Every company that wants to grow will reach a point where it needs to expand into new markets. Doing it right means setting up operations closer to those customers.
It’s a big step, but it’s one that many others have taken before. For this blog, we spoke to senior leaders at leading tech companies that expanded into Ireland. They shared their advice on getting a fast and frictionless start, with five practical tips for others planning to grow their business internationally.
Ireland has a broad mix of professional services companies that can give newly scaling operations vital support as they get started. There are companies specialising in assurance, tax and advisory services, legal, recruitment or PR. Many of them have strong international links, either as part of their own network of member firms or forged through working with other multinationals.
“Lean into trusting local resources,” is the advice of Steve McElfresh, an independent HR consultant who was involved in setting up New Relic’s Irish operation as vice president of people. “It doesn’t mean give up control or needing to be certain, but we found the people and institutions that we worked with were highly responsive and followed through on commitments. In Ireland we leaned into the trust because we could keep moving forward quickly.”
For example, ThousandEyes chose a global firm that has offices in all of the markets where the company operates, to handle its international tax support, financial statements and payroll services. “They had a pivotal role in helping us to get set up in places like Germany, Japan, Ireland, Singapore and Australia. Their in-market contacts help us with legal aspects of setting up. They have an office in Ireland that leverages efficiencies,” explains Billy Morris, VP of finance with ThousandEyes.
Autodesk made the unusual move of switching from an existing European location – in Neuchatel, Switzerland – to Ireland. As part of this process, it needed to change contracts from Swiss documents, setup and legal structure, and to change its legal entity to one that could accommodate not just sales but G&A functions that the company planned to relocate. IDA Ireland facilitated an introduction to an Irish-based law firm that helped to set up the legal entity and assisted with ongoing governance.
It might be tempting for scaling tech companies to assign the post of country manager or senior VP to an experienced executive from corporate HQ. In practice, however, many tech companies find it’s better to rely on local talent within Ireland to lead a European hub.
New Relic hired its first three managers in Ireland, and trained them in the United States, before they returned to Ireland paired with a small landing team of staffers from New Relic HQ. “The landing team were not the leaders; they were not the people running the operation. In some places you would send over a semi-resident team from home office, but we had confidence in the Irish talent pool. We decided that we wanted a local leadership from the start. There were a number of enterprise SaaS businesses already in Ireland, so we were confident about the breadth of talent,” says Steve McElfresh.
It was a similar story at Autodesk, whose Swiss office had been in place for over 20 years and had a pool of experienced employees. To ease the transition to Ireland, the company chose Martin Gurren, an Irish-born manager who had been working at the Neuchatel hub, as site leader for the Dublin office. “We wanted to establish a culture that’s consistent with the rest of the company and we knew we could do it if we had the right leader,” says Autodesk CFO Scott Herren.
It’s important to strike a balance between a temporary team from corporate HQ and recruiting only from the local talent pool. “You don’t want to over-index either way,” says HubSpot COO JD Sherman. “If you send a landing team and first your 10 or 20 employees are just ex-pats, then you’re not in the process of building a sustainable team and operation that will thrive and grow on its own. But if you hire a more senior experienced team that’s 100% local, they’ll only know the playbook from past companies, and they won’t blend and mesh well with your team in the United States. Eventually, you want the international office to stand on its own and grow organically,” Sherman says.
Fast-growth companies expanding to Europe should identify all functions that work best when consolidated and locate them in Ireland. In the view of Qualtrics co-founder Jared Smith, it’s more cost-effective to build, for example, a multilingual accounting team in Ireland than to hire an accounts receivable person in each country. “The same is true for support, finance, engineering, customer success or inside sales: you can staff all of these functions easily within Ireland. For many of these roles, you start driving up cost if you put them anywhere else but Ireland,” says Smith. “If we were to land on the ground tomorrow for the first time, the IDA would set us up to meet with five different law firms, employment agencies and real estate brokerages. It’s very straightforward to get a company established in Ireland and start hiring,” he adds.
Ireland’s existing ecosystem of technology companies benefits all companies that locate there. “You have lots of people starting their career, and you have tech companies training and developing those people which gives you the ability to recruit. It cross-pollinates best practices; that ecosystem is a huge upside, particularly at the management level,” Smith says. Ultimately, what you want is a geography where you can build an office that has broad market coverage. For a company going into Europe, Ireland has the lowest cost to set up a business, with a broad pool of talent from across the EU.”
US companies should be careful not to judge their international offices by the same standards that HQ now measures itself by. “It always takes a little longer [to ramp up]. It’s not one of those things that you can take a shortcut on,” cautions Smith. “The right thing to ask is, how did we perform when we were a 50-person company, not a 900-person team? Don’t have the performance benchmarks of a much larger team. It’s very similar to launching a new product where it doesn’t become a blockbuster overnight.”
IDA Ireland has developed a playbook, ‘Land and Expand’, to help CEOs, founders, and senior management scale rapidly in the EMEA market from an Irish base.
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