My Italy-Born Company Opened a U.K. Office So We Could Be Global From the Start. Here's What We Learned Scaling Internationally.
Startups that plan to scale internationally are nothing without their communities. Integration is key and just as vital as any of the regulatory and legal hurdles an expanding company will need to clear. After having experienced hyper-growth while I was at Uber -- when I joined it was in 20 cities and by the time I left three years later it was in 450 around the world -- I realized that to scale my own startup we needed to think internationally immediately. We are a group of Italian founders but decided to set up the company in the U.K. from the start, wanting to take advantage of the London fintech ecosystem.
Based on my experience, there are a few vital areas international startups need to get right when they expand into new territories.
Future-proof your team.
Future-proofing a team for international growth might not be the most obvious task in the early weeks of a startup but it's vital. Although Oval Money was born in Italy, we decided to focus on the U.K. market first as the funding opportunities are compelling. While we employed Italians who would be based in our offices in Turin or Rome, we specified that they would need to be fluent in English and would be traveling and working on the move. Our second task was to ensure flexible working was a part of our culture, as this kind of fast-paced, mobile job comes with a key requirement: Employees should be agile enough to travel for work and should expect to spend considerable time in London, even if based in Italy.
Break out of the silos.
Our third job was to eradicate any nascent silo-culture. It's far too easy for international teams to act independently of one another -- and of the "home team" -- so we arrange regular meet-ups. Everyone in my team works in two-week sprints, and every Monday we have a weekly team meeting across locations to discuss progress.
Bigger meetings about a company's progress should occur on an annual basis and get everyone together. This needs to eradicate that damaging silo mentality that was identified by Phil Ensor, a former director at tire company Goodyear, almost 30 years ago, when he coined the phrase "functional silo syndrome" to describe common structural breakdowns within organizations. We promise somewhere exotic every year but meetings could just as easily be somewhere near to one of your offices, as long as they not actually in one of your workplaces. Staff should also be incentivized to spend time in another office if the company has more than one to learn how other teams operate. When new people arrive as you grow, they should immediately be made welcome. We hold monthly onboarding sessions for new starters in the office in Turin.
Certain job functions demand in-depth local and cultural knowledge -- this is particularly true of sales and marketing teams -- so think about hiring someone local, if necessary. We recruited a British writer to write for our U.K. company blog and are currently hiring a U.K.-based business development manager and finance and compliance manager.
Get by with a little help from the local business community.
As well as ensuring your team forms healthy relationships with one another, it's vital they get close to the local business community too. Opportunities for local collaboration can open up possibilities of new markets and a wider talent pool. The chances are you will hear about networking events through word-of-mouth but social media is also an excellent place to discover meet-ups to attend. You can't be everywhere so choose wisely, and remember a number of opportunities can take place online too, such as "tweetchats" on a topic in which your business is involved.
I've formed a great many relationships with influential people, local journalists and business leaders over Twitter. Of course, nothing is as powerful as meeting a connection in person and you should get out and about. Just in the last few months, I've attended three events about finance and technology, and have sat on a governmental committee on women and the future of finance.
Be creative about office space.
When we set up in London, it was important to choose an attractive, central location to draw in new employees. But, jumping straight into a contract with a landlord in an area you might not know could be risky. So, consider whether your investors might be able to help with office space or think about coworking services. We were one of a few startups selected by Balderton Capital for their "Launched at Balderton" program and we were given a space within their offices. This has enabled us to establish ourselves quickly with a place we can call home and avoid the logistical loopholes of signing a lease. If this is not an option, think about the many pan-European office-sharing options or pair with a few other startups to reduce costs.