Cross-platform and cross-continent: how Trigger came to be international with Y Combinator’s help

One of the more unusual attributes of Trigger as a company – for our relative youth and size – is that we’re already international, operating out of offices in San Francisco and London. Though it can be tough to operate as a single-team across an ocean and eight hours of time difference (we’ll cover a bit about how we work in a future post), our international split is largely a healthy one – and has brought some great benefits to our company.

Of the founding team, two – myself and James – are British, while Sahil is American. So we’ve had an international make-up from the start. And with Y-Combinator funding, other great investors and many of our customers in the US, it made total sense to setup the company in San Francisco. But London, apart from being an amazing city to live and work in, has fantastic talent and a burgeoning startup scene (about the oddly named ‘Silicon Roundabout’ at Old Street).

But getting to where we are now was tough, especially in setting up the legal, accounting and visa aspects. Without the help and advice of the many Y Combinator alumni, we couldn’t have done it. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that access to the YC alumni network has been our single greatest asset in building an international business.

For advice, knowledge and introduction – the value of that network is unparalleled, and alone worth YC’s stake in our business.

Cross-platform and cross-continent 

Having moved in the beautiful Storek in downtown SoMa about eight months ago, we opened our second office in London not long after (we recently moved across Old Street roundabout to new offices in Karen House, home to last.fm, Pusher, amongst others).

For one, we double up talent. Smart people are everywhere, and just one location can be limiting. Not only can you tap into more talent with a second office, but you’re able to offer much more flexibility to those you hire.

Second, we’re able to offer customer support across time zones and on a localized basis. For a company built on helping our customers, often delving into their code, that’s a huge benefit that we can pass on to our customer base – and rare for a company this young.

Third, we can benefit from the distance. That might sound strange, but it’s a hidden blessing. It’s certainly hard that, for much of the day, it’s not possible to hop on a quick call to talk something through – but hours apart can help us crack on with bigger projects without the temptations of micromanagement.

Still, face-to-face time remains unmatched. We fly employees between offices when we need do, and it’s always worth doing. The benefits of working shoulder-to-shoulder can’t be matched by regular Skype and email, and the serendipitous helping-out that can happen when you’re in the same room – it all breathes energy into the workplace.

Even better, when business is good, we’ll arrange company meetups somewhere new for both teams. Airbnb has been amazing for this – last year we rented places in Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen (both Mexico) and Montreal for 10 day stretches to hack day and night and have a great time. It’s incredible fun for all, and a perk of the company – but it’s also one of the most productive times for us, and hardly a goof-off. Living under one roof, cooking each other meals, the team gets much stronger – and we reap the benefits then and for months after.

Working across the two offices is never going to be perfect – and it’s going to get tougher as we grow, no doubt – but we couldn’t run our company any other way. It’s in our DNA.

Starting Up

With all that said, it remains incredibly tough to set up business in the US. Even with the US funding behind us, and an American co-founder, options are surprisingly slim as the usual work visa – H1-B – is not suited for companies that are just starting out or for founders who have major stakes in the company. It doesn’t matter how many jobs you do or promise to create.

Luckily, we – Amir and James – secured O-1 visas, which are for ‘aliens of extraordinary ability’ in a particular field. If you meet 3 of the 9 criteria – supported by, for example, academic papers, patents, reference letters from the great and good in your field, being featured in the press (if not a Nobel Prize) – you’ll qualify and can apply for these. Hopefully, the proposed startup visa will make things more straightforward for future founders.

Still, you’ll need some help – starting an international business means not just securing visas, but a whole heap of legal and accounting paperwork and expensive corporate lawyers in an unfamiliar legal system. You’ll need to know the process inside and out, or lawyers can all too easily take you for a ride. All the while it puts your business on hold: getting in the way of a million other hurdles that come  with establishing a startup, making a good product and building a customer base.

And that’s where YC come in. It’s not just because YC offers great advice, operational support and kickstart funding: it’s the many, many founders – including British founders – who’ve been through it all before. It’s nobody’s job to set you up, but a nudge in the right direction can save you months of figuring it out for yourself.

That alumni network is truly YC’s greatest single benefit, and would alone be worth their stake.