If a U.S. tech startup has global expansion aspirations, what’s the best place to set up its first overseas office? According to Ian Reither, cofounder and COO of Telnyx, a VoIP services provider in Chicago, that distinction goes to Dublin, where a Telnyx office is now up and running.
I spoke with Reither on Nov. 9 about Telnyx’s decision to set up a presence in Ireland, and since it was the day after the U.S. presidential election, I asked him for his thoughts on what the election result might mean for the expansion plans of a company like Telnyx. He said it definitely inserts an element of risk and uncertainty:
Obviously, anytime there’s a mass changing of the guard like this, there is some uncertainty injected into the markets. And that uncertainty results in businesses, especially earlier-stage technology businesses like ourselves, to play it safe in certain scenarios. Making an investment in overseas offices is no small matter, and no small feat to pull off. That said, the world is still very much a flat one. From a business VoIP perspective, the market outside of the United States accounts for three-fourths of the global communications market. We, being a truly internet-enabled business, one in which we’re looking to be the phone company of choice for software businesses globally, can’t afford not to make the investment in setting up an international office. Furthermore, places like Ireland have no shortage of talent, and they have no shortage of attractive features to bring high-caliber engineers and technologists from all over Europe. [The election result] definitely inserts risk and uncertainty for us. But our customer base is a global one; our product is a global one; and the internet is a global phenomenon. We will therefore continue to make investments internationally.
I asked Reither how the idea of establishing a presence in Dublin in particular first surfaced at Telnyx, and he explained it this way:
About a year and a half ago, our customer base started expanding internationally, through businesses that we support in North America. Those North American businesses started to stand up business in EMEA, and in Dublin and London in particular. Our customer base expects to have technical support around the clock. As a business phone provider, we make our money off of being always on, always available, and having no downtime and no outages. So we wanted to bring a high caliber of talent to our support organization, and to be able to support those people in their time zones. In the beginning, we started by standing up what we call a “network operations center” in Dublin, which was a 24/7 technical support center, to be able to assist our users throughout EMEA with any issues or provisioning problems that they may be facing. Once we were in Dublin, we started to fully realize the great technical talent that exists there — software engineers, dev ops engineers, network engineers, that were flooding into Dublin from across Europe to work at companies like Salesforce, Dell, Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Ireland and the IDA, which is their foreign direct investment arm, have done a really good job of laying a multi-decade foundation for attracting foreign direct investment, and having companies invest in putting up what have traditionally been back-office support centers in Ireland — that infrastructure is really quite incredible. But as the world moves toward being more technology-centric, with pretty much every aspect of business being touched by software and technology, they’ve had to bring technical talent into Ireland, as well. So now there’s what we’ve found to be a surplus of technical talent in Dublin and the surrounding area.
Reither acknowledged that there were legitimate arguments against taking that step:
Dublin is 3,000 miles away from Chicago, and real-time communication and collaboration is still a challenge for a number of businesses — even a real-time communication provider like ourselves. You’re constantly struggling to provide high-fidelity communication, to keep everyone on the same page, to make sure everyone is executing toward the same vision. You have people who are six hours ahead of you, a six-and-a-half hour plane ride away from you. Culturally, we’re similar to the Irish, but there’s some dissimilarity there, too. You definitely run the risk of not being able to execute on the vision as a unified organization, the way you’d be able to do within four walls of a Chicago office. So initially the argument was, how do we maintain the culture of the company, how do we maintain the vision of the company, how do we maintain the velocity and quality around software development that we’ve achieved in the United States by being able to closely control things? That was really the obstacle that we had to overcome.
Reither said on the flip side, Telnyx wanted to go where the best talent is:
You don’t want to wall yourself off from the best and brightest. So we took a technology-first approach — the idea was to replicate the feel of the Chicago office in Dublin. We have a bunch of things we do in the Chicago office — whether it be high-fidelity videoconferencing everywhere, or large dashboards displaying metrics, or network monitoring systems in the corner of our office — we took all of those things, and we basically replicated the design of the Chicago office in Dublin, so it felt like home. We even put the Dublin office in a space in the city that felt like where we have our office in Chicago.
I mentioned to Reither that I had recently interviewed Anna Schlegel, senior director of globalization programs strategy at NetApp, who spoke about how critical it is to localize products for different markets as part of a globalization strategy. I asked him, aside from setting up an office in Dublin, what Telnyx’s globalization and localization strategies entail. His response:
You can go to our Web application — portal.telnyx.com — and instantly buy telephone resources anywhere in the world. So if you want to buy a number in Ireland, you just do an Ireland search in our application, and you can choose from thousands of phone numbers — same for the UK, France, Australia and Canada. We want our product to be as global, and as local, as possible. So within an Ireland search, you can go right down into searching for Dublin City North, or Dublin City South, or other cities in Ireland, like Galway — same with the UK. Aside from the provisioning of getting local number resources, you want to be able to interface with that in the local currency. That’s something we’re working on right now — it’s not been released yet, but it’s in development. It’s being able to support any currency in any geography we may be in, so our customers are protected from currency fluctuations. On top of that, our network operations center is built in a way to support a global customer base — aside from English, we speak Arabic, Spanish, Irish, Russian, Portuguese and several other languages. It’s really important to be able to communicate with and deliver an equal level of value to non-English speakers in their native language. Companies like ours are starting to take a very holistic approach to developing products, and writing software that is meant to create value for people from all walks of life, globally. So building a company that only services Americans, and only supports English and the U.S. dollar, just doesn’t fly anymore.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.