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Five things you need to know about opening an international office

First-hand advice for building an international office from tech founders with direct experience — Zack Dugow of Insticator and Marcelo Cortes of Faire.

It takes great talent to scale your business. Finding that talent in your city can be challenging — especially in large cities where competition for top tech talent is fierce.

The solution for many businesses is opening international offices that act as a tech talent magnet.

Waterloo is one of those communities where businesses have opened offices to take advantage of a highly skilled talent pool, as well as an ecosystem that welcomes new entrants. Google, Shopify, Square and SAP are just a few of the businesses that have chosen Waterloo.

Creating a new international office can seem daunting — but done right it can open new opportunities for exponential growth.

We asked two experienced tech leaders – Zack Dugow, Founder and CEO of Insticator, and Marcelo Cortes, Co-Founder and CTO of Faire – to share their experiences with international expansion for a recent webinar.

Insticator has made international expansion a key part of its growth strategy with five global offices in addition to their New York City-based HQ and Faire has become a unicorn through a unique global location strategy.

Here are our five biggest takeaways:

Location, Location, Location

When looking to open a new office, the Insticator team knew they needed a location that could not just meet their current needs but fit a number of key criteria.

“There’s really four key things we need: access to great international talent, a really supportive government, a really thriving tech community and someplace that has easy access in connection to our New York hub,” said Dugow, who also highlighted the importance of being in the same time zone.

“There’s a lot that can get miscommunicated. It didn’t really matter if everybody was in the same room, but if everyone is in the same time zone they can communicate with each other in real-time.”

While Insticator chose Waterloo as a new location, the founders at Faire decided to launch their business with two headquarters — San Francisco and Waterloo.

“We did talk about whether we should all be together in San Francisco,” said Cortes. “We have built a very successful product with this distributed set up [referring to his time at Square with co-founder Max Rhodes], so why don’t we just do it again?”

After the company completed the Y Combinator Program, Cortes moved back to Waterloo and started building the team here while the other co-founders opened a headquarters in San Francisco.

It takes more time than you think

Planning and communication are key to a successful international office opening. Dugow recommends getting buy-in from your stakeholders such as investors, team members and board members.

“That takes time,” added Dugow, “But I think it’s ultimately super worth it in the long run.”

Choosing a location, hiring a team and having an office opening celebration isn’t the end of the journey — it’s just the first few steps to long term success. “While we’ve had a great result, it did take twice as long to get there,” Dugow said.

“So, if you think, hey, it’s gonna take six months to really integrate and get all of our different, you know, team members hired and onboard — double it.”

Culture and hiring

Opening an international office is more than furniture, laptops, and signage. “I can’t stress this enough — a key thing to think about is how do we bring that [existing company] culture to this new location,” said Dugow. “You want all those new team members to actually take on that culture.”

Dugow recommends bringing an existing team member to help open your international office. When his company was planning their Waterloo office, they moved a team member from their Mexico office to Canada.

Insticator also focused on hiring for the office’s senior roles first to create a strong sense of company culture understanding before hiring entry and intermediate roles.

Expansion assistance and a supportive ecosystem

Dugow and Cortes both cited the strong ecosystem and government support at all levels as reasons they chose Waterloo.

“What struck me right away was how supportive Catharine [Gerhard] and the Waterloo EDC team was in connecting us with all the different government officials,” said Dugow. Leaders were excited to meet him and see how they could support his company, which made a great first impression.

Having a strong, supportive ecosystem is important when navigating everything from real estate to insurance to banking. “We got connected very easily to the best law firms, to the best recruiting firms, to the best accounting firms. And that immediately made us feel very comfortable.”

Cortes – a graduate of the renowned University of Waterloo – noted the importance of the local ecosystem in helping him build his career.

After graduating, he worked at the local Google engineering HQ before moving on to work for Square (where he played a key role in building their Waterloo-based office). These companies helped keep great talent in Waterloo, which has helped Faire maintain its meteoric growth.

Understand what’s important to you and your team

Before you begin the search for your international office location, it’s important to understand what factors are important to you, your business and your team.

What needs are driving this new international office? What team members will be affected by the new office and new staff? What does success look like for you?

Once you’ve defined these — get out in front of your team with a solid communication plan.

“You really need to get out in front of that and make sure people are aware that this location is to help the whole organization grow,” said Dugow. “It is not about replacing people from your existing HQ.”

Want to learn more about Waterloo?

We can provide in-depth data and insights into the local tech community, including comparisons with most major American cities. Get in touch with our team today.