Cint’s Richard Thornton reflects on his move to San Francisco and his efforts to start up Cint’s expanding offerings into AdTech and MarTech.
The first time I came to San Francisco was back in 2010 when we were doing what the Americans term as “the dog & pony show”, with the VC community trying to raise funds in a Series B round of investment. Little did I know then that San Francisco would become home and my place of work. But here I am…and I have to say it’s been a very enriching experience so far.
New city, new role, new value proposition into new verticals. Obviously all very low risk. Good job I like a challenge, have an understanding wife and kids young enough to not be scarred for life from having been pulled away in their formative years from their best friends, thinking the world is about to end.
The truth is there was more than an element of selfish indulgence when the opportunity presented itself to up sticks and go on a secondment to San Francisco. I always find travel and experiencing new cities and cultures fascinating. I’ve been fortunate enough during my lifetime to get the opportunity to see a lot of the world through both private and professional travel. Admittedly the US to an Englishman is hardly pushing the boundaries of comfort zones, but despite the obvious common ground and close ties the two countries share, there is a bigger adjustment than one would think when it comes to making the successful transition across the pond, especially in a professional capacity.
Pace of work in the US
Take the pace of work for example. Faster and more intense in some ways with a real sense of purpose and urgency, but in other ways much more relaxed (the workaholic in me took some time to adjust to Fridays over here, for example, where I think it’s fair to say the general approach is to a) work from home and b) wind down into the weekend starting at approximately 12 midday).
The other major difference is in how Americans have an amazing way of selling themselves. Everyone you meet here is a salesman or woman (in addition to being a tech entrepreneur, so San Francisco’s answer to LA’s “My first job is an actor” scenario) in one way or another. And I admire that. I think it breeds a half glass full attitude and generally a positive approach in all aspects of life here, not least business. This bravado might not be everyone’s cup of tea as we say back in Blighty, but it works here in the Valley, and is an important trait to have to stay relevant and get noticed in the crowd of noise.
The country that is proud to be “the land of opportunity” is certainly just that, with the important caveat that you either need access to funds, a genius idea or to come from money. And even then, ticking the box on one, two or all three doesn’t guarantee you anything.
Global tech scene
As was the case seven years ago, the global tech scene continues to be led by innovation and the inspiring combination of heavyweight technology giants and aspiring, often explosive, start-ups. And the scene shows no sign of slowing down. The pace of change and disruption here is done at breakneck speed and time waits for no man (or women) when it comes to trying to unearth the next AirBnB, Tesla or Uber.
And if there is one thing that’s very evident over here it’s don’t be scared to fail. But critically, ensure you learn quickly. So the ‘fail fast’ mantra is widely embraced and appears to run through the culture here in the valley.
At the same time, you do get a sense than an awful lot of businesses are not making money – even relatively mature start-ups or those who are beyond that point in their life-cycle. It’s almost a badge of honor over here if you don’t make money, so when people hear that I work for a company that that is both growing rapidly AND profitable it raises a few eyebrows.
Networking is taken to another level here too. People here are genuinely happy to open up their address book, certainly more than from my own experiences of having worked extensively across Europe and Asia. To some extent it is a status thing, kind of like what you tend to see on social-orientated platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook where people almost collect ‘connections’ or ‘likes’, and you create this element of your own social status being defined by how popular (or networked) you are.
In a business sense when you’re building from ground up, running a start-up, which is effectively what I’m tasked to do for Cint (albeit in our case with the luxury of a having a much larger, very healthy core business to support it and lean on), this thriving networking environment is of course a huge bonus. It helps accelerate introductions and opens doors, making it possible to move through early stages of developing business and relations at pace.
And that has certainly been the case during my first few months as I’ve been busy beavering away setting up an office, hiring the initial team to lead our BD efforts, but equally kick-starting potential partnership discussions and focusing on breaking into the AdTech and MarTech verticals. Thankfully my first forays have yielded some quick wins and the beginnings of potential valuable longer-term partnerships, which always help.
But it’s not been without its challenges, the greatest of which is without a doubt securing talent. Notice that I didn’t say finding talent. That part is reasonably easy in comparison to then actually landing your preferred candidates, especially if you’re a non-US headquartered company that doesn’t have a presence yet in the Valley. The fact we are a technology company hiring for business development and technical roles automatically means we are fishing in the same pools as almost every other technology company on the west coast. With that comes pressure: pressure to sell yourself, sell your business, demonstrate genuine innovation and uniqueness, and much more. You must have a clear vision and mission. You must pay well. You must have the right culture. But then because you’re an outsider, in some regards you need to oversell to stay relevant.
However, having the history that we do and the company being from a country with a global reputation for creating scalable, successful tech businesses, I saw this as an opportunity to really tell a story and create excitement about all the great things being an international company with a rich and diverse culture in our DNA brings. When America talks about the “land of opportunity”, Cint can talk about the “company of opportunity”. That appears to have resonated well with talented, curious and ambitious people in San Francisco who like the fact we’re still fairly small, agile, a disruptor, passionate, and genuinely do something that is quite niche and unique.
Cint’s promising stance
It helps of course if you have a real story to tell, and I would like to think we do. Timing is everything and I believe Cint’s value proposition and business model is more relevant now than ever before. And if you were paying attention earlier, you will have noticed that the three companies I name-checked all have one thing in common: they are all platforms. The last time I checked, so are we. More than that, in AirBnB and Uber, they are platforms built around the ‘shared economy’ concept of taking assets on one hand (supply) and making them available on the other to buyers (demand side). What AirBnB does with bricks & mortar or Uber does with transport, we do with consumers. I’m not for one minute suggesting we do it at the same scale or to the same level of disruption, but everything is relevant. When we are trying to attract the right talent and ensure they join the Cint family, and not any one of the hundreds of technology companies competing here for the best minds and most impactful sales and BD people, I would like to think in our own small way we have the potential to make our mark on the insights industry just like these unicorns in theirs.