I have been in many startup hubs in the past few years: San Francisco, Berlin, Singapore, Belgium.
First off, it was clear for the team that we had to move abroad. Staying in Belgium would make us irrelevant. That’s hard to understand when you’re in Belgium, but makes a lot of sense when you spend time in big metropolitan cities.
Why you should go abroad from day 1.
1. Product Market / Fit
The size of the market might be the number one reason. Yet a more relevant answer to me is to work towards a better product/market fit.
Obviously Belgium is a small market. It is perfect to validate an early product or idea, yet I also experienced it to be unique compared to the larger surrounding markets of Germany, UK and France. We’re addressing SMB’s and larger companies that are mainly operating within the same country.
In Belgium that is a niche market. The SMB’s that we are dealing with got accustomed to business processes created, shaped and regulated within a tiny country. If we were to pursue and build a product for the Belgium CRE market, it would fit Belgium but then we would find it difficult to scale internationally.
Understand that once you start onboarding your first customers and get early product feedback, you start adjusting parts of your product roadmap to that market. Of course you should always keep your focus on the bigger picture. Yet, tuning the product for the Belgium clients would potentially jeopardize a product/market fit in a bigger market.
The sooner you go abroad, the more your product will fit with the customers in that market. Of course, you want your product to stick to a large market as compared to a small one. The good thing is that there are more similarities between the big markets (UK, Germany, France) as compared to the Belgium market.
There were a few options. Berlin would be the most viable one, since I lived more than a year in Berlin. And at this moment Berlin is still my number 1 startup city in Europe. I am curious to experience London in the coming months and see how both cities compare. I am still very much in love with Berlin, it is extremely international and very nice to live in. I can highly recommend any tech startup to spend some time in Berlin. We had the privilege of being embedded in the German real estate tech scene via the lab of ImmobilienScout, i.e. the largest European listing site in Europe.
In Berlin there are a bunch of real estate tech startups working on new interesting products. Some difficulties when commercialising a product in Berlin, especially when addressing the SMB market, is language. The SMB market that we were addressing mainly spoke German. Our mistake was that we outsourced the early commercialisation too fast. Accordingly we lost precious time in the early days. To me it is critical for the founders to be on top of sales of the business before there is a product/market fit.
What is different in London?
Obviously, language will not be an issue in London. We will work from inside the property innovation lab “Pi Labs”, which was founded to become the centre of the property innovation ecosystem in Europe. London is also the number 1 market for commercial real estate in the continent and definitely the right place for a product as ours.
Another big difference is that we will be working together with our UK customers before launching the product in the market. One of the strategic partners will be Cushman & Wakefield, the n°3 CRE broker in the world. On top of that we get the backing of seasoned real estate tech investors and business angels from inside the ecosystem.
In the end we keep in contact with our contacts in the rest of Europe, but the product market/fit will be shaped primarily with the help of early UK customers.
And so, Rialto Ltd was born.