11 October 2017

Eve: navigating the obstacles of expanding abroad

After some trial-and-error testing, mattress startup Eve has a clear blueprint for launching in a new country.

Eve is one of a handful of e-commerce mattress startups selling directly to its customers. The Camden-based company has been causing waves along with its competitors such as Casper and Simba Sleep. It claims to have sold 25,000 mattresses in its first 18 months after launching in 2015, almost entirely across its domestic UK market. Before it ventured to its first market outside the UK, Germany, the company didn’t know whether the same product and launch strategy would work. ‘At that point we weren’t sure if the brand was going to travel internationally,’ says co-founder Kuba Wieczorek.

Early mistakes

Despite being an e-commerce business, launching abroad isn’t quite as simple as translating the UK website into the local language. ‘We thought it was that,’ says Wieczorek. ‘But it isn’t.’

Eve had a slow start in Germany, with a month passing before the team realised that mattresses weren’t selling because the website had the wrong payments system. ‘We were really naive at the beginning,’ says Wieczorek.

The startup also struggled with a failed experiment to open a satellite office in Berlin.

Split Testing

Now with a customer base across 15 countries, launching abroad remains a process of trial and error – but a much more sophisticated one than in the company’s early days. ‘We do loads of split testing,’ says Wieczorek. ‘There’s a huge analytics department here; they look at everything from what images are resonating [in a country] to the type of copy.’

Global playbook

Eve has developed a process to ease into new countries gradually, giving it time to correct mistakes and assess market demand before committing too many resources.

It begins with hiring a ‘country head’ to work in its London headquarters – generally a ‘smart, three/four years out of uni, consultant-type person’ – who is a native speaker of the language, says Wieczorek.

‘Their task is to set about rewriting, not translating, the website because tone of voice is so important to us. And making sure that it’s right for the local market: that the payment terms are correct and we can do the delivery, so they have to find a good logistics provider.’

For the first couple of months after a website has launched, the country heads also run customer support and try to seed content to local bloggers, influencers and journalists. The aim is to ‘at least fill up a little bit of page one of Google,’ says Wieczorek. ‘That’s really important.’ Without this ‘seeding content’, he says, it’s hard to gain customer trust.

Local translation

After bloggers come digital PR and, later, traditional print advertising. ‘When we have some early traction via social, content and affiliates, we start to turn on performance marketing. For the first four to five months we use Google Adwords and Facebook advertising a lot.’

Once a country reaches a critical mass of customers – so far, France, Germany and the Netherlands – Eve adds TV advertising.

Sometimes Eve will reshoot a campaign in the UK to better suit a market; for example, scrapping ‘Chiswick-esque skirting boards with a bay window’ for a more European-looking home or, in the case of the safety-conscious Netherlands, mentioning the 10-year guarantee in the ads, says Wieczorek.

Eve raised £35m in investment and floated on the junior stock market in May this year, valuing it at £140m, in a move to out-grow its rival mattress startups.

Based on what they’ve seen in similar markets, investors reckon the company that is fastest to expand will be the one to stick around – or even be acquired by an existing, cash-rich business.

Insight: A basic formula and clear set of rules from head office are useful navigational tools when thinking about expanding, but scoping out local variations is always necessary.

The five key steps in Eve’s international expansion playbook

1. Hire a bilingual manager to work in London and run the overseas market.

2.  Launch a new website in the country; check that payments, logistics, taxes and tone of voice are suited to local customers.

3.  Promote the name – get local bloggers onside by gifting them products or paying for social media content – whatever it takes to build an online presence.

4.  Drive more traffic to the site with Google Adwords and Facebook advertising.

5.  Begin ‘above the line’ advertising with TV, radio, print media, and billboards.

First appeared in issue 19 Oct/Nov