Secrets to Scaling with Remote’s Job van der Voort
“Building a company is a marathon in every way.”
This post is part of Accel’s Secrets to Scaling series, where leaders from across our portfolio share their learnings and advice with the next generation of entrepreneurs and exceptional teams everywhere.
Remote was born out of Job van der Voort and Marcelo Lebre’s conviction that remote and distributed work would eventually be commonplace. They hoped this would give every person the opportunity to do meaningful work for a good salary, regardless of where they were born or live. But this was in 2019, and this belief was one not everyone shared. Even so, they pressed forward.
By the time COVID hit, Job and Marcelo had built Remote into a leading HR tech solution for companies looking to simplify the employment of distributed talent, equipped to support enterprises as the global workforce changed. When Accel partnered with Remote in 2021, Remote had a little over 70 employees and a few high-growth customers. Less than a year later, Remote had scaled to 900 employees supporting thousands of companies around the world. We sat down with Job to reflect on this journey and hear his top secrets to scaling:
What was the journey that inspired you and Marcelo to build Remote?
I started out working a job in neuroscience. I didn’t like it very much and I ended up working as a programmer at Gitlab. The company was completely remote and fully distributed – it was the early days of this model. GitHub has gone on to be one of the preeminent examples of remote work, but at the time we didn’t know how to properly pay people or how to provide them benefits. We also didn’t know how we would stay compliant as we continued to scale. What we did know was being remote and distributed was an advantage. To me, it was obvious this model was going to be the future for many companies, but the HR and payroll part of it needed to be solved. So in 2019, Marcelo and I decided to start Remote to do exactly that.
In the years prior, Marcelo and I worked at different companies. We were constantly collaborating on side projects together. None of them worked, but Remote was different. There was a real problem to be solved, one I was experiencing first-hand. So we moved quickly. Once we had the idea and the domain name, we looked at each other and knew it was time to quit our jobs and focus on building Remote.
What was the hardest part of launching Remote in the early days?
The hardest part? Starting a company called Remote that was all about remote working – in 2019. The concept was relatively abstract at the time. Sure, it took off shortly after when the pandemic hit, but in the early days, the problem we were solving felt really niche. It felt like everything was against us – bureaucracy, local governments, and we didn't have a lot of money. But we just kept going. My advice for other founders is that building a company is a marathon in every possible way. You can never sprint to success. It takes a lot of work over a long period of time. Take care of yourself, and work really hard but whether you work 12 hours a day or 15 hours a day probably doesn’t make a huge difference. You have to pace yourself and get rest when you can.
How has your role as CEO evolved as the company scaled?
In the beginning, you can blindly focus on whatever you're best at. This changes with scale. Over time, as CEO, you can’t keep doing that. I spent a lot of time on product in the early days. But I learned as a company grows, the CEO has to become an expert in every area that reports to you, which is all the areas. To do your job well as a CEO, you must understand how everything works, not just the things that are interesting to you– what every term is, and how every value is calculated. With scale, everything starts to matter more, how you do sales, how commission plans work, how marketing works, all of it becomes even more important over time.
What is the most challenging part of being the CEO of a globally distributed team? The most rewarding?
We always existed as a distributed team, but in the beginning, distribution was very narrow only across Portugal. Now with a global team, the big challenge is time zones. I’m not very patient. And with time zones, sometimes you have a problem to solve that requires someone's help who is still sleeping, so you have to wait. Still, the most rewarding part is as a distributed team we get to work with amazing people from all over the world. I learn so much from their different backgrounds and perspectives every day. The world is really big. It's really fun.
If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey, what would that be?
As an organization grows, there's a moment the CEO has to let go of things and delegate. But you can’t let go of everything, you need to hold on to things you are passionate about. There were moments in this learning curve where despite the fact I didn’t agree with a decision, I chose not to interfere because I hired them and I wanted them to know I trusted them. Later it was clear I should have trusted my gut. Even as a company grows, the value of a founder is still significant. There is value to your vision and if you think others are straying from that vision, address it and get involved. That doesn't mean you should be micromanaging every decision but if you feel compelled to contribute, do.
Any secrets to scaling you can share?
We published a public handbook where we wrote down how we work, how we communicate, and how we think about how an organization should function. In that handbook, we have our values. The first one is kindness. If you don't think you can be professional and direct, but kind at the same time, then this is not the place for you. Communicating that specific value helped attract great employees who work well together. There is just no point in which any of our employees should be unkind to each other. And other than that, buy a really good domain name. I love Remote.com. It's so good.