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How One Startup Went Global By Going Local

Software entrepreneur Christian Springub, his mother, and his grandmother spent Easter Sunday pouring sand into bottles and packing the bottles into boxes that would later be mailed to journalists and bloggers. The sand was from a beach in San Francisco, and the package was part of a promotion announcing Springub's company's American launch.

Springub is German, and his company, Jimdo, which makes free web pages, has 3.5 million users, mostly in Europe and Asia, not in the U.S.

Jimdo was founded in Hamburg in 2007 to make websites for businesses, and its ease of use quickly turned it into a consumer product as well. It got almost immediate traction in Europe, and caught the wave of Asian Internet expansion as well.

But in America, Jimdo faced well-financed competitors Wix and Weebly. I've tried all three, and Jimdo produces a more professional looking end-product than the others.

Moreover, the customer service is phenomenal, as I found out when I abandoned my test site because I had learned enough about the product to form an opinion. I immediately got an email from Jimdo's Customer Geek asking me if he could help. I was embarrassed to have to admit I was only playing with the product for blogging purposes.

However, how do you explain your advantages to potential customers you may never meet? if you start a software company in Europe, how do you get it noticed in the rest of the world?

Technically, software is a global product the moment you turn the servers on, because it can be purchased or used by anyone who comes to a company's web site. But the truth is that most companies begin by selling to the people closest to them, and only branch out later.

Christian and his two partners decided someone should actually move to the United States and personally launch the company there. Two months later, I was introduced to Christian by a mutual friend in San Francisco who knew that in a previous incarnation I had owned a public relations agency, and that as an investor in startups I knew something about launches.

When the subject of press and journalists came up, I explained to Christian that American journalists often despise PR people and show contempt for press releases, with which they are deluged on a daily basis.

That encouraged the Jimdo guys to create the "we're establishing a beachhead in San Francisco" theme of the launch, and to order 200 bottles they would fill with sand from local beaches and mail to the journalists and bloggers instead of a press release. As a mother and grandmother myself, I know how Christian's family was enticed to help out. You can see pictures of the launch preparations on Jimdo's blog.

So yesterday I found my own bottle of sand on my desk. "This isn't a message in a bottle," it said. "The message IS the bottle."