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How To Move Your Overseas Startup To The U.S.

Founder of Four Sigmatic – a functional foods company making the world’s most nutrient-dense foods more delicious and easier to consume.

As you might have guessed from my “buy-a-vowel” last name, I am not an American. I grew up in Finland and lived in eight other countries before I decided to move my overseas business to the United States. If you’re an entrepreneur reading this outside the United States and strategizing how to find new roots in America, this article is for you. 

Reasons To Focus On The U.S. Market 

I started my previous health and wellness company with two Finnish friends. Finland is not only the happiest country in the world but also the one that consumes the most mushrooms and superfoods. But it’s a tiny consumer market and surrounded by a culturally and linguistically fragmented European Union. I looked at the United States and saw the world’s largest consumer market, with one predominant language, one currency and one regulatory environment. I saw an opportunity to bring a Nordic wellness routine to Americans. I also saw that if I could succeed in the U.S., it would open doors worldwide and lead to more access to capital. You might be seeing similar trends in your own business and industry. So let’s talk through four steps to start to move your company to America.

1. Accept that your business will need to morph … a lot.

After college, I found myself in Hong Kong with two of my friends, Mikko Revonniemi and Mika Rantanen. We were all passionate about healthy foods and finding ways to improve our sports performance with the world’s best ingredients. In 2011 we decided to officially start a company: LUONTOlife (Luonto means nature in Finnish.). Starting in 2012, we sold blenders, mushroom elixirs, bulk herbal extracts and raw honey under the Four Sigma Foods brand name to a niche audience of mostly European customers, though we were based in Hong Kong for access to the Asian supply chain.

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I knew if we wanted to make this brand globally successful, we had to test it in the United States. In 2014, after my cofounders were no longer involved in the business, I founded a new U.S.-based corporation called Funguys, Inc. Together with some angel investors and former LUONTOlife employees, Funguys, Inc. bought the Four Sigma Foods business assets from Hong Kong. In 2015, I moved to Los Angeles and had to “restart” the company to be able to sell in the U.S.

Your business may have strong brand recognition where you are now. You might even be profitable. But to succeed in the U.S., you must commit to this market, which means being present legally and physically. To make this big move, you’ll need to accept very big transitions, which might include everything from team to product to brand name.

2. Hire a lawyer and tax advisor in both jurisdictions.

You’ll definitely need both a corporate and an immigration lawyer. You’ll also need a tax advisor. But don’t just hire American lawyers and accountants. Engage with experts in your home country as well. It will cost more, but it is important to be aligned in both countries, where you are now and where you are heading. You might not need (or be able to afford) Big Four Accountants or global white-shoe law firms; rather, seek out mid-size firms with strong global networks and experience in redomiciling, acquiring and selling foreign entities.

3. Cash rules everything.

Before you consider this move, be sure to secure access to cash, as it will be expensive. Moving your business to the U.S. from overseas will cost at least two times what it would cost to start a new one. Plus, immigration lawyers are not cheap. The exact cost will depend on the size and complexity of your business, but you’ll either need to improve your yearly revenue or seek funding from friends, family, financial institutions and/or venture capitalists. You’ll have no FICO (credit) score at the beginning (not even a bad one), so getting leases and credit cards will be tough as well. Bottom line: Make sure you have enough cash for the first 24 months.

4. Be patient.

This move will take more time than you assume. It took us seven years to finally move all our UPC codes away from the original LUONTOlife Hong Kong company to the U.S. And our revenue growth slowed down in 2014-2015 while we ramped up our U.S. presence at the cost of European sales (though sales later exploded). You need a long-term vision for the future of your business to see this through. There will be tons of bureaucracy, tax documents and calls with lawyers to get it all wrapped up. 

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I’m not going to sugarcoat it. You have a long road ahead of you. But I promise it is worth it, and being locally present in the United States will open you up to the greatest consumer market in the world!

Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?


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