Insightful takes on scaling your business

Betting on remote workers fixed my startup’s talent shortage

Are remote teams the perfect solution for startups?

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Sebastian Schaub
Story by
Sebastian Schaub

CEO & Founder, hide.meSebastian has been working in the internet security industry for over a decade. He started hide.me VPN, 6 years ago to make internet security and privacy accessible to everybody. Sebastian has been working in the internet security industry for over a decade. He started hide.me VPN, 6 years ago to make internet security and privacy accessible to everybody.

thevpncompany

When my co-founders and I started our business in 2012, we faced a lot of similar challenges to any other technology startup, and a few unique ones of our own. Undoubtedly one particular challenge we shared with our industry peers was how to go about growing the team. 

I mean, on day one there is always a (smallish) core of ‘founders’ — perhaps ex-colleagues with a desire to break away and be their own bosses, or college friends with a shared passion or goal to get an idea off the ground. But what do you do next? Who is next on the recruitment list and how do startups go about attracting the ‘right’ talent?

Firstly, it’s very difficult for startups to attract the right talent. Secondly (as we discovered) it is even more difficult to attract the right talent if you are self-funded and, in our case, being based out of Malaysia, made it supremely difficult to turn the right heads.

For us as a security company, it was important that we based ourselves in a country that doesn’t force us to store user data. And startup businesses suffer from a lack of specialist recruiters — everyone in the company has to therefore wear the recruiter hat. I personally believe that it is very hard to find people who share your vision and are willing to put hard work into your product, with the right mix of technology and business background.

Have a plan and offer something unique

So what’s the best way to approach recruitment as a startup? Is there one ‘right’ way or a mixture of many? Some people say that one of the biggest problems with the recruitment process within startups is that there is no recruitment plan. Starting with a clear plan for how you are going to attract the right people can also be a way of building your company’s DNA.

A very important factor in the recruitment process is remuneration. Top talent usually demands top pay and it’s a pain point that most startups share — not having enough money on the table to go around. So if you can’t tempt candidates with remuneration alone then you have to be able to offer something different from the competition, something unique. 

You can tempt them with a seismic change in culture, for example — a completely different way of working. And if you can’t offer money, operating as a startup, then you have to build a sense of purpose which your prospective employees can buy in to. Specifically in our case, our mission to make privacy accessible to every single internet user helped us attract the ‘right’ talent.

Having a plan is great but it should also reflect your own reality. Bearing in mind our (relatively) isolated location, creating a remote team made a lot of sense to us as we could have people work wherever they wanted to and therefore massively enlarge the potential pool of talent.

When you speak to people that are (largely) experienced in working from a desk, going into the same office every day and working set hours, you realize that there are many who want to free themselves from those constraints and work with more freedom. 

Walking the walk

We realized that building our team on a remote basis gave us the flexibility to build what we wanted — freedom of location (and of that particular mindset) allowed us to travel and to offer similar opportunity to new recruits. So our first hires were in Croatia and Germany and we now boast a workforce based in six different countries globally. 

Remote working means that anyone on our team can be based anywhere — it is a massive constraint lifted from our shoulders. Our employees can literally work from anywhere in the world, from a place where they feel comfortable.

However, it doesn’t just happen on its own. We have invested in the right technologies (Slack and Zoom which most people are aware of but also other tools such as — Trello, Figma, and the Google suite) which all help to ensure that remote working is as easy and pain-free as possible.

While the challenges of communication can be largely overcome by tools such as Slack or Skype, working to different time zones does and will present challenges with task management and reviewing work. But I have found that this largely boils down to successful recruitment in the first place — not every employee is suited for remote work, because they require extensive guidance and are not very reliable. 

We are able to filter out a lot of these unsuitable types in the very early stages of recruitment which helps us later. Ultimately though, efficient communication has been the key to our success.

Building remote teams is not the magical solution to fixing the talent problem, but it definitely helps. It’s a very challenging task, but if you put in the effort initially and get it right then your upside is unimaginably huge.

Like what you’ve read? On Growth Quarters, we strive to go beyond generic ‘fortune cookie advice’ and learn directly from the people who have ‘walked the walk.’ And this summer, at TNW Conference 2020 in Amsterdam, we’ll take Growth Quarters offline again with a vibrant program dedicated exclusively to sustainable business growth. Listen to keynotes from leaders from the world’s most successful companies and get actionable guidance to help you grow professionally. Get early bird tickets now and learn more about the Growth Quarters track

Published February 11, 2020 — 11:00 UTC

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