20 May Top Takeaways From MitchelLake’s Global Growth Event // San Fran
This April, I was lucky enough to host the first of a series of global events designed to help educate, develop and improve the connectivity with fast-growth technology businesses going through growth challenges. The catalyst for the series has been the increased activity and priority of internationalisation of technology businesses over the last 3 years.
Held at the Wikia offices in San Fran, this intimate event saw experienced growth leaders share their challenges and learning in establishing a strategic foothold in growth markets. The panel was made up of Gina O’Reilly of Nitro, Jason Smale of Zendesk, Ann Watson of Wikia and Elsita Meyer-Brandt of Eventbrite.
When asked about the reasons companies are expanding right now, Elsita discussed that Eventbrite is currently in 187 countries, but the people using the platform want to have a localised experience, so there was a call to create offices elsewhere. They opened in London first, and this was a really successful operation, with 35 people now working in the UK.
For Jason of Zendesk, it was that they too had to go where their customers were. Similarly for at Wikia, it was that staff wanted to actually go to their home country, and it made sense to open an office there – a both practical and tactical approach to growth planning. Zendesk sought to expand as they were having trouble recruiting engineers locally. Zendesk now have engineering teams in 8 countries, and unlike some companies, having teams in multiple locations works for them.
Nitro set out to be a big tech company. As an Australian company their eyes on Silicon Valley. Following where their revenue was they had teams in Australia (15% of global rev) and Dublin (with 35% of revenue coming out of Europe). Dublin also represented a great talent pool, due to the tech investment that has gone on in Ireland in recent years.
Overwhelmingly the takeaway was that when you expand internationally, look to have all functions of the operations in each location. Aim to create an ecosystem that works. This will help create great insights to accelerate growth.
With Dublin a base for several companies, we asked how this market compared with Melbourne.
People found hiring in Dublin fast and effective, with great talent available. While Ireland isn’t necessarily going to be a big enough commercial market to be sustainable, it makes a great test market, and the ability to create a micro-ecosystem is attainable. Also, the ability to travel between Dublin and London is so simple – it’s one of the most travelled routes in the world – so many opt to avoid the challenges of growing a team in London, and do it next door instead.
When it comes to going offshore and outsourcing, many questions arise.
Many people look to India or the Philippines but without having a local on the ground, communication can be difficult, as well as factoring in time zones. These two crucial elements must be considered when internationalising. Nitro created their APAC hub in Melbourne, with all business processes running from there, while being supported by the Philippines.
When creating teams, autonomy is paramount. Start with a strong leadership team, and from there you can build completely separate engineering teams.
The Sydney / Melbourne question came up. As it always does.
For Eventbrite, the Victorian Government were seamless – picking them up from the airport, showing them local hospitality – the attended Formula One together. The Victorian Government provided strong support and were very welcoming, which made the decision easier. Zendesk found that while the Sydney market is strong, there isn’t as much competition for engineering talent in Melbourne, meaning an easier team-building experience.
Keeping track of your business.
Investing in a great GM is key. Once this is in place, the rest can just happen. In Ireland, Zendesk grew from zero to 40 staff in just 12 months. They found that the support from the government was instrumental in making this an easy process.
Eventbrite suggests that a Head of International role can act as GM until the right person is found. It may be that you need to take the time to build the team and the business, before the role of GM is attractive enough for the right senior person to come along.
Regrets, they’ve had a few.
Eventbrite’s motto: “Start earlier”. Recruitment takes time, so build the core team up strong, otherwise you’ll be restricted when it comes to scaling. Start hiring months in advance; it will take longer than expected. Make sure you have an MVP in each market, and that your solution fits the local market. And be sure to offer the right payment methods. Research, and start early.
Nitro is sure to clear up any issues early – if you need to make fixes later, it will take longer. They suggest hiring two people for the one role, so that people feel supported and have a buddy.
Culture, Culture, Culture
Culture is inherently in the business before you grow. Don’t spend time trying to change a culture – heads will roll. When there’s people there and you’re here, make sure the messaging isn’t us v them. Ask yourself, how long does it take for the new hire to say “us” rather than “them”?
You can’t view international expansion through one lens. Do what make sense in each market.
When building culture globally, these were the tips from our panel:
Ensure there’s opportunity where the whole team can travel to be together at head office;
Value culture – making sure people are participating in the value conversations, and this is communicated to all offices (through posters or otherwise);
Send someone (or a whole team) from head office to set up the new location and build a local team – if you create a team without a starting point then your culture, the businesses core values and continuity will all be off; and
You’ll need to invest time and money to make global growth right. Your executive team might travel to regional offices quarterly – this will help to align and facilitate culture.