Setting up in London #4 – Nick Matthews – Culture Amp
Culture Amp is a People Analytics platform that works with the world’s most innovative companies to use data & insights to become Culture First. Culture Amp works with over 1,000 of these companies to help close feedback loops around employee engagement, experience and effectiveness.
The Culture Amp team combines deep knowledge in psychology, statistics, user experience and engineering into a platform that is transforming organisations worldwide, built on a community of People Geeks. Founded in 2011 in Melbourne, Australia, it now has offices in San Francisco, New York & London. Culture Amp have received $36.3 million in three rounds of funding from Blackbird, Felicis, Index, and Sapphire Ventures.
I chatted to Nick Matthews, Culture Amp’s Director of Customer Growth.
How did you find your GM opportunity? What was your hiring story?
My road to Culture Amp started when I left Deloitte Consulting in 2011 and joined my first startup – Yammer back in 2011. I was one of the first people on the ground in Europe which was fantastic as it gave me exposure to a high growth playbook and how Silicon Valley operates. Yammer grew from 4 people in original TechHub to 130 people in just over 18 months and included the first development centre outside of the US.
Through my time at Yammer, I got to meet some super smart people from all over the world. We had a stellar Australian team who I frequently met at Company meetings and Kick-offs, and one of them joined Culture Amp in Melbourne at around employee 25, and then another friend from San Francisco joined as Director of Customer Success. Having two friends I hugely respect join Culture Amp made me investigate further. In parallel Culture Amp reached out, telling me they were thinking about opening a London office as part of their Series B expansion. I had to make the decision whether to make a long term career in Microsoft (who acquired Yammer in 2012) or leave and go back into start ups.
How did you make that decision?
I had a list of criteria to evaluate who I may want to join. Does it have a great product that solves a real business need? Does it have a great culture and a sense of purpose? Does it have strong leadership? Does it have the right pedigree and investors? and does it have a strong customer list?
Culture Amp ticked all of those boxes.
Being the first boots on the ground is a real jack of all trades kind of role. What made you right for the job?
You need to be able to roll up your sleeves, get stuff done and enjoy the multi-tasking. Everything from finding an office, being the postman(!), through to going out and meeting prospects and existing customers. You wear multiple hats – operations, marketing, recruitment, sales, culture. This is also the same for the initial hires / internal moves we brought into London – everyone wore multiple hats.
We have moved office three times as we’ve grown and I have had to handle everything from finding the space to arranging removal. Other fun jobs include finding a bakery that does gluten free cakes for our team birthday celebrations, all the way through to working with our London investors – Index Ventures – and speaking on stage at London Tech Week.
I like to juggle, I don’t like to be bored. Our CEO, Didier Elzinga, told me a CEO should care about three things – culture, strategy and cash – I try and take a similar approach to the role.
What was your company’s approach to opening up in London?
A lot of the infrastructure work was done in advance, with the help of London & Partners, like getting the company registered, setting up the bank account, insurance, etc. As a native Londoner, I was a local hire and we brought over three of the awesome Melbourne team to help embed the company culture and give us a fast start. This is something that I would recommend every company thinking of starting up in London to do, as it has so many benefits.
I went to Melbourne when I joined to get absorbed into the culture, and Didier’s advice as we left was don’t create Culture Amp EMEA, just create Culture Amp.
I’d like to think we have stayed true to that, whilst adding some great local hires. We don’t hire for culture fit, we hire for culture add.
I’d also like to give a shout out to Huckletree who provide our current office space. They have been fantastic and are really working hard to support the startup community.
Why did the company choose to set up in London?
Practical reasons – 50% of our existing customers were already based in London, with the remainder spread across Europe. Our investors are here, and then there is talent – London has a huge talent pool, with people willing to move to London from other part of Europe.
As a company, both internally and externally supporting our customers, we have a huge focus on diversity and inclusion, and London is very diverse city from which to source talent.
What was your European strategy?
I’m a big believer in keeping things simple. The strategy was service the existing customer base, expansion & building new business, whilst feeding the learnings and experience back into HQ.
Today we service Europe from London and I think there is still opportunity to grow and expand the operation in London – geographical expansion into Europe is always on my mind, and we will refine the thinking through data.
We hear a lot about the ‘tech community’ in London – what was your experience of it?
It’s grown massively from 6 years ago when it was centred around Silicon Roundabout, and Silicon Drinkabout. Now you can be in any part of the city and there is something going on every night.
This is amazing for the vibrancy, but you have to focus and find the parts of the community that are going to relate to the challenges you are going through, so it’s about doing your research.
It’s also about giving back. A lot people are bootstrapping and the organisations that are a little more mature have a responsibility to give back to the community. You are starting to see this more and more with some of the more successful companies, but I think it’s important to always be humble and give back at every opportunity.
You are actually the first GM to participate in this series who is from a company that is not headquartered in the US. How do you manage communication with HQ?
We have offices in San Francisco and New York as well so I also have that late afternoon / evening call pattern with the US, but when you overlay Australia on top of the US you have a truly 24 hour business.
To ensure it works, we have structured Culture Amp in a team of teams model to facilitate local autonomy alongside a framework of core objectives of the business, focused by clear OKR’s (Objectives and Key Results). The whole thing is then underpinned by the culture to make sure we do things the right way.
Practically we live off of Zoom and are big users of Slack. We are outcome focused so have I have the flexibility to manage my time, but working in a 24 hour business has really challenged my prioritisation.
I try and visit each office once a year in person and when you add customer and community trips there’s enough travel!
What is your local go to market playbook, and does it differ from the US playbook?
It’s pretty similar to the global playbook. We try and keep things really simple. The Australian business has been around 6 years, the US 3 ½ years, and the UK 18 months. We have started in a new market and all of the businesses are not at the same point, so we use 80% of the global playbook and 20% local market focus. In the UK we have a greater emphasis on education of the market as we are newer.
What has been the hardest challenge to solve?
Outside of work life balance when you’re in a 24 hour business, getting the balance on where to focus market wise is always top of mind – you could be everywhere. At the moment it’s all about the focus on the UK plus reacting to well qualified EMEA opportunities.
What would you do differently if you could start over?
We started from scratch and you are doing everything for the first time, so hindsight is a wonderful thing. The importance of hiring the right people has been reinforced to me. That’s not to say we haven’t, but it’s further confirmed what I learnt at Yammer.
What one or two things really moved the needle for you?
For us it’s the community called the people geeks – check out peoplegeeks.com. We sponsor and support these events around the world called geek-ups. You don’t have to be a Culture Amp customer to come along and hear interesting talks & stories in the People space. We have had some amazing companies across Europe be kind enough to open their doors to host the events and support the community – Airbnb, Deezer, Soundcloud, Autotrader, and Klarna. We have met great people along the way and the energy and passion is infectious. It’s now a truly global movement. BT have offered to host one for us in September – which will be 175 people strong and streamed on YouTube.
What difference has the London office made to the growth?
We opened London post series B and have just closed series C, so I would like to think we have contributed to the growth story! We are learning new things here – the market, customers – and feeding that back into the marketing and products teams, and the people geeks community we have grown.