Enabling employee growth and developing their knowledge, skills, and capabilities is more critical than ever for driving business performance. One of the companies that excels at Learning & Development (L&D) activities is Oxylabs – a tech company and a front runner in market innovations for web-scraping infrastructure solutions.
We sat down withFrederika Dovgal, Learning and Development Manager, and talked about how Oxylabs is nurturing its internal resources and creating talent growth.
🔵 How would you describe Oxylabs as a company?
Oxylabs is a hyper-dynamic company driven by people full of creative potential, often figuring out the way forward by experimenting, sometimes failing but most importantly – always learning.
🔵 What kind of value does Learning and Development create at a company?
Well-structured L&D strategies can, over time, create innumerable benefits. To begin with, aligning L&D strategies with company directions leads to ongoing, mutual growth for both the company and its employees.
Businesses have the opportunity to hire a junior professional and see that person grow until they reach a senior position. Over time, the employee’s overall value grows together with the company. It’s also valuable to have an L&D strategy because it promotes loyalty. These days people tend to look for a working environment where they can learn and grow personally and professionally, meaning a simple static day-to-day job is not enough anymore.
It’s a win-win both ways. The companies benefit from attractive value propositions and natural employee growth, whereas employees get all the necessary tools to take all they can from the company.
So, in our case, Oxylabs excels at this because the hunger for knowledge is one of the critical values. We encourage people to learn by trial and error. There is no fear of failure, as we promote thoughtful feedback, openness to failure, and knowledge sharing. Thus, when faced with a challenge or a potential failure, we see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Combined with other L&D tools, we are able to create an environment where people are hungry for more challenges and knowledge.
🔵 What are the different professional and personal growth opportunities offered at Oxylabs?
“On paper,” our offer is more or less similar to any other larger IT company in the market. We offer internal & external training, organize conferences, provide access to online learning platforms, and constantly update our book library and others.
What is probably unique compared to the competition is that we provide guidance and support on the available resources based on employee, role, or team development needs. A lot of the effort goes into collecting these puzzle pieces to create a coherent picture of the professional and personal growth opportunities, aka specialized learning journeys directed towards career development. For this, we often apply a blended learning approach.
🔵 What measures do you take to promote learning and development?
First and foremost, we aim to establish a continuous learning culture, where learning is not happening in one-off instances, but rather make it a constant process with direct connection and impact on the job that can still be as fun.
We do feel a constant demand for learning from our colleagues, regardless of whether we promote it intentionally or not. That said, we often organize one-off initiatives to nurture such a learning culture and engage those who haven’t yet found their angle for growing.
An example of this would be the Learning Month initiative, where we organize an intense amount of various training sessions on different topics to encourage maybe a bit more passive people to participate and ignite their passion for learning.
But looking at the broader picture, people often forget that they have all the resources needed to grow or do not know where to start or what kind of value learning can bring. That’s why aside from the continuous learning model, we have to do some marketing actions to help newcomers engage in L&D opportunities or empower those who may lack some initiative.
Overall, once a person wants to grow, all we need to do is help them navigate their growth path.
🔵 How do you manage training tech and administrative teams as diverse as they are? Do you have a different approach depending on the skills needed to develop?
I would say the approach is more or less the same. However, there are a couple of layers to these training programs.
In the first layer, tech and administrative teams share everyday training needs. For example, the World Economic Forum has named the following top skill types of 2025 – problem-solving, self-management, working with people, technology use, and development. So, these competencies are vital, whether you work in tech or administrative teams.
Apart from core competencies that administrative and tech people share, any role, whether a tech or managerial position, has its specifics. I will never be able to teach tech roles any tech topic, nor, most likely, will external training fully cover the needs of how things are done in different companies based on those companies’ processes and standards.
Here, as I like to say, the role of L&D is “connecting people.” Sharing common challenges and experiences can be the best source of knowledge, and our part as L&D is to bring these people together, be it through mentorship programs or guilds.
🔵 What kind of training do you organize? Are those just professional growth training, or are the options to choose personal growth training?
We do both as it goes hand in hand, and it actually loops back to the training program layers we discussed earlier. Self-management and working with people are some of the fundamental (inter-) personal skills employees of all roles share a need. We have open training on personal effectiveness and collaboration, and there are always online resources available with plenty of content on personal growth.
For professional growth, as mentioned earlier, we are working on job role-specific learning journeys, a big part of which is based on internal expertise and knowledge sharing.
We offer over 40 training subjects, internal language courses, access to over ten online learning platforms, and an internal library. It’s worth mentioning that these are just internal resources, with regular external training depending on the people’s learning journey needs.
🔵 Do you use more internal resources or reach out to external services?
We blend both, yet we search for resources internally first, especially if we are talking about the layer where the subject knowledge primarily resides with the people of a particular role.
We see more long-term value and better applicability of internal resources, not talking about the benefits of building a stronger community where colleagues not only take but also give and, in such a way, actively participate in shaping our learning culture.
But mind that when we talk about internal subject matter experts (SMEs), it often is that SMEs know the subject very well but are not always very good at explaining it to, say, junior colleagues. For this purpose, we also need to strengthen internal trainers’ competencies. And this we do with the train-the-trainer program provided by L&D.
🔵 Are the people keen on participating in the training? What persuades them the most?
Generally, there is no need to force training onto people just for the sake of it. Since our company’s culture is based on feedback and continuous growth, learning in various shapes and forms is already attractive to people. For example, over the last quarter, over 70% of all Oxy people participated in at least one kind of training. I believe this is a significant result, considering that we have over 350 people at the moment.
The main reason behind such a high engagement rate would probably be the overall culture at the company. Furthermore, at some point, a mob mentality comes into play. When the vast majority of people participate in training, conferences, etc, others might start feeling left out, a FOMO feeling of some sort.
Furthermore, the variety of the training also helps. Our colleagues can find at least several training topics that are appealing to them, so it’s easier to attract and get them engaged.
🔵 Do you have any success stories of people who managed to grow internally? What were the key reasons for growth?
We have many examples of both vertical and horizontal growth. Each of them has displayed different skills and qualities that led them to advance their careers, so it isn’t easy to describe all of the cases. Some have shown adaptability. Others – just straight up had a great learning curve and managed to hone their skills.
We launched a career ambassador initiative to help inspire other people for career growth. They can meet other employees willing to advance their careers, discuss growth opportunities, and share their experiences and success stories. We want to inspire people to escape their comfort zone and move on to the next zone – the learning zone.
🔵 What is the learning zone model?
The Learning Zone Model’ was developed by Tom Senninger, a German Educator and Adventurer, based on the Lev Vygotsky Zone of Proximal Development. The model encourages us to see positive experiences as learning experiences and helps individuals to understand and expand their boundaries and ‘comfort zones.
🔵 Could you share the most popular or successful training topics?
Effective Communication, Public Speaking, and Problem Solving. These topics cover some of the core competencies of the nearest future, or should we say present already?
The trend in the IT market has remained the same over the past few years: the talents have the upper hand in the negotiation. Since there are more open positions than available talent, companies are implementing academies, growth & development plans, and developing internal talent to eventually fill senior positions. Oxylabs, a tech company providing web-scraping infrastructure, has faced these challenges first-hand.
Over the past three years, Oxylabs launched several new products, attracted the attention of Fortune 500 companies, and managed to double its headcount. In the interview, Monika Gerybaite, Web Product Owner, explains how their company tackled the industry-wide challenges and worked to maintain rapid growth.
🔵 How would you describe Oxylabs as a company? What is so unique about it?
Well, what surprised me the most was how much freedom Oxylabs offered. There is a lot of encouragement to create new products or try new technologies, not to mention professional growth opportunities. As you might imagine, not many companies that work directly with Fortune 500 companies can allow themselves to depart from their successful products.
But I would consider our willingness to experiment and openness to failure to be our main reason for success. We have a relatively open market to experiment with, and public data isn’t being used to its full potential yet. It’s a big motivator to have an entire market we can conquer with enough innovation.
🔵 So you consider the freedom to experiment the main strength of the company? What are some other features about the organization that makes you proud?
Besides freedom, it has to be the people. Competitive salaries are a must these days, but having a team you can completely trust and share the same passion for new ideas and their implementation is exceptional. We are all different in our personalities but united in a desire to experiment and try something new together. Being this diverse yet tightly connected allows us to learn from each other, find inspiration, and keep exceeding ourselves.
Oxylabs, as an organization, has a culture that supports growth. Individuals are empowered to do what they can while striving to do better. A big kudos goes to our HR department, who have supported us every step and helped us grow continuously.
🔵 What’s Oxylabs’ position when it comes to people? How do you invest in people & company culture more broadly?
We love our people here, and it’s not an overstatement. Even the executives support individuals and teams, as they understand that it’s our most valuable resource. We are an industry-leading and rapidly-growing company based in Lithuania, where the pool of talents is relatively limited. Therefore, we must treat and nurture each individual as best as we can.
This reflects the overall work environment, as everyone brings their best to the table. We have a strong foundation of what Oxylabs is about and build upon it by learning from our talents, giving them all the resources they need, and keeping processes fluid.
By prioritizing the employees, we as an organization can identify areas for improvement and grow simultaneously. Because of that, we have a high retention rate, and our colleagues have a lot of growth opportunities, like being promoted or pivoting to other positions.
🔵 What about personal & team growth? You mentioned people grow, but what are the means to achieve it?
I consider feedback culture as a key factor for growth. We allow people to fail and share feedback in a safe setting, and through this, we nurture growth. Other tools for personal development are relatively common, like training budget and library for various topics.
On top of that, we seek to grow employees to managerial or senior positions. For example, seeing a motivated employee with a potential for such a role, we aim to provide them with the necessary training to develop their skills as team leaders and help prepare them as best as we can.
Overall, we, as direct managers, also create a strong sense of ownership in our teams. When faced with a market with lots of untapped potential, we tend to trust each other’s decision-making, thus making the ideal environment for trying, failing, and getting up again. Growth comes naturally when you combine a challenging environment, colleague support, and the ability to learn from your mistakes.
🔵 How do you keep the team aligned and moving in the right direction? How much autonomy do the employees have when setting goals?
We use an Objectives and Key Results (OKR) framework. It lets us combine company-level strategic direction with team-level initiatives, and everyone is welcome to propose their ideas for the next quarter. This is yet another thing that makes me love Oxylabs – there is no micromanagement, and teams themselves get to decide what will make the most impact.
As we live in a fast-paced tech world, we have no choice but to believe that our employees know best. Setting a direction based on data and trends and then putting the “how” in their hands lets us stay on course and achieve more.
🔵 What risks come with the power of decision-making and personal ownership over tasks?
In my experience, ownership can easily be overdone. Some people want to do everything exactly right and try doing it by themselves. Others start neglecting feedback or overthinking the solutions. Caring too much can be just as harmful as not caring enough, and in such cases, any bump often leads to fear of mistakes, losing confidence, and taking the failure personally.
To minimize these risks we form cross-functional squads with dedicated CEOs and CTOs in the form of Product Owners and Tech Leads. They keep our processes smooth, overlook the whole picture and are accountable for critical decisions. So far, it has been working out well, and we believe it maximizes the potential of our teams.
🔵 Oxylabs being a tech company, how do you keep up with the changing trends in technology?
First and foremost, I would say that not every new trend needs to be followed immediately. Compromises drive technological advancement, so it’s important to realize when it is worth chasing the latest trends. Otherwise, tech companies would spend most of their time adapting to new systems instead of developing new products.
We tend to choose technology by its maintainability, efficiency, ease of adoption, community & support, and the situation in the hiring market. Although new solutions are incorporated all the time, the core needs to be more stable to keep our products fast, reliable, and secure. For us, something like Golang is a perfect choice.
🔵 What’s your process for hiring new talent?
Again, we have to thank our HR department for this one. We have a strong team of recruiters who somehow always manage to find people who are not only talented but also an excellent cultural fit for our team.
Simply put, the hiring process is similar to many other companies. When we see a need for a specific professional, we start looking into it. We might look into internal talents, seek referrals, or search in the hiring market.
Usually, we adjust the process for each position, but we always try to ensure the candidates can show their skills and meet the team.
In my case, I mostly hire developers. We incorporate live coding, coffee meetings with someone from the team, and office tours into our flow. However, what makes the process extraordinary is my team. They give great feedback on candidates’ technical skills and can offer real-life examples of what challenges they face and how our growth culture reflects in their daily work.
Typically, exciting projects, a culture with a deep focus on growth, and learning are the key priorities people look for, so I’m glad we can offer exactly that.
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.
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.