Most of the European software businesses Balderton have invested in have expanded significantly in the US, often with the CEO moving over. We cover market prioritisation and ways to approach the US expansion in the previous parts of the playbook.
What is more unusual in Aircall’s case is that they opened a second development centre in the US alongside the sales/marketing team. This ensures that technology teams remain closely integrated with the commercial part of the organization, and helps maintain a strong company culture across offices.
You can hear more on Aircall’s international approach from Oliver Pailhès in this episode of Balderton Podcast series.
A fully decentralised tech team
Patients Know Best (PKB), a UK healthcare software company founded in 2008, has always had a completely decentralised team, with no offices.
Such an approach requires effort and discipline to set up, building an operating rhythm and cloud-based tools that do not require meeting in person, and not slipping into key decisions happening in person. The huge advantage is the ability to hire from a broader and less-tapped talent pool, which translates into more experienced and more loyal engineers recruited for the same salary, regardless of where they are based. It proves to be an appealing incentive, especially with increasing numbers of engineers wishing to base themselves outside of major cities or be digital nomads and travel while working.
One of Balderton’s early investments MySQL also had a fully distributed team, and Gitlab has also had huge success operating as a remote-first team.
The challenge the remote-first teams are often facing is motivation and team spirit. To maintain a cohesive and motivated team PKB brings the whole company together in London regularly.
The advantage all these teams had is that they were distributed from day one. What can be much harder to manage is a core team at HQ with distributed members elsewhere – those distributed team members are too easily neglected.
If you’d like to read more, I recently came across a great post by Rich Moy, an ex-content marketer at Stack Overflow, on how to work with a decentralised software team.
The good news is that now improved cloud software and video-conferencing remove most of the technical friction in running a distributed team, compared to the early 2000s.
Post Coronavirus lockdown many tech teams have embraced remote working and have no intention to come back to the office. However after the initial burst of enthusiasm for this from employees this approach will require careful nurturing with over-investment in communication and morale.
Summarising the above...
There are advantages to starting your company across multiple locations, or remote-first, in the early days.
If you haven’t done this, and reach Series B with all of your product and engineering in one office, it may well be worth continuing to invest in that location for longer than you think, as The Hut Group has done.
The rapid growth and 1-2 year cash horizon of a Series A/B/C startup is not a great environment in which to get an offshore R&D centre off the ground. If you do choose this option there are clear advantages to colocating commercial and development activities.
Workable and global company meetups
Finally, a note on maintaining team cohesion.