British Invasion: Finsphere Expands to U.K., With A Little Help From Its Friends
A couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting chat with Finsphere, a technology company in Bellevue, WA, that makes mobile software to help banks and other institutions fight financial fraud and identity theft.
Finsphere has been working on expanding globally, and it took a big first step last August when it opened an office in London. That operation has become increasingly important to its business, and Finsphere is being held up as an example of how a U.S. startup can get established quickly in the U.K. market.
“London was the perfect place for us to expand,” says Rod Murchison, Finsphere’s chief marketing officer. “It’s the tip of the spear for a more global campaign. But it’s still difficult for a young company to make that kind of investment and execute.”
If the Seattle-to-London connection sounds familiar, it should. I wrote last week about Smilebox, the Redmond, WA-based photo services company that recently raised $2 million to get a toehold in the European consumer market, also starting with the U.K. They are in completely different businesses—with Smilebox aiming for consumers and Finsphere pursuing banks—but there are certainly some cultural issues both will have to navigate as they grow. And just a few weeks earlier, Seattle’s SEOmoz, a search engine optimization and online marketing company, formed a partnership with London-based search marketing startup Distilled to hand over its consulting business; in that case, however, Distilled was setting up a Seattle office instead of vice versa.
The fact that at least three local tech startups have recently gotten involved with the U.K. innovation scene is hardly a coincidence. London is a natural epicenter of finance and technology, especially in sectors like mobile and Internet. The costs of doing business there have gone down markedly during the recession. And U.S. companies often think of the U.K. as being less foreign than other, non-English-speaking countries. That might be true to an extent, but the cultural and business differences are still immense, and they pose real challenges to any company setting up there.