Should You Travel Abroad With Your Startup?
For lots of startups the question in this headline will seem absurd. If you hardly have the money to keep yourself in Ramen, the last thing you’d consider would be jetting your team off to some exotic foreign locale.
But for businesses that are a little further along (and for entrepreneurs unencumbered by things like kids and mortgages), packing your suitcases with you team isn’t as crazy as it sounds, insist several founders who have actually experimented with moving operations abroad. Take Dan Abrahams, co-founder of MyCurrencyTransfer.com, who recently wrote on Under30CEO about his experience moving his entire startup from London to Tel Aviv, Israel for three months, as an example.
He offers seven reasons it was an amazing experience, ranging from somewhat expected benefits like team bonding and the chance to explore a new startup scene or hire local talent, to some advantages you probably wouldn’t think of, including:
Great PR. Journalists and bloggers love weird, wonderful and wacky stories. Travelling abroad with your startup gives you an edge and a fantastic story to tell. Whether you are pitching the business, team bonding or cultural benefits, you have something valuable to offer and will no doubt act as an inspiration for the next wave of entrepreneurs thinking of relocating abroad. [It seems to work given I’m writing this post].
Different cultures expand the mind. There’s always a plan B. At home, it’s very easy to become entirely fixated on one way of working. Whether that is how the office is set up, working hours or how to get the most out of your staff. Experiencing different startup ecosystems and cities expands the mind.
Attract investors. There are opportunities for investment all over the world. When you go out of your home environment you expose yourself to a wider pool of investors. This will help get you more feedback on your product and if you are very lucky, an investment into your business.
For other companies going abroad is more about saving money than spurring creativity or making connections. The three British founders of startup Maptia moved to a surf town on the Moroccan coast while they got their company up and running as much for economic reasons as life experience ones, as Wamda found out:
[Co-founder Jonnny Miller] had already lived there over one summer, and at $130, a flight from London was affordable.
Within weeks, the team moved into a cheap apartment only ten meters from the Atlantic ocean and began working. "It's been far better that what we imagined,” says Miller. Not only is the team spending a fraction of what they were spending… but with only yoga and cooking as distractions, they're more productive.
Their choice also offered advantages when it came to customer acquisition; living in a tourist village grants the Maptia team a lot of contact with their primary users.
The experience has been great for the fledgling company, the article notes, but is only a temporary arrangement. "The company is incorporated in the U.S., ships its electronics from the U.K., and hasn't hired locally or had to engage with bureaucracy in Morocco," writer Aline Mayard notes, and the founders planned to leave the country once they reached a stage where they were ready to fundraise.
Other companies opt for a less extreme form of foreign travel, sending only some folks overseas and for shorter periods. On Quora, Richard Banfield, CEO of web design firm Fresh Tilled Soil, has talked up his firm’s “workaction” policy. "We send our staff to exotic locations like Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. The idea is for them to try working remotely from some unusual location. We pay for their air ticket, accommodation and food - as well as surfing lessons or something that gets them out if their comfort zone. They work a full eight hours a day but also get time to surf, do yoga, or whatever they want," he explains.
Employees come back refreshed and ready to dive into office life again, Banfield says: "It’s an amazing experience. These people come back, and they go, 'It’s amazing, but I don’t think I’d want to do that for the rest of my life.'"
Would you ever consider going abroad with your team?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.