The challenges of opening an international office

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Opening a new office overseas – or even in a different city – can be a serious challenge for HR. Here, one successful entrepreneur reveals the major difficulties he faced while doing just that and offers advice to anyone who is about to embark on a similar journey.

“It took a lot of groundwork, changes and mistakes along the way to find the best spots,” says Fred Schebesta, founder and CEO of Finder.com.

“The main challenges we had to face could be summed up in four words: affordability, relevancy, perception and talent. Individually, it can be easy to find an area that matches one of these needs, but the more you add, the more difficult it gets.”

Since 2015, Finder has opened offices in New York, London, Manila and Wroclaw – in addition to its Sydney HQ – and also has plans to expand into New Zealand later this year.

Schebesta admits that each location had its own challenges and, in the case of its US office, even led to an inter-state move.

“We didn’t stumble upon our New York City office first try,” he reveals. “In fact, we initially set up our US office in Santa Monica, California. We soon realised that this wasn’t the right location for us and sought out NYC’s heart of business.”

While the relocation was certainly a hiccup, Schebesta says he learned a valuable lesson.

“When starting our global journey, we did make some mistakes, but it’s these mistakes that have taught me what to look out for every time I’ve gone office-hunting in a new market,” he says.

“From an employer point of view, you need to be able to set up in an area that will attract the talent you need, be relevant to your industry, be in line with branding and is, of course, affordable to both your business and prospective employees,” Schebesta tells HRD.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of researching the market before making a decision on property,” he continues. “Utilise your existing network and reach out to new people who are familiar with the area. Local knowledge is crucial in an area you’re unfamiliar with.”

Schebesta says employers should be asking themselves a number of key questions before committing to a new region – specifically, where is the talent congregated? Where are the people who will help my business to thrive located? Where are similar businesses located?

All the while, employers have to take the costs of recruitment, equipment, accounting and filing fees into account. “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he says. “It’s ok to make mistakes.”

Finally, he has one piece of golden advice for other employers who may be about to enter an international market.

“Be passionate, but also be patient,” he urges. “Launching in a new market and maintaining your company culture at the same time doesn’t happen overnight. The important thing is that you know what kind of team you want to build and implement this from Day 1 of your launch. The steps you take at the start will set you apart from the competition and allow you to launch more successfully.”


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