I recently participated with two international founders on a panel at Tech Crunch Disrupt Berlin on how to scale your startup globally.
Danny Crichton, the managing editor of Tech Crunch Extra Crunch, moderated the panel. My fellow panelists included Karoli Hindricks, founder and chief executive of Jobbatical, and Holger Seim, co-founder and chief executive of Blinkist.
The most important takeaways from the discussion included:
- Hiring internationally will continue to increase due to business necessity.
- Allowing employees to work remotely from any country offers a range of benefits for both startups and employees, but you must proceed carefully.
- International founders should talk with an immigration lawyer even before they make their first trip to the U.S.
- No single magic-bullet strategy exists for scaling globally, so identify your goals and create a strategy based on them.
- Do not be afraid of immigration policy in the U.S. There are lots of ways to accomplish your goals.
Karoli cited a Korn Ferry study that estimated the talent shortage could cost companies $8.5 trillion in unrealized revenue by 2030. With that in mind, Karoli has recruited globally, seeking the best person for each position since she launched Jobbatical in Tallinn, Estonia, in 2015. Her startup’s first hire was from Argentina.
In contrast, Holger said Blinkist, which is based in Berlin, did not actively recruit globally when it started in 2012. However, international candidates were considered if they applied. And if Binkist hired international talent, it was under the condition that the new hire moved to Berlin. That continues to this day.
“We try to get people to Berlin rather than open an office somewhere or have people work remotely,” said Holger. We feel it’s more efficient if people can communicate face-to-face and build trust. Trust is a really important ingredient to effective collaboration and it’s easiest to build if you’re sitting next to each other.”
Based on what I see, super early-stage startups in the U.S. will usually invest money in the immigration process because assembling a strong core team is critical. Finding the right talent is critical at any stage, whether it’s the founder in the garage or pre-IPO.
Hiring Remote Workers
Karoli recommended that startups allow international employees to work remotely for a three-month trial to make sure they are a good fit before the startup pays to relocate them. Jobbatical has increasingly allowed employees to work remotely.
“When you enable remote work, you give much more freedom to people—and that’s a very strong perk for employees,” said Karoli.
For Blinkist, the in-office interactions and collaboration between colleagues outweigh the perk of remote work. “Remote work is great. And we embrace it when we find great talent,” said Holger. “We say ‘yes’ to remote if there’s no alternative, but we prefer [employees] to relocate” to Berlin.
If you have a startup and you’re interested in pursuing remote work, definitely talk with your corporate attorney beforehand. Hiring remote workers can raise tax and other issues. It could also make it difficult to fire people depending on another country’s employment laws.
Expanding Into the U.S.
International founders should talk with an immigration lawyer even before they make their first trip to the U.S. The immigration conversation matters for the whole life of a company from the early stage founder coming to participate in an incubator program to the unicorn exiting.
Your reasons for coming to the U.S, the visa you obtain, what you do while you’re here, and when you leave could all have an impact on future visits or stays. Always make sure you are complying with the terms of your visa.
Identify Your Goals
Clearly, no single magic-bullet strategy exists for scaling globally. So, I recommend identifying your goals and creating a strategy based on them.
I always ask startup founders, “What would you do if the world had no borders?” The answer to that question guides the immigration strategy. Are you an international founder chasing a personal dream to live in the U.S.? Chasing the money? Looking to expand into the U.S. market and realize that the best person to do that is not an American? Looking to stay indefinitely or for just six months?
U.S. immigration policy can be daunting, confusing, and frightening. Don’t be afraid. Immigrating to the U.S. is doable. The Alcorn Immigration Law team knows how to present the strongest case to immigration officials to allow you to live and work in the U.S. Please reach out to us if we can help you come up with a strategy for you to scale your startup globally.