One of the greatest challenges a small company can face is when it decides to participate in an international market. Where a large public company has a broader base of employees and resources to work from, the small company is reliant on its own wit and programs to overcome cultural and environmental differences as it establishes its presence a long way from home.
This two-part series was conducted with two small companies that are going through the joys and pains of bridging cultural and physical gaps and how they both accomplish this tricky feat. As one has already successfully made the leap from Europe to San Francisco, the other is in the process of building a bridge between South Africa and Colorado, allowing us to see a larger portion of how this transition takes place. Our participants:
Christian Springub of Jimdo: “…the easiest website creator powering 5 million websites around the world. We’re a profitable, bootstrapped company that has been in business for 5 years. We have 11 language versions, and offer full support in all of them. Jimdo started as a small German company but since then it has grown into an international company with offices in 4 countries and over 100+ team members.”
Jean Moncrieff of Emerge Group: “Emerge has forged partnerships with numerous international companies to bring their products and services to the African continent. This helped us build relationships with companies in the United States, Europe and across most of Africa. It also helped us gain experience and develop our skills operating internationally.
Over the past two years we’ve focused more on developing our own software applications. This move was driven by our customers desire for more cost effective applications, that better suite their needs and that could be delivered as a service. The applications we provide are completely cloud based and can be used by our customers regardless of their geographic location.”
SGC: What was the driver for opening up an international office?
Christian Springub of Jimdo: We want to offer exceptional service and a local experience in every country we serve. We weren’t able to deliver this kind of service to North America from our headquarters in Germany. The US was an obvious choice because it is the leading market for the Internet and we want to take part in shaping its future.
Jean Moncrieff of Emerge Group: There were three key drivers for opening an international office, firstly our software is completely cloud based and used by customers around the world based on a software-as-a-service model. This implied being able to implement a subscription billing service. We had nothing available in South Africa at the time and really liked what US based Braintree offered. In order to become a Braintree customer we needed an office in the US.
The second driver has been the desire to expand the number of users on our applications and provide users with 24/7 development and support. Having an office in South Africa and Denver means we can follow the sun from both a development and support perspective.
The third driver was a strategic partnership with US based Data Connect Corporation, to collaborate on a new piece of software for the US, Africa and Europe.
SGC: What were your main concerns when you chose to do this?
Christian Springub of Jimdo: Communication, communication, communication. We know it’s hard to keep transparency of information from a distance and have everyone on the same page. Every office we open makes this even more difficult, especially with the time differences. We have to ensure that the different teams are talking to each other so we don’t end up with multiple teams working on the same project or people out of the loop.
Jean Moncrieff of Emerge Group: Our number one concern in opening the new office was communication. Having two teams that are in radically different time zones (8-9 hours) makes it difficult to keep up regular communication. The other major concern was setting up a subsidiary in another country with regards visas, company legislation, taxation and a whole new culture with regards doing business.
SGC: How did you define (or redefine) company policies to deal with cultural differences? Who did you incorporate into the process?
Christian Springub of Jimdo: We have been an international company from day one and have had a mix of cultures from the start. It wasn’t a planned process, we hired people who are good communicators and very open minded–that’s the most important thing. Team members from around the world visit our headquarters in Germany at least once a year to make sure everyone understands each other and vice versa
Jean Moncrieff of Emerge Group: Emerge has never had particularly well defined policies. Our core values have assisted us in our decision making process and the way we run our business. We did not alter these values when opening the new office.
When bringing new team members into Emerge we make a point of demonstrating how our core values guide our decision making process. As an example, two of our senior developers were debating the approach to a new account management tool, one pushed for a more granular approach, while the other a more simplistic approach. One of our core values is to build software that is simple for our customers to use. So, when the debate got a bit heated they went back to our core values for guidance and realized that a more granular approach would not be in line with the way we build software. For the new folks in the room this demonstrated how we use our core values to make decisions.
To be continued…
(Hey, we know that you might not have the time to read 1,800 words of interview. That’s why part two of our interview with these two great companies will run later this week. Go back to making deals. – Ed.)