(Welcome back! In part one of the interview series, we introduced the reasons why these companies chose to go international and the challenges they faced. In the second part of the series, we find out the tools they used to make it work and their biggest lessons.)
SGC: What tools do you use to create personal connection between the disparate offices?
Christian Springub of Jimdo: The strongest and most effective tool is having people visit the other offices and collaborate on a project. It creates “faces” behind the daily chat and ticket systems, and it helps create bonds between the different offices. We also constantly communicate what’s happening in the offices in team meetings, email, and our internal social media network. With this constant information flow, everyone has a better understanding of what’s happening all around the company.
Jean Moncrieff of Emerge Group: The major tools used by our team for keeping connected:
• Trello – Trello is a collaboration tool that helps us organize our development projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells us what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process. (www.trello.com);
• Skype – we hold a daily virtual standup call between development teams at 7.30 am MST / 3.30 pm CAT (central African time) which last 15 minutes. We also hold weekly calls between members of the Emerge leadership team.
• Convo – more recently we started using a tool called Convo, which is like an internal Facebook. It gives us the ability to capture and share ideas between team members. It’s not intrusive, so developers aren’t constantly being interrupted, instead they can hop onto Convo whenever they have time and collaborate on new ideas.
• ZenDesk – We use ZenDesk to capture and manage support queries from our customers. The support calls can be passed from one team to another as one team shuts down for the day and the other starts work.
SGC: What was (is) your biggest challenge in opening up an office such a great distance away from the main offices?
Jean Moncrieff of Emerge Group: Communication and Culture remain our biggest challenges. Occasionally we slip up on daily calls, which can have a detrimental impact on our business. Without consistent communication the teams drift apart and can go off in different directions, which ultimately costs us all.
Our culture is really important and provides us all with a framework to make decisions. Hiring new people and working with folks in a different country can be difficult from a cultural perspective. We’ve noticed different work ethics and priorities in people from different countries; sometimes it can be challenging to get different people working together. We try to bring together the best of both worlds to make us stronger and we share the new ideas with our team back home.
Christian Springub of Jimdo: Out of sight, out of mind is unfortunately very true, so again I would have to say that communication is still the biggest challenge. It’s important to have people who care about the other team members in every office to keep the flow. However, because things don’t always go smoothly, we want every country office to be able to work independently so that team members aren’t always relying on another office.
SGC: One last question…What would you say are the 5 biggest priorities for other companies looking to open international offices to address?
Christian Springub of Jimdo:
1. Assess the need for an office in another country, a lot can be done from the main office without needing to open another. For example: hiring people from other countries, traveling to the country you need to support, etc.
2. Make sure your culture supports internationality
3. Make sure the other offices can really work independently and achieve their own goals
4. Send someone like a co-founder to the new office to make sure your company culture is understood
5. Have transparent workflows and communication tools which are easy and where people are accessible. NO, email doesn’t count
Jean Moncrieff of Emerge Group:
1. A strong leadership team is key to opening an international office. Initially the leadership team is spread thin, setting up a new international office puts strain on the team.
2. Adequate funding is critical, you don’t want to be setting up a subsidiary and suddenly run out of capital.
3. Family and friends, setting up an international office means a lot of travel for people across the company and extended time away puts strain on relationships. It’s important to work with the team to minimize the disruption to family life.
4. Planning, entering a new country means doing things differently. It’s important to research and plan the move properly. We brought on a lawyer and accountant to help us navigate US laws and financial reporting.
5. Communication between the entire team is critical, especially when the international office is in a different time zone. We made a point from day one to have daily Skype calls between our offices and put in tools that kept our culture alive.
A big thank you to Jean and Christian for opening up about their businesses. The opportunity to learn from the experiences of other entrepreneurs walking a similar path is a valuable one and we’re appreciative of them being willing to share these insights. If you’d be interested in participating in our interview series, send us a note here or send us a note on Twitter at SmallGiantsBuzz.