As the co-founder of an Israeli startup that has gone global, I know the trials and tribulations the average founder will undergo when localising their product and business.
In fact, the company my identical twin brother and I founded in 2013, Guesty, has opened offices abroad in the last 1.5 years. That’s four or so years after we launched.
So why did it take almost half a decade for us to physically open up shop abroad when we already had users worldwide?
It’s simple, actually. We decided to take our time and truly get to know each geo that we hoped to expand into before physically putting boots on the ground.
The time we took enabled us to methodically prepare for each city we wanted to have a local presence in, conduct extensive research and ultimately determine what kind of manpower we needed in those locations.
I’m pleased to say, today, we have 11 office locations worldwide, including in Sydney, with 315-plus employees.
Our hyper-growth from 2018 until now is due to a multitude of reasons: brand awareness, product demand, the growing short-term rental market, tourists craving alternative accommodations outside of traditional hotel stays, and so on.
After experiencing such growth, here are four pieces of advice for you to keep top of mind when going global to ensure you uphold your company culture and continue to grow.
1. Build your local dream teams
Invest most of your time and energy at the beginning of opening local offices in finding and hiring the right people. Your starting point is sourcing a great manager or managing director who can be the captain you trust to navigate new waters.
Keep in mind that you need these local dream teams to be the company’s pioneers on new turf. Make sure these talents are excited about the unknown, as when you’re not at headquarters, there can be a lot of challenges, including significant time differences.
2. Ensure employees connect IRL
Ensuring that employees across your geos can interact in real life is crucial to your company culture spreading. But you can’t expect this to happen by simply sending company-wide email updates.
At Guesty, we practice this in a few different ways. First and foremost, our onboarding process makes sure employees absorb our company’s DNA. Once a new employee is hired, we fly them out to our headquarters in Tel Aviv for a couple of weeks of training and getting to know several employees across various departments. We also invest in hosting a company-wide, annual trip where we send employees to a destination for a few days of R&R and fun, old-fashioned bonding.
On a smaller scale, you can start with initiatives like a buddy program, making sure to pair a new hire with someone on a different team, in a different geo. This way, new hires have someone outside of their direct team to connect with.
And don’t dismiss using events throughout the year as moments in time in which employees can bond and build relationships. When relevant, send folks from each region to meet fellow employees at industry conferences, local meetups and/or educational events.
By the way, this IRL (in real life) piece of advice also applies to your local teams interacting with users and partners in each geo. In a tech-forward world, the human touch still very much matters.
The fact that you’re now in the same location and time zone, and speak the same language, is your advantage. Use it as much as you can.
3. Maintain consistent transparency
When going global, it’s important that employees never wonder about your company’s roadmap, recent achievements, KPIs and mission. They are your best cheerleaders and ambassadors. Sharing updates with them is crucial so they are in-the-know.
To maintain ongoing transparency, we invested in expanding our HR and operations teams. We also make sure to broadcast a monthly all-hands-on meeting to all offices to provide important updates so everyone is in the loop.
To maintain consistent transparency at Guesty, we ensure major announcements from HQ include all offices, even if it means they are recorded to cater for different time zones. We also host video meetings rather than phone calls (when appropriate) to maintain face-to-face interaction (albeit sometimes virtually).
4. Know when it’s time to take a step back
At a certain point, as a founder, you need to know when it’s time to take a step back and enable the professionals you hired to excel in their areas of expertise.
This is primarily the case when you localise your product and have geo-specific office locations in which you are not a native inhabitant.
Having this confidence and trust in your employees will only help them flourish.
Transparently, this principle is challenging, even for me as I’m incredibly hands-on.
In fact, up until recently, I interviewed every potential new hire. But at this stage in Guesty’s growth, that’s no longer possible. Each local team has built their own subculture and I wholly trust them to hire the talent they feel will add to their department, office and our company as a whole.
The path forward
Witnessing your company evolve as it enters new territories is incredibly thrilling but also anxiety-inducing.
But armed with the aforementioned tips, your journey is sure to be a successful one.
You can help us (and help yourself)
Small and medium businesses and startups have never needed credible, independent journalism and information more than now.
That’s our job at SmartCompany: to keep you informed with the news, interviews and analysis you need to manage your way through this unprecedented crisis.
Now, there’s a way you can help us keep doing this: by becoming a SmartCompany supporter.
Even a small contribution will help us to keep doing the journalism that keeps Australia’s entrepreneurs informed.