Thursday 8 December 2016

Hit the ground running: how we surfed the biggest wave in town

Marius Smyth shares how AdRoll managed to scale up from zero to 100 employees - in just 365 days

Published 05/07/2015 | 02:30

The AdRoll team, when Enda Kenny came to visit, with Marius Smyth second from right, at the front
The AdRoll team, when Enda Kenny came to visit, with Marius Smyth second from right, at the front

When I started out, the company I now work for did not yet exist. The online advertising industry in which AdRoll operates was in its infancy, and 'big data' referred to saving files on floppy disks.

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In fact Google - the company where I spent much of my career - was a year away from being founded when I filled in my college applications.

I don't say this to make out that I am a dinosaur, but to illustrate how the accelerated growth of the technology sector has opened up entirely new horizons of possibility. The rate of change is so fast that business infrastructure is scaling at a rate of knots to keep up with demand.

Ireland has been at the forefront of riding this wave of momentum. Business is booming in the tech sector, and Ireland is well on its way to becoming Europe's internet capital.

All of the top ten global internet-based companies are located here, with a raft of medium-sized companies making significant jobs announcements. This year alone start-ups including Qualtrics, Slack and LogMeIn have announced aggressive plans to recruit hundreds of employees.

It's easy to see why companies are attracted to Ireland. We have the youngest workforce in the European Union and provide the only English-speaking foothold into a euro market of 500 million customers.

Ireland's thriving technology ecosystem means there is a ready supply of top-quality talent from all over Europe. The excellent support of agencies such as IDA Ireland to support companies exploring international expansion also deserves mention as being part of Ireland's recipe for success.

But once you get to Dublin, then what?

I was AdRoll's first international employee. My task, in the wake of the post-party haze of our announcement with the Taoiseach at Web Summit 2013, was to realise the company's plan to establish EMEA operations in Dublin and hire 100 people within 12 months.

AdRoll decided to come to Ireland because of customer demand; a third of AdRoll's customers were already in EMEA - and that was without any targeted sales or localised support.

Initially, I spent the majority of my days in cafes and restaurants meeting candidates and property advisors, trying to establish the team and find an office.

By day 90, still basking in the honeymoon glow, we had 20 people in place and had outgrown our first office. We concentrated on working from a familiar base and hiring from within our networks. Some 80pc of our hires in the first three months were referrals. This initial team was described by our CEO Aaron Bell as "looking like AdRoll back when it first started in 2007…only this time with people who knew what they were doing."

By day 180, growing pains were setting in as we approached 50 employees. Literally, stuff stopped working. IT support was overrun, space was tight and we did not have enough people to interview prospective candidates.

But our strategy was paying off; customer enquiries were rising and our sales pipeline was building. It was clear we needed to change our physical and virtual operations. We prioritised finding a new space and bringing in IT and HR resources, but change wouldn't happen overnight.

As hiring continued, AdRoll outgrew three offices in eight months. Culture, operations and logistics were creaking under the strain. At one point in our Dublin expansion we were hiring a new person every three days.

We had more people being trained in than were fully trained. However, with each cycle of pressure in outgrowing a space and bringing in new people, we learned something.

By the time we celebrated our first birthday we had 100 people in place (ahead of schedule) and had an office with plenty of room to grow. This doesn't mean the challenges had gone away, just that we had learned the importance of having infrastructure and process in place to cope with issues as they arise.

Our toughest tasks over the first year were finding the best talent, instilling the right culture, and finding suitable office space. The demand for office space in the Silicon Docks and in Dublin city centre is well-known.

Lack of supply or delays in securing space are probably the greatest potential threats to continued development. While Dublin is competitive compared to other European locations, commercial rents are increasing.

With the continued success of Dublin and Ireland as a technology hub comes increased competition for talent. Our approach to hiring was founded on our commitment to our culture and core values. Though we were under serious pressure to get bums on seats, we refused to compromise on hiring.

For the most part, it worked out. We surpassed all expectations for recruiting and growth. In fact, we were the fastest growing region in AdRoll globally in 2014. We now have plans to more than double staff numbers in Dublin again, to 220 in the next two years. So here's to putting the lessons learned into action.

AdRoll did more in 18 months than most companies would do in a lifetime. On the back of closing a funding round of $70m in April 2014, the company doubled down on its ambition to grow quickly and capture market opportunity wherever it exists across the globe. AdRoll started out with one office in San Francisco but now has offices in Dublin, Sydney, Tokyo, London and New York.

Marius Smyth is AdRoll's EMEA managing director

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