Going global from day one, with Brynne Herbert – CEO of MOVE Guides

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I think if you hire the right leaders of the company, people want to follow them, people want to work with them.  They have strong networks and it just accelerates the development of the company and accelerates the growth.


Brynne Herbert is an MBA graduate that raised angel money for her SaaS startup while studying for an MBA at The London Business School and has since gone on to raise more than $25 million for MOVE Guides, most recently in a Series B round led by New Enterprise Associate (NEA)  and has seeing MOVE Guides scale globally with 60-plus employees in a short space of time.

Brynne joined me on The SaaS Revolution Show podcast to provide some great insights into MOVE Guides success to date. You can listen to the full podcast below and read the transcript. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher and never miss an episode


Alex Theuma: Hi Brynne, I know a little bit about MOVE Guides as obviously you’re speaking at SaaStock Conference later in the year.  For those perhaps that haven’t heard of you before, can you give an introduction to MOVE Guides?


Brynne Herbert:  Sure.  At MOVE Guides it’s our mission to make it easy to move around the world.  We believe this makes the world a better place.  Companies today must operate globally and they must attract and deploy talent globally to succeed in the 21st century.  At MOVE Guides, we make it easy for them to do that.

So we do this by bringing together many fragmented systems, partners and processes into a single technology platform which we call our talent mobility cloud.  Our talent mobility cloud makes it easy for companies like Societe Generale and Adobe two big customers of ours to coordinate all of their employee moves be they for an expatriate project or an assignment or forever and for families who are moving to plan those moves with our certified mobility partners.  This gives everyone, the company, the employee, all of our partners access to what we call our single mobility view.

Our single mobility view is underpinned by the industry’s first comprehensive data model which we’ve documented and we’ve designed.  And we complement our platform and our single mobility view support from a customer care team that ensures the employees and their families are always looked after during their moves.


AT:  How did you come up with the idea for MOVE Guides?


BH:  It’s a funny story.  I used to work in finance.  So I grew up in the U.S., which you can probably hear from my accent.  I graduated from Yale and I went off to Asia to work as an investment banker.  I moved a number of times while I worked in finance from Hong Kong to Singapore to India to the U.K. and such.  Every time I moved it was cumbersome and it was frustrating for myself.

When I went to business school, I wanted to answer the question of why is it difficult to move and it’s still easy to plan a holiday.  So I spent two years at London Business School looking into that question and what I discovered is three things.  Firstly, I discovered that it is difficult for individual employees to move but it’s equally or more difficult for the company to coordinate that move.

Secondly, I learned that this is a huge, huge market that virtually no one has heard of where companies spend more than $150 billion annually moving their talent.

Then thirdly I learned that attracting and deploying talent globally is critical to the success of companies and to the career path of employees today.

With those three things in mind, I put together the idea for MOVE Guides while I was at London Business School.  I founded the company and I raised our initial angel funding to really flesh out the idea and build the company that we have today.


AT:  And why did you form MOVE Guides as a SaaS company, as a cloud company and not a service company?


BH:  That’s a really good question, Alex.  I think it’s interesting.  So enterprise software history is full of examples of companies that have product ties to services.  In fact, I would argue that that’s the basis of a SaaS company in general. From travel to HR to procurement software.  We have many, many examples of companies that were previously services that were delivered by high-cost, low-margin, slow-moving service companies disrupted by someone like MOVE Guides who built a SaaS platform to really productise that.

I think a good example of that and one that we talk about a lot internally is Taleo and the recruitment industry.  It’s quite similar to our industry.  So a number of years ago, companies wanting to shift their costs outside of their company and they outsourced, they’re recruited to recruitment process outsourcers.  And then Taleo and other applicant tracking systems came along and they sort of said, well, basically what the recruitment process outsourcers are doing is they’re coordinating a lot of things between candidates and the company and the interviewer.  They’re managing some complex and repetitive processes and they’re consolidating a lot of different data from different parties, and they’re doing all of that manually.  The applicant tracking systems put that into a platform experience and well all know the outcome – multiple billion dollar exit to Oracle for Taleo.

That’s exactly what we do at MOVE Guides.  We compete against relocation management companies which are outsourced managers of global mobility programs.  We take what they do, which is coordinate a lot of different processes and people.  We put that into a modern software experience with a great user interface, with automation and alerts to all of the different users through the process and make it a much more enjoyable, much easier and much more successful experience for the company, the employees and all of our different partners from the shipping company to the immigration firm to the real estate agent that delivered those services.



I read that you wanted to build a global company from Day 1, how has that been implemented and how crucial has it been to growth?


BH:  That’s a really good question, Alex.  Our business is fairly unique that it was actually required from Day 1 to be global company.  Today we support moves across 200 different locations from Cambodia to Colombia and we have offices across Europe, Asia and the U.S.  So when we thought about this in the early days, we thought about it in a framework of 3Cs: consciousness, culture and communications.

The first, consciousness, I think it’s really important.  So I consciously thought about how to build a global company.  I read a lot about it, I travelled a lot, I really, deeply thought about how to build an organisation that can operate globally as a young company.  I think that was the number one thing that underpinned our ability to implement that.

The second is culture.  That is pretty obvious but you need to find and hire people that are motivated by building a global company and working at it.  It’s not always as glamorous as it seems.  There’s lots of early morning calls, lots of late night calls, lots of flying on planes, lots of video conferencing, and not everyone is up for that.  So we really look for people that have lived in different places, have worked at companies before with global teams and are really motivated by that challenge.

Then the third is communications.  I think there’s an element here of communications with people and, again, we really look for people on our team that are strong communicators, that can share things clearly and proactively with each other.  We spend a lot of time thinking about our I.T. infrastructure, our meeting cadence and providing clarity to people on what’s happening within the business both from me to everyone and also between the different people in the company as peers.


AT:  I guess part of that global growth, there has to be so many attributions to the success that you’ve raised, as we mentioned in the beginning, north of $25 million through an angel seed, a Series A and a B, and I think most recently that included Notion Capital and NEA as well.  And that’s all within a 4-year period, right?


BH:  Yes, it is.


AT:  Where would MOVE Guides be today if you hadn’t taken VC money?  Could you have achieved such growth if you were bootstrapped?


BH:  I mean I absolutely don’t think so.  I think we have gained a lot from our VC funding.  Certainly, I can only speak to my experience with Notion and NEA but that has been extremely positive.  They are very supportive of MOVE Guides.  They’re very supportive of me and my executive team.  They challenge us to be better and they challenge us to grow faster, which is critical in a SaaS business.

I think there’s really two themes of what they have brought to the business and continue to bring to the business.  One is that they accelerate growth.  That’s both in hiring and helping us find great people and close great people, and it’s also in how I think about the business.  And then they bring expertise that is absolutely unparalleled in the case of both of those funds for SaaS businesses.  They bring knowledge of what a Best-In-Class SaaS company looks like.  They bring networks that we can tap into to build our own institutional knowledge and learn from our peers.  And they give us advice that I think is really, really invaluable as we work through some of the challenges and opportunities of a growing SaaS company.


AT:  I think, you mentioned earlier the locations that MOVE Guides are in around the world.  I noted that I think you opened your first U.S. office two years after inception.


BH:  Yes.


AT:  I’m interested to know as you’re based in the U.K.  What have been the challenges that you have had with having a U.S. office in a different time zone?  And what have been the positives as well?  How has that helped the company by having an office there two years after you’ve started the company?


BH:  I think the positives have been, first of all, they certainly outweigh the negatives.  The positives are we had a global footprint as a business very early on and that is integral to our success in our own industry.  So that’s one piece.

Secondly, opening up a U.S. headquarter in San Francisco I think really the main thing for me was access to talent.  That’s the big thing I’ve seen.  I think there’s a lot of great talent in the U.K. but there’s just not as many people.  In fact, there’s very few people who have built successful SaaS companies once and then the number is basically single digits when you look for people that have done it two or three times.

That for me as a first-time CEO is really, really important to hire executives that have built successful companies before and that’s very hard to do in the U.K.  So having a large U.S. presence has given us the opportunity to build a really great team and then also bring some of those best practices and those experiences over to our U.K. team.  That’s been fantastic.

I think the challenges are the same that we talked about previously.  There’s communication.  That’s probably the main challenge.  San Francisco is 8 hours away.  Often my team in either location is working very early in the morning or very late in the evening.  I think that’s one of the wonderful things about being a startup is it’s more than a job but obviously the requirement is sometimes people are working late and they do need to think a little bit more about communication and probably travel more than at other businesses.

The great thing is the team is like a family even if it is across borders and across time zones.  We say internally, we talk about MOVE Guides family.  We have a #MGFamily.  We actually got it a bit from NEA who talks a lot about the NEA family with their partners and their portfolio companies.  But it is real at MOVE Guides.  The team, I see it when they come over for training or something.  They’ll fly early and they’ll stay with each other.  They all talk on social media.  They vacation together, the people between the San Francisco and London office.

It’s something I’m really proud of.  We’ve done a wonderful, wonderful job recruiting a group of people who have similar values, really believe in MOVE Guides’ mission and strategy and really do work together well and have forged very strong bonds across the ocean and lots of time zones.


AT:  And it’s a common path trodden by SaaS companies and certainly European SaaS companies that I’ve seen that once they hit a certain scale, they move over or move their HQ over to the U.S.  If you look at like Intercom for instance, Algolia, Mailjet, just some examples off the top of my head.

I don’t know also if Jason Lemkin came over last summer for his summer soiree and it was very much the talks were about when do you move to the U.S., almost as if it’s a given that you need to do that to truly become a global company and reach 100 million ARR.  So I guess the question to you is is it on the roadmap for you to move the official HQ to the U.S. at some point as it is common with many European SaaS growth-stage companies?


BH:  Yeah.  I mean, I think it’s a good question.  We’re approaching it in the following way.  So at the moment, we’re pursuing what we call a dual headquarter strategy.  We have a joint headquarter between San Francisco and London.  We have about equivalent number of people this year.  We have nice offices in both places.

We have our executive team split between both places.  We have our CFO, our VP of people in the U.K.  We have our president, many of our other VP’s, you have VP of Operations, those types of roles in the U.S. and we all work together.

We all travel quite a bit.  I split my time and I have places in both locations.  I really do split my time 50/50.  So I guess we think about it a little bit differently.  We don’t think about it as an either/or question.  We actually think it makes us a better company to operate globally and be mature in both locations.  That’s maybe a little bit unique to our industry because we need to operate globally and we need to sell both in the U.S. and the U.K.  So for us, that’s how we look at it.


AT:  I like that approach.  I guess if you’re going to be a truly global company and once companies reach about 500 or 1,000 employees, they’re going to have execs in different locations not necessarily all in San Francisco.  So it’s kind of good to perhaps start out that way.


BH:  Certainly.


AT:  MOVE Guides is your first SaaS company and you’re four years young as a company, I believe.  Drawing from your learnings as founder, what’s the best piece of advice you can give to other early stage SaaS founders that perhaps are listening to this podcast to help them grow their SaaS business?


BH:  That’s a really great, great question.  A lot of people have given me a lot of advice through the years so I do value it and hope that I’m able to share some fmyself.

I think my number one piece of advice, and this is something that I’ve learned probably most pronounced over the last two years, is hire people better than yourself and hire people who have seen… we call it “seen the movie before.”  It’s easy to say and it’s very, very hard to do.  It’s very hard to attract people as a young company who are experienced SaaS executives.  Frankly, it’s very hard to manage at points when you’re the founder and everyone has 20 years more experience than you do who works for you.  But we have found, and I have certainly found that it’s critical to the success of the company and also critical to my own development as a CEO.

The people that I have hired who are experienced and lead our teams have unique cross-functional view of some things.  They can identify what I call minefields before we hit them based on what they’ve seen in prior lives or just from what they know.  And probably most importantly, they build phenomenal teams.  I think if you hire the right leaders of the company, people want to follow them, people want to work with them.  They have strong networks and it just accelerates the development of the company and accelerates the growth.


AT:  That’s great advice and it’s something that I hear fairly often and therefore there’s got to be a lot of truth to that.  But as you say, easier said than done.  And finding the right talent and the right people specifically for your company, that’s got to be the challenge.


BH:  Certainly.


AT:   Last question is kind of a bit of a cheeky plug,  You’re speaking at SaaStock 2016 on the 22nd of September in Dublin.  So I guess that’s a few months away.  How much more growth have you forecasted for MOVE Guides between now and September?


BH:  So I’ll answer in an annual basis as we’ve just finished up our 2016 planning.  So we’re forecasting about 250% top-line growth in 2016.  Bessemer says that the best SaaS companies grow between 200 and 300% after they’ve hit a million ARR and we’re well beyond that at this point.  I think that puts us pretty close to being an A+ SaaS company and we’re pretty excited about that.


AT:  On that basis assuming that, which I’m sure you will be hitting those targets, then the founders that will be coming to the conference certainly will be hearing from an A+ founder and an A+ SaaS company.

I guess aside from that, those that are attending the conference, what else will they learn from coming to hear you speak?


BH:  What else will they learn?  Well, I think they will learn how to build a great team is something that I feel I’ve done very well with my own staff and I think we’ve done overall as a company.  I think they will hear about how to create a category.  We are operating in a new market and forging new ground in creating that category so that’s a little bit different than being one of many in a particular category.

And I think they’ll learn how to build a great global culture.  We have a fantastic culture here and it’s something that almost every candidate mentions.  I do annual feedback reviews with the company and almost everyone mentions that they love our culture.  They mention other things like our strategy and our vision and our team as well but culture consistently comes up.  So that’s something that I can talk about as well.


AT:  Awesome.  Thanks for allowing the cheeky plug and also really looking forward to hearing you speak at SaaStock.  You’re certainly doing great things with MOVE Guides.  I love the fact that you’ve created a category out of this problem that you had.

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