What Works: Two Startup Entrepreneurs On Hiring, Employing Remote Distributed Workforces, and More
At a recent VivaTech 2019 panel, “What Works: How the Best Entrepreneurs are Building Their Startups,” Julien Crochet, VP of sales strategy and enablement at AB Tasty, and Carles Sistare, head of engineering at Ogury, laid out their best tips for how to get things done when you’re a new, growing business with employees all over the world.
Ogury is a cloud-based mobile journey marketing company with offices in France and Serbia. As they operate in a pretty technical field, Ogury employs a lot of engineers. “We had a very ambitious hiring plan,” says Sistare. But they didn’t reach the speed that they wanted for hiring, and the CTO decided to open up to other countries. “He already had experience with [working in] Serbia. He already knew that we were ready to go faster there. Six months ago, we began to open positions there, and after four or five months, there are around 40 employees.”
With a workforce spanning two countries, how do they keep projects on track and maintain productivity? “The secret is to try to apply the same structure that we had in Paris, which means we work in feature teams — small teams of one product owner, one technical lead with a scrum master and three or four developers. They are owners of their own product, so they take items from the roadmap that has been designed,” says Sistare. “Everybody is everything’s owner.”
What that means is teams in different locations operate with the same principles. “And they are completely independent. Of course at the beginning, they needed some onboarding, that is why we need to go there often, but after two or three months they are completely independent.”
For AB Tasty, an experimentation and personalization platform, operating with a distributed workforce has had a different outcome. “For the marketing and sales part, all the offices are working well,” says Julien Crochet. Initially based in Paris, now AB Tasty has offices all over the world, including in the US, Germany, UK, Spain, and Singapore.
“We also tried to open an office in Eastern Europe,” says Crochet. “But after a couple of months we decided to shut it down.” The remote, distributed workforce model proved a little too difficult to manage right at the beginning of the company’s build-out. “On the other hand, we succeeded with our office in Nantes, France. Rather than going abroad, we now have a lot of developers from South America, even the US, who are coming to France to work for AB Tasty, either in Paris or Nantes.”
This success may have something to do with the investment AB Tasty has made in culture and recruiting. It’s able to bring people in from all over the world and start operating as a team “because of the culture. The way we are working,” says Crochet. In hiring, they weigh and select for “the core key values, like customer satisfaction, reactivity, team spirit.”
They’re able to do that because early on in their growth trajectory, they decided to build an in-house hiring team with an emphasis on values—three people basically dedicated to hunting for interesting profiles. The attention to cultural fit takes up a big part of the interview process, too. “We have a process with four to five interviews,” says Crochet. “The first interview is a screening interview and at the end, if we think you can work for us, you will meet someone who is not part of the team you will work with. They’ll have a 30-minute chat with you and check if you have the values of AB Tasty.”
This involved onboarding process shows some of what makes it difficult to have a fully remote operation. For Ogury, going remote is on the horizon, but implementing it too fast for such a young company could cause some disharmony. “At the beginning, everybody is new, and nobody really knows what the company is about,” Sistare explains. “It is very difficult for everybody to be remote at this stage.”
Crochet agrees. “We only have a couple of people that are fully working remotely, but most of them worked at the beginning in the Paris office for about six to twelve months and then decided to move somewhere else. Rather than losing these key people, we decided to let them work remotely, but those are people who share all our views, who are really committed to achieving our goal. The only exception is where we hired people that worked immediately remotely, but on the sales side so we can track their goals and their results easily.”
Keeping everyone on the same page is the crucial move for both Ogury and AB Tasty. “At every stage we had a communication problem,” says Sistare. To address and prevent it, they have an all-team call every Monday. “Each call team has two to three minutes to pitch something, either something they released the previous week or something that is coming the next week, and then every country has two minutes to keep the other countries up to date. That’s the first way to have better visibility on what everybody is doing.”
To tackle the market-facing side, they have internal releases every week, and dedicate people “to make sure all salespeople know the latest features, how to pitch them, and how to use them. And at the company level, we have someone dedicated to culture and communication full-time.”
For Ogury, the secret to managing this is not to forget that this communication problem “exists all the time,” so managers need to do a lot of synchronization meetings — but not too much, “because people get tired and sometimes get restless,” says Crochet. Every Friday, they dedicate half an hour to training and sharing best practices. “One of two weeks is global training, one of two weeks is local training, and they are continuously learning new things. We also have a new learning platform where we push new content, and where sales and development pushes new content.”
While certain platforms and products can help facilitate inter-team collaboration, the takeaway from both companies’ experiences is that communication is key.