated that around 150k French citizens live in the UK. Despite fears that London would lose a significant proportion of its workforce from the continent post-Brexit, our fellow Europeans are still a sizeable percentage of the workforce in the UK capital.

That said, we didn’t just want to be a copy of our workforce in France — if we were selling to British clients, we needed British people on our team. So we changed our recruitment strategy to attract more British people, including by using more local startup recruitment platforms. 

The business-friendly capital of the world

While many global cities may argue for the title, London is still a strong contender for the most business-friendly city. In France, businesses can expect to wait up to two weeks to have all the necessary paperwork to get their business up and running. In London we were able to set up Foodles UK in just three hours

However, it’s worth noting that despite the relatively straightforward process for setting up a business, we are still yet to receive a VAT number even though we completed our paperwork in November. This is a result of a huge backlog at HMRC that many companies are facing at the moment. 

Be ready to put pen to paper

For those coming to the UK and setting up a business, you may find that the sales cycle is much quicker than you first imagined. While we originally earmarked at least a few months to onboard our first customer, the decision-making process by UK companies was in fact much quicker. We went from initial discussions to signing agreements in just one week. This speed may come as quite a surprise to those selling to UK customers for the first time, and it pays to have a sales team ready to seal the deal at short notice.

Embrace the cultural quirks

It’s all too easy to take a tried and tested business model that has worked well somewhere and try to plant that somewhere else. But as we were quick to find out, no matter how much you can try to localise your messaging or offering, you must be prepared for unexpected feedback from the market. 

We completely underestimated the love that the British have for eating food from around the world. In France, the majority of the meals we provide to companies through our connected fridges were classic homemade French dishes. However we soon found out that the Brits are much more open minded when it comes to trying new cuisines. 

Even taking into account this cultural difference, certain elements of our market research and feedback still came as a surprise. For example, vegetables at dinner time — a lack of greens went down very poorly; carrots in lunches — a big thumbs down; chicken on the bone — the Brits seem to have a much stronger aversion to bones in meals than the French! 

While these are small examples that were easily modified, it shows that the line between success and failure can depend on even minor details. Where possible, try to have offerings adapted for the local market and always remember to embrace the differences (even when chicken on the bone is better!).

The bottom line

Scaling a business is hard, no matter if that’s within the same city or across the country. Scaling overseas comes with even more challenges as teams entrusted with localising that offering will understand. Plenty of French businesses have scaled to the UK before us and many will follow. All we can do is prepare as well as possible, overcome any hurdles that come our way and to always remember that despite all our differences, we’re probably more alike than we think.

Mylène Gosset is chief financial officer at Foodles. 

Join the conversation

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of