“Opening and developing an office abroad is a long, non-linear learning process”

By June 30, 2014

There are an increasing number of vehicles designed to help French startups raise their profile abroad, including Axis Paris, Founder.org, and not forgetting French Tech. At the StartUp Assembly event, which took place on 12-14 June in France, Clément Delangue, head of a French startup in New York, told L’Atelier about what it takes to set up a company overseas.

Interview with Clément Delangue, Marketing Director of mention. Two years after it was founded, the startup, which is a leading player in media tracking, now employs fifteen staff in Paris and New York.

Wasn’t the decision to run an office abroad from the very beginning rather premature for a startup?

It all depends on what kind of office you’re talking about. Having staff working in several geographic zones is difficult for a company that’s just starting out, but it’s not an insurmountable difficulty, depending on the situation, as the example of Buffer [a software application designed to manage social networks] illustrates. Having a team working in one country, but giving yourself the means of serving customers worldwide – for example by having a version in English – isn’t just do-able but highly desirable if you want to expand your opportunities to the maximum in a globalised world, particularly on the Web.

How valuable is it for a startup to have teams on two continents?

There are certain obvious advantages, such as being available for a longer day due to the time difference, plus having a physical presence, whether we’re talking about meeting clients and partners or attending events. From a structural point of view, it also allows you to impose organisational rigour, and so to progress more smoothly towards controlled growth.

But isn’t this cost centre too expensive for a company that’s just starting out?

With co-working spaces such as WeWork, and recruitment platforms such as Workable and AngelList, you can now stay very flexible on costs, which allows you to concentrate on the basic issues facing all early stage startups.

​​At what point did you take the decision to go abroad?

From the very first day mention enjoyed a strong position on the international scene. We decided to recruit our first employee in New York in March when we reckoned we were in a position to do so. At the time we had ten staff, regular revenue and steady growth and a team in place in each of the key areas of the organisation – product, technology, marketing and sales.

Why did you make the daring choice of New York City?​ ​ ​

Well, for us it was in fact the most obvious choice. It’s quite near Paris, both in terms of time difference and the transport options, which enables close collaboration between the Paris and New York offices. In addition, the media ecosystem and the growing startup scene really prompted us to gain a foothold in the United States. Many examples such as Sketchfab, [a website used to display 3D content online] and  Dashlane, [a free password manager and secure digital wallet] which has just raised substantial funding, prove that it’s possible to succeed when you’re set up this way.

Is the New York office staffed mainly with expatriates or more with locals?

At the moment there are only local staff there, but colleagues from the Paris office go there on a regular basis to ensure there’s a lot of interaction. And in fact we’re still learning how best to organise ourselves from this point of view.

What challenges do you have to manage on a daily basis?

Apart from logistical issues – time difference, communication, and so on – which can be resolved with quite simple steps, I think building a company culture and engendering a feeling of belonging are the major challenges, especially as there’s quite a difference in size between the Paris team and the one in New York. But this has the huge advantage of forcing us to deal with issues which startups sometimes let slide due to lack of time.

So what’s the next step?

Opening and developing an office abroad is a long, non-linear learning process, in the same way as setting up a team is.  So our priority is to continue to experiment with our New York office in order to corroborate our strategy before thinking about expanding to other geographical areas.

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