US SaaS Companies Get To Second Base

The influx of predominantly US-based SaaS companies opting to establish their EMEA headquarters in Dublin continues apace and, without casting any aspersions over the virtue of our fair city, suffice to say that those tasked with attracting our North American friends are making it as easy as possible for them to get to that second base.

One such company that has made Dublin its home away from home is the customer service platform provider, Zendesk. This SaaS superstar is of Danish origins, of course, but like many others its global headquarters are to be found in San Francisco’s Bay Area while its EMEA HQ is to be found in Dublin’s. Zendesk promises to bring companies closer to their customers and ties together all the multiple strands of a customer’s relationship with a business and unifies them under one centralised dashboard. This approach is, in many ways, analogous to the role that Ireland’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA) plays for software companies looking to take advantage of what Dublin has to offer.

The oft-cited list of major players that have set up shop in Ireland includes not only the biggest names in the tech sector but some of the biggest companies in the world by market capitalisation and the most recognisable business and consumer brands ever to exist: Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Intel have all contributed to the creation of a tech workforce of over 100,000 in an urban area of only 1.2 million people. However, with the kind of scale that these extremely well-established companies bring, there is the danger that they could overshadow the next generation of budding tech companies. For that reason, the IDA developed the Emerging Business programme.

“Our role is to help businesses that are already established to scale and internationalise,” says Barry O’Dowd, Head of Emerging Business for the IDA. His particular office occupies somewhat of a middle ground in the business development lifecycle as it is not focused on incubating hopeful start-ups, or on supporting large corporates, but rather on helping businesses that are financed, have proven themselves in the tech sector and “have left the lab”, as he puts it, to leverage the assets of Dublin and Ireland as a platform to grow their business even further. Many of these have grown to become household names, such as Dropbox, Indeed, and Squarespace. “Being in Dublin has been very beneficial to these companies,” says O’Dowd, pointing out that many of them have gone on to successful IPOs since arriving in the city.

To suggest that these companies went public due solely to their Irish base would be fatuous, of course, and this is not O’Dowd’s suggestion. He points instead to the confidence that investors have in the Ireland as a place in and from which to do business and as a positive indicator in a long list of those needed to complete a successful IPO. “City analysts are very discerning and they don’t mess about,” he says. “An IPO means the city is very comfortable with these companies locating here.” He cites Ireland’s good economic performance, the track record of Ireland as a location, security and stability here and the plethora of like-minded companies in the region as some of the factors that underpin an IPO in the city’s eyes. “It’s a vote of confidence in the company’s strategy and their internationalisation strategy.”

A Deep and Wide Pool of Talent
One of the key factors in attracting a high growth company to the Dublin’s digital scene is the availability of highly-skilled human resources. For example, when experienced senior managers and top talent from established, late-stage companies are willing to cross over to high growth companies, it’s invaluable for these enterprises that are trying to reach scale. The pool of talent is both deep and wide and the high availability of multi-lingual, multi-cultural, and engineering talent and the Ireland proves an attractive prospect for high growth companies seeking to internationalise.

Ireland ranks highly in terms of providing a business friendly environment: time and again companies remark how quickly they can set up, register, and get to market. This relative lack of unnecessary obstacles has helped to attract rock star SaaS companies across a range of categories such as Slack for team communication, Airbnb for accommodation, Udemy for education and Mongo DB for database applications.

The Not So Sunny Silicon Valley
The weather in Ireland may not compare to Silicon Valley, but Dublin has built its own Silicon Docks — an area of modern office blocks on the river Liffey populated with some of the most innovative companies in Europe.
“Dublin has the closest culture to what we are used to in Silicon Valley,” says Eren Bali of Udemy fame. “We like the optimism here, the vibrancy and the young population is really well educated. A lot of multi-lingual people, a lot of people who know the culture of other parts of the world, especially Europe.”

Imad Wardé of financial software company HedgeGuard is effusive in his praise. “There’s a great vibe in Dublin,” he says. “Huge energy. People are ambitious, people are nice and talented and they speak English.”

His praise is reflected by Dr Jock Percy of Perseus Managed Services. His business connects financial, multimedia, e-commerce and gaming services, so the stakes are quite high. It’s not just about creativity. When the service is mission critical, Ireland delivers too. What impresses Dr Percy is “The ability to execute: get things done. Ranked number two for us is the highly-educated workforce. And also, it’s the gateway to Europe.”

“People Want to Live and Work Here” – Oliver Wheeler, Viagogo

Other Irish cities are following Dublin’s lead and stepping up to the plate also when it comes to creating the conditions necessary for rapidly growing SaaS businesses to make launch their offensive on the European market. Oliver Wheeler of Viagogo, the world’s biggest ticketing company, says they considered Dublin when they were seeking a new European headquarters in the right time zone (GMT). In the end, they opted for Limerick and their operations centre now has eight languages spoken and recruits from two dozen countries, although the majority of the recruits were found in the local region. “Ireland is a great place for an e-commerce business,” he says. “First of all, people want to live and work here.”

Having an international airport at Shannon is also a boon. “It’s very connected to Western Europe, but also to the US so you don’t feel that you’re stuck somewhere a very long way from that connectivity”, he says, but the attitude is good too. “There’s a real cultural sense of an adoption of e-commerce and internet-based businesses,” says Wheeler. since becoming established, Viagogo have announced their intention to double their workforce to 200 at their Limerick-based European HQ.

IPO is not the only long-term objective, of course, and for many companies organic growth is a more attractive prospect while others may find themselves the subject of an acquisition. In 2011, Riot Games, the creators of the tremendously popular game League of Legends, who have their EMEA base in Dublin, were acquired by China’s leading internet company Tencent for $400 million. Similarly, online recruiting software firm Indeed, also with operations in Dublin, were acquired by Japanese HR giant Recruit Co. Ltd for a rumoured $1 billion in 2012.

Regardless of the ultimate goal of the company, an Irish base is proving to be a strategic asset as well as an operational one, and doing business from Ireland can bestow a myriad of benefits on foreign companies who establish here. With the critical mass of forward-leaning, high-tech companies now in the country, there is great cause for optimism.

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