Land & Expand - Interview with WP Engine
WP Engine is the world’s leading WordPress digital experience platform that gives enterprises and agencies the agility, performance, intelligence, and integrations they need to drive their business forward faster. WP Engine’s combination of tech innovation and an award-winning team of WordPress experts are trusted by over 70,000 companies across 140 countries to provide counsel and support, helping brands create world-class digital experiences. Founded in 2010, WP Engine is headquartered in Austin, Texas, and has offices in San Francisco, California; San Antonio, Texas; London, England; and Limerick, Ireland.
I met with Fabio Torlini at WP Engine’s London office to learn more about the company and Fabio’s personal journey.
How did you find your GM opportunity? What was your hiring story?
I had been working at Rackspace for the past 11 years prior to coming to WP Engine. I joined Rackspace in Europe when there were 10 people and saw it grow to over 1,000 people. There is a Texas link, so I knew a few ex Rackspace people that had joined WP Engine, and through those connections I was introduced to our CEO Heather Brunner.
Being the first boots on the ground is a real jack-of-all-trades kind of role. What had you done previously in your career to prepare you for being a GM?
Being part of that early Rackspace team gave me exposure to many parts of the business as it grew. I was always performing a “marketing plus” role. I always had my primary job of marketing, plus another job. Over the years this included Marketing + Sales, Marketing + Brand, Marketing + HR. This broad experience provided a perfect foundation for a GM role.
What was your company's approach to opening up in London? Parachuting in a team, hiring locally, both?
We didn’t bring over anyone from HQ. We wanted to grow the team organically here in London, given the vast talent base here.
That’s really interesting - you are the first company in the series that went the 100% local route.
Hiring locally gives you a deep understanding of the local market and helps instil a global culture back at HQ. To ensure the local London employees are immersed in the company culture and networked with the people in HQ, all of our local hires spent a minimum of 2 weeks in Austin and regularly went back for our biannual All Hands events.
Our Austin teammates have been flexible, holding important meetings like the weekly Town Hall and sales team meetings at European-friendly times. We also rely on tools like Lifesize for video and Hipchat for messaging to communicate effectively with coworkers around the globe.
Why did the company choose to set up in London?
When we launched here we already had 3,000 customers in the UK, and of those customers, the majority were in and around London. We want to be a customer-facing organisation, so setting up where the majority of our customers were located made sense. London has a strong WordPress community and a great talent pool. We also do a lot of partnering with digital agencies, and London has a vibrant agency ecosystem.
Did your organization have a European strategy mapped out for you to execute or did you have to create one? How did you go about doing that?
I was actually originally hired as a consultant to develop the strategy. This ended up with WP Engine pulling forward its international expansion plan by 12 months, and I joined to open up the London office six months later.
How did you go about setting up in London?
We were actually part of the original batch of companies that went into Second Home. London & Partners helped with networking, recruitment and visa questions.
Being an early hire you have so many plates to spin - how do you prioritise tasks?
You have to wear lots of different hats - sales, customer service and marketing. There are also no other people managers in the London office, so I take care of the people and culture too. In the mornings my calendar is filled with local conversations, and my afternoon is filled with U.S. conversations.
We hear a lot about the ‘tech community’ in London - you have been in and around it for a number of years - how has it changed?
The benefit of working in the sector for a while is the people you work with move on to other companies, so your network grows organically. UK IT used to be based down the M4 corridor and it was dominated by traditional, hardware companies. There was little collaboration or interaction within and across the community.
Now there is an infrastructure to help start companies, there’s increasingly a lot of software companies, there are many more great shared spaces like Second Home and WeWork, and it’s cheap to use cloud services to spin up a company. Additionally, the VC community and the number of accelerators have grown. The environment has completely changed - now there is a willingness to collaborate and help.
Is London your company's launch pad for Europe?
Yes, we are doing as much as we can from London. Half of our European sales are outside of the UK so the team is on the road a lot. Being in London enables this strategy, as it’s such a great transport hub. We try to combine customer visits with putting on customer events and attending conferences across Europe.
What is your local go-to-market playbook, and does it differ from the U.S. playbook?
They are virtually identical. Our customers have the same needs everywhere. We do some geo-locating to present local customer stories, but all our content and support is in English.
What has been the hardest challenge to solve?
There were some initial logistical challenges. I remember having to run everything off my personal credit card for while, waiting for a corporate card to be set up, and getting a VOIP system that worked was challenging at times. Just a few early teething problems like that.
Our biggest challenge will be how we eventually expand into complex markets Germany and France, where a lot of localisation is necessary.
What one or two things really moved the needle for you?
Critical in opening a first international office is your initial hires need to be people you absolutely trust. Ideally people you have worked with before, so you know they will perform and fit with the culture you want to build.
The second is open lines of communication with HQ. Your life is so much easier if the U.S. team has had some international experience. At WP Engine, we are lucky that our entire senior management team have that, so they understand the challenges of working remotely.
If you don’t have that then you need to double down on your visits to HQ to maintain visibility and set expectations on acceptable working hours to minimise the amount of evening conference calls you’ll be attending.
What difference has the London office made to the growth of the business?
It has been integral to our growth. The growth rate in Europe is actually faster than the U.S. We recently announced that we had passed the milestone of 10,000 customers in the EMEA region just two years after opening the doors of our London office. And we recently moved into a new office in London - it’s an exciting time here at WP Engine.
This article was brought to you by London & Partners and Land & Expand, the agency founded by James Parton, Twilio’s first hire outside of North America, and responsible for building their European business from scratch since 2012. James has been interviewing ex and current General Managers to discover their playbooks, share their insights on how to build their network, approach new challenges and ultimately launch and grow in London’s tech scene.
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