New research shows European startups are spending drastically less on a US launch, for the same gains

Mike Butcher
·3-min read
The European flag and the flag of the United States of Americas seen in Dublin center. On Tuesday, March 26, 2019, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The European flag and the flag of the United States of Americas seen in Dublin center. On Tuesday, March 26, 2019, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

It used to be the case that in order to scale globally, European companies needed to spend big on launching in the U.S. to achieve the kind of growth they wanted. That usually meant relocating large swathes of the team to the San Francisco Bay Area, or New York. New research suggests that is no longer the case, as the U.S. has become more expensive, and as the opportunity in Europe has improved. This means European startups are committing much less of their team and resources to a U.S. launch, but still getting decent results. That said, European startups will still look to the U.S. for exits, as European corporates remain laggards in innovation.

New research by Index Ventures today reveals that less than 1 in 5 (50 out of 275) European tech firms are choosing to relocate their engineering base as they expand to the U.S., in stark contrast with the general strategy 10 years ago. Instead, says Index, Europe’s top tech startups are managing to get the growth gains they need out of the U.S. with a much smaller "on the ground" footprint.

The survey of 275 European startups over the last decade (including an in-depth survey of more than 100 firms) indicates that creating U.S.-based engineering, tech and R&D teams has fallen out of favor, and they are staying in Europe for longer, taking advantage of Europe’s much-improved availability of talent and funding.

Between 2008-2014, almost two-thirds (59%) of European startups expanded, or moved entirely, to the U.S. ahead of Series A funding rounds. However, between 2015-2019, this number decreased to a third (33%).

This chimes with research from StackOverflow, which has found that the European tech scene has lifted, with more than 6 million professional developers residing in Europe, compared to just 4.3 million in the U.S. Tightened U.S. immigration rules, and demand outstripping supply, have inflated U.S. tech salaries, which are 42% higher in San Francisco compared to London, making it more expensive and less cost-efficient for European startups to double down in the U.S. -- especially when they can achieve similar growth from home.

European founders are also now raising more, with rounds growing from $15.3 billion to $34.3 billion over the past four years.

Danny Rimer, partner at Index Ventures, said in a statement: “While for some founders, and certainly once a business reaches certain milestones, establishing a US base is a good decision, it is becoming increasingly costly and challenging.”

At the same time, however, Index found that European corporates invest three-quarters (76%) less than their U.S. counterparts on software, and this is normally on compliance rather than innovation. This means European startups are likely to continue to look to the U.S. for exits to corporates.

The research findings are revealed in Expanding to the US, Index Ventures’ third handbook for tech founders seeking domestic and international growth. It also includes a "personality test" for startups to figure out at what stage they need to prepare for a U.S. launch.

As well as analysis of 353 European (275) and Israeli (78) VC-backed startups that have expanded into the U.S. over the last 10 years it includes U.S. expansion strategies and interviews with founders who've done it.