Dos and don’ts of setting up in the USA – Part 1 – Dos

Taking your SaaS company stateside is a great opportunity, but you have to get it right. In this article, Peakon CRO Neil Ryland, who has been there and done it, shares his secrets for success.

I’ve been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to set up a US office for a UK SaaS company. Actually, I’ve done it 3 times. I worked for many years at Huddle, the collaboration software giant. Although, they were not always a giant while I was there.

During my time at Huddle, I was involved in setting up their first US office in San Francisco, living there for 6 months. I moved over there with one of the cofounders and another colleague, it was a real honour for me. After SF, I went to New York and Washington DC to help the US government onboard their Huddle software.

Setting up in the US is not as easy as renting a building, doing everything that made you successful in the UK, then hoping for the best. There are so many pitfalls that can befall you if you don’t see them coming. I’ve put together a series of dos and don’ts which may help you if you get to set up stateside. Firstly, the dos.

1 – Understand the cultural differences

It’s said that the UK and US are two countries separated by a common language. As a Brit in an American workplace, I found you have to be very careful about how you talk to people. The British way of gently ribbing people with a healthy dash of sarcasm often gets lost in translation and can upset people. Also, while peppering a team meeting with a few choice swear words is a quite a common motivator in Britain, if you do that in the States you run the risk of being pulled up by HR.

Punctuality appears to be more important in the States, although they’re a bit more relaxed about it on the West Coast.

What I did was take the time to get to know Huddle’s newly-appointed VP of US Sales, Lesley Young. She taught me a huge amount about selling in the US, and she’s still an amazing mentor to me today. Amongst other things, I followed her lead on when to deploy the sarcasm and when to leave well alone.

2 – Plan, plan, plan

Like most things in life, preparation is the key to success. When you’re setting up an office in the US, the more you do in the UK before you go, the more likely you’ll achieve the results you want.

Once we had appointed Lesley as VP of Sales in the US, I made sure I absorbed every piece of knowledge I could from her. She helped me understand the nuances of the market, how to run interviews in the US, how to best give a sales demo, and so much more.

That meant we could effectively start building a pipeline before we set up, from our desks in London (albeit in the middle of the night).

We also had local ambassadors and effective case studies ready to go, so when we eventually launched in the US, we already had external validation.

The more you do while you’re still in London, the easier it will be when you get to the States.

3 – Show your team how you do things

As daunting as it is to set up a British firm’s office in the US, it’s also a step into the unknown for the Americans joining your firm. If their knowledge of British business comes from the movies, they might be expecting you to turn up to the office in a morning suit and bowler hat!

To get your US starters to understand how the epicentre of your business runs, get them over to the UK to spend time with you. Let them find out how you do things, let them build a relationship with the people they’ll be hearing from every day from across the pond.

This is what we did at Huddle, and it helped build a loyal, high-performing team.

4 – Location, location, location

Just like in London, your address counts. If you base yourself in the San Francisco equivalent of Watford, you’ll struggle to hire the SaaS sales talent living in Clapham or Shoreditch.

Make sure you build your office in an area that will attract the talent you need to be successful, and also suits your sales process.

Huddle’s office in San Francisco is on Mission St, right in the heart of things. It meant we had no trouble finding a young, well-educated, driven sales team. A certain LinkedIn built their HQ a few seconds away. You wouldn’t get that in Santa Rosa.

5 – Finally and most importantly…

Smile! You’re in the US of A!

OK, they are my must-dos when you set up an office in the US. I’ll be back with my don’ts very soon. Until then, I’d really like to hear from you if you have any pieces of advice on how to sell SaaS in the US.

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