A serial entrepreneur, Johan Land made the decision to move from the US to join innovative music services company Kobalt in the UK in September 2019. Previously he had been involved in several exciting product ventures, including leading the launch of the first commercial self-driving cars service at Google company Waymo. He talks to Jonathan Bryant, Partner at Erevena about the experience.
What prompted you to consider a move abroad?
There were two key reasons. The first of which was the thrilling opportunity to work with Kobalt, a company that’s in a unique position to change the music industry. Music as a product touches people like no other, making a highly emotional impact. Once I’d met the phenomenal team at Kobalt, the decision was made. It was also an opportunity to move closer to Sweden where I am originally from. I have ageing parents living there and this was an important piece in the puzzle prompting my move.
How did you make your final decision to take the leap?
My wife and I had moved across continents before, from Sweden to India and on to America’s East Coast, before moving to the West Coast. The decision to move to London was fairly predictable and we knew what we were getting into.
Were there any surprises in the lead up to relocating and during the actual move?
Time. That was probably the biggest lesson for me. You have to set aside enough time to get things right. It is a big move, not just from one city to another, but across continents. You also can’t keep in close contact with your old social network during the process – it simply isn’t possible. Instead, you need to bring your whole family together, all aligned with and excited by the move. They are your social network at this moment. For me, going through the move with my family was quite amazing. It was a bonding experience, during which we relied on each other.
Were there any advisors / service providers you used that you would recommend?
Kobalt handled all of this for us. But I would advise anyone relocating across continents to be very involved and understand what services are being provided. For example, be aware of what the shipping providers do – and how long it takes. You can expect it to be eight weeks or more before your shipment arrives in your new home. During that time, you are something of a nomad, living out of a suitcase. This time was different for us, however. We’d learned from previous relocations and air freighted some of our most treasured possessions, so that we had them with us from day one. This made a huge difference.
Our shippers then swooped into our five-bedroomed house in California and packed everything else. They then unpacked it all for us in London. This sounds phenomenal, but we also had 10 years of accumulated possession that we spent about two weeks going through beforehand. This forced us to ditch stuff that we simply don’t want to take across the Atlantic.
Kobalt also provided us with a schools’ consultant who gave us necessary checks and balances as we looked at the education options available to us. It’s confusing to come into a new system. Parents often spend several years before their children reach school age looking at the various schools locally. However, relocation meant that we only had a few weeks to do this and we did it remotely, using the UK’s Ofsted rating system as a guide. I firmly believe that children are resilient and if a school doesn’t work out initially, you can switch to a different one.
How did the family settle?
It has been really good, although the intensive nature of my work meant I wasn’t with my family on a day to day basis while they settled in. That said, it hasn’t been too big a culture change because our children view themselves as more European than they do American. We have always spoken Swedish at home, we watch Swedish television and we celebrate Swedish festivals.
We considered two approaches to moving from the US to the UK. The first was for me to come here on my own for three to six months and then bring the family across once I’d settled in. The second – and the one we took – was to move us all together and figure it out as a family once we got here. I’m so happy we took that approach. Keeping the family together was the most important thing.
What are your observations on the US and UK in terms of product and engineering talent?
There is a great pool of talent in Europe with some really good individuals, but technically there is something different between The Bay area and London. I miss the product thought leadership that you see in The Bay and the drive towards creating something big. Product leaders are everywhere there and that is something we need to develop in Europe. It is achievable, but there is definitely a different approach to building product teams here. There is also the challenge of how long recruitment takes in Europe due to the lengthy notice periods people have to give. Only then can you start to build a team and train people in product innovation.
What is the answer to bridging the product talent gap in Europe that you’re talking about?
We need more role models. This is how product management is learned. It’s how people discover what product management is and how to operate with a product mindset. With more leaders in mentoring roles in British companies it will be possible to transform product management and innovation here. 80% of this is about leadership – without strong leaders as role models you cannot transform.
Do you see yourself returning to the US?
I wouldn’t exclude returning to the US at some time in the future – for the right opportunity. My product background was honed in California and that’s a strength I can take with me, wherever I work.
Jonathan Bryant is a Partner at Erevena, an Executive Search firm focused on high growth and transformation. Erevena’s clients are amongst the fastest growing companies in the world: they are VC & growth equity backed; they are publicly traded & privately held companies transforming to grow. Jonathan has particular expertise in consumer and B2B2C businesses and has experience across general management, commercial, product, and marketing leadership roles, with a pan-European focus.