Expanding globally: how do you acquire talent in the US?

With its huge market, familiar culture and vast potential workforce, the US is the next logical step for many growing companies – especially those looking to innovate in the technology sector.

GXP Summit: Acquiring talent
During a panel titled The Realities of US Expansion & Fundraising at the Global Expansion Summit yesterday leaders in the field unpacked some of the unique challenges involved in acquiring talent in the USA.

Key expansion driver: talent

Patrick Timoney, Head of Operations for Improbable, a software company building a platform to help developers create virtual worlds, said that the biggest driver for Improbable's decision to expand into the US was the talent available in San Francisco.Despite showing up with a $500 million investment on the books courtesy of Japan's SoftBank, however, Improbable was very much a small fish in a big pond. Aside from the size of Improbable's competition, Timoney said, "There's a level of trust that you have to build up, because people just don't know who you are. And we had an office there before the SoftBank money, so we had to make do. Nonetheless, if you're doing something exciting and interesting, people aren't too bothered about where you're from. If they can see the growth there they're as interested in you as they are in anything else."Competing against Google or Facebook is an entirely different proposition, because if you're trying to compete on salary you're going to last a couple of weeks! You're competing for different people."

Adapting to different business cultures

Mr Timoney noted the significant cultural difference, too. "You have to learn that they're not all the best thing since sliced bread, despite what they tell you, but also that if someone self-promotes it's not necessarily the sign of an over-inflated ego, it's just a difference in culture. Adapting to that difference, despite the similarities between the UK and US, has been a challenge for us."The level of commitment expected in the US work environment was noted too. "One of the major differences we find in hiring is that it's very typical to only get a week or two's holiday, whereas in the UK it's a lot more. One result is that while hiring in the US is more expensive, the level of committment is often higher," said Dan Glazer, who leads the US expansion practice at the Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
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UK and US business legislation is very different

Jo Sidhu, Head of Legal & Partnerships for CrowdJustice, a platform that enables communities to crowdfund legal cases, said that the nuts and bolts of acquiring talent have been surprisingly difficult. "The tax, the regulations, the state-by-state approach, the healthcare, it's so expensive to hire employees in the States because of that.""It was particularly surprising for us given that, narratively, it's a business-friendly environment in the US," added Mr Timoney. "But we found it to be not the case. It's the thing that you hear all the time, but in the UK it was really easy and in the US it wasn't!""We've even lost talent because we didn't know what a 401K programme is," said Paul Fifield, Chief Revenue Officer of UNiDAYS, a student discount software platform that expanded into the US in 2013. "They're saying, where is it? We're asking 'what is it?'" he said, laughing."The way I'd frame it," said Mr Glazer, "is that the US is a massive commercial market. It's a great place to do business in terms of the commercial opportunities. But it's not necessarily as easy to do business in the United States as it might be in the UK. That difference is part of the surprise."
Fiona Murchie, Relocate Global’s managing editor, was moderator and chairperson of the Global sourcing, Logistics and Mobility sessions at the Global Expansion (GXP) Summit in London.
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