As businesses around the world start heading towards a data-oriented approach, they are looking for automated ways to analyze publicly available data. Such is the solution provided by Oxylabs, a company that provides data API platforms like scrapers and proxy-related infrastructure.
Recently we sat down with Zydrunas Tamasauskas, Head of Product Development, to learn about how they manage fast-moving engineering teams, their go-to technologies and the overall approach to developing new products used by Fortune 500 companies.
🔵 Tell us a bit about Oxylabs as a company. What are your products and what’s unique about them?
Oxylabs really stands as a great, fast-moving tech company developing data services. We work with world-class engineering solutions and product development activities, where uniqueness comes in many forms. Our engineering department builds solutions that are yet to be patented or even applied in practice with high load and distributed computing systems.
Our main products are proxy and web-scraping tools. To put it simply, we provide an infrastructure to gather large-scale public data using web-scraping technology. What’s distinct about our services is the quality – our clients are among the largest companies in the world, many being listed in Fortune 500.
🔵 What drives you forward in the competitive market?
Being one of the top 3 products in the field is a great motivation by itself. The question is how to move up from there?
We have no singular path forward, which is why we love to experiment, innovate and fail fast to stay competitive. I’d say this drives us the most. The notion of building something faster, more effective, and completely new to the world drives engineering teams forward and thus affects product and marketing too. This makes us feel like inventors that bring change to the market.
🔵 Are you a product or a data-driven company? How do you measure the success of your products?
I believe as a company, we are product-led and data-informed. Data can be inaccurate and misleading, so sometimes, we just need to trust our hearts and minds. Being one of the leaders in the industry means that there are no footsteps to follow. That’s why we use our qualitative and quantitative data to get an idea of what we are going to build next.
As we strive to build better products, we measure metrics like customer satisfaction, ease of use, adoption rate, support issues, and similar. Of course, from the business perspective, product revenue always plays an important role. On a personal level, positive feedback from our customers who use the product daily and love it makes us proud and drives us to do even better.
🔵 Is there a way to predict the next big thing in the market that might just be the game-changer?
Since we are pioneers in our field, a large share of the innovation comes from our own people. Most of the developers at Oxylabs have been using proxies or data scraping at some point in their careers, so we try to build products for ourselves. This helps us figure out new product ideas and use cases. Then we start with building an MVP (minimum viable product) and check if something sticks. If it doesn’t, we scrap it and go for another big idea.
Some MVPs can be done even without writing a single line of code by using no-code or low code tools. We live by the idea of failing fast, improving faster. So, to answer the question: we don’t try to predict the next big thing. We just observe what features our users adapt and keep polishing them.
🔵 What, if any, are the go-to technologies at Oxylabs?
We don’t consider ourselves ‘tech-purists’, so we constantly incorporate something new to our tech stack, but it also depends on the hiring market.
Here in Vilnius, PHP is the most popular language, which is quite a nice language for writing APIs. We use Python for parsing, scraping, and data analysis due to its awesome libraries. In the front-end, React is a no-brainer as we also build browser extensions, mobile apps, and desktop apps (Electron, React Native). Golang is a fast language, so it was crucial to use it in our infrastructure, which gets an insane amount of load. As our front-end developers are switching to full-stack, we are now also incorporating Node.js, which gives them a lot of new cool stuff to learn.
🔵 How do you know what is the right technology to go with? How to stay relevant?
The choices depend on what we are doing with the technology, the appliances or goals that we strive to achieve, and what talent pool we have internally to use it. We already have a stable technology stack, and we evaluate new ones if we see them potentially beneficial for the product or the engineering community.
At some point, there might be a situation where previously widespread technology or framework falls in popularity, degrades in quality, or the hiring market dries up. Then we have to take action and replace it with something new and more exciting. Relevancy is an important topic for us given the scale of operations – we currently provide services in 216 countries and sell over 100M IPs while offering 24/7 service reliability.
🔵 Technology, engineering, and challenges – Is it a golden ratio for tech employees?
Yes, I tend to agree. Times have passed when you could impress potential employees with the latest hardware. For tech people to feel appreciated is to create conditions for personal growth, trying new things, and bringing new ideas to keep boredom away.
Tech talent wants to contribute, to have colleagues that support them throughout, and probably most importantly – they want to solve challenges that expand their knowledge base. People naturally want to grow. What makes you thrive as an employer is providing talent with challenges and tools so they can achieve personal growth.
🔵 How do you maintain this golden ratio? What are the management challenges?
The management challenges are relatively small. Most of the management at Oxylabs has a technology background, so they have faced similar challenges and know both inefficiencies and best practices. Specifically, in engineering teams, we thrive in a feedback culture. We listen to people, help them remove any roadblocks, and welcome all internal initiatives.
This lets us make fast decisions and allows pivoting from one technology to another if engineers are looking for a change of pace. Some examples might be switching from PHP to Golang, React.js to Node.js, Python or Django to Fast API. The best thing is the absence of a lengthy approval process – in most cases, only the Project Manager’s or Tech Lead’s approval is needed before an engineer can change the tech they’re working with, as long as it will do its job and is stable.
🔵 And what about quality & customer satisfaction? What part does it play in product development?
Quality and customer satisfaction are interrelated and cannot be separated, as we are a product-led company. At Oxylabs, we employ dedicated teams for parts of the product life cycle. Technology, product metrics, product-market strategy, sales, and all other relevant fields – these are all just pieces of a single puzzle. Our people stand united and motivated to deliver the very best possible product.
It is reflected by our Trustpilot rating of 4.7 with over 300 reviews from paid customers. Since we are led by our product and not necessarily the market, user feedback is crucial. The e-commerce self-service world is harsh, and customers tend to turn away if they are not happy. When thinking about our delivery to the end-user, we always strive to make it as user-friendly as possible.
Ubiquiti Inc is an American technology company founded in 2003 in San Jose, California. Ubiquiti manufactures and sells wired and wireless data communication products for enterprises and homes under multiple product line names. On October 13, 2011, Ubiquiti was listed on the NYSE and became a public company. As of January 2022, Ubiquiti had a market capitalization of around $18B.
Ubiquiti has 12 offices worldwide, and one of their Research and Development (R&D) offices is located in Riga, Latvia. We talked to Kristaps Rikans, the Regional Managing Director at Ubiquiti, to get some insights regarding how it is to work for Ubiquiti’s R&D office in Riga and the main technical challenges for engineers working at Ubiquiti.
🔵 Could you explain exactly what Ubiquiti is doing?
Ubiquiti develops, manufactures, and sells wired and wireless IT products for enterprises and homes under multiple brand names – UniFi, AmpliFi, AirMax. Airfiber and others.
Ubiquiti’s Riga office mainly focuses on product R&D, where we do the full cycle development, starting from the idea and scratch to the final product and mass production. We do industrial design, hardware, electronics, all layers of software – systems software, front-end, and back-end, UI/UX design, including mobile apps (iOS and Android).
🔵 What kind of technical challenges can people at Ubiquiti solve in their everyday work?
Our mission is to make the best IT products in the world – the fastest WiFi routers, greatest video surveillance cameras, routers, switches, and everything else related to IT infrastructure.
In our case, the most challenging technical questions are related to how we can make those traditionally complex but sophisticated wireless products, systems, and platforms as user-friendly as possible. The end goal is to make deploying and configuring those systems easy for everyone while still having the professional IT infrastructure.
Those challenges make the work for engineers inspiring because they have the chance to work with the latest technologies – WiFi 6, video streaming, Internet of things (IoT), Voice over IP (VoIP), Cloud and Web services, Artificial intelligence (AI), Augmented reality (AR), and others.
🔵 Could you describe the work in Ubiquiti’s Riga office? How many employees does Ubiquiti have globally, and how many work directly out of Riga’s office?
In total, we have more than a thousand engineers globally. Ubiquiti is a unique technology company globally, as there are no other companies that have shipped so many different IT products with such a small R&D team. Also, our revenue per engineer is unparalleled. Some companies have ten times more engineers but make less revenue, making us uniquely effective.
The same can be said about Riga – we have a small but very effective and talented team of 100+ engineers. While we’re growing like other IT companies in Riga, we are not trying to grow in the headcount, as our goal is to grow in talent level and culture.
🔵 What kind of roles and departments do you have in Riga’s office?
Our Riga office is very diverse. Mechanical and electrical engineers, all types of software developers – front end, back end, full-stack, mobile developers (both Android and iOS), embedded developers, cloud technology developers, wireless driver engineers, LCD driver engineers. In addition, we also have a very talented graphical user interface designers and DevOps team that is responsible for infrastructure related to the systems and platforms of our products.
It makes our Riga R&D center attractive for engineers because we don’t have 100 people working on the same thing. Instead, every engineer works on their specific part related to our different products used by millions of people. It’s exciting to walk around our office and explore different things that our engineers are working on and get inspired by other technologies or areas of expertise. So it’s essential that engineers working at Ubiquiti are interested in IT and hardware products.
🔵 How does Ubiquiti keep its employees happy, motivated and loyal?
If you’d ask any engineer in our company, you’d find out that many things make us an attractive employer. Our company was founded 18 years ago by a talented ex-Apple engineer, Robert Pera, who worked on the AirPort Extreme, which was the wireless router of Apple. Apple and Ubiquiti have similarities in the company culture as Robert brought some of those things over. Similarly to Apple, we focus on creating the greatest product, quality, user experience, and industrial design. There is no R&D center in Riga for Apple, but there is one for Ubiquiti.
Secondly, instead of simply working on software, you can build products that you, your family, and friends use at home. That’s inspiring. It gives you bragging rights in the social circle with your friends and family, where you can tell how you helped to build the wireless access point and how we have shipped one million of those across the world. So whenever you go into a restaurant, airport, or office building and see this little dish on the ceiling, you know that you’re part of it.
Unlike traditional companies, where you have clear guidelines of specs that say, ‘This is the product you’re going to be working on and here are the tasks that you need to accomplish’ and have very well defined project and product scopes, engineers working at Ubiquiti can also affect the product. That motivates engineers because you’re not just a tiny wheel in the big system. At Ubiquiti, you can ping our CEO and say, “Hey Robert, I think we can improve this part of the product by changing this or that turning this needle and make it much better”. So you have the chance to influence the product to make it better and more user-friendly.
🔵 I get that Ubiquiti is a very transparent and open organization, especially compared to other companies with a similar valuation?
We’re a very flat company, and there is no bureaucracy or corporate vibe. We operate like a startup. You can be vocal, reach out to the CEO, and influence the product and the culture. As we’re a publicly-traded company, people can see our financials, so I can add that we’re also a financially very healthy company, which allows us to reward our engineers and sometimes it can be life-changing.
🔵 What are the key values in Ubiquiti’s culture that everyone follows?
We care about the product, user experience, and quality. We follow the ‘outside-in thinking’, that’s similar to Apple. As I already mentioned earlier, a flat structure without bureaucracy or hierarchy allows us to be very effective. We work overnight to deliver the product when needed, as we’re agile and moving quickly. In terms of communication, we’re honest, straightforward.
We don’t have the traditional ‘nine to five’. That’s part of our culture. We care about output and deliverables, the value you bring to the final product and customer, not how many lines of code you have written or how many hours you have worked. An engineer can change the product with a minimal contribution code base but still impact the user experience for the better.
We occasionally have hackathon sessions. Currently, with the Covid-19, we work in the “hybrid mode”, but since we’re a hardware product and engineering company, we prefer to work from the office. Our engineers feel better if they come to the office and be in the hardware world. Our office is also one of the motivators because it’s a great place to be with different labs and hardware tools, the latest and greatest gadgets available for testing.
In addition, we have a thing called Home Labs, which means that everybody can test out our products in their home. We have a dedicated Slack channel for that, where our people share their feedback and options regarding user experience, report issues if someone has found something, etc. There’s even a term for it. It’s used internationally in the software community, “Eat your own dog food.”
We have free snacks, free pizza for lunch every now and then,the possibility to work from a hotel, movie nights, events etc. Due to Covid, this has changed a bit, but we still try to inspire our people.
SmartLynx Airlines is a charter airline based in Mārupe, Latvia, operating flights on wet-lease out (ACMI), holiday charter flights, and ad hoc passenger charter flights across Europe, Africa, and Asia. In 2022 SmartLynx Airlines will celebrate its 30th anniversary.
We talked with SmartLynx Airlines Chief of People & Culture, Mara Steinberga, about what does it mean to work in the aviation, what are the most exclusive things about working in this industry, and how does the average daily routine looks like at SmartLynx (spoiler: every day is unique).
🔵 What exactly does SmartLynx do?
We are an EU-based airline with headquarters in Riga, Latvia, and two subsidiaries in Estonia and Malta. Very soon we’ll open up our office in Vilnius. SmartLynx Airlines specializes in full-service ACMI aircraft lease services and is an acknowledged ACMI, cargo, and charter provider in the EU on Airbus A320, A321, and A330 aircraft. Recognized as one of the top choices for aircraft lease solutions, we support leading airlines with short and long-term ACMI services by operating flights in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
🔵 How is your business model different from your usual airBaltic, for example?
While airBaltic’s primary customers are passengers, SmartLynx is a B2B business, meaning our clients are other airlines that don’t have enough aircraft at a specific time.
In the previous answer, you may have noticed the letters ACMI, which stands for Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance, and Insurance. Meaning, when other airlines contact us, we provide them with the complete service – aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance. This business model allows us to serve clients globally.
For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, all airlines started to get rid of their most expensive asset – aircraft, but once the business picks up, it is not that quick to add aircraft to one’s fleet, so we as a service provider can quickly jump in.
🔵 How is working for the airliner and in the aviation industry different from the rest of the career opportunities?
I would like to believe that not many industries are as dynamic as aviation – every second counts, and the whole company needs to operate as well-oiled machinery. That’s the only way to provide the end result – flights on time. I would say that aviation is not for everybody – you either love it and never want to leave, or you hate it from the first second you start working. There is no in-between. The dynamic, the speed, the stressful situations, the fun, and the everchanging daily life is the new normal for all those working in our company, and we don’t know how it can be different?
🔵 What’s the most exclusive thing about working in the aviation industry?
You get to see the other side of aviation. Usually, we fly as passengers, and we tend to be irritated about delays and different hick-ups. Once you are on the other side of the aisle, you start to understand how everything works, and so many things begin to make sense. When you work in aviation and fly frequently, you still hear passengers being irritated, and it makes you want to sit down next to them and start explaining what aviation is all about.
🔵 Could you name the three most exciting challenges people could expect when working for SmartLynx?
Firstly, every day is different, and you will never experience a routine at SmartLynx, no matter the position.
Secondly, growth opportunities – we are proud to see how our employees develop and grow. We are also pleased to see the leaders we have developed and will continue developing in the future.
Last but not least, you have the possibility of working in a very multicultural environment – we are proud to have 40+ cultures represented in our company, and we are glad to explore the different cultures in our daily lives.
🔵 How has SmartLynx adapted during the Covid-19 pandemic situation to survive and come back bigger and stronger than before?
Covid-19 has significantly changed both what and how we do. Things we thought couldn’t be done remotely before the pandemic are now easily doable. This change has opened doors to international recruitment – we are happy to have new colleagues from all over the world, and we can still communicate with them through online platforms.
Additionally, I’d like to give big thumbs up to our management team. Thanks to their great strategic thinking and planning, we managed to secure our business and come out of the crisis even bigger than ever. We are currently experiencing the biggest expansion in our 30-year history.
🔵 What kind of specialties and expertise are you currently looking for at SmartLynx?
We want people who love a dynamic environment. We want people with positive energy and a smile. We want people who love changes and challenges. We want people who love to work in a team and achieve great results together. We want people who want to reach new heights both personally and professionally. We want people with ambitions and goals. We want people who are not bystanders and just let things slide past them – we want people who are not afraid to speak up and react. This is SmartLynx Airlines DNA.
🔵 What does the future hold for SmartLynx? What are your ambitions?
There are no limits for us – we want to grow and become market leaders globally. We are not having the “if that will happen” mindset, but the “when it will happen” one, so we are working very hard to get there. We celebrate our 30th anniversary this year, and it’s hard to contain our excitement for what this year and all following years will bring for SmartLynx – continuous growth and expansion in multiple directions.
Check out SmartLynx Airlines’ open positions on MeetFrank:
🔵 How would you describe your recruitment process?
Our recruitment process is pretty simple – once the candidate applies for a specific role, we review their CV and see if they are fit for the position. If the candidate is chosen for the next stage, they get a link for a one-way interview via our Hirevue platform. We are so happy to have this platform, as it gives the candidate the flexibility to do their interview whenever they are ready and available.
If the one-way interview is successful, the candidate is invited for a live interview and/or a practical task. Candidates for management-level positions have to get through additional tests, such as cognitive and psychometric tests.
And then voila – you are becoming the new member of the Smart Team!
🔵 Any tips on how a candidate could stand out in the process and increase the chances of being hired?
Make sure your CV is fresh, updated, neat-looking, and English. If you have a detailed description of main achievements in the roles, it will allow us to understand your background better.
During the one-way interview:
Do not worry and be yourself – this is even better than a live interview because you have a chance to re-record yourself if you don’t like the response. And each question gives you preparation time.
Make sure there are no distractions around you.
Try out the test video to make yourself comfortable by tweaking your sound, surroundings, and appearance.
We still appreciate candidates who participate in this one-way interview as if that would be a real-life interview – meaning that the candidate is dressed to impress.
When we have our live interviews, the main tips for candidates are:
Do some research about SmartLynx Airlines – we like it when candidates are prepared;
Prepare any questions you have about the job or the company – we will gladly answer all of them.
Try to keep your answers to questions short but saturated – answer all questions so that they’d be relevant to the role.
Be yourself and smile a lot – one smile generates at least one smile in return.
Surfshark is a cybersecurity company originating from Lithuania, and offers products such as a VPN (virtual private network service), a data leak detection system Alert, Antivirus, and a private search tool – Search.
Surfshark has over 3000 servers in 65 countries, and in 2020, they were named the best VPN of 2020 by CNN. By the end of 2020, they were among the top three most popular VPNs globally.
We talked with Regimantas Urbanas, Chief Marketing Officer of Surfshark, about its most significant achievements, stellar growth, cybersecurity trends, and much more.
🔵 Could you tell me about Surfshark’s journey – how did you get started, and what are some of the top achievements/milestones you’ve achieved to date?
The most significant milestone I’d say is that we managed to reach our first million paying customers in just 30 months. When comparing growth patterns with other companies, it’s similar to Spotify. Meanwhile, we’ve grown even faster than Netflix because it took them 42 months. So, we managed to get into the top positions of the VPN market very quickly. Within the first year of marketing, we established ourselves among the top five VPNs globally, and by the end of 2020, we were in the top three most popular VPN companies.
This is all thanks to our team of professionals. When I joined in the summer of 2018, we had only three people working in marketing. Now, it’s close to 60.
But we are not a VPN-only company. We’ve entered the broader cybersecurity and privacy field and launched three more products (Surfshark Alert, Surfshark Search, and Surfshark Antivirus) to offer our customers the complete security and privacy package. All of those products are also available in a package called Surfshark One.
🔵 How did you achieve such fast growth?
There have been internal and external reasons, but I’d say that we were in the right place at the right time. The world has been going through turbulent times over the past few years. For example, China increasingly started making aggressive actions in Hong Kong, and suddenly, all the neighbouring countries of China wanted to protect their internet searches, social media, etc. That’s when we saw a massive spike in adoption in countries like Taiwan or Hong Kong. Currently, we’re the number #1 VPN brand in Hong Kong.
We also operate in an industry that grew massively during the first wave of Covid. People stuck at home were both working and doing other things online. Many people got more interested in using VPNs, and we capitalized on that.
We had the capital to grow and take aggressive steps at the right time. Our goal was to humanize security and make it accessible to everyone. That’s why we started using comics and similar content in marketing, trying to be more human and relatable without overwhelming people with complex terms.
🔵 The foundation of a successful company is usually built upon a real-world pain that founders discovered because they experienced the pain or their market research was top notch. What kind of pain did you find when Surfshark got started?
The idea for Surfshark came from our CEO, Vytautas Kaziukonis. He discovered VPN technology 11-13 years ago, but it was a very niche product at that time. However, he is a visionary and saw where the world was moving – the time spent online was increasing, and there are always potential security threats tied to the internet. So he saw vast potential.
VPNs have historically been very complicated to use. His idea was to launch a product that is easy to use, which speaks the language of everyday customers and still offers all the security benefits of a classical VPN. Also, unlike our competitors, we were the first VPN brand that never had the word VPN in our brand, because we didn’t want to be defined by these three letters and knew that we would be willing to offer other security/privacy solutions.
🔵 Why is the cybersecurity field currently so trendy, not only for cybersecurity experts, but also for aspiring marketers, developers, etc?
All successful people want to work on products that are or can be successful because that’s your opportunity to make the most significant impact in the world. As a marketer, my personal reason for joining was the ability and chance to build a household name — a brand known for all the people who want to take care of their protection and security.
It’s quickly becoming a mass market, where our products are used by millions of customers. Since the beginning of Covid, an even larger share of our life has moved online. The more we depend on the online world, the more important it is to protect the data. There is no corporate office network that can protect your computer access at home, so you should be in charge of protecting that.
🔵 Could you talk a bit more about how Surfshark as a company works and functions?
Currently, over 300 people work at Surfshark. Our company consists of customer service reps, the marketing department, the infrastructure team, and developers.
Our customer-facing team is working with our customers to ensure that they have the best experience and understand how to extract value from Surfshark.
Our marketing team takes care of our messages to appeal to potential users across the world and makes sure that we’re communicating the value of our products. We’re a global company with users in more than 140 countries, so we want to be relevant and understandable in different languages.
As a VPN service provider, our primary technology is operating loads of servers (over 3000 worldwide), and Surfshark’s infrastructure team makes sure that they are as fast and reliable as possible. When planning the locations for our servers, we want to ensure that there’s always a physical server not further than 300 km from our users.
Surfshark is available on all possible platforms – Android, iOS, SmartTV, Windows, macOS – and we offer our customers a seamless user experience. This is possible because our developers and large UX team optimize each step of the customer journey of our products.
These are the key teams in Surfshark. In addition, there are supporting administrative functions like HR, Finance, and others.
🔵 What unique challenges does your industry present for developers, product managers or marketers?
Every team has different challenges. From the technical point of view, when offering security and privacy-related services, you need to take extra care of the security of your product because you would never allow your product to be compromised in any way. We’ve promised our users that we never collect any data about them, we don’t log their usage, and no one can intercept our connection or service. It’s a big challenge to keep the product as secure as people expect.
From a marketing perspective, it’s different from products that have a lot of data about their users and can upsell or cross-sell to specific segments. As a VPN provider, we don’t collect any specific data about our users.
🔵 Why should someone come and work for Surfshark?
We’re a disruptive, challenger brand, and we came here to change the status quo in that industry. It’s always more enjoyable to work for a company that wants to redefine and shift the industry by setting new standards. As a brand, that’s what we’re doing, and we have people who want to be the best in what they do.
As a CMO, I would love for Surfshark’s brand to become synonymous with online privacy and security. To build a brand that would pop up on top of your mind when thinking about internet security.
From the technical side, the leading product requires different solutions. It’s easy to be a mediocre product, but it takes a lot of mastery and skills to become number one.
When talking about benefits, there are plenty. Since the beginning of Covid, we’ve adopted a hybrid work model to give people the opportunity to combine the best of both worlds. We also offer two months of working from anywhere. And of course, there are many other typical benefits such as physiotherapists, loads of training, etc.
I’d say that Surfshark as a start-up is the best-kept secret of Lithuania at the moment. Many people know the product, but not so many know the connection to Lithuania.
🔵 What are three cybersecurity trends to watch out for in 2022?
People want to prevent the damage instead of fixing the damage. We’re developing products based on that insight, such as creating an alternative identity or reclaiming your data from websites to prevent them from getting exposed in a hack or data leak.
One trend that I see is the possibility of not putting your actual data in danger while surfing the web by using a one-time credit card and an alias instead of your real name. That’s just one idea on removing personal data from your online activities.
The second trend is that people don’t want to engage with security products actively. They want the security products to be effective, powerful, and work in the background without disturbing them.
Last but not least, companies that started as VPN or antivirus companies may now expand into neighboring territories. Everyone is trying to take a more significant share of the cake and offer full-service packages.
We want Surfshark to be like the Revolut of cybersecurity. Revolut became the super app for personal finance – enabling people to trade crypto and stocks, exchange currencies, put money into a savings account, and get insights about their savings, all in one place.
I would love it if Surfshark became a super app for privacy and security. A central app for everything related to your data and online privacy, where you can control what’s happening with your data and toggle various layers of protection.
Check out Surfshark’s open positions on MeetFrank:
Founded in Sweden in 2016, Favro is a collaborative planning platform for fast-growing SaaS and live games companies. They raised $4.3 million in seed funding at the end of 2021, led by pan-Baltic venture capital fund Practica Capital and followed by Scale Capital and serial entrepreneur Christopher Beselin. Previous investors Inbox Capital and Creandum, an early investor in Spotify, also participated in the round.
The investment will help Favro scale its Lithuanian office, which will be the global center for marketing, sales, account management, and agile advisory. Edvinas Vosylius, Chief Sales Officer at Favro, told us everything you need to know.
🔵 Let’s start the interview by briefly discussing the product itself. We have all used Trello/Asana/Scoro/Notion/pick-your-productivity-tool. Why do teams around the world need another productivity app? How Favro differs from others?
Favro was created by industry veterans. They previously built Hansoft, a successful platform for agile software development, which is used by large companies in telecom, defence, electronics, and game development. Today, startups, enterprises, and game developers are all becoming SaaS businesses. Favro’s founders realised that to stay competitive, these companies have to make the whole organisation agile, not just development.
Favro was designed to tackle these challenges with collaborative agile planning that allows all teams to stay in sync autonomously. Executives and managers can apply a modern approach to leadership – be facilitators managing the flow of work rather than micromanagers of tasks.
🔵 Favro launched in Sweden back in 2016. Where are you today?
At the moment, Favro has more than 1500 clients, including world-renowned brands such as Wolt, Xbox, Disney, SAP and EA. Our team is only 26 people with international talent from 6 different countries.
🔵 In addition to HQ in Sweden, Favro already has offices in Vietnam & Ukraine, and now you are expanding to Lithuania. How did Favro find Lithuania and you as the head of its global sales operations?
In order to build an international team and attract multinational tech companies as clients, one needs a global network.
I met Patric Palm, CEO & Founder of Favro, in 2017 at one of Rotary’s global events. We kept in touch afterwards, and I found myself discussing SaaS and global expansion with Patric in December 2019. It turned out that my experience and Favro’s needs matched perfectly. Now, our Lithuanian office already has 8 employees.
🔵 Why do you think Vilnius is the best place for a new office out of all the potential options?
Vilnius has a unique community of young, ambitious, experienced, yet humble professionals. The local talent is appreciated due to their business mindset and strong drive. The work done over the past decade to develop the startup ecosystem shows tangible results, but there’s always room to improve.
🔵 Patric Palm, Founder and CEO of Favro, said that the Vilnius office launch coincides with a shift from “organic growth to more structured organisation development”. Could you expand on what that means?
For the first three years, Favro’s growth was solely led by the product, with the help of some social media marketing. The company didn’t have a team for sales and account management.
However, we noticed that both enterprises and startups were eager to speak with us since the product builds upon deep agile management thought-leadership. They want to learn straight from the experts before buying the product. So, we developed a new strategy to support global growth with a team for sales, account management and product/agile advisory based in Lithuania.
We are also recruiting more developers, but that team is fully remote so brilliant candidates for those positions can really live anywhere.
Favro’s go-to-market leadership team. From the left: Edvinas Vosylius, Chief Sales Officer, Patric Palm, CEO & Founder, and Jarune Preiksaite, Chief Marketing Officer.
🔵 How do you plan to build those teams out? What are your plans to attract top talent to join the company?
The Favro Lithuania team already has eight full-time employees. They were headhunted for their already proven brilliant skills. I build teams on the highest level of trust, where the right attitudes, drive, and ability to work autonomously is more important than a long CV.
Stock options are a key part of our talent attraction efforts. Once they have passed the trial period, every employee is included in our stock options program. This way, everyone is personally invested in the growth of the company – If Favro grows, the value of stock options grows as well.
The third reason for top talent to consider joining Favro is the possibility to work directly with senior leaders at Fortune 500 clients and hyper-innovative companies using Favro. There are not many startups in Lithuania where you could close deals with Electronic Arts, Amazon, Xbox, Wolt, SAP or Tobii. It’s one thing to close SMB customers, but working with globally recognised brands is a totally different experience.
🔵 Who are you hiring at the moment? What are the main qualities you look for in new people joining your team?
We follow the principle that “A-players” want to work with other “A-players”. So even though Favro’s team is only 26 people strong, our results look like we had an army. We operate with a very flat organisation where everyone is trusted with a lot of autonomy to manage their work in alignment with company objectives.
At the moment, we are looking for Sales Development Representatives, Account Executives, Account Managers, Marketing Specialists, e.g., Content Managers, Digital Media Specialists (PPC). We especially value candidates with experience working with agile methods and/or at a startup. Gamers are extra welcome – We would love to hear what games you like to play.
🔵 And the final question. I know that you officially opened Favro’s Lithuanian office only recently, in autumn 2021, but where do you think it will be in the next 2-3 years?
The plan for the Lithuanian office was to hire a top team of sales and marketing professionals and raise a successful seed round by the end of 2021. We successfully reached those goals. This year, the Favro Lithuania office will grow to 20 people and then we will go full speed towards an IPO in a few years.
Team of Favro Lithuania with CEO & Founder Patric Palm (in the middle).
It goes almost without saying that scaling an organisation by 10x is difficult. Maksim Grigorjev, a Senior Enterprise Architect at Adform, offered us an inside look at the growth journey of the tech team in the adtech industry.
He answered our questions ranging from working with massive datasets and managing microservices to dividing work between a 200 people strong tech team and maintaining a healthy technical community inside a large organisation.
🔵 How would you describe Adform as a product for the people outside the adtech industry?
Adform is a technology powering the open internet – a modern and effortless digital-advertisement toolkit enabling the publishers to effectively monetize their ad space and advertisers to reach the most relevant audience.
🔵 You have spent almost 12 years at the company. Do you remember why you chose to join in the first place?
From the early days of my professional career, I always enjoyed data-design and data-processing related tasks the most. With each subsequent position, I focused more and more on the data-related topics, accumulating practical experience as well as building a theoretical foundation from books and papers. Tools and approaches used in data-related tasks differ highly based on the size and amount of the data.
Twelve years ago, there weren’t that many companies in Lithuania working with data warehouses of such a massive scale. After the first interview, I already knew that it was a perfect match for my technical area of interest and a great learning opportunity. Time has shown that data is not the only interesting technical challenge that Adform provides, but it was the one that lured me in.
🔵 During your time in Adform, the organisation has grown rapidly and continues to do so. How much has your business and team grown over the past 10-12 years? How has it felt inside the company?
Currently, I have the privilege to work with ten times more colleagues compared to when I joined the company. Our technical stack likely has grown even more during those years. As one of the first scrum masters in the company, I also saw the company-wide agile transformation first-hand, which was a major cultural shift and a great learning opportunity.
It has been a compelling experience to see the company reimagining itself and adjusting to both the organizational and technical challenges that come with rapid growth. Making mistakes is unavoidable, and not all approaches work out in the end, so you learn to value flexibility, experimentation and not being afraid of failing fast. Rapid growth also means that you need to learn how to onboard new teams and work effectively on the same product in parallel with a much greater capacity.
We also had to change our architecture to reflect the changes in the organisation. For example, moving away from monoliths towards microservices came naturally because, otherwise, dependency management and work parallelization would’ve become too painful and error-prone. We learned the hard way that microservices alone do not give sufficient productivity boost if not supported by the powerful internal platforms taking care of cross-cutting concerns in a unified way.
🔵 How large is your technical organisation at the moment? How have you divided the work between teams?
Dev & IT is around 200 people now, split into four development groups, an IT department and several supporting teams. Each development group is responsible for the specific horizontal layer of our product (high load, big data, business application and web) and supported by the dedicated solution architect.
We made a conscious decision to organize our teams around a specific layer or a platform (instead of a product). For example, all our domain APIs are owned by the same development group and all client-facing user interfaces by another group. This approach allows our developers to specialize and excel in a reasonably small set of technologies and find common, consistent and highly reusable solutions to the same technical challenges across all of our products.
The IT department is responsible for our physical infrastructure, internal cloud platform, databases, security and multiple centralized DevOps services (monitoring, logging, deployment pipelines, etc.).
🔵 As a senior-level enterprise architect, you are constantly thinking about the big picture. What unique challenges does working at adtech offer to developers?
Adtech as an industry is quite challenging and very fast-paced. It’s still in its early days, very open to innovation and the product landscape changes every year.
Market participants are constantly finding more and more effective ways to collaborate and provide the end-user with the most relevant, optimized and engaging advertisement. The majority of market participants are both integration partners and competitors. On the one hand, you need to be well-connected and maintain compliance with industry standards, but at the same time also distinguish yourself from the competition. It is also a highly regulated industry with an emphasis on privacy, which puts a lot of responsibility on our shoulders to keep the data safe, correct and protected against fraud.
All this allows developers to work on a portfolio of products not isolated from the outer world but highly integrated with clients, partners, exchanges, vendors and data providers. Industry standards also require constant evolution, and it is not uncommon for our lead engineers to take an active role in the industry working groups shaping them.
🔵 Could you give us a sense of the scale of datasets Adform’s products use? What challenges come with it?
We crossed the petabyte-scale threshold a while back and every day we process tens of billions of new transactions. This scale requires careful consideration in designing how the data is loaded, transported, processed, aggregated and queried. It also raises complexity in testing the pipelines, handling spikes, recovering from failures and ensuring the high availability and predictable latencies.
At its core, we use technologies that are well-known in the industry and have a proven track record to perform well in big data environments (Kafka, Hadoop, Storm, Spark, Vertica, Aerospike, etc.) with components written in-house for data loading, transformation, aggregation and query generation.
At such scale, it is not possible to dump all raw, unstructured data in one place and use it as a source for real-time, end-client reporting or augmenting the user interface with relevant KPIs. Therefore we invest a lot in cleansing, structuring and pre-processing the data to push as many calculations upfront as possible.
We also carefully design effective aggregates which would give sufficient flexibility and predictable querying latencies to the end client, but at the same time preserve enough row-level data for offline analysis or asynchronous exports.
🔵 How many microservices do you have? What’s your approach to developing and maintaining them?
We have several thousand deployable units – the exact number changes as new units are developed, and old ones are put on the path for deprecation.
Newer services are all based on the same tech stack, deployed as containers, and utilize central platform services, like monitoring, logging, alerting, deployment pipelines, etc. We aim to offload all repeatable or cross-cutting concerns into centralized platform offerings to make sure we solve the issues once and then apply them consistently. We also aim to minimize the boilerplate in new service development and ideally have developers focus explicitly on the business logic.
Our products have always been quite interconnected, so we struggled to find a common approach for data exchange between domain-private data stores and data synchronization between microservices. As a result, we invested in building an internal data distribution platform with all business domains exposing their public contracts by default without any change in the service itself. All consumers interested in a particular dataset can subscribe to the change streams exposed from those domains and build local read models of that data.
🔵 We have talked about data and back-end infrastructure quite a lot. However, for the end-user, a well-designed interface is also a must. How has Adform managed designing web applications?
User-experience and effective workflows are indeed very important for end-users as it directly impacts their productivity. Quite often, it is a deciding factor between our products and others.
Historically, we struggled with multiple segregated web applications which all looked somewhat similar but always had a slightly different look & feel and inconsistent feature sets. Three years ago, we realised this approach leads nowhere, so we decided to replace ~80 web applications with one new and modern application rewritten and redesigned from scratch. All user workflows are now based on a single framework, a single library of components and follow consistent functional patterns and design stereotypes. It was a highly rewarding project that received positive feedback from our users, gained industry recognition, and eventually won the prestigious Red Dot Design Award.
🔵 And finally, we heard in a previous interview that Adform people share a special vibe. How would you describe the company culture inside the technical organization?
I think there are a few factors why we have an open, positive and friendly technical community:
Even though we have more than one product in our portfolio, all of those are interconnected and often offered as a package to the end client. As a result, all the teams feel that they contribute to the common goal, eliminating the internal competition.
Customer success and product organizations work closely with development to get input from the developers and also pass along feedback about new features. This is crucial for the technical organization to feel like a fundamental part of the company and maintain the feedback loop between your effort and the results.
Using a common stack of technologies allows our developers to contribute to projects, features or incidents outside their direct ownership. This grows developers’ overall domain knowledge, expands the social circles and also cross-pollinates ideas and best practices across the organisation.
We hold regular tech talks where the technical community shares the insights, challenges and lessons from the latest component developments.