CanExport: A bridge to international markets
To serve a fast-moving industry, speed is of the essence. AppBridge Software Inc., a Vancouver company that helps businesses migrate to Google Apps for their document storage, email and collaboration tools, has truly hit the ground running.
Created in January 2014, AppBridge already had a product on the market in July 2015 and today counts international Fortune 500 companies among its many customers, in partnership with Google and its vast reseller network. Now with the assistance of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service and its CanExport program, the firm is moving into the lucrative Japanese market as it further expands its global presence.
Cameron Wallin, CEO and founder of AppBridge Software Inc.
“The TCS and CanExport have been extremely helpful in getting insight into the Japanese market and other places we can grow our business,” says CEO Cameron Wallin, who co-founded AppBridge along with Matthew McKinnon, the chief technology officer of the niche company, which today has 14 staff.
AppBridge provides an “on-ramp” to Google Apps, he says, which offer businesses a better way to operate, particularly with content management systems hosted in the cloud that can improve efficiency, lower costs and enhance collaboration. Huge companies are making the switch—the majority of AppBridge’s customers have 10,000 employees or more—although the transition without specialized software “can be slow and tedious,” Wallin says. For companies to adapt to Google Apps automatically, without complications and downtime, they require migration software tailored to their needs, such as the AppBridge Transformation Suite.
AppBridge benefits from being part of the Google partner ecosystem, and today more than 90 percent of its software sales are outside of Canada, Wallin says. They include major customers such as LafargeHolcim, a large European construction company that has more than 100,000 users.
With the support of the TCS and the CanExport program, AppBridge successfully integrated a Japanese subsidiary in April 2016, followed by the opening of a branch office in Kyoto, he says. “We project strong and continuous growth in the Japanese market and will be focusing on product development and customer success this upcoming year.”
Laura Clarke, a trade commissioner in Vancouver who works with Canadian wireless, telecommunications, cyber security and financial technology solutions companies looking to export their products and services, says it helps that Google is a partner in developing AppBridge’s client base. She says it is remarkable that the company has sales in the U.S., EU and Asia Pacific, despite only having a commercialized product since July 2015.
“The company is growing quickly, and has a business model that allows them to do so in a sustainable manner,” she says. “They have an experienced management team and have leveraged government funding like CanExport and other project support.”
Clarke says the company “has a demonstrable commitment to and capacity for international growth.” Once it applied for and received CanExport funding for its marketing efforts in Japan, she proposed further TCS resources that the company could leverage. She also made a connection to Akiko Onozuka, the trade commissioner in Tokyo responsible for Information and Communications Technologies. The company has also been introduced to the Technology Hub in Japan initiative that Onozuka’s team has set up.
AppBridge fits well within the parameters of the CanExport program, Clarke says. “It’s clearly a support mechanism that will help AppBridge develop a presence in Japan. It’s a great example of a company that has a strong business case to back up its request for funding, which is key for applying to the program.”
Wallin says that Japan is an “exciting space” for AppBridge, although it also presented many challenges, from understanding its corporate structure to the many cultural aspects of doing business there. The CanExport funding has been used for key personnel to travel there to establish partnership agreements, conduct market research, provide technical support and marketing presentations and training sessions for reseller partner organizations and end-users. It is helping to provide a localized version of AppBridge’s solution and accompanying technical and marketing documentation translated into Japanese, as well as allowing AppBridge to participate in partner trade shows there.
He says that to expand into the Japanese market, AppBridge has had to engage a local law firm, technical translator and interpreter, accounting firm, immigration consultancy and additional professional services. AppBridge is the only enterprise content migration solution operating in the Google ecosystem in Japan, which is estimated to be the second-largest market for Google Apps for Work in the world.
Wallin says that finding local partners “who understand the ecosystem and are successful in the region” is important for success. “The Trade Commissioner Service has been invaluable in facilitating connections to industry experts in regions that we are hoping to enter. Members of the service have also provided insight and advice to us across a large range of subjects.”
The company hopes to continue expanding into new international markets, especially within, he says, while it works feverishly to innovate and align itself with Google’s newest features and offerings. The company’s reseller ecosystem is a ready-made market for AppBridge but there is a “high bar” that must be met in terms of its products and customer needs.
One of AppBridge’s biggest challenges has been providing 24/7 support to customers around the globe. In the early days this fell to “an unfortunate group of team members working around the clock from the Vancouver office to ensure prompt response times,” he explains. Today it handles such requests through automated support systems, while having staff in both Canada and Japan helps with time zone issues.
Clarke says the company’s strategy to enter into markets through trusted partners such as Google, Accenture and DSK “has propelled their international growth without over-extending their resources. AppBridge’s management team has experience in the sector in previous endeavours, and has demonstrable experience developing a similar technology internationally.”
She suggests that while the company is well-connected in many markets, “it would benefit from leveraging the TCS network to identify and connect to further potential resellers and direct clients.”
Wallin says it helps that Canada has a reputation in the world for building good technologies, while the “layers of support” from government programs such as the TCS “definitely helps us establish a reputation of trust.”
He advises Canadian companies looking to expand internationally to seek out government assistance and mentorship initiatives that are applicable to their organizations, such as the National Research Council Industrial Research Assistance Program. “There are so many great programs designed to help Canadian organizations innovate, and we’ve had the opportunity to learn from mentors with many different specialties,” he says. “I’m confident saying that the Canadian government has played a large part in helping AppBridge reach where we are today.”
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