Happy New Year!

If you are reading this, most likely you find yourself working at a startup or have some sort of interest in the world of building and scaling startup companies.

As we turn the page from 2018, and my LinkedIn feed confirms, a lot of us are jumping into new roles, jobs, and companies. And if you find yourself at a company with hypergrowth ambitions, you might be considering expanding from your home office into a new market/region/country.

One of the exciting opportunities working at high growth startups is the chance to take on more responsibility than you would normally be given where you are in your career. Working at a big company you have to ‘put in your time’ in order to rise through the ranks and take on new projects. Startups don’t have the time to wait around for leaders to emerge. They need leaders now and if you put in the hard work early you might find yourself getting tapped on the shoulder to open your next office!

Over the holidays I took a few days to unplug and look back on the last few years while getting ready for 2019. During this process, I began to jot down some lessons learned while opening three new offices over the last five years. While each company and situation has been different, I think there are some reoccurring themes that will prove helpful if you are looking to break out from the comfort of your backyard and scale in 2019.

Since 2014 I’ve been fortunate to help the following high growth companies expand in order to match the growth plans we were looking to achieve:

SmartBear 2014–2016

Location — Boston HQ, new expansion office in Galway, Ireland.

Stage — Private equity-backed 250+ employees, 30% of revenue was outside North America and we saw the need for proper timezone coverage and local talent to spike growth across EMEA.

Result: SmartBear announces acquisition by Francisco Partners

Altocloud 2016–2018

Location — Galway, Ireland HQ, new expansion office in Mountain View, CA.

Stage — Seed stage 15 person startup that needed a footprint in the US to establish product-market fit and get to the next stage of capital.

Result: The Next Best Action for Genesys: Acquiring Altocloud

Drift 2018 — Present

Location — Boston HQ, new expansion office in San Francisco.

Stage — Series B 80+ person startup looking to build brand and presence in the Bay Area to get closer to talent and customers.

Result: TBD 🙂

Along the way, I’ve found the five points below to be extremely important when it comes to setting up your new office for success.

  1. Define “your why”

What is the core reason for expansion? At Smartbear we needed timezone and local language coverage. Altocloud we were chasing the startup dream, taking a tiny team from the west of Ireland to the big stage of Silicon Valley. And Drift, we are building an enduring global company and that starts with building and developing a west coast hub in the tech capital of the world. Do any of these resonate with your current company? The process of asking these types of questions will help you decide whether now is the right time to expand.

2. Recruiting and hiring

Make sure you look past the resume when talking to new candidates and really drill into the personality traits needed for success in an expansion office. Hint: they aren’t the exact same as hiring at HQ. You need people who are comfortable with ambiguity and near-constant change in the early days. At Drift last year we were supposed to move into our new office on January 1st, and we didn’t get the keys until June 1st. Result? So what. We adapted as a team and made WeWork our extended home, and actually became closer as a unit because of it. Opening a new office is an incredible opportunity but it is not without its challenges. You will miss out on random hallway conversations, the audio/visual on company all-hands meetings will be crap, and you can be dubbed ‘just the remote office.’ And if you do it right, you just might make HQ a bit jealous of how special of team and environment you are building from scratch 😉

Has the candidate ever worked on their own before with minimal supervision? When was the last time they picked up a new project without anyone asking? The last thing you want is to hire a super talented person who burns out a few months in because expectations weren’t super clear on the challenges ahead. It will be worth it and can change their career trajectory forever, but you need the right people to build with the first few years.

3. Show your work!

This has to be the most important tip for opening a new office. I haven’t had a boss physically within 3,000 miles of me since 2014 (not complaining 😬). This type of opportunity presents a unique communication challenge. If your boss doesn’t see you every day it is easy for them to form an opinion of you and your new team without the right context. It is on you to make sure you are taking the right steps to clearly show your work, usually a bit more so than if you were sitting right next to them M-F. Take the time to send a weekly email summary, send video recaps, send project updates even if they aren’t done yet. It all helps build the trust necessary for long term success. A good question to ask yourself: if your name gets brought up at HQ in a meeting and you aren’t present, what is the first response people say? It’s up to you to control that narrative.

4. Timing

Set aggressive goals but be realistic. Everything takes longer than you first expect. Office space, finding and ramping talent, its all a process. The important piece is being able to communicate back to HQ the progress you are making and where you are stuck. Go wide across the organization to make sure you have all the resources needed to get things off the ground quickly.

5. Culture

Chances are if you work for a company looking to open an expansion office this year, you’ve had some success and have a decent culture built at HQ. The key for a successful expansion office is to make sure you understand what those core traits are but also not to be completed defined by them. At Drift, we have our leadership principles that guide us in everything we do no matter the location. But that doesn’t mean SF is the same exact office as Boston. Far from it. What motivates an employee in the Bay Area is going to be different than someone in New England, the west of Ireland or Singapore. It is up to you as a leader to make sure you establish a culture that stays true to your leadership principles while also allowing for some local flavor. This is by far one of the most fun parts of opening a new office. Make it your own.

I hope the above lessons are helpful as you dive into your 2019 expansion goals, and would love to hear from others with experience for what has worked and what to avoid when building a new office.

And as a reminder, Drift is hiring like crazy this year. If the above message resonates, come join us in San Francisco. Promise you won’t be bored ⚡️

-MLK



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