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Advice for scaleups hiring in the US

For many European scaleups, cracking the US market is a major objective in their growth strategy. But, to be successful, it usually means finding on-the-ground talent who can operate in the right time-zone(s), with the local knowledge and network to engage the customer base and accelerate revenues.

Hiring in the US can be tricky. Especially for those who haven't done it before. So we wanted to share a few tips from our own experience of helping ambitious clients to start building their team across the pond.

1. Know the cost + budget accordingly

You probably already know that US salaries tend to be higher than in the UK/Europe, but are you prepared for how big the gap could be? For a US-based senior hire, it’s not uncommon to have to pay at least double the basic salary of a domestic equivalent. You also need to factor in benefits like health insurance and a 401(k) plan, which will often be expected among US candidates.

It's important to be realistic about this from the outset. Can you afford to hire this person now? Often, it's a risk/reward judgement. If you make the right appointment, you should see a significant return on your investment - but for earlier stage companies with restricted budgets, it simply might not be viable. If that's the case, consider an interim option, such as bringing in a US-based advisor or non-exec to help lay the groundwork and start opening doors before committing to a full time hire.

Also, be mindful of any potential for disgruntlement among your existing leadership team regarding pay disparity. US salaries are generally higher to reflect the increased cost of living but, even so, feathers can get ruffled (especially among anyone who might be dissatisfied with their own compensation). Open communication and decision-making should negate much of this, ensuring your team understands both the necessity of paying more and the value this hire will add to the whole company (a rising tide lifts all boats).

2. Hire for maximum impact

Given the cost involved, you need to see maximum value from your US hire. In many cases, the first priority is hiring someone who is highly commercial and well-networked in the relevant market(s).

This is a great place to start, although how easy it is to find the right person will depend on several things - for example, where you need them to be based (ie. whether you're looking in a particular city or state, or casting your net across the entire country). Likewise, the scale and maturity of your technology area, market and customer verticals will influence the size of the talent pool.

But bigger isn't necessarily better. In many cases, having a smaller, finite target candidate list can bring greater focus to the hiring process, allowing you to really zero in on the qualities that matter, and have confidence in your final decision.

Regardless of whether the talent pool is a pond or an ocean, you must be discerning about your first US hire. Make sure they aren't just well-connected, but proven, trusted, and capable of delivering without needing to rely on existing brand/product familiarity.

3. Don't forget the bigger picture

Your US hire might be thousands of miles and several time-zones away, but they’re going to be a key part of the company you’re still building. It’s important to think ahead about how they will fit into the existing team.

There are, of course, practical considerations. Where will this person be based (eg. are you establishing a physical office, or a remote/home-working setup)? How will you manage regular communication and time differences? How often do you intend to fly out for an in-person visit, or fly them here? Getting these things in place from the outset is key to successful integration.

The other part of it is cultural. There will inevitably be some differences in style and approach but, ideally, you want your first senior US hire to be someone who is well-aligned with the company's culture and values, and capable of translating this to their own US-based team as it grows.

And, finally...if you'd like to discuss any hiring challenges - wherever in the world they may be - we'd love to hear from you!


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