After my last article on hiring the remote candidate, I spoke with Eric Barroca an IT professional in the fields of document management and information management for leading software vendors, integrators, and media and e-business companies. Roland is currently working for Nuxeo, a software company providing an open source enterprise content management platform on an international level. I asked him to write up a guide to how he manages the unique challenges associated with an international startup. So take it away Roland!

"I firmly believe any start-up trying to go global in today’s marketplace needs to be international. “Global” and “International”–one is not necessarily synonymous with the other. I would even say that it is especially important for a European start-up to be international, to maintain strong roots both in their home country and in the United States in order to crack the worldwide market."

About Us…

Nuxeo came of age in Paris, France. Our revenue had grown to somewhere in the neighborhood of several million. At the time, we were serving numerous French customers, and then some European and American clients. Our team, which was multi-cultural (comprising five nationalities and as many languages), did deal with customers on an international basis, but while our partners in several countries were serving even more international customers, we ourselves were still a French company first and foremost…

The US market is key to cracking the global software market. The struggle for a software maker coming from outside the United States is to come from a third-league market at home and to crack the global market by way of the US market. That’s the major league for software, and that is where you need to land and grow if you want to expand. After trying several approaches, I feel strongly that not only do you need a presence in the US, but that you need to establish your Headquarters here, not just an office. From your customers’ perspective, you need to walk and talk just like a US company with staff, resources, and management right around the corner (and we’re talking about a pretty big block…) all of which are available for meetings at the right time of day.

In my opinion, “international” for a European software company means being a US-driven company. It’s tough, there are lots of challenges, but it’s important. Here are the three key challenges we came across:

1) Switching Perspective and Language

The first challenge is to change the mindset of the core team to think globally: your first market is the United States. That should become the focus of the company.

Changing your perspective is a subtle thing. You’re no longer servicing customers in your home country with a little international activity thrown in. You’re servicing customers in the US and globally–something which the US and global markets have come to expect. It’s in the tiny but important details of execution: screenshots, use-cases, success stories, and examples all need to be ready for the US market. And it’s not just a language issue (that one is easy)…

Launching a new product? Launch it in the US first. Or simultaneously. Write everything for the US market, then localize.

It can be difficult, especially when you start with most of your customers and your team in your home market, but that’s the only way you’ll be able to walk and talk like a duck, as the saying goes.

2) Becoming Multi-Core

Once you’re already established in your home market, to become truly international, you need to reconfigure into a multi-core organization, not just a single-core operation with satellites. For us, it meant establishing half of our management team and a third of our staff in the states, and we’ve built from there. It has made a huge difference. That’s when we started to take off, actually. It’s as if your prospective clients and customers can feel the change, which in turn changes the way they interact with your company.

Once you are fully multi-core, you’re much like any other software start-up in the US, and you behave like one.

A trap to avoid: Don’t forget about the other core, letting it regress into just another satellite. It’s probably where your software is built and where most of your revenue is generated, so you’ll need to give it the attention it deserves.

3) Preserve the Link, Stay Visible

This one depends on how your behaviour as a leader. For me the third challenge was to preserve the link I have with the team, staying visible and accessible.

I’m very hands on. I like to be a part of the team, working with them to build things together. I like to be accessible, helping solve problems, and removing barriers. And, I like the bond this activity creates with the team.

I don’t think there is an easy way to make it work. In my case it involves very frequent travel (once every 2-3 weeks) to spend time with the team in France, daily calls with team leaders when I’m abroad, and being ever-present on instant messaging on phone and computer.

After some bumps and bruises, I think I am able to balance working and spending time with the two cores of our company.

Overall, these are the key milestones to becoming a software company that matters. With the many challenges come a multitude of rewards. There is a great road, full of promise for any European start-up that wants to go global.

Live & Learn!