Blog Article 05 Mar 2015

What happens when you gather three fast-growing companies in a room to discuss globalization? An insightful discussion on the process of building out an international office from different perspectives.
A couple of weeks ago, Nitro opened their doors as host to the first in, what we’re hoping is, a series of panel sessions focused on globalization. I sat down with Nitro’s COO Gina O’Reilly; SurveyMonkey’s VP of Sales and Customer Success Brennan O’Donnell; and New Relic’s VP of People Operations Steve McElfresh to find out what to do and what not to do when opening a global office based on their experiences. Three key steps became apparent as we got deeper into our conversation:

Step One: Go Where Your Customers Are

Nitro’s Perspective: Nitro was originally founded in Melbourne, before flipping to the U.S., and could always be considered an “international” company. However, as time passed, the customer, more so than the product, eventually became the basis for developing an even larger internationalization plan. The company moved their headquarters to San Francisco initially to build a big technology business; however, they soon found that approximately 30-35 percent of their customer base and three quarters of their large enterprise accounts were already in Europe.

“We had never met them. We obviously knew there was opportunity there, and that really was the trigger for us to look at establishing a European HQ.”

- Gina O’Reilly, COO, Nitro

New Relic’s Perspective: New Relic was also an international company from day one, but in a different way. Their main centre of operations was in San Francisco, but their customers were spread globally. Starting off with a customer base of small developer shops that they could easily service via the web, they quickly began to attract enterprise organizations.

While time zones didn’t matter to the developer teams that worked 24 hours a day, major international companies wanted people located in their time zone and speaking their language. What did they do? They took the “If you build it, they will come approach”, developed an enterprise platform in Europe that hadn’t existed before and watched their customer list grow.

“If we sign on a million dollar customer from Slovakia, I am entirely confident that I can recruit Slovakian speakers within a handful of weeks to take up residence in Dublin…It’s just wonderful.”

- Steve McElfresh, New Relic, VP of People Operations

SurveyMonkey’s Perspective: Up until 2009, SurveyMonkey had 12 employees and serviced customers in one language. They now have offices around the globe and offer their services in 17 languages. Historically, their business was based on a B2C model, but increasingly more and more businesses began to take interest as well. As the company began to expand, so did the need to be where their customers were, so it only made sense to open a location in Europe.  

Step Two: Choose The Country Wisely

Nitro’s Perspective: There are a number of factors to take into consideration when looking to open up an office in another country – the economy, demographics, education and skills, wages and salaries, tax, cost of living, infrastructure and office rents, among other factors. When Nitro looked to Europe as their next destination, it quickly became clear how each country had its pros and cons. For instance, London was an option, but they found it to be better suited for a smaller enterprise sales focused operation. They weren’t looking for a remote call center, though. They wanted a fully functional EMEA home base, so they turned to the business-friendly, talent rich environment of Ireland. In 2013, they met with IDA Ireland, which Gina states was like working with a concierge service. Within 48 hours we had provided them with a really good lay of the land, including insight into the property market and type of talent in Ireland, what it would take to hire and what it would take in terms of employee development.

New Relic’s Perspective: New Relic initially decided Europe was the best location for their first international operation. They narrowed it down to Ireland as the country’s offerings aligned well with their team’s reputation of being technically savvy and incredibly responsive to customers’ needs, including being able to speak their language.

“If we sign on a million dollar customer from Slovakia, I am entirely confident that I can recruit Slovakian speakers within a handful of weeks to take up residence in Dublin…It’s just wonderful.”

- Steve McElfresh, New Relic, VP of People Operations

SurveyMonkey’s Perspective: SurveyMonkey already had a head start in Europe before making the move to Ireland. In April 2014, the company transitioned their European sales and support functions to Dublin, with expectations to employ more than 50 people in the first year. It was understood that the company would have multiple locations in Europe, including London, but they chose Ireland specifically to further educate their international customers from a central multi-lingual, multi-cultural location. The convergence of language talent, technology know-how and cultural savvy made Dublin the ideal base to meet the needs of their international customers.

Step Three: Combine Cultures

Nitro’s Perspective: For Nitro, the first hire in their Dublin office was the most important. This new employee would not only head up their EMEA operations but usher the company into the European business culture. They worked closely with a recruiter in Dublin to interview a number of potential hires, a number of which they could have hired on the spot. After on-boarding their head of EMEA, they started to scale their sales and support team. They also initially relocated two client-facing team members from the U.S. to Ireland to help implant the company culture from San Francisco, and the executive team continues to fly out to Dublin to ensure the company culture thrives.

New Relic’s Perspective: New Relic took a different approach to developing a landing team in Dublin – they did it all from their offices on the West Coast. Rather than their initial plan of working through a sales vendor, they decided to think long term and instead developed their own sales force and service group. This was done via on-the-ground resources. New Relic realized that they could hire excellent people locally and felt that they didn’t need to fly out team members at that early stage. Following the initial hiring process, they brought three of their new employees over to their headquarters to get them deeply ingrained in the company culture.

SurveyMonkey’s Perspective: All three companies agree that maintaining company culture is key across all locations, which is why SurveyMonkey not only transplants their top talent to open up new offices in other locations but also flies all new employees to their Palo Alto office for training. They, however, encourage other offices to develop a culture of their own.

It’s not a replica of your company culture…That’s really important because they have their own identity and there’s a strength to it that you can’t quite describe.”

- Brennan O’Donnell, VP of Sales and Customer Success, SurveyMonkey

And to summarize, on the theme of Going Global, what advice would each of our panelists give companies considering the move? And the consensus – “Just Do It”

Gina said it best near the end of our discussion:

“If you’re considering it and it makes business sense, I would advise you to move fast.”

- Gina O’Reilly, COO, Nitro

- Deirdre Moran, @DeeMorany, Emerging Technologies / High Growth Companies

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