Why Gilt Groupe Went IrishGilt Groupe's Melanie Hughes explains why the deluxe bargain web giant turned to Ireland for R&D innovation.
April 11, 2012
by Neal Ungerleider
Like many American Internet firms, Gilt Groupe has a large back-office presence in Ireland. Gilt maintains a research and development center in Dublin, and a customer service center in Limerick. Ireland’s been a hot spot for Internet-centric companies for a long time; Google’s European operations are headquartered in Dublin, and Verizon, Microsoft, and Amazon have large cloud data hubs in the city. Fast Company caught up with Gilt Chief Administrative Officer Melanie Hughes at the New York Stock Exchange’s Ireland Day last month to talk about the company’s international expansion efforts.
FAST COMPANY: Can you talk a bit about Gilt Groupe’s offices in Dublin?
MELANIE HUGHES: The headquarters in Dublin is really about research and technology. We have technologists there who work on our global platform; our chief architect is in Dublin and we have technologists who are building other sites. We have a technology hub in New York, and a technology hub in Dublin that’s important as well. We’ve actually spread out our technology operations, because in New York it’s so hard to get new technologists. The demand is much greater than the supply right now here [in NYC], so we look for places to go with great talent.
Why is it so hard to find good talent in New York?
I think there’s been a big change over the past two or three years in the startup space. Silicon Valley used to have the vast majority of all startups, and there were just a few small companies in New York. Now, however, there’s a great surge of startups [here in New York]. They’re taking up a lot of great talent; you’ve got Facebook, who have a big technology office in Manhattan. You’ve got Google, with their expanding offices on Eighth Avenue; there are many others, and it all adds up to not having the supply here. So we’re forced to look elsewhere for that kind of talent.
I think the tech hub is great; Mayor Bloomberg was just in Austin at SXSW, and he was encouraging tech talent to come up to New York. I’m sure he’s feeling that we’ve got openings for great technologists here and I think he supports the structure of startups and what’s happening in New York right now. Without the support of the city, I think we’d find more people taking jobs elsewhere.
Do you think that American visa policy is allowing enough tech talent to come to the U.S.?
The visa cap has always been a problem. At certain points in the year, when that cap is reached, there are no more visas. So, even if we can get the talent to come here, there aren’t enough visas to allow people into the country as we need them. That’s always been a challenge for us; it was a challenge at DoubleClick [Hughes’ former firm] and it is today. There are certain people we would love to employ but we can’t obtain the visas for them.
Do you see any difference in employee culture between New York and Ireland?
We have found some of our best talent in Ireland, and Ireland worked on the relaunch of our home site. They worked very, very well with our American engineers too. It’s one thing to find high-quality talent; it’s another to make sure that they can work well with the U.S. team—speak the same language and work within the same culture. Obviously, we have a big platform and nobody’s a complete island. You can’t allow people to just do anything they want, it has to be within our overall architecture.
Were there any challenges exporting American business culture to Europe?
It wasn’t a big problem for us; I think that the Irish and American cultures are relatively similar. They are very similar compared to, for example, India. In India there are some language barriers, and cultural barriers. It’s a 12-hour flight and the time zone difference makes it much more challenging when you’re in India. I think India was very popular 10 or 12 years ago, when the price of engineers there was a fifth of the cost of engineers in the U.S.
However, when I left DoubleClick [two years ago], the ratio was more 2:1. Engineers here in the States are also very happy to visit Dublin as well, and our Chief Technical Officer Michael Bryzek spends much of his time in the Dublin office. We really haven’t had problems at all, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we have great communications and a nice connection between the two.
Does the Irish government offer assistance to American companies going over to Ireland?
In the form of IDA Ireland, they are incredibly helpful for development and technology; they have done a fantastic job of welcoming us. They’ve done similar things with other companies, helping them set up and letting them know what they will find. The IDA also introduced us to the universities there, such as University College Dublin, where we actually have an agreement with their technology program and they produce graduates with the skills we need. As they come out of the university, the students already know the programming languages they need. It’s really phenomenal working in Ireland.
The Limerick customer service center serves the United States, correct?
We have three customer service centers. We have one in Limerick, one in New York, and another in Portland, Oregon. This allows us to offer a 24/7 operation. Limerick covers the early hours for the East Coast, and the operation moves on more to New York and Portland after that. Portland carries the night until Limerick wakes up again. We have some foreign language capabilities there [in Limerick] as well.
Out of curiosity, does the Limerick customer service center put on American accents when serving U.S. customers?
(Laughs) Nope! People quite love the Irish accent. It’s a very pleasant and gentle accent that isn’t harsh at all. We’ve found customers actually enjoy hearing Irish accents. At Gilt Groupe we don’t work with scripts at all; we use a much more personal touch in customer service. The Irish tend to be a very chatty and sociable people; it’s a great fit for us because our Limerick employees bring the same kind of skills to the phone that we’ve been teaching our American customer service representatives to give as well.
Note: This interview was condensed for length and readability.