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June 27, 2024

6 Lessons From Faire’s European Expansion

About the author:

Jeff Kolovson is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Faire. He has held various leadership roles at OpenDoor, Square, McKinsey & Company, and Goldman Sachs. He holds a B.A. in economics and political science from Dartmouth College.

 


 

This Spring marked a big milestone for Faire. We passed the three-year anniversary of our launch in the United Kingdom. Since then, we’ve expanded across 17 markets in Europe, building on a vibrant community of independent brands and retailers. While our work to deliver the best experience possible for our European customers is not done – we’ve accomplished and learned a lot in three years.

A recent visit with the team was the perfect moment to reflect on the lessons from our journey. In this post, I’ll share those lessons, hopefully offering some valuable food for thought to other company leaders with ambitions of expanding across borders.

Picture from Faire's Third Anniversary Party in the U.K.
Celebrating our third anniversary with the U.K. Faire team was a highlight of my recent trip.

You Can Anticipate Many, But Not All, Challenges

Expanding internationally required every function within Faire to think about the experience for our European customer, and what it takes to deliver an excellent product for them. Our benchmark for that experience is what we’ve built in the United States – a seamless, intuitive platform that makes buying easy and effective for retailers.

One year post-launch, Faire’s U.K. brand and retailer community grew to nearly 35,000, a milestone that took more than two years to achieve in North America.

The same standards apply to our product experience in Europe, but with different considerations and challenges. After all, Europe is made up of independent countries with distinct languages, characteristics, and needs. To launch a meaningful experience in Europe, we focused on:

1) Understanding that a great European experience looks different from a North American one. While the platform works mechanically the same in all geos, every facet and function should reflect the unique European customers, from how search works to selecting the right shipping codes to avoid delays in transportation or delivery. Starting from this vantage point sets expectations accordingly of the work that goes into expanding abroad.

2) Solving uniquely European problems. We had to iron out a lot of region-specific complexities like cross-border shipping, VAT verification, and translation and localization requirements. Although these can be complicated, it was really important we tackled them to make sure all our customers receive the same value out of the platform, no matter where they were located.

3) Getting the last mile right. The job is not done after the biggest issues are tackled – it’s often tailoring the “last mile” of the experience that creates the most impact and builds trust. For example, some of our early “hiccups” are funny in retrospect— an early German translation of “checkout cart” ended up as “checkout sack” — but those seemingly small mishaps actually mean a lot to a user’s experience.

4) Customizing and localizing the experience. Beyond just translations, this means accounting for varying cultural norms and differences – for example, offering merchandise tied to national events and holidays, or that reflects the values customers in those markets care deeply about – like eco-friendly manufacturing and vendor diversity.

5) Evolving the organizational structure. Building an international office in the U.K. allowed us to build a team that is uniquely European and understands our customers in those markets. Our U.K. office collectively speaks more than 15 languages – they are able to communicate from a truly authentic vantage point with our customers.

6) Ensuring the customer feedback loop is tight and authentic. Whenever I visit our office in the U.K, I try to meet with our European customers and always learn a lot. There’s no substitute for listening to a customer’s experience — for better or worse. This is the best way to understand pain points and to help Faire prioritize them. If we make assumptions about what the cause is, we could burn resources solving the wrong problem.

Growing Our Presence in Europe

As we celebrate three years in Europe and all the progress and impact we’ve made to date – we also acknowledge that our work is not done. We continue to apply these lessons to evolve our organization and platform to meet new challenges.

We’ll also continue to lean on Jeff Crowe and the rest of the Norwest team to help us assess the potential implications and upside of new ideas. I am proud of what our team has done so far in Europe and can’t wait to see our progress continue.

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