Q&A with Amit Kapoor
President, First Line Technology, LLC
First Line Technology, LLC designs and manufactures disaster preparedness and emergency response equipment, including the AmbuBus® (medical ambulance bus), PhaseCore® Personal Cooling Vests, and a line of decontamination equipment, which includes FiberTect® dry decon wipes and Dahlgren Decon.
Established in 2003, First Line Technology was founded on one simple principle – think outside the box. Innovation and always thinking 5, 10, 20 years ahead have transformed First Line Technology over the past 13 years and provided a strong foundation for future growth. The company is headquartered and strategically located next to Dulles International Airport, within close proximity to Washington, D.C. and the Pentagon.
First Line Technology works with first responders and the military in the United States, Australia, Qatar, Sweden, Hong Kong, Japan, London, the UAE, and more, to develop innovative products that make their jobs easier and their lives – and the lives of the people they serve – safer. The company has established itself as a leader in product development and deployment, focusing on emergency response missions and creating products that are comfortable, effective, and safe for use in hazardous environments.
First Line Technology has worked with VEDP – International Trade since 2011 and was accepted into the award-winning Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) Program in July 2016. First Line Technology President, Amit Kapoor, offers his thoughts on the company’s experience with going global.
Why did your company make the decision to explore exporting?
First Line Technology decided to jump into the international market in the early 2010’s due to market requests for our products. We go to a lot of internationally recognized trade shows and networking events where we meet customers from all over the world. Since we don’t just sell products to customers, but educate them on how it will benefit them, the demand for our unique product lines just grew. Our first orders were from the European markets for cooling vests, and demand continued to grow with our other products to meet military and international homeland security concerns. From these initial smaller orders, we used the knowledge from VEDP meetings and trade missions to expand to larger procurements internationally.
What is the biggest lesson your company has learned about exporting?
Patience. I think this is one of the biggest reasons people stop pursing international deals. Working internationally is like working with the Federal Government on large programs. It takes years, and business is built on the backs of relationships. We have had years of experience working with Federal, State and Local Governments, so going global for us was just being patient with an even larger customer base. If you sell retail, and sales come in at a regular pace, it is tough to be patient to sell to a much slower customer. The global market is huge, and competition is fierce because you are now competing with other global companies. You now need to start building relationships. There have been countless meetings with international customers where I don’t speak a word about First Line or what products we bring to the table. It is having a beer (or actually a lot of beer), coffee, or meals to build that trust of who I am as the founder of First Line. The products we manufacture sell themselves in a lot of markets, but the end users want to understand “who First Line is.” The lesson is true business development requires a lot of patience. If you don’t have patience, you will just get frustrated and probably leave the market at the wrong time.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started exporting?
Target markets, and use VEDP for market research. Don’t just jump country to country to try to sell. Learn the market. Learn the economy. And more importantly, learn your global competition. We lost a lot of deals by educating a customer, getting them convinced to purchase our products, but the economics didn’t work for them – and to save money they just went to a knock-off manufacturer. We should have done our research to see if they could afford our product. We forget sometimes that the dollar is strong for international customers.
Targeting a market is something that we continue to work on. You cannot and will not sell everywhere. Target your reach. When we went out into the international market, we decided to sell to Mexico, Brazil, all of Europe, the Middle East, Japan, Australia, and India. This proved to be a failure. We now have targeted three countries/regions in the same general world area. Flying to Qatar is not the same as flying to California. You cannot run around the entire world. Focus on areas, become an expert in those areas with patience, and build those relationships.
What advice do you have for companies that are just starting to export?
A recap of a couple of points from above. Learn all about the focused markets you are going to sell to and be patient there by building relationships. VEDP is a great resource, and don’t be afraid to use it. Talk to other companies about their successes, but more importantly, failures. The peer to peer networking is extremely valuable. Ask other companies about how they started and with whom they have partnered. Leverage VEDP’s global network research resources. Country reports are invaluable when trying to figure out where to go internationally. You cannot focus without getting your market research. Do not go in blind.
Finally, build those relationships in-country, but also with people who have does business in those countries that you are pursuing.
To learn more about First Line Technology, click here.