Why My Company Chose Boston, Not Silicon Valley, for Its US HQ

Opinion

No matter where you are in the world, if you want your company to be a global leader in software, you have to take on the US market. As the co-founder of a French tech startup, I’ve always known that if we wanted to be successful, we would eventually need to establish a presence in the United States.

Three years ago, with Americans already accounting for 40 percent of our user base, my co-founders and I decided that our time had come: We needed to open an office in the United States as soon as possible.

There were a lot of things we didn’t yet understand about what it would take to expand our business overseas, but we knew one thing: We were going to avoid the temptation to set up shop in Silicon Valley. In 2015, we established our new office in the Boston area, and it turned out to be one of our best decisions.

Recruiting and Retaining Tech Talent

With unemployment rates in the tech industry at less than 2 percent, it’s more difficult than ever for companies to attract and retain new hires. Imagine that, on top of that, you’re a relatively unknown European company trying to lure qualified tech workers away from comfortable jobs at Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE), Salesforce (NYSE: CRM), or Oracle (NYSE: ORCL).

That was us—and that is part of why we opened our first US office in the Boston area. With its proximity to several top engineering schools, as well as a number of e-commerce and software companies, the area has no shortage of tech talent.

People are the main asset of an organization and, thus, a top priority for us. Yet we had no idea how truly difficult it would be to hire and retain tech talent in the United States. One thing that genuinely helped us in that department was being able to tap into a strong—but not overcrowded—talent pool. In Silicon Valley, the average tech worker would have been snapped up before we were able to make a reasonable offer.

Hiring the right people was a considerable challenge, but we knew it wouldn’t be the only obstacle we would need to overcome while expanding our operations overseas.

A Strategic Location

In addition to its access to qualified talent, establishing our office in Boston made it much easier to coordinate work between our US and European employees. Not only is it faster to travel between Europe and the East Coast, as opposed to the West Coast, but the city’s time zone is also more compatible with that of our main headquarters in France—adding three more hours of collaboration during normal work hours.

And although it is not exactly cheap to do business in the Boston area, the operating costs are far more reasonable than those in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely important factor for growing companies. According to PayScale, the cost of living is 22 percent higher in San Francisco than in Boston, making it much easier for our employees to settle in the metro area with their families in the long run.

This highlights another reason we chose Boston as opposed to New York City or San Francisco. It’s also why we built our global headquarters in the mid-sized city of Nantes, France, instead of in Paris. We recognized that building a solid team takes more than just assembling a group of talented individuals—we wanted to build a sense of loyalty and teamwork in a unique environment where employees can look forward to coming to work every day.

Home Away From Home

When you’re working in a high-growth company, the hours can be unpredictable, you’re often facing uncertainty and instability, and it’s easy to burn out. That’s why we established our Nantes headquarters in an actual mansion—a building that doesn’t remotely resemble an office building from the outside—and we endeavored to make it a place where employees would really want to go every day.

Having an office that was not initially designed to be a workplace is a way to allow the team to take part in transforming the building into a functional space, creating an environment that by its very nature lends itself to the spirit of creativity and reinvention.

Of course, it’s harder to find castles in the Boston area than it is in France. Instead, we transformed a historic Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority building, a former trolley repair facility located in the Boston suburb of Somerville, MA, that had been empty for more than 60 years. (We moved out of our first Boston office, a modest Cambridge dwelling with little more than startup appeal, and into the renovated MBTA building last year.) And we made sure to establish a unique environment—one where employees can not only get work done but also relax and socialize.

It’s been fascinating to watch my company grow from a couple of developers working separately in their home offices to a dedicated team large enough to occupy a mansion in France and a historic building in Boston. I take pride in the fact that, no matter how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown, our unique company culture has remained intact. Although not everything translates perfectly across borders, our central philosophy seems to resonate universally: Life is short, and we don’t want people to regret a moment of their time working with us.

Fred de Gombert is the CEO and co-founder of Akeneo, which provides Product Experience Management (PXM) and Product Information Management (PIM) solutions for global merchants and brands. Follow @FdeGombert

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