As an American student studying abroad in Berlin, I was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to intern for Hundertserver, a digital business specializing in Linux administration and server management. Without any prior knowledge or experience in this industry, I was very unsure of what to expect from such a company. What I found was a small, focused team with not only extensive knowledge of their products and services, but also a passion to provide the best possible experience for their customers and end users. However, acquiring employees and establishing a team with these attributes is not an easy task and has required Hundertserver to take the first steps toward internationalization and look outside of Germany for talent.
Operating a company that provides services like software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), or infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), takes a combination of technical know-how and business savvy, and often involves working internationally both inside and outside of the company. Hundertserver is no stranger to this challenge and provides an interesting lens when observing digital companies with an international team.
Managing An International Team
Hundertserver is not a traditional international company in the sense that they sell their service around the globe, but rather is international because of the team that makes up the company. When asked how to manage an international team, Olaf Stichtenoth, CEO, answered, “Mainly we switched everything to English, which actually wasn’t as easy as it sounds. We had several problems to solve. One problem is, of course, as we develop individual software we have to define lots of documents–how the software should work, and so on–and all of that had to be translated to English”. Also, some customers are not native German speakers, meaning meetings and projects had to be organized in English.
Although this was a large obstacle to overcome, one of the biggest challenges Hundertserver faced was to get people adjusted to living in Berlin when they come from a different country to work for the company. This involved finding a place to live, establishing a German bank account, locating schools for the employee’s children to go to, and other aspects not previously encountered by the management team. In order to combat this issue, Stichtenoth says the Hundertserver team calls landlords to negotiate apartments and goes to federal offices with employees to assist in filling out important paperwork, among other forms of assistance.
Why All the Effort?
However, all this extra effort begs the question: Why go to such great lengths just to procure talent from outside Germany, when there is surely as much talent within the country? Besides the more explicit benefits of sourcing international talent–such as the different skills and backgrounds possessed by the employees–there is also an underlying benefit of having an international team in the digital industry. Whether intentional or not, this creates a synergy of cultures and is what sets Hundertserver and companies with international teams apart from homogenous business cultures. As a result, the focus of the company subconsciously expands to an international scope and suddenly, international operations seem much more feasible.
These steps to creating an international team may seem generic, but the beneficial impact is hard to deny. I would consider it naïve for a digital company to solely focus on a domestic market when there is so much potential to operate outside of its home country. Countries and companies have never had as much opportunity to be interconnected across borders as they do now, especially in the digital industry.
Although it takes time to reach new markets, and even Hundertserver has not reached this point yet, the best place to start is by internationalizing the interior components of a company before trying to expand services and products to an international audience. Hundertserver is one of many digital companies who are starting to source their talent from an international pool and are positioned much better for international expansion than companies not following this model.