People

Meet the startups helping other startups go remote

Hiring employees anywhere is harder than it looks. As the coronavirus pandemic changes the workplace, investors are buying into companies offering solutions.

Remote work

In the past, hiring remote employees was a luxury, and one that many startups couldn't afford.

Photo: Alistair Berg via Getty Images

Job van der Voort's hiring philosophy at GitLab was simple: "Find the best person for the job and figure it out," he said. Easier said than done.

The fully remote company didn't care where employees were located, a luxury that opened the world's talent pool to the software-development toolmaker. But as van der Voort found out, hiring employees from anywhere came with a barrage of legal headaches, including how to legally onboard someone from another country, pay them in local currency and provide benefits.

In January 2019, he left his job as GitLab's VP of Product to create a new startup to solve the dilemma.

"I thought to myself, how can I make a meaningful impact in the world? And ultimately the result was me thinking, how can I create more remote jobs?" van der Voort said from his home in Braga, Portugal. "I think the only way to do this is to solve the largest problem of properly hiring remotely, and I think this is it."

Van der Voort's company, Remote, is just one among a cohort of startups helping other startups go remote. The sector is growing with companies like Atomic-backed Terminal, which helps build remote engineering teams, and has been a hot investment area thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, which forced many people to work from home.

Previously, hiring remote employees had been a luxury, and one that many startups couldn't afford. Big tech companies hired around the globe by investing in offices in foreign countries or putting an army of lawyers on the task of figuring out employment laws.

But startups, smaller and more cash-constrained, have had to approach the challenge piece by piece, figuring it out on the go. "I realized this was a problem, and I realized that there was no good solution, because we tried everything at GitLab," van der Voort said.

Investors are buying into the business opportunity. In April, Remote announced it had raised $11 million in seed funding from firms including Two Sigma Ventures, Index Ventures and General Catalyst. A month later, remote payroll provider Deel raised a $14 million series A round from Andreessen Horowitz, entirely over video.

"I think finding the person and paying them is something that can be done relatively easily, and the hard part is wrapping it all together and making sure that it's a) legal and b) the correct taxation considerations are given," said Deel COO Dan Westgarth.

So far, Deel has largely targeted contractors around the globe, though it does some full-time employee onboarding as well. It works with more than 400 companies, including startups like streaming company Pipeline and handbag maker Italic.

Remote focuses on full-time employees and is setting up corporations in each of the countries it services. That way, workers are considered to be employed locally. Remote started with a few countries including Denmark, the U.K., India and the Netherlands, and plans to soon expand to markets including Australia, Brazil and Canada.

One surprising outcome of the pandemic is an increase in interest from the big tech companies, who had previously expected to sign on employees and bring them to work at headquarters, van der Voort said. Now that the employees are stuck in their home countries, some Silicon Valley giants have started hiring them locally through Remote instead of forcing them to move to the U.S., he said.

While the COVID-19 crisis accelerated the remote work trend, startups like Terminal have been working with companies for years to help them build out teams abroad.

The company, created from incubator Atomic, built out tech hubs in cities across Canada and in Guadalajara, Mexico. "Terminal was really built to help companies solve the talent wars," CEO Clay Kellogg said. "Pre COVID-19, there were five open roles in the Bay Area and New York City for every one engineer."

Eventbrite, Hims, Earnin and other startups contracted with Terminal to help sign on engineering talent. The developers could then work in one of Terminal's hubs, providing the camaraderie of an office feel and a community for tech events. Coming out of the pandemic, Kellogg expects the office-optional, flexible work arrangement to dominate.

"COVID-19 is unfortunately the catalyst for remote, and what historically may have been a fraction of the company's talent strategy has changed significantly," Kellogg said. "What we've seen now is everyone on the leadership team and every functional group is leaning into remote."

The shift isn't just an acceptance of remote work, but a realization that far-flung employees will need support, Kellogg said. That's where he sees businesses like his stepping in.

"That's where I think there's going to be a lot of interest in the next 12 to 24 months," he said. "How do you support those teams? How do you do that in a way that makes your engineers or your remote employees in general feel that they are not making any trade-offs in their own professional development, or in their own career development, by virtue of being remote?"

Van der Voort cautioned that companies are facing more than just a logistical challenge of setting teams, but a cultural one as well.

"We're used to how offices work, it's culturally defined," he said. "That is not the case for remote work. There's not standards. There's also nothing to fall back to."

If you search "Wordle" on the App Store right now, you'll find nearly a dozen copycat versions of the game.
Screenshot: Nick Statt/Protocol

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: Nick Statt joins the show to discuss the rise of Wordle, the subsequent rise of the Wordle clones, and why it’s so easy to copy a game. Then Ben Pimentel chats about the fight over Web3, why Jack Dorsey and Marc Andreessen are at odds, and the killer app for the future of the web. Finally, Allison Levitsky explains some of the big new future-of-work trends, including the four-day workweek and dog-walker perks.

For more on the topics in this episode:

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.


Greg Petraetis, SVP and Managing Director, Midmarket and Partner Ecosystem, North America at SAP

As businesses grow during the pandemic, they also encounter pressing challenges to maintain that success. Among them is the pressure to strengthen their digital backbone, which leads to the question: How can companies find the ideal technology provider suited to their evolving needs?

In the midmarket space, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often need support to buoy them through any choppy waters ahead. As a SaaS solutions provider, SAP has extensive expertise developing strategies to connect innovative companies with their customers.

“We’ve seen how so many SMBs want to become the next billion-dollar companies as they move from being innovators and disruptors to global leaders,” says Greg Petraetis, senior vice president and managing director, Midmarket and Partner Ecosystem, North America at SAP, in an interview with Protocol. “And we’re there to catch them along that trajectory and help them achieve that profitable growth.”

Keep Reading Show less
David Silverberg
David Silverberg is a Toronto-based freelance journalist, editor and writing coach. He writes for The Washington Post, BBC News, Business Insider, The Toronto Star, New Scientist, Fodor's, and several alumni magazines. He also writes for brands such as 23andme, Shopify and Bold Commerce. He has served as editor of B2B News Network, Canada's only B2B news magazine, and Digital Journal, a leading pioneer in citizen journalism. Find more about him at www.davidsilverberg.ca
China

Will there be China tech IPOs to watch in 2022?

After the DiDi chaos, Chinese companies are cautiously looking to return to the capital market.

If TikTok parent company ByteDance went public this year, it would undoubtedly become the biggest IPO of any Chinese company in 2022.

Photo Illustration: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As 2022 begins, the biggest question for China IPO watchers is: Will there still be any significant IPOs this year worth anticipating?

For them, 2021 was divided into two halves: The first six months were filled with ambitious Chinese companies listing overseas, culminating in ride-hailing giant DiDi’s IPO on June 30, but it was all downhill from there. In the wake of DiDi’s rushed IPO, Chinese regulators imposed harsh cybersecurity reviews on several companies that were about to go public. Others put their IPO plans on hold. Stock markets reacted accordingly: Alibaba, Pinduoduo and others saw their share prices slashed in half.

Keep Reading Show less
Zeyi Yang

Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Entertainment

Will NFT backlash stop the blockchain gaming boom?

Few players seem to want NFTs. But that might not be enough to stop blockchain gaming from going mainstream.

NFTs in particular, and the broader blockchain gaming movement of which they are a part, have elicited a rare level of polarization among players, developers and large game-makers.
Illustration: fairywong/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images; Protocol

The non-fungible token debate has moved from the art world to the gaming industry, and it’s morphed into an all-consuming fight about the future of entertainment and what role, if any, the crypto movement should play in the way video games make money.

From microtransactions to crunch culture, the video game industry is full of unsavory business practices that persist in spite of widespread backlash among the general gaming audience and near-constant denunciation from outspoken industry leaders and critics. That’s in part because such practices are often lucrative or steeped in industry norms that are difficult or costly to change.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Tech workers want three-day weekends. It won’t be possible everywhere, but more companies are starting to consider it.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Welcome back to Ask a Tech Worker. For this recurring feature, I’ve been hitting the streets of San Francisco’s Financial District at lunchtime to chat with tech employees about how the workplace is changing. This time I asked about the four-day work week, that elusive schedule that companies like Bolt, Signifyd, Panasonic, Eidos-Montréal and Wildbit have adopted and a number of others have tested or considered. Got a suggestion for a future topic? Email me.

The four-day work week may be the next frontier for tech companies using work-life balance to compete for talent. Since the New Year, Bolt, commerce protection platform Signifyd and Panasonic have all announced that they’re offering four-day weeks to employees.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Latest Stories
Bulletins