In my first CEO blog, I will be exploring why the current lack of stability in global trade is forcing a fast-growing business like Speechmatics to have to navigate a complex geo-economic-political landscape to ensure we maintain our growth momentum across the globe.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the PM’s speech at Greenwich a couple of weeks ago where he focused on re-establishing Britain’s position at the center of free global trade. Analysis of UK PMs since the ‘70s indicates that they are in the strongest possible position to architect change at the beginning of their first term in charge (check), when they have a large majority (check), when the opposition is in disarray (check and check) and when their assent has not been pre-planned over a period of years (check again) – this may well pay dividends nationally in the form of much needed infrastructure and a rebalancing of the economy geographically, but is unlikely to work on the International stage. Leading global free trade is laudable, but only if you have the strength to take others with you – which from my current experience I believe we currently do not.
This week Speechmatics were named, for the second year running, one of Europe’s fastest-growing companies by the Financial Times. With our revenues almost doubling year-on-year, this impressive growth has seen over 40% of our revenues come from the US market, alongside business with the Far East and Europe. This makes us acutely aware of the macro-political environment increasing protectionist trading policies from the world’s largest economies. If growing a UK business at a rapid rate wasn’t hard enough, this lack of stability does not make scaling any easier.
Speechmatics has applicability across a huge range of use cases, including defence and security – which also heightens the sensitivity of the issue. Determining the best strategy whilst considering all the legal and reputational ramifications of software development, sale and distribution from the US to China is complex and costly.
So, what is the solution?
On the cusp of global expansion – just like many other UK businesses – how do small, growing businesses make low-risk moves into global expansion in an ever-moving economy which will change from one day to the next?
The truth? We can’t. It is simply navigating the route to market that presents the least risk to our business and it’s my job as CEO – along with a very experienced Board – to navigate the landscape and take our company on the most logical growth journey.
For very good reasons, I believe that the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and US will prevail (certainly outlasting the current inhabitants of No 10 and The White House) and therefore at a macro level it is sensible for us to take a similar direction and focus our growth in the US. Last month we opened our third international office in Denver Colorado to enable more US businesses to innovate with voice. However, looking to our future I’m certain that we will explore ways to enter into more commercial relationships with the Far East to enable our continued growth.
John Milliken, CEO, Speechmatics