A startup CEO who raised $194 million explains why he uses a robot for meetings

Jeremy Roche is the CEO of FinancialForce, a business software maker that raised $194 million in funding.

In just a little over six years, Roche has turned FinancialForce into a real force in the finance software market, hiring 650 people across five countries.

In fact, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff saw so much potential in FinancialForce that he offered up the company’s website domain name, which he originally owned, and became one of the two founding investors through his venture arm, Salesforce Ventures.

But inside the office, Roche is known for other reasons. FinancialForce’s headquarters is in San Francisco but he lives in the U.K.

So, to his US employees, Roche is a telepresence robot, which he uses to roam the office when he’s in the UK.

The robot is basically a remote-controlled segway with an iPad attached to it, allowing a quick two-way video conversation.

But he points out the robot signifies an important culture about FinancialForce that he believes every startup should pursue: creating an international mindset from day one.

When FinancialForce launched in 2009, it started with two offices, one in San Francisco and the other in the UK.

It put the headquarters in the Bay Area because it was important to be close to other cloud software companies. But Roche made sure to keep its engineering base in the UK because talent is not only cheaper there, but it gave more diversity from the get-go — and the telepresence robot helped him stay connected to the team in the US.

“Culturally, we’re quite a melting pot. We have people from different culture, countries, and backgrounds, and when you bring that together, you end up with a really strong creative mind,” he says.

Roche summed up the benefits of starting with two offices in different countries and instilling an international mindset as the following:

  • Diversity of talent and ideas: You can hire a more diverse crowd who can bring more insights about different countries. That eventually helps target those markets as the business grows.
  • Employee consistency: Unlike the Bay Area, which has a very high turnover rate, the European culture is a lot more loyal, Roche says. “We’ve found this culture has filtered into our SF office, and our average length of tenure is longer than most US companies,” Roches says.
  • Future-proofing business: By launching in the Bay Area and keeping the leadership team in the UK, FinancialForce was able to work across different time zones and didn’t experience any culture shock that many companies experience as they expand globally.
  • Cost savings: The Bay Area has notoriously high salaries and cost of living. Having the workforce in other areas (over 250 employees are in the UK), FinancialForce was able to significantly lower costs.
  • Better u nderstanding global customers: Not being locked up in the Silicon Valley bubble allows companies to see what’s going on in the outside world and stay better connected with global customers from day one. “The rest of the world is not like Silicon Valley – the things that work in this market with tech companies and early adopters, don’t necessarily work in other parts of the world where adoption happens at slower rates,” Roche says.

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