Cultural understanding key to Yerra’s continued global growth

With governments intent on becoming increasingly insular, it is up to businesses to build and promote relationships around the world

 
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Yerra Solutions has grown from a one-woman show headquartered in Switzerland to a team of nearly 200 members spanning six countries

Author: Rajitha Boer, Founder and CEO, Yerra Solutions

12 Jan 2018

The theme of the 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos is ‘creating a shared future in a fractured world’. While this is largely a result of current global political realities, as an entrepreneur, I see tremendous opportunity in this idea. I founded Yerra Solutions in 2013, a company that has gone on to become a true citizen of the world.

Yerra Solutions started off as a one-woman show headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, with just one client to its name. It has since grown – with no outside investment or debt – into a team of nearly 200 members spanning six countries. This team helps corporations around the world improve their in-house legal, IP and compliance functions through consulting, managed services and technology.

In a hostile political environment, we have found ways of working with (and appreciating) cultural nuances, coming together as a global team to keep global clients happy. I believe strongly that this cultural sensitivity is needed to promote more common bonds and prosperity around the world, both in business and in politics.

Cultural considerations
My background helps to explain the way I see the world. I spent my childhood in India, my formative years in the US and the UK, and my professional life split between the US and Switzerland.

Through this experience I have grown to understand that people may have different perceptions of the same action or situation depending on the norms of their culture. A Singaporean, for example, is likely to come out of exactly the same meeting as an American with a very different takeaway. In business, there is an advantage to being able to adapt to these cultural nuances.

People may have different perceptions of the same action depending on their culture; in business, there is an advantage to being able to adapt to these cultural nuances

I’ve spent much of my career in service of corporate legal and IP departments. I’ve also been involved in every aspect of software, from development and sales to becoming the first female executive for a Houston-based software company. When I decided to start Yerra, it was largely driven by a desire to provide solutions that would truly serve the needs of these clients.

Success in Europe
The legal and IP services industry is crowded, with many exceptional companies and professionals serving a complex, global client base. The industry is also at a crossroads, with law firms being forced to innovate and change their business models as corporate clients increasingly turn to technology and alternative service providers to meet their legal needs. That said, this change has presented a unique opportunity – especially in Europe.

When Yerra was established, there was a real lack of workable solutions for the corporate legal and IP market in Europe – even though many American companies had been trying to break into it for years. My vision was to build a truly European company to serve European clients, one that would respect the cultural differences between the US, the UK and continental Europe.

Several years before starting Yerra, I moved to Switzerland to head up the European operations of an American software company. The company had experienced some success in Europe, but still hadn’t expanded as rapidly as it had expected. The market was wide open, so what was the problem? My sales team tried explaining what works with American lawyers and executives doesn’t necessarily translate into success in Europe. Being an American myself, I feel comfortable saying that it can be difficult for Americans to understand this.

The problem wasn’t unique to this particular company either. After living in Switzerland for a while, I realised that many non-European companies suffered the same fate: they simply could not get a foothold in the market. It was clear the opportunity to provide the kind of solutions European clients needed, with the approach they wanted, was huge. This is why Yerra started in Europe and maintains its identity as a strongly European company even as it expands into Asia and North America.

I credit this recognition of cultural nuances as being a big part of Yerra’s initial success. I was able to win clients and grow the company because of my ability to see this and capitalise on it. I’m quite proud of that, and recognise it to be one of my best traits as an entrepreneur.

Going global
After about two years of focusing on developing our European client base – with a particular emphasis on Switzerland and the UK – our clients began pushing us to expand our services to their operations in other regions. To me, this was testament to the high level of quality and positive results we had already delivered. But, more than that, it also reaffirmed the idea that cultural compatibility and personal attention to those details is important to client satisfaction.

Even as global politics seems to retreat to nationalist corners, businesses are increasingly operating without borders

After all, to win business in our sector in Europe we had to go up against some of the largest professional services organisations in the world. As Yerra started providing solutions in other parts of the world, we carried on with this approach of adapting to the local business and cultural environments.

Taking a young, bootstrapped company global is no easy task, especially when you seek to accomplish this without external investment. We researched what was needed to incorporate the company, what set-up was most beneficial for taxes, how to remain compliant with local laws, and we executed it all ourselves. One important consideration for being able to do this is the make-up of a company’s executive team. The team must be entrepreneurial; it cannot simply rely on the traits of the founder.

Going global in this way requires flexibility, creativity and perseverance. Taking this approach, we’ve started operations in the UK, the US, Singapore and Hong Kong. We’ve hired local staff and grown each business from the ground up, first with the support of an existing client and then by bringing in new clients from the local markets.

Common bonds
As Yerra grew globally, we quickly realised that being sensitive to cultural nuances wasn’t the only component required to win and keep clients. We needed to build the same kind of understanding between our own global outposts. To do this, we created communication channels where teams around the world could network and collaborate. We encouraged a fun atmosphere on these channels to build camaraderie and trust, helping people truly get to know each other.

It has been a great success, and the team feels more connected by their common Yerra bonds than they feel disconnected by distance. The importance of an internal communication strategy really cannot be underestimated for a company that is expanding globally.

Even as global politics seems to retreat to nationalist corners, businesses are increasingly operating without borders. The internet and other modern advances have enabled even the smallest businesses to provide services to a person on the other side of the world.

As such, entrepreneurs and business leaders have a great opportunity, as well as a profound responsibility, to foster the development of a global community. In order to be a success, this community must respect the unique needs and wishes of each respective culture, while providing universal opportunities to capitalise on the ability to open new markets and prosper.