Looking back and looking ahead: Airwallex North America’s one-year anniversary

Shahryar Abbasi3 min
Company news
Looking back and looking ahead: Airwallex North America’s one-year anniversary
In this article

As we approach the one-year anniversary of Airwallex in the US market, we thought it would be helpful to reflect on the challenges and opportunities we’ve encountered, what we’ve accomplished this year, and what lies ahead.

I learned a lot before I came to Airwallex in my journey as an entrepreneur and in the start-up world: 

  • It’s important to “go deep” with your customers to truly identify and understand their pain points.

  • You must learn to manage ambiguity in a business when it’s young.

  • You need strategies that work early on while you build scalable processes as you grow.

  • It’s okay to fail. In fact, failure is inevitable. If you don’t make mistakes, then you’re probably not moving fast enough.

Going from zero to one

While we have long established the company and product elsewhere, the opportunity to grow the US segment from zero to one is amazing. At its core, Airwallex has an outstanding product with a strong technology infrastructure in place for SMEs — including a powerful FX engine, global treasury payment network, and issuing capabilities. We’ve been able to build an entire global financial technology platform as a company, and our product and interface sit on top of it. 

When I joined Airwallex, we were coming off a Series D funding round. In this new market, we had the opportunity and the resources to build the structures and processes that provide the foundation for exponential future growth. We’re very excited for the potential in the US market given how many businesses operate in the US and how many could benefit from Airwallex’s abilities to simplify cross border payments. 

Finding a strategic North Star

We knew positioning our product in the US market would have to be different than in our other, more established markets. To accomplish this while building the necessary internal structures and processes, we needed a “North Star” — a commercial strategy that would guide everyone in the same direction.

That North Star was about figuring out what problems our customers and potential customers were facing and whether our product could solve those problems. We knew our sweet spots would be helping domestic companies that want to scale globally and supporting companies reliant on doing business across borders.

At some point, from the time someone starts a business to the time they begin to grow and scale, global needs can emerge. Now, it may come up more often — or more quickly — in regions other than the US. After all, you can operate in just two or three states to be wildly successful in the US.

Regardless of whether the business stays domestic or goes abroad, you may need to purchase products from overseas or sell products overseas. You may sell on eCommerce marketplaces like Amazon and eBay with customers outside the US, so you’re collecting money in other regions. Airwallex can enable this. 

We can help US companies make cross-border payments and collections at low cost. The caveat is that you must have a certain level of maturity to really benefit from international cross-border services because of compliance regulations, anti-money laundering (AML) restrictions, and other guidelines.

The first 12 months — growing and learning

In the first 12 months, all while building a fantastic, dynamic team to grow the North American business, we’ve taken these massive strides:

  1. Established the processes and infrastructure to operate effectively in North America

  2. Scaled customer growth by double-digit percentages month over month 

  3. Demonstrated strong traction within the eCommerce, professional services, and technology segments and posted strong revenue growth in those segments

Starting from zero, we now have a functional go-to-market business with commercial and operational processes which includes all the compliance and legal back end that entails.

To finish the year, we’re introducing physical payment cards, which helps put us at product parity with our other markets. We’re also doubling down on the three segments where we’re showing strong growth while actively seeking new segments and new ways to position our product — “growth hacking,” if you will. 

All the while, we’re focusing on product-led growth, where we can acquire customers at scale without having to interact with them directly in a sales capacity.

Looking ahead to year two

In year two, we want to capitalize on our success and the foundation we’ve built in year one. That means creating and scaling a repeatable and measurable growth engine. 

Our broad focus for year two will be on making the US market one of the best in the Airwallex portfolio. We’ll explore how we can best serve businesses looking for services to expand globally.

We know very clearly the segments to pursue, the ideal customer profile and persona, the types and sizes of companies that make sense for us, those companies’ revenue stages, and their pain points. We know how to market to each of them. We know where their “fishing holes” are, so we know where we can talk to them and at what point in their journey we should reach out to them. 

This will be our North Star for year two. We want to leverage the maturity we’ve gained in year one while still pursuing our year two goals with a “day one” mentality.

Airwallex North America: A start-up within a start-up

The Airwallex US culture is a little different than that in our more established markets. Our team comprises people who want to build from scratch. That’s the attraction. 

Again, it’s the day one mentality. Adaptability is critical because when you’re building from scratch, there will naturally be shifts and course corrections. It’s not like working in a scaled market, where you know exactly what you need to do and a playbook is present. 

You need to lean into the discomfort of uncertainty.

Airwallex North America is like a start-up within a start-up. However, it’s one that has the parent company’s full support and resources. Of course, we have strategic guidance from executive leadership, but the people who really fit in here are end-to-end owners. 

Does that sound like fun to you? Join us.

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Shahryar Abbasi
Head of Growth, North America

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