Interview with Fabrice Bernhard, Co-founder at Theodo. A tech-team-for-hire web and mobile development company.
Why did you decide to expand Theodo’s activities in the UK?
Our ambition always was to develop Theodo internationally. It became a reality when we realised that to keep recruiting the best engineers that came out of the french “grandes écoles” university system we had to offer them international perspectives.
The choice of developing to London came naturally. London is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and is the logical first step before potentially expanding to the US and Asia. If you add the fact that London is only 2 hours and a half away from Paris, the case is rapidly made.
What were the different steps of your expansion?
We began by doing regular return trips to evaluate the market and the opportunities London had to offer. We went on a trip with Beeleev, an international network of entrepreneurs, and it helped us greatly in the early stages. Afterwards, from April onwards, one of the co-founders took the leap and split his time between Paris and London to find our first clients. Finally, we launched in July with a team of seven people and I settled in London for good.
Speaking of recruiting, we had to reevaluate our strategy twice. We started by sending over French employees but quickly realised the communications skills were absolutely key if we wanted to perform. So we went on to find a local & senior Managing Director but that didn’t bring any results, at least not fast enough. Finally we chose to look for young English graduates with whom the local entity would grow. We’re glad we did that!
Finding local contacts to start creating a network was pretty easy. Afterwards, it took us a bit of time to take our marks, like finding local service providers. We had more difficulty than expected opening our bank account. Also, from a commercial standpoint, we also had to start from scratches again. Our success in France did not give us any legitimacy whatsoever and we had to prove our worthiness again.
The business did not require any particular adaptation, at least until now. On the other hand, all the commercial and marketing strategies are specific to the UK. Our narrative is that we are a separate independent entity from our mother company who benefits from its French counterpart.
What did you particularly like about your experience in London?
The real strength of London’s startup ecosystem is its energy and its tolerance towards internationalism. Decisions are taken fast, and even if you speak English with a funny accent, it does not really impact your activities. But you do have to know your English and master the culture & business codes!
As I said, networking is key for us so I quickly started to look at clubs and professional networks & communities. Some are tougher to get in than others, but as a founder that is your job, and those are great ways to initiate the relationships that will fuel your local growth!
Any business difficulties you had to overcome?
In London, opportunities for business are huge. Corporate taxes keep decreasing, which is very promising. The real danger comes from competition, you will always be challenged on your grounds here.
When it comes to the separation between London and Paris, we are two co-founders. We, therefore, separated the tasks between the two entities 70/30 for one and 30/70 for the other. That way we both are still involved in the entire process and get a whole picture. Also, we do return trips nearly every week and do not hesitate to spend money on travelling even when it is a last minute thing.
My final advice would be to say that once you have completed your expansion in London, you’re ready to go international. I would only advice experienced entrepreneurs who want to be challenged to take the trip. For beginners, it will mean starting with real handicaps: More competition, less network and less affordable mistakes. The entrepreneurial adventure is pretty hard in the UK, I would not advise starting here if it’s the first time you found a company.
Who is Theodo?
Theodo is a tech-team-for-hire web and mobile development company. they work with startups like BlablaCar and LaFourchette as well as for large corporations like BNP Paribas and Société Générale.
Their methodology, born out of experience on more than 100 projects, is focused on maximum business efficiency and frees their clients from all the worries related to technical delivery. They let them focus on their product strategy and accelerate the growth of their company.
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