The enticement of a relatively wealthy market of 500 million consumers often makes opening a European office one of the earlier expansion steps for American technology companies. However, there are right and wrong ways to establish a European operation, with fostering the right culture a key aspect that will significantly impact the hoped-for financial contributions.
While it's tempting to take the cheap route of hiring an aggressive local sales person then play things by ear thereafter, those U.S. professionals who've successfully built a European office vehemently say otherwise. Here are the stories of three American tech executives who discovered the good, the bad and the ugly ways of handling "landing teams" -- the employees who launch and expand a new office -- and built cultures that worked for their respective companies.
When setting up the European office for this Boston-based tools provider, Kane was a solo act at first. It was just "me and a laptop in a coffee shop" in Galway, he recalls. "It was different from the typical Silicon Valley, high-growth, venture capital type story where you show up and try to hire a hundred people overnight," Kane notes.
For his planned inside-sales team, "We were very focused on fostering the culture that was distinctly tied to the company while, just as importantly, being uniquely Irish," he says, never forgetting the special needs of a sales team. "We initially brought in about five people then we got to about eight to 10 people quickly thereafter. The goal was to get an initial team-based culture so we weren't just relying on one person. That's critical," he insists.
To Kane, creating team chemistry along with "camaraderie and a bit of competition" were key because "You quickly get to index your initial team against each other," an important objective. In his opinion, in sales, "You want people who are competitive and looking to win. It helps when you have people that are competing against each other from day one."
His Galway team consisted of locals and a critical part of building the right culture was not just conducting on-site new-hire classes but "As part of their new hire on-boarding, we would bring them to Boston for training," reports Kane. The results have been very good, with continued expansion and an effective cultural environment that has lasted. In 2018, SmartBear announced it added a development center with a focus on the development of API testing and documentation tools and expanded its office adding an additional 2,500 sq feet.
Arriving with the "second wave" landing team in Cork for Zazzle, an online marketplace for customizing designs based in Redwood City, Calif., Kang's goal was building a global customer-care team as well as driving revenue for International markets. Zazzle, an online marketplace for customizing designs, was expanding its $250M Silicon Valley operations into Europe to deliver its niche maker-products to even greater masses - the tech company’s top leadership unanimously selected, Cork, Ireland, in 2013. For the next two years, the Cork City office grew to 80 customer-care specialists.
Strategically, the office's original local hire had been a human resources person with a recruiting background, "This impacted the hiring and also helped with fostering the culture," he reports. "We wanted to make sure we got off on the right foot there." The locale was also an asset in building a successful culture, Kang believes. "The people of Ireland are very smart, very compassionate and this isn't too dissimilar to the diversity and work ethic that you'd find in the U.S.," he explains.
"Culture is something that's pretty hard to change once it's established," Kang says. "It's hard to go backward on culture. We felt like we had something good in the space and we wanted to make sure that those values were transitioned over to whatever office we were located in." The results have been a success, he states. “What began as a support organization for customer care for Zazzle’s U.S. operations has evolved into a growth engine,” says Kang. “That wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the extraordinary talents of the folks we onboarded in Cork.”
Arriving at Google's then-small sales and operations office in Dublin, O'Donnell and three landing-team members from headquarters needed to quickly scale up the office while preserving Google's culture. "(A international office) should have all of the great things about whatever the culture is in a particular company but also go beyond that and incorporate the unique aspects of the local culture in that particular market and that particular office," he believes.
With speed in mind as well, O'Donnell took an unusual approach. Google had assembled a team at headquarters a year earlier that had the language skills needed along with another important requirement: extensive expertise. "Your high performers are typically going to offer strong business acumen and knowledge of your company, your culture, and all of those things, and be able to not only hire people that work like that, but set the example for a team they're developing from scratch," he reports.
"So we had a team right out of the gate. Then, within six months, we had scaled that to about 30 people," he says. "After we got things set up, we'd have people go to the U.S. on a regular basis, also making sure there's a steady flow of people from headquarters. This was critical in terms of passing on the cultural element," O'Donnell explains. Although this approach is more costly, "The investment is absolutely worth it for speed and to translate business knowledge and cultural knowledge," he notes. All of this worked well for the expansion of Google's European operations, he reports. In 2018, IDA Ireland reported that just over 15 years later the EU HQ is now Google’s largest outside of the US, employing over 8,000 people from over 70 countries, speaking more than 75 languages. Google's relationship with Ireland continues to grow as a second €150 million data centre had just been green-lighted for development in Dublin.
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