Just about any move is a hassle. There are always the logistical stresses of packing and transport, as well as the emotional social challenges of getting plugged in to a new city. Imagine adding the pressures of being startup founder to the mix. Now double down the pressure by making the move international.
Crossing borders can open up huge new opportunities for a fledgling company, but an international move also comes with some pretty daunting difficulties. What’s the best way to reap the rewards of relocating while keeping your sanity (and your business) intact? A couple of startup founders who have bravely picked up and moved to two of America’s biggest tech hubs offer advice.
Know Before You Go
“Know the town before moving there,” advises Pablo Rivera, CEO and co-founder of TopList, who recentely moved his company from his native Mexico City to the bright lights of New York City.
“Before coming to New York, our targeted location was Boulder, Colorado because of how fast the tech scene is growing there and also, the size of the town. We decided to spend the summer of 2013 in New York City because we were really curious of how the tech scene was evolving here. This time really helped us realize that New York was the best place to relocate our company based on the business we are conducting and the opportunities we could find here,” he says.
Keep an Eye on Cultural Differences
No matter how well prepared you might be for your move, actually working in a new country is sure to turn up some unexpected cultural differences. That was definitely the case for Björn Jeffery, CEO and co-founder of Toca Boca, who shared his story of relocating from Stockholm to Silicon Valley with Fast Company recently.
For instance, when Jeffery arrived in the U.S. he felt American team members were often put off by his forthright style and direct requests for input. He now puts that response down to Silicon Valley companies having slightly more hierarchy (if you can believe it) than many Swedish firms.
“I think it was confusing to people when I would ask questions. Why is he asking me this? What is the real question? When the real question was exactly what I said,” he recalls. The takeaway for Jeffery was to always keep an eye on these subtle differences of style. “Just because you can communicate, doesn’t mean you understand each other,” he concludes.
Be a Social Butterfly
When you relocate is not the time to let your inner introvert take over, but that’s doubly true when you’re moving across international borders, according to Rivera. “The most difficult part [of relocating] has been both building a network and meeting the right people; someone who could help us expand our business,” he reports. What was TopList’s solution?
“We started attending tons of startup meet-ups in the city (now we are regulars in these types of events),” he says. “I would recommend getting involved in the scene as much as possible. Always be reaching out to people who can help. We’ve found out that most people are willing to sit down and talk.”
Jeffery agrees that most U.S. tech scenes offer a surprising abundance of help to recent transplants. “Sitting in lunches and getting four email introductions before we have even left the table. That was also very, very different,” he commented. ”It’s just part of the culture that you help each other out.”
Join a Co-working Space
“We decided to join a co-working space, the WeWork Labs in SoHo. Back home, we were part of a similar working dynamic in which we were really comfortable, so joining WeWork was a no-brainer for us,” reports Rivera. “So far, it has been a wonderful experience that has led us to meet lots of interesting people and has given us the opportunity to share part of our work in a tech-savvy community.”
Be Proud of Your Origins
“Being a foreigner has been good for us,” insists Rivera. “We believe that the fact that we are international gives diversity to the tech scene, adds depth to our story and generates more interest in our company. This has also enhanced the opportunities to meet new people.”
And being an outsider isn’t just good for generating interest, it can also be a business benefit when it gives you a wider view of the market outside of America’s tech hubs. “The Valley is exceptionally Valley centric.” Jeffery noticed, with people living there constantly pitching ideas that were only of interest to other affluent, tech obsessives like themselves. “Being able to see what is a viable business in this ecosystem is not a viable business outside–seeing it for what it is. That is a benefit coming from the outside.”