Why you can't afford to make exports an afterthought

Cobra Beer's founder Karan Bilimoria shares how he built his export success story.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 07 Feb 2019

The most successful people rarely let such obstacles as international borders and vast oceans stifle their ambitions. In the age of globalisation and instant communication, having your international proposition sorted early can be the difference between triumph and mediocrity.

Karan Bilimoria set up £57m brewer Cobra Beer in the late 80s with a strategy built around high-end Indian restaurants in the UK, but as he explains here, his eyes were even then scanning the horizon for wider opportunities.


"You must have a global mindset from the beginning. I started exporting to European countries as soon as I could, even when we were importing the beer from India rather than brewing it here.

"That was maybe within a year of launching, then we started brewing in Europe too, in Belgium and also in Poland for several years. Now we export to about 40 countries, as far afield as Japan.

"It just doesn’t work unless you find the right distributor in each country.  You need to have a dedicated export manager building those relationships. We were growing a very good business in Russia for example, and then our distributor went bust. We haven’t been able to re-enter that market since.

"To find the right partner, you clearly need to do your homework as best as you can. There’s an amazing network of British embassies, high commissions and DIT (Department for International Trade) offices around the world. They’re very helpful, they’ll do market research for you, introduce you to distributors, even host launch events in the ambassador’s residence if appropriate. British business doesn’t use that resource enough."

Further reading

Here's a six-step export guide from seasoned private equity investor Chris Hurley. To hear the difficulties Innocent Drinks then-CEO Richard Reed  had exporting, see this interview. Or for more on expanding your operations abroad, see here.

Image credit: Tom Fisk/Pexels

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