Azhar Khan

International expansion at a scaleup

Scaling legal
December 20, 2022

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During my time both at Deel and IRIS, I’ve helped the business scale internationally, and expand into new markets. Here are some of my top tips to help scaleup lawyers tackle what can be a massive project in the most effective way.

Focus on your lead time

When you’re expanding into a new market, your biggest considerations are:

  1. Your subsidiary
  2. Your finance and tax needs - banking, accounting, compliance
  3. Your people

The general rule of thumb would be to give your project five to six months, on the basis that it takes a few months (at best) to open a subsidiary anywhere around the world.

You then need another few months to set up a bank account, and a little more time to analyse who the business is planning to hire and overcome any people-related problems.

If your business operates in a regulated industry, such as banking, you must factor in additional time to obtain the necessary approvals. In-house legal teams will have to consider all these aspects and provide solutions to the wider business.

Giving yourself plenty of time to handle the project will set you up for success at the outset.

Legal teams must prepare themselves to work with internal stakeholders and provide quick solutions to unprecedented events

Don’t underestimate the obstacles you might face

There are several implications of having a global team that the business may not consider, or may even underestimate.

The technical aspects, such as tax obligations, opening and managing subsidiaries, bank accounts and so on, are really complex and require continuous management post launch. Once a company starts hiring in a foreign jurisdiction, more challenges usually surface.

The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine is an example which exposes many of these issues. Both countries are popular talent pools due to the strong depth of tech talent in the region.

Almost overnight, workers in both countries were affected in a wide range of ways and employers had to react quickly and provide unique solutions in an extremely sensitive situation.

This involved providing urgent financial support, transit assistance and critical information which people couldn’t access in their home countries.

In these globally volatile times, keeping a close eye on geopolitical issues is critical and legal teams must prepare themselves to work with internal stakeholders (such as operations and HR) and provide quick solutions to unprecedented events.

Spotlight your pay benchmarking and branding

Salary benchmarking is an increasingly critical factor which is often overlooked. For example, in the USA, average salaries are typically double the equivalent benchmark expected in the UK.

More broadly across the world, inflationary pressures and the global labour shortage is forcing salaries upwards - ensuring pay consistency within your organization and maintaining fair and accurate pay bandings is a huge challenge that requires specific and continuous management.

Being proactive here goes down really well - everyone is so busy doing their own job, and no-one gets a chance to pause and think about the big picture

Build an internal brand

International expansion demands very strong project management and team-working skills - lawyers tend to have these in abundance so this is a great opportunity for legal teams to showcase their skills and build their internal brand.

When dealing with an expansion project at Deel, the legal team:

  • Creates a Slack channel and Jira/Notion board for the project to coordinate comms and project management
  • Runs weekly calls to align everyone involved, with finance, HR, sales and operations - everyone needed for an expansion project

This gives everyone involved a forum to raise issues and voice concerns directly with legal - whether typed in a Slack message, or vocally on a Zoom.

It also means that everyone is aware of the workload legal has to handle - we’re never just managing a single issue! There’s always an array of problems at any given time, and as the lawyer, you have to deal with all these problems and keep the project moving.

Make sure you have an action bias

Proactivity is key in a project like this. It is great for legal to take the lead here and bring other internal stakeholders on the process. You’ll see that you and other departments will have respective knowledge gaps so it’s critical to collaborate to address these.

For example, it’s important for legal to understand the sales and go-to-market strategy for each region so they have full context.

Sales teams are typically less detail oriented than legal, so sales appreciate legal sharing any technicalities which can impact timing. It’s a similar situation with employment teams.

They might be thinking of hiring someone in a month’s time, but if the entity isn’t going to be ready until six months down the line, it’s critical to manage their expectations or help them stagger their hires.

Being proactive goes down really well - if you schedule a short call with the Head of Sales to cover international plans, it’s always appreciated. Everyone is so busy doing their own job, and no-one gets a chance to pause and think about the big picture.

Taking the first step really flips the narrative around legal being a blocker, helping legal enable the business to expand successfully.

Want to learn more about how Juro can help you agree and manage routine contracts at scale? Get in touch.

Azhar Khan is Senior Legal Counsel at Deel

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