5 Lessons on Opening a Firm in a Saturated Market

This is a guest post by Caroline Kawashima, evp and head of U.S. operations at Babel PR.

san-franThis is a guest post by Caroline Kawashima, evp and head of U.S. operations at Babel PR.

Earlier this year, I left the comfort of the established PR agency world to take the plunge in working for a smaller technology PR firm. While the agency I was joining was well-established in its home market in London, the San Francisco office was a new-ish venture and in many ways, faced the same challenges of a startup company— little brand awareness, a few talented staff but a great product, excellent client base and a big dream.

San Francisco is one of the most competitive markets in the world and while most would shudder at the thought of trying to build an agency and compete in an already crowded market, the rewards are great for those that have the courage, tenacity and guts—including a huge dose of humor and a penchant for self-punishment.

Here are a few tips on how to launch a new business in a highly saturated market:

1. Clearly define your value proposition and what makes you different:

This seems like a given but you’d be surprised how little time many businesses spend on figuring out what areas they want to focus on. Some might believe that focus is limiting but to effectively compete in a crowded market, you have to validate your offering with a strong track record of consistent delivery in a few core areas to start building your reputation.

2. Live among your buyers:

Get out of your garage or lonely office and look for opportunities to work side by side with your target buyers. There are a growing number of innovative shared workspaces now available in major markets around the world that allow you an instant office in a great city location with amenities that would normally be off limits to a young company. At Babel, we decided to rent space in a WeWork location because it allowed us quick access to a fantastic workspace in a prime real estate location. One of the biggest benefits, however, is the ability to work everyday in a creative startup community, while the pay off is being able to better understand the next generation of tech innovators.

3. People attract people:

When you are working in one of the most competitive markets for talent in the world, you’ve got to stand out from the competition by showcasing your passion, emphasizing the ability to enable employees to do what they truly love and hiring the right people that fit that culture. Great people attract other great people and great people with the right attitude trump skill set every time.

4. Build your culture:

While ensuring you can deliver a good product and superior customer experience are table stakes, it’s also important to spend time on developing a distinct company culture. What type of workplace culture do you want to nurture? What’s your vision for an ideal workplace? What types of attributes do you want associated with your company? If these questions seem too big, then ask yourself what you’re not as a starting point. People today want authenticity and prefer to work for an employer they know shares their same values and attitudes about business.

5. Expect the unexpected:

Flexibility and an open mind help you adjust on the fly to making continual improvements to your business. Just because you’ve always done something a certain way, such as tracking staff account time or having 9-5 office hours, doesn’t mean that you’ve got to keep doing the same thing. By focusing on the outcome vs the process you’ll often come up with an improved and more creative solution that speeds efficiency and productivity.

Finally, it’s been overstated many times but keeping a firm, positive resolve and a healthy sense of humor helps to get you through the inevitable tough days. After all, if you adopt a ‘do what you love’ attitude you are doing what you are meant to do—and that’s all part of the journey.


Caroline Kawashima is executive vice president and head of U.S. operations for Babel PR. She is a PR industry veteran with more than 20 years experience counseling CXOs, founders and entrepreneurs on corporate branding, executive visibility, thought leadership and integrated communications strategy for U.S. and international markets. You can find Caroline on LinkedIn or Twitter.