Case study – how I set up in California

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Setting up business in California

Charlotte Bavasso, co-founder of London-based firm Nexus Studios, describes the company’s experiences of expanding to Los Angeles, California, in 2017

“Nobody talks about Hollywood any more,” says Charlotte Bavasso, co-founder and group CEO of British film production company Nexus Studios.

It’s a bold statement, suggesting that the world’s oldest movie industry is sliding into obsolescence. Yet it’s clear that the on-demand home cinema experience offered by streaming services such as Netflix is hitting the box-office revenues of Tinseltown’s studio giants.

It’s also created a thriving market for hundreds of smaller players, including Nexus, which opened its first US office in Los Angeles in the autumn of 2017.

Given that the US has accounted for about half of the firm’s revenues since the business was established in 2000, the expansion made sense, Bavasso recalls.

Having found an office amid the galleries and boutiques of the recently redeveloped Arts District of downtown LA, Nexus initially sent a team of three – including co-founder Chris O’Reilly – so that “our culture could be transferred across”, she says.

Nexus employs more than 200 people at its London HQ, while its LA office is staffed by only 15 people. “It’s hard for [American clients] to see beyond your LA office sometimes – as far as they’re concerned, that is your only premises,” Bavasso says. “We’re constantly reminding people that we have this big thing going on in London too.”

The firm’s presence in LA has helped it to develop relationships with a number of hi-tech companies based around nearby Venice Beach – home to Google, Spotify and Snap, among others. For instance, Back to the Moon, the 360-degree virtual reality film it produced for Google Doodles, received an Emmy nomination.

“The symbiotic relationship we have with key tech firms, developing content for them, has only increased since we’ve been there,” Bavasso reports. “That’s because we have an ongoing conversation – something that would be difficult if you’re trading with a US company while in London.”

She does admit that the experience has hardly been smooth. “One big surprise was that we didn’t realise how bureaucratic it is to set up here. Bringing staff over from the EU has been particularly problematic, thanks to President Trump’s restrictive visa policies. Our immigration lawyer has been very busy.”

Recruiting local talent isn’t easy, either. “You’re competing against big tech companies, which are massive hiring machines,” she says. “Also, the cost of living is high here, making salaries expensive.”

The region’s notorious road congestion problem has been another bugbear for Bavasso, who notes: “Sometimes it’s easier to meet other LA-based clients at the South by Southwest festivals in Austin, Texas, than it is here.”

But such problems pale into insignificance when compared with the opportunities on offer. “The competition in California is so fierce that you really have to be exceptional before you can even think of setting up there,” Bavasso warns. “But, if you’re prepared to put time and money into the endeavour, it will be incredibly rewarding.”

Click here for an in-depth report on opportunities in California for UK firms.

Cover feature on sustainabilityFor our guide to the legal considerations for setting up in the US, pick up the latest edition of Director, the magazine for IoD members, which is out from 24 May.

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About author

Christian Koch

Christian Koch

Alongside his work for Director, Christian has written features for the Evening Standard, The Guardian, Sunday Times Style, The Independent, Q, Cosmopolitan, Stylist, ShortList and Glamour in an eclectic career which has seen him interview everybody from Mariah Carey to Michael Douglas through to Richard Branson with newspaper assignments including reporting on the Japanese tsunami and living with an Italian cult.

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