Expanding Your Brand to Europe? Here’s What This Thriving Silicon Valley Tech Company Learned

Author: 
Alan McGlinchey

Zazzle, an online marketplace for customizing designs, was expanding its $250 million Silicon Valley operations into Europe to deliver its niche maker-products to even greater masses. Soon after the tech company’s top leadership unanimously selected, Cork, the second largest city in Ireland, in 2013, Zazzle’s operations guru arrived in Cork City to select a site and spearhead the early hiring.

Bridget Smith, Zazzle’s chief of special operations, came to Cork in December 2013 to commission a site and establish the beginnings of a customer services team. To ensure that the values and work culture of both Zazzle and Ireland were woven into the fabric of the new office, Smith hired a recruiter to help onboard Zazzle’s first customer care agents. Nine months later, Smith returned to Zazzle’s offices in Redwood City, California.

For the next two years, the Cork City office grew to 80 junior-level customer care specialists, operating with an HR person at the helm. Zazzle wanted to instill more of its corporate culture into the Irish office, so they sent Jason Kang, its chief revenue officer, to Cork to interlace the culture of the two offices. 

Managing Across Time Zones

Arriving in Cork in December 2016 with his wife and two children, ages 4 and 6, Kang managed the “second wave” landing team. He was to overhaul the office and build a customer care team that until then, was managed domestically.

To grow Zazzle internationally, Kang had to solve the leadership vacuum and put the right elements in place. Meanwhile, he continued to manage his financial responsibilities and direct re-ports for the company’s U.S. operations. The time difference between the U.S. and Ireland can be as much as eight hours, and Kang was operating teams in both regions.

“Having direct reports in the U.S. meant I had to be available U.S. hours, but trying to establish growth as well as solving some challenges meant that I needed to be physically present and available in Cork as well,” Kang says.

In the first-wave landing process Zazzle put measures in place from the beginning that made it easier to attract personnel and make internal changes.

Culture, Culture, Culture

To pull in a larger, more diverse pool of candidates, Zazzle chose a location in the center of the city with an easy commute from any of the surrounding areas. And, regardless of future hires, they knew they had to get Cork’s first-ever employee right. That turned out to be an HR and recruiting specialist with a clear sense of the values and workplace cultures of both Zazzle and Ire-land. Zazzle values creativity, integrity, respect, open communication, collaboration and a “do what it takes” attitude. 

“Culture is something that's pretty hard to change once it's established. We felt like we had something good in the space and wanted to make sure those values were transitioned over to whatever office, in whatever country we ended up going to,” Kang says.

Ireland works hard and plays hard, and this focus on work-life balance has now become part of Zazzle’s U.S. culture.

“I’d advise anyone looking to expand internationally to settle some place with values similar to those of their company,” says Kang. What he’d advise against is establishing a new operation and then leaving it for a period of time. 

“We spent nine months setting it up, and then a year and a half not tending to things as we should have. Like any valuable living, breathing organization, you need to nurture it. You need to care for it,” says Kang, who now understands why locating in Cork was an easy decision for Zazzle.

From Support Organization to Growth Engine

The tech company’s three co-founders, CEO Robert Beaver and his sons Jeff and Bobby and other members of the executive team unanimously agreed on Cork after visiting other European locations. After living there for two years, Kang’s wife and daughters were sad to leave Ireland and return to the States, and remain in regular contact with the neighbors and friends they made there.

Initially, Kang says, expansion opportunities in Cork weren’t there. Now, a seasoned operations director manages the location, its fast-growing marketing teams and its customer-acquisition teams which serve the company’s global market. Tier-level and other internal opportunities let employees advance in the company. Cork is now home to 80 percent of Zazzle’s data team, and the first Cork hire is still on the job. 

Zazzle has since purchased the building it occupies in Cork City, and maintains an apartment at the Elysian, just steps from its location at Union Quay, for the scientists, customer care administrators and data specialists who spend time there. 

“What began as a support organization for customer care for Zazzle’s U.S. operations has evolved into a growth engine,” says Kang. “That wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the extraordinary talents of the folks we onboarded in Cork.”

Alan McGlinchey is vice president of Emerging Growth Companies US West Coast at IDA Ire-land. He works with the Emerging Growth Team at IDA Ireland, the government agency responsible for promoting and securing foreign investment into Ireland. From a base in Silicon Valley, McGlinchey works with West Coast companies to help them establish a presence in Ireland, to grow their European market base and support their international customers.