With an established track record of rapidly scaling global teams from his time leading international growth at Uber, and more latterly as Group Product Manager at Google, Vinay Ramani relocated from Silicon Valley to London in August 2019 to take up the role of Chief Product Officer for Pipedrive. He talks to Grant Hayward, Partner at Erevena about the experience.
What prompted you to consider a move abroad?
It was time for a change. I had 20 years working in Silicon Valley under my belt, with three pivotal moments during that time. The first was when I set up my own company, which was a real learning experience. Then I joined Uber and helped it grow rapidly in emerging markets. After that, my time at Google saw me working on search-related projects involving AI and machine learning. My wife works for Facebook and between us we decided we had spent decades in the Valley and that now was a good time to move to Europe and gain new experiences, both for us and for our children.
How did you make your final decision to take the leap?
It was easier for my wife as she was able to switch from Facebook in California to Facebook in Europe. I wanted to go back to basics and work for a company looking for rapid growth as I had done at Uber. I looked at several companies in Europe and, after boiling it down to two, I spent a significant amount of time with both of them before opting to join Pipedrive. My final decision came down to their culture and the challenge ahead in terms of scaling the business in multi-city locations. I also felt I could learn from the management team and this appealed to me.
In the lead up to relocating and during the actual move, what were the biggest surprises?
I took on more than I bargained for in the last month before leaving. I was travelling backwards and forwards between the US and England, trying to hand over some critical projects at Google whilst learning about Pipedrive. Add in the fact that I was wrapping up 20 years of life in Silicon Valley, it meant that there was more to do than I anticipated in that last month.
Something that did surprise us was the school system here in the UK. We hoped our children would get into good schools, but it was much stricter than we were expecting in terms of how old they had to be for each year group. At one stage we faced the prospect of my daughter having to do a year again, but luckily, she took some tests and got into the same year she’d been in.
How did the family settle?
It would have been easier if we could have moved closer to friends already living in the UK, but that wasn’t possible as they lived outside London. So, it has taken the kids time to make new friends. Having said that, we have settled in well and even the weather isn’t as bad as we expected. A good jacket is all you need!
We have swapped California’s car culture for public transport and walking, and it is much easier to manage without a car in London. My daughter catches the underground to get to school and has gained some independence that perhaps she might not have had at this age in the US.
What similarities/differences are there to how you approach your role?
One notable difference is the culture in terms of how managers and leaders are viewed. In the US, I was just one of the team, but in the UK there is a little more formality. I recognise that I must be aware of this and try not to be too casual with the teams I lead.
What are your observations in terms of the talent both here in the UK and in the US?
I’d say that working for one of the big tech firms in the US means that you are more likely to have encountered the challenges of operating at a global scale than perhaps you would working in the UK. In terms of talent, however, there are incredibly talented people everywhere, no matter which side of the Atlantic you’re on. What I would say, though, is that people working in the fast pace of Silicon Valley are more likely to take risks and challenge their business leaders. Successful entrepreneurs in California take ownership and don’t just rely on their leaders – that’s what drives success in the Valley. This isn’t so evident in Europe where I think we still need to develop a similarly entrepreneurial spirit.
What I do see in the UK is much more of a customer obsession. There’s a real passion for the work being done. In the US, people want to talk about grading and remuneration much more, with promotion and salary being important measures of success.
Do you see yourself returning home and, if so, are there experiences you take with you that provide you with an edge to someone hiring you versus a local?
Of course, we have our days when we think back to California, but this move is a life stage for us and we are determined to provide stability so our kids can settle in Europe. We are having a fantastic time. I am also focused on the job of building Pipedrive’s business, which is an exciting challenge for me. It’s true that any overseas experience is useful, especially if you work for a company that is growing internationally, but really it depends on the role and the stage in your career as to whether it gives you an edge.