Establishing a business and brand is a daunting task but not one which is unfamiliar to entrepreneurial Sam Shearer. Sam has been working for Ortery Technologies Inc. since 2003 and was more recently tasked with heading up the product photography automation businesses expansion into Europe, through the establishment of their European headquarters in the Netherlands.
Having been part of the successful team that originally launched and grew Ortery’s United States operations, Sam’s experience made him a logical choice for further expansion into Europe. And while the concept of global expansion is an exciting one, growing your existing business in new countries is uncharted territory and it comes with its own set of challenges.
These challenges certainly help you grow personally and professionally and Sam’s business expansion into the Netherlands was not without growing pains. This blog explores what he learnt on his journey and will hopefully guide other Entrepreneurs should they decide to make a similar move.
A simple idea that sparked his start-up
The concept behind Ortery was first sparked when word spread that photography giant Canon was going to allow access for people to control their digital cameras through software. This triggered the thought that ‘if normal people were to control digital cameras through software in this way, what else might they need to be able to do what they do?’ The end results became the first software-controlled Ortery lightbox.
As such Ortery was born and has been the industry leader ever since. Ortery creates solutions that allow companies to capture professional grade product photography in their own workspace. What this essentially means is that companies no longer need to wait to get their products in a studio with professional photographers. Instead, they can purchase the technology to control the product photography process in-house.
Ortery has since gone on to develop its solutions for automated, still, 360, video and 3D image capture and it continues to provide solutions to companies in the eCommerce and business photography fields.
Creating a European headquarters for Ortery was the next step, and the Netherlands was a logical choice as it serves as an attractive base for many companies that are based overseas. For this reason, it’s become known as the ‘Gateway to Europe’.
Between Schiphol Airport, the Port of Rotterdam, and their world-class road and broadband networks, it is considered a favoured business destination.
Valuable lessons learnt
Sam spent time in the Netherlands at the beginning of the year, knowing that his physical presence would be required to get the initial administration done. Getting the business registered, opening a bank account, and setting up his employee would all be tasks he would have to do in-person.
After the COVID-19 pandemic people have had to learn how to be comfortable with remote working. But Sam was not entirely prepared for just how long it would take him to get Ortery and his manager fully set up and operational. Unable to complete certain processes in person, he spent many hours working on this remotely.
Although impressed with how modern and diverse the Netherlands is, Sam was not ready for the slower pace and the different attitude towards customer service, particularly in comparison to his native United States, where customer service takes priority.
Much research was done ahead of time and Sam and Ortery worked closely with the NFIA (Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency), an agency that specialises in assisting businesses that want to invest in the Netherlands.
They followed the NFIA programme which was a largely positive experience but there were still gaps. For example, none of their research prior to set-up unearthed the existence of the DigID. The DigID is key to making use of a multitude of services, for those who live or work in the Netherlands, and is almost as common as a driver’s licence.
Ortery first tackled opening its bank account, then moved onto gaining their BSM (Business Security Management) which is critical to operating. This citizen service number is needed for use when dealing with local dutch authorities and is something that businesses or non-citizens are able to obtain. The entire process of opening their business’ bank account took months, and finalising their BSM took the better part of a year.
Connections worth keeping
Along the way, Sam says that he not only learnt about what wasn’t working in the process, but also gained invaluable connections.
One of those was a contact from the NFIA who left his post, but kindly stayed in contact with them when called upon for advice. He was instrumental in helping them establish their professional network, especially in unknown areas like real estate, tax, and government policies.
Another important connection was coming across De Kamer when searching online for a temporary address. Being able to leverage off the coworking space to work from, and use it as a temporary address was a smooth part of his journey.
De Kamer founder Jeanine van der Linden is also an Entrepreneur originally from the United States. As an immigrant who has been successful in establishing and growing her business in the Netherlands, she had key insight and could warn Sam about the “beren op de weg”, meaning she could guide him around unforeseen obstacles having tread the path before him.
Advice to move forward
This journey taught Sam many things, some of which he recounts here.
The most important takeaway Sam has from this experience is to be tenacious. In his words you will need to make a lot of calls, and you will stumble at times.
Budget a lot of time
You will spend a lot of time speaking to people who can’t always solve your problem, so practise patience and go into this knowing it will take you longer than what you may like.
Make it clear you’re foreign
Start the conversation with the clarity that you are foreign and will need a paperwork trail as your DigID is not in place yet.
But also, learn the local language
If at all possible, become versed in greetings so that you can start off in Dutch, before asking to switch into English as you may not be able to keep up in a technical discussion.
Research outside of your business
Apart from your business and potential customers, research the local laws around bank accounts, tax, real estate and visas. For example, VAT was a new concept to Sam, which doesn’t exist in the USA. So much of operating a business unfortunately has little to do with what you’re trying to sell.
Learn about the DigID – and other local necessities
Get your facts sorted and if you have the cash resources to use agencies to help you see processes through, take that as far as possible.
Remember the journey
A lesson learnt is never lost, so remember that the growing pains are a part of the journey, and you only stand to gain knowledge through your expansion efforts. Accept that every country operates differently and have respect for their processes.
If you would like to learn more about Ortery’s unique products and services, and how they can help you streamline your business , head over to the Ortery.eu website to view their range of solutions.