5 things to consider when setting up an international office in Berlin
Techspace shares top 5 key takeaways for landing in Berlin on the best possible footing.Techspace Tool-kit
Setting up an International Office in Berlin
Setting up an international office is part and parcel of growing a technology business on a global scale. After proof of concept stage, all growth businesses should consider new user acquisition to grow revenue in markets where they believe there’s a sufficient customer base. At Techspace, the top 5 European overseas cities considered by members venturing out of London to date, have been; Paris, Dublin, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Berlin. In light of our own expansion into Berlin, Germany we thought we’d share our own top 5 key takeaways for landing in Berlin on the best possible footing:
1 — Make sure your very first hire is a well-networked generalist with a track record.
It may sound obvious, but hire a local. Making sure you’ve got the very first hire absolutely spot on is critical to the success of your international operation.
Of course, make sure they are experienced and reliable (we call this 10/10 on the ‘get shit done' spectrum). Your first hire must be someone who you can rely on to build, train, manage and inspire a team. Remember that your team will need to have complete trust in the leadership qualities of this individual. Your company values need to be embodied by this person to set the tone — if you get this right you can get the culture right from the start.
Take your time and get it right! If you do it well, you’ll find a well-networked candidate with the perfect connections to build a superstar team. In our case we found someone who already knew who he was going to hire when we sat him down in the interview.
2— Get yourself set up with a legal entity asap.
In Germany you won’t be able to set up a bank account without a legal entity. It can also take up to 3–6 months to set up a bank account! Remember, you’ll need to put €25,000 into the account when you first set up your business account, so make sure you’re prepared. Setting up legal entities in Germany is especially important for employee tax purposes. This is not a step worth skipping unless you don’t intend to employ more than 5 people in Germany. Find a German lawyer to help you navigate the ins and outs of the system.
3— Before arrival, spend extended amounts of time in the location not just day visits (as much as possible).
Workplace culture in Germany is not what you expect. In Germany there a many cultural nuisances an employer can easily fall foul of unless you’ve been there and seen/done it before. Spend as much time in the area you intend to set up your office as you can. You will notice things that are invaluable to your understanding of the operation you’re going to run. When we landed in Berlin (as a group of mainly Londoners), we found that we noticed the little things — but these make a big difference:
- More privacy is necessary between teams; open plan offices are not ubiquitous in Berlin (in fact the opposite).
- Teams are not paperless — again, quite the opposite. Legal documents in Germany are signed prominently on paper so printing services are a must, and secure storage cannot be overlooked.
- Natural light (by law) must flood in wherever you have designated workspace zones. Yep, German law mandates vitamin D at your desk!
4 — Limit your liability to unnecessary fixed costs.
Entering a new territory is a measured risk to build revenue and customers, but even with all the research and planning in the world, teams get it wrong all the time. Limiting your exposure to fixed liabilities allows you to scale up and down when you need to. Just in case. For workspace needs, choose a flexible workspace provider who can give you flexible terms. If things go great (or badly) quicker than expected, you don’t want to be tied down.
5 — Bring early recruits to your HQ for a couple of weeks before they start.
Cultivating a high-performance culture within your team starts with everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. This won’t happen unless you dedicate the time to embedding your new international recruits. At Techspace, we hired 2 local expects from Berlin before our first Berlin coworking space launched (we had time during the development of the building to bring the team over). In the end, we flew our first two hires to London, trained them alongside the London team for up to 6 weeks before flying them back to Berlin to hire the rest of their team and launch the new building in Kreuzberg.