There is more than one way for a company to internationalise. Some forcefully divide and conquer, others take a more laid-back approach. Rob Pierre, who says he’s always wanted to be a “cool CEO”, has so far focused on an organic approach to expanding Jellyfish internationally.
At a recent Leap 100 breakfast, Pierre, founder of the digital marketing agency, shared his “retrospective wisdom”, putting his expansion down to two factors: opportunity and people.“One of the big opportunities that helped us is working with Google. We’re resellers of all of their technology, we’re experts in delivery campaigns, we’re a cloud partner, and we’re about to sign a global training partnership. Google is now sitting in various different regions with open arms.” But none of this would be possible without the people who work at Jellyfish, shown in Pierre’s expansion into the United States.
Pierre was working with Kevin Buerger, head of sales and client services with another technology company on the East Coast. Pierre would come into the office on a Monday morning, mull over the reports from the weekend, and Buerger would religiously call at 08:30 GMT. “We thought, though this is a US number and he’s got a US accent, this must be voice-over-IP and he’s sitting in a London office. But it turned out this wasn’t the case – Kevin was just the most driven guy, and customer service was the only thing that mattered to him. His response rate today is within three seconds.”
It was Buerger who asked if he had thought about setting up in America. Pierre took the plunge and Jellyfish now has US offices in Washington DC, Baltimore, San Francisco, and New York, with Buerger now as EVP managing director. “More is lost from indecision than wrong decisions,” Pierre explains, and once he had made the decision to set up in the US, he felt they needed “Jellyfish blood” out there. “We sent over one of our original guys to cofound that region, and that created our team. From that point, we hired locally, creating our academies and building our own talents.” When internationalising, culture clashes can cause conflict.
To prevent this, Pierre tries to create a “regionally agnostic culture”. He explains: “if your company culture cannot survive multiple regional cultures, then change it. Make sure it’s sustainable in a global way. But that’s not to say you don’t have to be mindful, and adapt your processes, approach and communication based on your different regions.” Pierre believes in replicating his brand across his empire. “People don’t feel like it’s home and like they’re part of the global company if they’re sitting in a non-branded serviced office. You’re almost telling them that this is a temporary situation. My view is that you’ve got to believe in it, you’ve got to back your business plan and get in there with a lease.” Jellyfish has acquired other companies along the way. Describing himself as a “dominant expressive”, Pierre has made three acquisitions in 12 years.
He explains how, on a few occasions, he’s seen a business he likes and “worked on an equity deal, fed that business all the work, then rolled it up into the group”. Jellyfish now has offices in London, Brighton, Reigate, San Francisco, Washington DC, Johannesburg, Durban, Barcelona, and is looking to set up in Singapore and Dubai. Whatever your view of Brexit, if we are going to make a success of the future, the UK is reliant on business owners like Pierre: entrepreneurs with an international mindset, and global ambitions.