For startups, tailoring their messaging to sell to and attract European users is a daunting challenge. But hiring and retaining the talent that will make it happen underpins everything. Without the right operations and culture in place, you can have the greatest product and an incredible marketing playbook, but nothing will run. So what does it take to smoothly set up your company’s European operations? The pyramid below is a great guide for healthy global organizations:
Berlin is not San Francisco and Amsterdam is not New York. If a company simply looks to hire based on the same work culture as in San Francisco or Brooklyn the results will likely be less than optimal.
To create a functional framework of company values, try to do the following exercise – look at the current company values and separate those into fundamental traits vs. culture-based traits. Examples of fundamental traits can be making sure that all the right people are in the room before a conversation takes place and putting a stop to that conversation if someone is missing. Not a prerequisite but consensus-based cultures often translate quite well to Europe.
Our client Rover.com, the leading pet-sitting platform, has defined core values that have translated extremely well to Europe. They are the fundamental operating principles of the company, clear and without buzzwords, easy to understand for non-english native speakers. They have contributed to a successful European expansion and strong international collaboration.
Accountability & Decision-Making
In the 1980’s Japan was America’s number one economic threat, out-innovating U.S. companies. No industry personified Japanese speed of innovation more than the auto industry. Toyota and Honda had figured out that by empowering the workers on the floor, those actually dealing with problems, they could remove bureaucratic hurdles and move much faster. This principle still holds true today.
Empowering European employees, who are close to customers and understand local markets well, a startup can achieve better results. If a sales rep feels they can have an open discussion and an impact, they will share valuable feedback to improve the product. They will express their honest opinion based on what’s really happening in the field and the company will be more nimble and better served.
Those interactions should not stop with middle managers and salespeople. The c-suite, no matter their schedule, should be part of the process. For European managers, having face to face time with upper management in the U.S. is invaluable. Looking back at my own time at Airbnb, my operating model was often two weeks in the U.S. and two weeks in Europe. The jetlag was tough but the insights we discovered by making the trips and the trust we built could never have been achieved over Zoom and Slack. My experience was not unique. I recently spoke to a member of Kayak’s early European management team. He ran a very similar model with equally excellent results.
Having face to face meetings and not just FaceTime is crucial. There is more productivity, more learning, and crucially more trust. The latter is critical for European teams on the ground to make quick decisions and the right decisions to be successful.
Hiring and Retaining Talent
How does an American hire a French salesperson? It seems straightforward, after all, sales people seem to have some sort of universal slickness. They think quickly, give eloquent, convincing answers and seem at ease with perfect body language. The reality is that a French sales-rep (and many others for whom English is not a native language) won’t be able to necessarily display this eloquence in an English interview even though they have tremendous skills. Many times the most capable sales people are passed over in favor of those who have the best English skills. This is where HQ needs to trust those on the ground to be a part of the decision making process in evaluating talent.
Startups should also keep in mind that hiring in Europe takes longer. European employment laws require longer notice periods. Also, without a known brand, European workers will be far less likely to move companies.
Retaining and growing the talent needed to scale in Europe is very much possible, it simply requires a change in mindset. What U.S. companies think of as great perks won’t attract, nor retain employees. In the U.S. 24 vacation days is viewed as extremely generous, whereas in Germany, it’s barely above the legal minimum. Likewise, healthcare, dentalcare, and retirement contributions are generally mandated. The result is that the minimum is more than U.S. companies may want to give, but less than European employees expect.
Startups that understand that their key selling points for attracting and retaining talent are not “generous benefits” but rather work culture and opportunity will fare far better. Things like multi-discipline offices that allow for international mobility and a structure that exposes mid-level talents to higher ups are extremely appealing.
Startups that expand to Europe are looking for one thing – exponential growth. Not 5-10%, but 10x, 20x, 100x growth and beyond. That type of growth is hard to even contemplate, or know how to achieve without having experienced it first hand. Many startups hire talent from established companies who focus more on maintaining market position rather than achieving hypergrowth. Even a background in tech startups does not guarantee success if they come from a culture where the goal is simply to survive until acquisition or the next funding round. This isn’t to say that someone who doesn’t come from a growth mindset can’t change, make sure to explicitly interview for this trait.
Tech companies live and breathe innovation and rely on cutting edge tech to communicate and power their businesses everyday and they’re right to do so. But building an incredible organizational framework is what really takes a company from successful to incredible and relying on innovations and tech alone won’t achieve that. Whether it’s abstract exercises such as internationalizing your values, establishing global strategies for hiring and retaining top talent or making a trip out to Europe for deeper market knowledge and building trust – creating the right organization and culture pays off.