My team and I recently made one of the hardest decisions we have ever made. Despite being proud of being a UK-based company achieving success internationally, it was becoming obvious that to take ourselves to the level we wanted to, we needed to set up a physical base in the US. We had resisted for a while – I was hesitant to split our team up over two continents when we have such an incredible chemistry when we are together, and I was reluctant to shake up my life, again, to move to a new country. Because it was inevitably going to be me that had to make the move. My dear co-founder, Joe, is married to my good friend Philippa, who runs a wildly successful fashion PR company in London, and it just wasn’t possible for him to move country without living apart from Philly, or without her giving up her company. Neither were even remotely an option.
On the other hand, I was single, with no commitments… it was inevitably going to be me that moved over to the US. But I resisted, I was scared… of starting again, of living out of a suitcase, of not having my support network of close friends, of not knowing a city intimately like I know London. I have moved country 3 times – Sydney to London, London to Sydney, Sydney to London again – and the thought of doing it again… and leaving my support network and team to embark upon a huge challenge on my own… well, I resisted.
But it was my VP Sales, Jeff Sullivan, who kicked me, necessarily, into action. The challenge of running and working with a remote team while 8 hours timezone away – he said – is hard, but its an overcomeable challenge. The challenge of losing opportunities in the US because we aren’t here, is not overcomeable. It was time, and I was the only one who could do it. So like every superhero/heroine/fantasy character I had ever read about and dreamed I could be like (hey, I’m a geek, of course I do that, you all do!), I prepared to shoulder the burden and fear, and set a date for my departure. I emailed a bunch of my friends to tell them – deliberately, so there was no chickening out. No turning back. Within a month, I had arrived in San Francisco. Why, I am often asked, did you chose San Francisco over New York that has more publishers and advertisers relevant to my business and was fewer hours apart from London? The answer is that I had ascertained in my previous trips to the US that the kind of deals I wanted to win in San Francisco could only be won if I lived in the Bay Area, and was part of the ‘scene’, whereas the deals I wanted to win in New York I could win just by living in the US, not necessarily in New York. I also had more friends in San Francisco, and it made sense to build buzz amidst the home of geek buzz. It has now been 3 months since I moved over. To be fair, almost half that time has not been in San Francisco – I’ve been all over the US and back to London, Dublin and Athens in that time, but regardless, this sense of ‘home’ is starting to deliciously creep in. It hits me as I drive down the I-280 amidst those grand rolling volcanic peaks; it hits me as I walk down streets of such pretty fanciful facades; it hits me as I continually meet such fascinating friendly people, that make me feel immediately at home.
This whole process has been helped immeasurably by the presence of Hannah, one of my team who a year ago asked me if she could one day move to the US with the company, and I promised her I would do that… a year on, I delivered, and to her surprise and delight she was told her dream was coming true and she was moving to the US. Two night ago Hannah moved out of my apartment to her own flat, but before then, for two months, she and I lived together, worked together and socialised together… and strangely, it was actually fun. We explored the city together, ogled at the city’s cute dogs, acted as wing-women to each other at networking events, made each other laugh as we practised Americanisms we learnt from Jersey Shore and The Rachel Zoe Project… we cushioned the cultural shock for each other, and I can’t thank her enough for being such a wonderful companion. As Hannah said at one stage “There is a level of loyalty you feel for the startup you work for, especially when you are part of the early team, that other people cannot conceive of.”
So, two days before my first ever Thanksgiving, I thought it pertinent to give thanks to the ease and joy I have felt moving to San Francisco. Thank you to the people who are so willing to open their arms and welcome a stranger into their circle; thank you to the cerebral stimulation I feel at networking events here; thank you to my team back in London who have felt the challenge that distance inevitably adds to our relationship, and still deliver again and again and again. I have no idea what the future holds, where I will be in a year, what adventures, challenges and achievements are ahead of me, but right now, this is right, being in San Francisco and building my team out here, growing my company, giving this whole thing a real and proper go… this is right. I’m glad I came to America.