Aside from fundraising, the most common challenge non-US companies face when launching in the US is access to talent. It can be difficult to find key hires if you don’t have a personal network, and founders are often surprised at the cost of a US employee.
Attracting the right talent
When making that first hire in the US, start the search with your existing network. A personal introduction from investors, former colleagues, accelerators, or friends is ideal and the easiest way to begin the hiring process in a foreign country.
If you’re unable to get an introduction to anyone, be sure you properly vet every person you interview. Most companies are typically looking for a strong sales lead or General Manager as their first hire, but have clear expectations on what you’re looking for from this person. Test them on their skills, ask about their accomplishments and reference check them thoroughly. This is often the most important hire you’ll make, you want to take your time to make sure you trust them and have confidence in their ability to perform.
Setting compensation expectations
European companies are often surprised at the cost of a senior level employee in the US. Most startup employees’ compensation includes not only salary but a bonus, stock options, and health insurance. Salary expectations vary depending on city, but as most companies I’ve worked with want to establish a presence in New York or San Francisco, they should be prepared to pay significantly more than in most European cities.
Understanding cultural differences
Over the past year I’ve been called “very American” several times and am not sure I fully grasped what that meant prior to spending significant time working with non-US entrepreneurs. Americans tend to be more direct and assertive than Europeans, particularly in more mature markets like New York or San Francisco, and negotiations tend to move more quickly. I’ve found the topic of money comes up much later in European partnership discussions than it does in the US. Americans often conduct a significant amount of business over the phone or Skype, while Europeans prefer to meet potential clients in person.
It’s important to understand these cultural differences, and for Americans to be knowledgeable and respectful for how business is done at the European headquarters. The cost of hiring an American employee can be intimidating to European founders, but it is crucial to have someone who understands how business works in the US and can hit the ground running.
I touched on this in another post, but managing remotely can often be challenging if you’ve never done it before. Be sure to get face-to-face time with your new employee as soon as possible, it will make Skype conversations much easier once you’ve established an offline relationship. It’s also helpful to bring employees to headquarters at least once a year to experience the company culture and bond with your team.
Hiring your first employee in the US provides a unique set of challenges, but is also an exciting time in your business’ growth.