This is the last post in my 3 piece series about expansion of your startup. Over the past two articles we looked into planning and executing a foreign expansion, but some might say the toughest part is keeping it all together after cleaning the empty bottles of champagne after the office housewarming party. Between knowledge gathered from my experience at Wrapp and our very impressive Creandum portfolio founders and friends, we’ve come up with some short tips on how to ensure your expansion goes as planned in the long term. So up first:
👯 Align corporate culture. Whether you’ve planned it or not, your two locations have a company culture. What’s important is that you lead by example and have articulated it so your employees can lean on it to understand and align behaviours. What our Creandum friends have found is that company culture is a physical thing you need to fly back and forth. Here’s the recipe:
The first thing we’ve learned is that if you’re set up across two locations, you must physically transfer culture between the offices by investing in travel. To start off, one of your founders should run your new office. For as long as possible. Don’t try to hire your way out of it. And team members should to travel between offices to work with their colleagues. And get them to travel alone. They need to network and integrate with the locals of the other office. This may look like a big cost, but there’s really no way around it. In addition to this, every 6 months do a management offsite involving the necessary people from all offices to align yourselves as leaders. And finally, minimum once a year bring the whole organization together for a company wide meetup to discuss the business but primarily to bond with one another – Make sure to provide opportunities to have fun with your colleagues. That’s a lot of moving parts, but trust us, it’s essential.
👽 Embrace regional differences. What you can’t align, you must accept and embrace. These could be things like vacation policies and parental leave, which varies a lot between countries. There’s no good way around these differences, so you have be clear, transparent, and upfront, and communicate it across the entire organization. Leave no room for your US team to question why their Swedish colleague takes 3 weeks of continuous time off in July. Also, if the US is your target market, understand that companies often run on authority (management + lawyers), whereas in Sweden for example we operate more based on trust. Recognize these differences, be on top of it, and understand what it means for you to adapt your management style to achieve the same organizational behaviour and results. And check your regional differences: many Europeans who have been exposed to modern US culture through Hollywood often overestimate their understandings of the US market. Watching 20 years worth of The Simpsons doesn’t make you American, so be prepared to change part of the way you work.
💬 Communicate. More than you think. topic has already been covered in the previous post, but it’s such a critical component of success that it’s worth reiterating. It’s tough to get ideas across oceans and timezones, but it’s a challenge you’re now living with. The way to get around it is to be much more proactive in sharing documents, decisions, progress, and statuses and overall communicate more than you think you should. Nearly everyone we talked to suggested having a clear communication guideline set up that outlines how you communicate and through what tools (i.e. when and how do we use Slack/Hipchat, Email, Google Docs, etc). It won’t be bulletproof, but a broader alignment will help tremendously. Another big tip is whenever communicating between offices in real time, use video. So much of our communications is nonverbal and seeing each other truly helps making the mental distance seem much shorter. And of course, do all hands meetings about every second week, via video link, with the whole global organization where every team gets the opportunity to present and update their progress and plan.
🏅 Be in it to win it. Things will be hard. Don’t give up. Tenacity FTW!
A huge shout out to the impressive Creandum family and friends who contributed to this with their unique insights and intel: Patric of Hansoft, Heini of Vivino, Caroline of Toca Boca, Christian of Fitbay, Oskar of Narrative, Emil of Neo Technology, Louise of Vint, Alex of Omniata, and Jonatan of Lookback. Connect and discuss with me on Twitter at @fritjofsson. 👊💪