5 Lessons Learned Expanding Internationally (Putting The “Brit” In Eventbrite)

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Join us at Founder Friday San Francisco on May 4, 2012 with host Julia Harz from Eventbrite! By Julia Hartz (Co-Founder & President, Eventbrite)

Eventbrite, the online service that people everywhere use to create, share, and join any event imaginable, has been used internationally.

By creating an easy-to-use product and integrating with PayPal, we have enjoyed organic usage in over 170 countries. In fact, before making any efforts at localizing our site, over 20% of our total transactions were occurring outside of the US. So naturally, we saw a big opportunity in the global events space.

In 2010, we decided to make a concerted effort to localize our site and expand internationally. We knew that the UK would offer a strong position for expansion in one of our strongest metros, London, as well as throughout the rest of the EU.

So we decided to open our second office in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London in 2011.

Here are some lessons learned as we reached a big milestone for the company:

Lesson #1: Things will be slower and more difficult when doing things in other countries. Allow for extra time.

We’ve all become accustomed to moving at warp speed in the Valley - shipping code, making quick strategic decisions, hiring swiftly. When setting out to open our first international office in London, we were struck at how slowly the process moved.

For example, in the UK the customary time from candidate hire to start date is 4-6 weeks (as compared to the US at 2 weeks). Beyond these differences in professional norms, it took us extra time to get up to speed on the “must haves” prior to opening the office.

When launching an international office, create a timeline first, and then back into the milestones you’ll need to achieve in order to open the doors.

Lesson #2: While helpful to have a “chief of operations”, an international strategy should incorporate every team in a cross-functional manner.

There’s no doubt that you should appoint one person to manage the logistics and operations of opening a foreign office - someone who can become immersed in that new market. However, when it comes to your company’s overall international strategy, it’s important that each team is invested in the success of international expansion.

The only way to achieve this “buy-in” is to adopt a cross-functional mentality with each team owning the success of international growth in each of their areas. This is how you become a true global company.

Lesson #3: Clearly define the strategy and success metrics for opening an international office.

Having an international office is exciting, sexy, and validating - or so many people think. Make absolutely sure you need this footprint in order to succeed in your global expansion. Consider what type of metrics you expect to track in connection with the opening.

What does success look like for that office in 6 months, 12 months, 24 months, etc? Be concrete on both your reasoning for taking this step and the expected outcome - this will prove to be immensely helpful for your teams at home and abroad.

Lesson #4: Be prepared to take your communication to the next level.

At Eventbrite, we think a lot about effective communication and dissemination of information. Our office is designed for maximum collaboration and the day revolves around the constant sharing of knowledge and ideas. It’s ingrained in our culture.

When we opened our UK office, we were diligent about including our new teammates on all group communication. But what we soon learned is that there is natural context being created in the “Briteland” that doesn’t necessarily make its way to the UK office. We’re now much more careful about carving out time to answer questions and personally connect with our UK team.

Lesson #5: Empower the new team to adopt its own identity.

When we were preparing to launch the UK office, we thought of it as extending our brand and culture to the UK in the same way we had developed them here in the US. This wasn’t exactly the way it worked out, because we needed to account for cultural differences specific to the UK.

In order to create the most authentic team outside the US, decide early on which tenants of your brand and culture you’re unwilling to compromise or change, and let the rest develop organically.

The lessons we learned along the way will no doubt help us in opening future international offices at Eventbrite and expanding our global footprint - I hope they’ll help you too!

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Julia Hartz is Co-Founder and President of Eventbrite. Prior to co-founding Eventbrite with her husband, Kevin Hartz, Julia enjoyed a career in Television Development at MTV Networks and FX Networks. She was a part of acclaimed shows such as Jackass, Nip/Tuck, The Shield, Rescue Me, and Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days. Julia graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A. in Telecommunications. Follow her on Twitter at @juliahartz.