How built a crack team of software engineers to change the face of online couponing

UK online coupon site, owned by RetailMeNot, hopes to relaunch on a new software platform this year that will give the traditional online discount codes website model a much-needed makeover. A top priority will be to improve the user experience for shoppers, but also to encourage retailers to to host exclusive offers on the site.

Before embarking on the major transformation project around 18 months ago, the company’s European head of engineering, Matt Wilkins, had to build a software engineering team that would be capable of working as one, on anything, from anywhere, on any of RetailMeNot’s six European brands.

To do this, he drew from his nearly seven years’ experience at search giant Google, where he was most recently global mergers and acquisitions (M&A) engineering integration lead. In this role, he was responsible for integrating - from a software perspective - companies that Google acquired into the parent company.

“When I started at RetailMeNot, the structure for Europe was a number of different entities. They were mostly a different set of acquisitions in each country with a very talented set of engineers, but without the processes in place to scale,” he tells Techworld.

“The first thing I did was - I do this with any company - is I get a really good sense of the employees and the engineering talents. I went to each of the countries and sat down with each engineer, to really understand where they’ve come from, what they’re interested in, what they’re working on.”

When he started, there were about 20 engineers, which has now grown to around 50 in Europe. RetailMeNot’s US division has about 100 software engineers.

“The first decision I made, in order to continue to grow, was that one platform was going to be the way forward for us. In order to have the growth, the tech innovation and the product launches I would expect and I’d like to push for in each of those countries, you’ve either got to build a team in each country, or you’ve got to find a way to leverage a broader European team with some things happening locally in-country.

“So, having local engineering, but also bringing a European team together that can work across countries so it doesn’t matter where they’re based.”

Understanding the leadership

After Wilkins drew up his plan for how the new platform and team would look in Europe, he took a close look at his existing team, in particular the leadership.

“It’s a very difficult one to address, but the best way to address leadership is to really spend time with the teams and to really dig deep into how they think about the organisation, how they want to manage their reports and employees, set them strategic-style organisation and see how they approach a challenge.

“Understanding the leadership you have really helps. If you don’t have a good set of leaders, you’re always going to find you’re spending a lot of time not going forwards.”

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