photo credit: Chris Dale
It’s been a while since anyone gave any credence to Chicago’s nickname as a flyover city.
Though the city’s tech clout has skyrocketed domestically in recent years, the Global Startup Ecosystem Report found that Chicago still lags in terms of global market reach — trailing other North American tech powerhouses like San Francisco and New York by 66 percent.
But that doesn’t mean Chicago’s tech ecosystem is void of jetsetting startups.
Take kCura, a Chicago-based developer of e-discovery software for litigations and investigations. The company’s flagship product, Relativity, is installed in 40 countries globally. With 18,500 international users and more than 100 international clients, kCura alone quashes the idea the Chicago digital tech companies aren’t players on the global stage.
Steve Couling (pictured above), the company’s director of international sales, said that strategy — much more than geography — matters when it comes to international growth.
“I don’t see Chicago as being at any more of a disadvantage than LA or East Coast markets," Couling said. “Forget about where your company is located in the US. It’s more about being very clear on your strategy to grow.”
Couling, who’s based in London and has worked with kCura for the past four years, was brought on after kCura President and CEO Andrew Sieja found himself taking quarterly trips to England to keep a pulse on the company’s fast-growing international presence.
Until that point, kCura’s international delegations were being managed from Chicago. As the company’s headcount at their headquarters continued to rise, the time was ripe to nurture their presence across the globe.
“If you look at the maturity of the US market, there are really big stakes,” said Couling. “E-discovery was built from an American system... but other markets tended to be about three or four years behind what the US was doing. London’s come to its maturity now, but if you look outside of London, you’ve got other big and growing markets like China, the Middle East, Germany, Switzerland, and Australia that haven't really reached their maturity yet.”
In an effort to capitalize on that growth opportunity — and keep pace with their competitors — kCura has made international expansion a strategic priority. Judging by the usage numbers they report today, those efforts are succeeding.
Founded in 2001, kCura has become somewhat of a hotspot for Chicago tech-lovers who want to work with a high-growth company. Couling — who heads up the hiring efforts on the company’s international front — said the company is always hiring for a variety of technical and non-technical roles.
Couling added that one of the company’s biggest selling points to clients is a reputation of stellar customer support, which caters not only to users based in the US, but across the globe — regardless of time zone or English proficiency.
For companies who dream of opening up shop across either pond, Couling said heading overseas is often an obvious step from a market analyst’s point of view. But in reality, that step requires research, intention, and a bit of finesse.
“The key thing is: as an American company trying to run international business, don’t try to expand in the same way things may be run in the US, in terms of sales propositions and language use,” Couling added. “You’ve got to absorb yourself in being truly international and global.”