April 14, 2021
This week we’re having tea with Alex Bouaziz, Founder of Deel. Prior to founding Deel, Alex Bouaziz was Founding Partner at Sarona Ventures and Co-founder at Lifeslice, a mobile app for creating collaborative videos.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How to create serendipity between remote employees
Choosing between independent contractors vs. salaried employees
How to think about cost-of-living and salary adjustments
Three months ago, we were 40 people. Now, we have 85 people in about 27 different countries.
I'm originally from France. I lived in Israel, the U.K., the U.S., and Spain. Similarly, my co-founder, Shuo, was born and raised in Beijing. Both of us have had the experience of meeting amazing people through school and work. And when we started building our own companies, we had to figure out a way to hire them back home. When I started my first company, in Israel, it was bootstrapped. Israeli developers are almost as expensive as San Francisco-based developers. There was no way I could afford them.
I started looking for amazing engineers in eastern Europe to start bootstrapping my product and my early companies. And what we realized there is that they're as talented as the Israeli ones. The price comparison is crazy. Where does that gap come from? That's how we started the journey in hiring people outside of our countries.
Fast forward a couple of years, we got lucky with this idea of enabling other people to hire all over the world with Deel. That happened at the end of 2018. We got into YC.
The basis of Deel is very simple. There is talent everywhere. We want to make sure you can hire them. We want to make sure all the overhead that comes from compliance, legal, payments, invoice, etc., is handled for you. We support over 1,200 companies from SMEs to public companies. We've enabled tens of thousands of people to start working with amazing companies around the world.
Whatever makes people happy is what we should do. If you feel happier with a small office, a WeWork, or a small location, you should do it. And we're here to support it and make that happen.
Personally, I'm happy working remotely. But we're hiring people with different characters, personalities, and methodologies when it comes to working. I don't think it's our place to impose any methodology when it comes to how they get their work done.
If they are happier there, then I'll be happy to pay for it.
Deel helps companies do either.
If you want to make them an employee, in Brazil, we'll hire that person on your behalf and give them all the statutory benefits, taxes, everything. That’ll be a little more expensive because we take all the employment liability for you. We're the employer there.
Internally, how you make that decision is up to you but here are things you’ll want to consider: Is that person really an employee? Do you want to treat them as an employee? Do you want to pay them what it means to be an employee? In some countries, you'll have up to 50% taxes on top of the fees that a company like us will charge.
What sets us apart is deep expertise in understanding what model is the best for you and being unbiased in terms of where you want to go. We're here to help you and make it work, regardless of what you think is the right decision.
So on a high level, independent contractors are cheaper for the company, but the person who is the independent contractor gets fewer benefits. And full-time employees are more expensive for the company, but the person gets better benefits.
It depends where. In Ukraine, it's much better to be an independent contractor and the country is a lot more favorable to that. In Brazil, it's a lot better to be an independent contractor, but the country hates it. They'll come and find you if you do that after a certain amount of time. Timing is a big thing. You can start an independent model and then move into an employment model later. Understanding what's right for you today doesn't mean it'll be right for you tomorrow.
It depends on the department. For business ops or sales, I'm much more inclined to give someone junior a chance. On the engineering side, I tend to hire more experienced people. We're growing fast and we can't take any chances on the infrastructure of Deel.
The word for me is everything but San Francisco. I think the prices there make no sense. So it never comes into my mind when it comes to salary adjustments. But after that, we benchmark it based on the role, experience, and location. Obviously, some amazing people want to pay people around the world the same salary, regardless of where they are. I think that's great. I owe it to my investors to give a good living to my employees, but also do what's right for the company. The locations impact how we think about hires. What I love to do is, for better or for worse, ask the people we interview what they would like to earn, a ballpark. And based on what makes them happy, give them a good offer.
They don't pay the same rent, right, in different countries.
I look at it in a very pragmatic way. I want to do what's best for the company and what's best for them. The most important thing for me is that wherever they are, they're paid right.
No, I don't think it's worth having that conversation. If that person is from there and they've given a lot to the company, that's what they've negotiated and that's where they are.
When I'm hiring someone in France, great engineers are getting paid in the four or five thousands. I think that's a great market salary. You coming in and saying, “I'm going to pay them a 10K salary as an engineer there,” is just wrecking the market. You're making it uncompetitive for the local companies. I don't think that's healthy for the local ecosystem.
I agree with you in principle. I just think that my fiduciary duty to the company is to do what's the right thing and my fiduciary duty to my employees to give them what makes them happy.
We talked to some people in the Bay area or even in Austin. Their salary requirements are way too high for the value that they'll bring to the company. I think about it from the company's standpoint, which is, there is a reason why we think it's amazing to hire talent and pay them more than what they're looking at earning. But you've got to stay, to some extent, within the market.
That's what's going to happen. People are going to get paid less in those regions.
Over 70% of the company has been at the company for less than six months, so this makes it a little easier on my side. We're doing it internally right now using Notion. We do a full 360 review, give a template to our teammates, make them fill it out, get feedback, and hopefully act on it, and vice versa.
In sync. We'll give you a template, you fill in whatever you want, and then a hiring manager and the person would review it together and see what we can do to be better.
Yeah. We do compensation yearly, unless, for exceptional reasons, we'll do it on a six-month basis.
Everybody does something a little different. On the engineering side, they have two standups a day: one in the morning, and then another for the people in the North America time zone, all together.
We ship pretty fast in general, so product engineering is quite in sync, and we try to deliver features weekly. We've got a team of high performers that are very passionate. From a department basis, they all have their own things. Growth has a weekly meeting, sales has two meetings a week. It's completely fragmented on that front. I trust my direct reports to run the departments the way they see fit and the way that is most optimal for the company.
Reference checks. At the very beginning, I didn't do it and got burned a couple of times. The wrong person can make the worst out of an environment. That's one of the things that I overlooked at scale that you shouldn't.
And the second thing is, very early on during our YC times, we worked hard, and being remote, we worked around the clock. We burned a couple of people out very early on. We fixed that right away when we understood. That mainly came from a high-pressure environment combined with remote, where some people are in Israel, in the UK, and you're just working all the time. You have to take care of yourself.
Yeah, quick phone calls for pros, cons, and data reference checks. For example, on our recent new head of sales, that was the best reference I've ever heard. And so far, every single word has been true. So, it can also help reinforce your judgment on making that hire.
When we think someone is a right fit, we'll have them hop on a call in two, three days. It's not a process that takes three weeks or a month. It can happen at such a fast pace that doing the references at the end doesn't hurt us too much. We haven't spent three weeks or one month on a specific person.
Not enough. After all hands every week, we have 30 minutes of fun time. I'll say that the time zone makes it a little annoying because the sales guys are starting their day in California. But it's helped with bonding quite a bit. Donut helps there, too.
We're not where we want to be on that front, and it's one of my goals this quarter. Making the team bond more matters a lot to me.
Actually, I'm looking for bias. I want to understand why you think that person is great, or not great. Where do you think their weaknesses or their strengths are? Getting more than one reference is important, but I think biases are important.
My own biases? No. If we get to the reference check, it means my biases are positive. I'm here to try to understand if there's any red flag, rather than anything else.
My job is to make sure people have a fair shot at their jobs, and understanding why they're not performing. This is quite literally what I'm here to do: give them the right tools for them to do their job right.
The first step is spending time with them. Where are some of the flaws in the systems they're building, and the processes that they have, and how can we improve doing that over time? Your people are what's most important, so involving your time there is critical. And what I found is if you spend the time with the person trying to help them out, they'll either succeed or realize that there's something wrong at the core, or how they're approaching the job from a cultural standpoint, and it usually becomes a mutual decision.
Yeah, I haven't done surveys and I'm not sure I'm a big fan of them either. I always ask my direct reports to spend the right amount of time with their teammates, making sure that everything's in order, and triggering the right meetings and one-on-ones when it's needed. One of the things I'm trying to do is proactively message everyone on the team every couple of weeks to see how they are doing, what can we do better, and If they have any feedback for me.
All of us interact quite a bit. So just pinging them and saying, "Hey," or, "How are you doing? What are you working on? What can we do better? What are some of the things?" I enjoy doing that, I do that pretty often.
There were always companies hiring around the world, that hasn't changed. Remote work is here to stay. I think you'll see a hybrid model in some of the hubs, like New York, San Francisco, where you'll have an office just for the sake of having people over. Whether or not you keep it open, or if no one shows up, is another discussion. It's going to be very company and culture-centric. How does your company react to all of this being open again?
There's no straight answer. But I think people are more forward about being okay with remote work. And you'll see a hybrid model, and some companies will feel they need to connect in location. You will be forced into finding a company that's suited for your personality.
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The Mercury Team