Our founders all discussed the pain of moving wholesale to the US – many had young families who also had to be uprooted. But there is, ultimately, no alternative: you have to commit.
Many were honest about vacillating: some have spent 12 months or more crisscrossing the Atlantic. Eventually, you’ll have to make the move.
As a founder, you have to make the move
Don’t fall into the trap of hiring a big US General Manager
Decide who will be your domestic office leader – if you don’t have a co-founder, nurture your #2
Consider bringing some superstars from your home team
Use your cultural networks, but be ‘more American than an American’
Importantly, the alternative has been discredited.
Both our VC contributors, Ryan Floyd (Storm Ventures) and David Skok (Matrix Partners), along with many founders, cautioned against hiring a US General Manager to somehow rebuild a facsimile of the European operation.
It just can’t be done: replicating a business is a little like mouthing the words of a foreign language – the sound might be the same but that doesn’t mean you know what you’re saying. The business will be a poor copy.
The phrase that came up several times is “an empty suit” – your new leader will be someone who looks the part but has no loyalty to your business and probably lacks the skills to get work in their home market.
So you have to make the transition – but that brings its own problems.
Many of our founders reported that it was extraordinarily hard to maintain a corporate culture without a co-founder to keep the home fires burning when they moved to the new US office. It takes only a matter of weeks for motivation to drop off a cliff edge.
Get it wrong, and you will have two underperforming offices: a new US office with a sales team that feels like a bolt-on, and a European office which feels like the kid that’s no longer cool.
Gareth Davies from Adbrain told us that motivation ‘dropped like a stone’ when he moved to the US; it remained a major challenge.
Charlie Osmond of Triptease, conversely, was lucky enough to install the ideal co-founder in his place: his brother James (despite swearing he would never work with a family member).
The other big question is who to bring with you – and here the jury is out. There is little to learn from functional structures - the challenges of hiring are well known, and if you happen to have a sales or engineering specialist looking for a new challenge, well that’s great.
Much more useful is to look at softer skillsets.
Many of our founders had already recruited young (yes, they will usually be younger), hungry, pioneering, bang-on-doors types in the UK. These are the people who might not only be ideal and keen to join you in the US, they can probably take a leap in role and responsibility, too.
Another interesting split in opinion is the value of cultural networks.
All our founders are expert networkers, and all of them have grown their connections rapidly before and after moving to the US. Some have chosen to leverage their ‘cultural mafia’ – Conor O’Loughlin of Glofox, for example, is landing in Manhattan with help from the Bank of Ireland, along with seven other high-growth Irish businesses.
Nikos Moraitakis at Workable, however, says he has no Greek friends in the US, and consciously tried to rapidly assimilate and naturalise the whole business. Perhaps the real answer comes from Charlie Osmond of Triptease and Jonathan Gale of NewVoiceMedia, both of whom point out that businesses which think globally become stateless – they transcend the Europe/US distinction entirely.
To finish with, a few pearls of wisdom from the Notion family:
The US is clearly the most important territory, but I don’t think like that. We are a truly global player, and it’s a massive differentiator. We invested in Europe, AsiaPac and the US. Jonathan Gale, Chief Executive Officer, NewVoiceMedia
We sent a young product guy to live in the US, so we had product expertise on tap. He was 22, willing to travel, talked to everyone, understood everything, and now he’s the guy who sells for us in China. People love that job – opening doors in a new country. He comes from Windsor! Mike Laven, Chief Executive Officer, Currencycloud
Don’t underestimate the importance of your physical presence in the office, in terms of aligning the team, setting the picture of success and getting them focused on delivering. Choosing the right person to succeed you when you move to the US is critical. Gareth Davies, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Adbrain
Crossing the Atlantic