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WE Founders

Episode · 1 year ago

WE Founders e7: Anja Simic

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Anja Simic is a Head of Marketing at DEEL and one of the core 5 team members that managed to raise the unicorn startup that now counts 200 employees in 44 countries.

Deel helps businesses hire anyone, anywhere. It's global payroll for employees and contractors from around the world.

Gaia and Anja talked about the bumpy road they had to take to scale the first payroll platform for remote teams.

You don’t want to miss the chance to hear their story!

Subscribe to our channel to stay updated on the latest episodes!

Host: Gaia Montelatici 

Guest: Anja Simic 

Produced by: Impact Hub Belgrade 

Explore more episodes on our website: www.wefounders.net 

Special thanks to podcast.rs 

Welcome to the we founders podcast. We are women entrepreneurs, founders and investors. Sharing your stories about how we raise funds, invest and build our businesses from the Western Balkans. I'm your host, Guy Monte Latachi, general partner at Studio expentures. I know, hello. It's not a pleasure to host the conversation with you. I remember last time we talked about you and marketing and deal you guys were raising. Actually seeing Brown. He was only some four months ago, and now you've got into series. Overall is more than two hundred million that you guys were able to raise. You are head upon the marketing. Please talk to us a little bit about yourself and what the old that is actually sure. So, hi everyone. High Guy, it's a pleasure to be here. I always love talking to you and people from from IMPA cub you know that well. For people who might not not know, and I guess this is not a quite a common fact, I used to be a part of if, a club, global network. That's right, and this is how a guy and I met and I just Adore Belgrade crew and everything that you guys are doing is so wonderful. So it's such a pleasure to formalize our friendship and thank you for having me to give it a bit of a background, and you kicked us off with some facts. So I am Anna. I'm I'm leading content at deal. Deal is apparel and compliance platform that enables companies to hire anyone anywhere, meaning that we are...

...bridging the gap of, you know, legal and compliance and paperwork and payments for companies and talent who are working remotely. As you as you already teas, we did raise a couple of rounds of investments. Deal was founded in late two thousand and eighteen and this is when I joined. I was actually one of the first people that I think I'm the first official employee, because a few others that were part of the team when I joined. We're there on a previous project that was co founded by Alex and Schel, our co finders of deal, and I had the pleasure to follow a truly exceptional growth of this startup. I mean we started as a team of five and we just crossed two hundred, less than than two hundred, and people in two hundred millions when comes to investments. So that so that's a great total, especially because you know, deal is is still a fairly young company. Absolutely, how they didn't look like that any were, as you said, the first official employee from the grid, rights, and then others were operating from the U. Ask. One of them is actually from Israel. Right, yes, correct. Parted from the very beginning as a remote court team. Yep, right, and actually that's the core volumes. You your addressed and you represent and you create for all other remote digital companies. Right, yeah, exactly. I mean it was. It was quite quite interesting, you know, because we, as you mentioned, our remote first company. So we we've never had a physical office. This is something that's very dear to my heart because I've always been working remotely. I've never worked in a physical office. I don't know how that looks. So you know, I've been...

...very remote and I love it. And the initial team consisted of five, six people coming from the US, Israel, Ukraine, in UK. So quite quite diverse, spanning across several continents right away. And I this is this is something that is not widely spread, but we kind of pivoted during our Y combinator time. So so deal used to be a part of what hy combinator in two thousand and eighteen nineteen and our initial product idea was to offer a somewhat of a safety net for freelancers to get paid, because that the first issue that show an Alex our co founders identified, is that a lot of freelancers usually get ghosted by their clients. So, you know, day would do the work and then there is no guarantee that the clients would pay right if you're not using a platform such as outwork or fiber that are, you know, leaders in this GIG economy. So that was the initial product and then we, throughout the the accelerator and throughout the mentorship that we've received from from people of the Y, see we realize that, you know, the issue is much broader and that this whole hiring worldwide is is a huge issue right, because if you're hiring globally, you don't know where to begin. If you are a startup founder, if your startup is at an early stage, you would probably shy away from this notion of hiring someone across the world because you know it's scary, you don't know what to look for and you can only Google how to hire and you know there are a bunch of legal requirements, a many compliance documents that need to be collected. So usually people just to stay away from it, you know, thinking that it's too complicated, and each can be. But deal was was actually brought into...

...this space to to solve exactly that. So, yeah, I'm actually solving problems. Were both the companies that want to hire right direct realizers of the divisional workers and different answers themselves exactly correct. And so, as you mentioned, contractors, this is this is the usual way to go about hiring internationally, to hire someone is independent contractor, because it's easier, it's more flexible and you don't need to open a subsidiary in a company in a country that you you are expanding to or hiring a person from. And currently, the the the work landscape has a clear division between employees and contractors. And, you know, employees are considered to be these like first class citizens that, you know, have all the benet benefits, all the perks, they get everything covered by their employer. They don't need to think about anything. They just received their payment and their pay stub and they're good to go, while contractors need to cover the benefits by themselves. They often need to carry the weight of endless bank processing fees, all of that. And you know companies are not, not usually really fond of being flexible there because, you know, doing manual payroll is is such a headache. Let's let's be honest, and if you have, you know, five people in five different country, you're not going to do five payments, let alone when you have a hundred or over a hundred. So we try to really balance out employees and contractors and we last year we actually introduce international employment as well. So now with deal you can hire people either as employees or as independent contractors, respecting the regulations that come with either one of them. And for for a deal user or deal contractor. It's just so flexible because you get to choose how and when you want to get paid. So it's not that you know, you...

...get your money and in USD or euros and then you need to pay twenty for the first intermediary bank, then for foreign exchange, then another fee for whichever reason, because banks sometimes love to take money and charge fees, so you're left with a lot less than your initially paid. Oh so we're trying to optimize that and our local payouts work really well and they actually really reduce the costs of transactions and fees in general. You know, it's so very interesting how actually, you know, has been a filating a lot of niche markets such as yours, right where, obviously, you know, the economy is is the king right now, and we do see a lot of startups. Also comes through a Beau addressing a lot of the challengeoods in terms of the groupment and in terms of talents, counting and matching talents with the right companies. And what we see a lot of times in these start ups is actually, you know, that they have to sort of decide whether they are on the side of the company and for employers or on the side, you know, on the affiliate plancer to be trusts working from one and the other, and you guys seem to have that an amazing job in actually enjoining them both and having their trust by service in them with think that solution that works for them both. So yeah, that's that's absolutely absolutely if you allow me,...

I will share a funny story that from the early days of deal. So at the time, as we were five six people, we didn't have customers support team right, but we did have customers support chap. So we would also, and we're, I'm take out, like two founders, developers, a designer and myself would be on intercom platform that we use for customer support Chat and whenever we would hear a ping, we would fly to respond as soon as possible. That meant weekends, nights, any time zone, any any given point of the day, because early on, and and this is thanks to the cofounders and their philosophy, customer centricity was a huge thing, and it still is, like we are there told truly care about our users and even though you know, you would say the deal is a be to be startup, we we truly care about both contractors, employees and companies. So it really doesn't matter if you're a part of deal. We consider you a part of our extended family and we do everything that we can to resolve things quite fast. So when we were actually in San Francisco during Wycombe Hitter, I spent a few weeks there to work with the team and we would we would hear this pin that you get when a message is sent to customer support chat and we would literally shout like if someone was at all like in the bathroom or in the kitchen and wasn't near the computer like we would just shall like Intercom, and you know when I was the first one to respond, responded regardless of what they were doing at that point. So, and this is really the philosophy. Going to carry it on. And now we have a beautiful, wonderful customer supports team, but the the same energy, in the same passion safe. So talk a little bit about, you...

...know, the early days, how the team functioned and how you actually maintain so the angile, right and lean models, even though you are, you know, company. Oh, don't know how many countries are you wasn't more than hundred. We are as a team or or when class to the market that we cover, for the market that shore hot do than fifty fifty, right, more than hundred and fifty actually. Yeah, so basically anywhere, anywhere. And and you guys, as a team, two hundred, you said. You're now right, hundred spending across for forty three four countries. Yes, function, you know? How do you I mean? We we started very early with key positions. The the majority of the team was consis consisted of developers. Would make sense because we are, it all, a digital product. So the majority was was there. And what I later on decided that I should really appreciate is that a marketing role was hired for before sales roll. So both, which is which is not something that you usually see. Right, like usually people are like, okay, we need to sell, let's hire a sales people, but I was hired before anyone was hired to do sales. And it was a lot more about awareness and leveraging our own communities, in our own networks to kind of speak and shout from the roofs that this is something the deal is doing, and we tried to maintain and build relationships throughout the remote workspace. And even though, you know, remote work is a worldwide thing, like, and this is something that that I already talked to you about when we were chatting, but people and founders are really approachable. So all it takes is a natural message on Linkedin or on twitter or, you know, even an email if you have it,...

...and say like hey, we're new in this space, let's talk, and it's not like nowadays you prep you probably and all the people who are listening received, you know, dozens of linkedin messages with people who are like hey, how are you, and then you know that as soon as your reply, you'll get a sales pitch, but we really didn't want to pitch anyone. We just wanted to talk about the product and you know, word of mouth was huge and it was something that, you know, we really love Virgin. That got us where it is right now. I mean, obviously we now have a fullblown growth team and a fullblown sales team that is now region specific. So we hired people to do sales and we also hired, in key markets, heads of expansion to ensure that we are truly on the local grounds when it comes to to, you know, countries and regions, because they don't all function in the same way, so we need to be there to truly enable and unlock the market. You know, we're super proud, by the way, that you know, I do need work because, let's say it out loud, deal is in unique or territory right light. We did as much core member from that way, operating from Lard and actually taking a lot of the learnings for market art. So, CAEP, you share with us some of the insights from the market, the cross industries that you work in, and also what kind of opportunities you see for startups Conserveia. You know absolutely absolutely so. First first off, thank you so much. It really it really beans to be and to say that, to hear you say that, I actually I just what I was preparing for this...

...podcast. I sorry for this. Regarding that, I realize that, you know, I've been a huge advocate for remote working and for Eastern European Serbia and talent because, as I've always worked remotely, I never thought about, you know, any limitations of actually working remotely and before I joined deal, I spent a lot of time on job boards, remote job boards, looking for my next big thing and I would more often than not stumble upon a really cool ad that said it's a remote position, but only for North America, but only for European Union. So I really found myself really startled and I at times I felt like I'm not worthy enough just because, you know, I'm not from North America, I'm not a part of European Union, and it just really made me mad. So coming to deal and truly enabling this and kind of shattering the the thirty mile radius mindset really, you know, makes me so passionate and makes me really proud to be a part of the team when it comes to the industry, I don't. I don't think there's one industry that that you know we're talking about, because deal itself is a mixture of like a fintach platform and, you know, a Gig economy platform, HR platform. It combines everything. So technically the whole world is our market right like we don't have a specific market, we're there. And when it comes to to remote work as an industry, but first I can't think think about it as as an industry. A lot of reports have shown, and I love buffer and our labs for doing yearly state of remote work surveys. They're always so insightful. After covid they run ran a research and...

...a few months ago the results came in and right now about half the people or have the companies, all for remote work to an extent. So this means either remote first, either allowing remote or hybrid or anything in between. So that's huge. That's billions of people right that have the opportunity to find a job that they truly want to do wherever they are. And when they ask people what they considered like what they stay on, stay on on remote work schedule or environment, that they absolutely said yes, I thing like ninety eight percent or something like that said absolutely yes, even the ones who haven't worked remotely pre Covid, which I think is really important, because at some point I got really scared because, you know, covid unfortunately push everyone to go remote and a lot of people who were unprepared. So, you know, a lot of challenges, a lot of communication issues, organizational issues appear and you know, I was afraid that a lot of people would say like, Oh, this is not working, we tried to remote work or Hibry, it really doesn't work, let's just get back to the office. But it really, it really makes me happy to see that. You know, a lot of people are still fond of remote working and funnily enough, when surveyed, a lot of them says that they would get a pay cut, they would accept a pay cut in order to stay working remotely, which is, on one hand it really amazing because they really wants to, but be they really shouldn't, you know, take a payout because remote work is work, like you're not doing less work. On the contrary, you could be doing more work. So but it's just interesting for me to to kind of share those insights and well, but it's very interesting because it shows a sort of which in by you, that we're seeing, yeah, across the world really that people want more sort of jobs that are in my would lifestyle and...

...you look for also, you know, companies that you know respect that, right. And Yeah, absolutely, they can identify, would you know, the values that. So I think it's great that, you know, they're even willing to have a trade off. You know that. Yeah, exactly, they don't want to compromise all the boy exactly exactly. But I think, I truly hope the future will will kind of enhance this shift, even in linguistics, right, because you say I go to work, and just the the verb go indicates that you need to go somewhere, right, that you're not working in one place, that you're are, but you need to commute, you need to go to it. And you're not saying, Oh, I'm working from an office, but you will say I'm working remotely. So how is that different? You're still worth okay, so you know, and one day remote work will be just work and that there wouldn't be any any distinction between the two, because it truly doesn't matter. Like work is not a place, it's a thing that you do. I yeah, I'm you serving? Are you serving customers? You're in Serbia with Fel can you repeat that? Sorry, Internet connection, Hashtag remote work. Yeah, of course, so that's deal. Have customers? You're in Serbia? Yes, yes, they're actually quite quite a few customers in Serbia. Most most of them are contractors. We don't have as many companies, but I love that because I every now and then I would see them either and like support chat or something. I feel like, Oh, this is a surname I know and recognize. But yeah, but we are. We are, of course...

...like able to help Serbian companies who want to hire foreign talent as well, especially because you know they're Serbia, especially has been experiencing a lot of you know, this independence test and and you know, contractor test and potential miss classification and all of that. So we are on top of that. Serve is not the only country that's facing these audits. A lot of western European and North American companies countries are doing the same. So yes, if you're a Serbian company and he wants to hire amazing talent abroad, would be honored to help you out. Awesome. And how do you see the perspectives? You know for Serbia, for professionals like you think of that. You Know Weed Times from the marks that you game. You know, they should just go for it. I mean, I think that we as a generation, and now I we as a generation, I think like mostly millennials, but you know, we also have gen Z, who is now entering the the workforce, which is so exciting. Makes me feel super old because now there are people who are so much younger than we that are working alongside of me, but it is makes you more, more mature. Yes, I'm just mature and wise. But yeah, that that's really exciting and I think Gen z's the first generation that truly was born into a digital world. They don't know the of the world before Internet, right, because they were born into it. So for them, I think, you know, like remote work and and work for us is just a thing to do, like it's a got thing to do. And as the world is transitioning more to to digitization and publization, I think that, you know, talent from Serbia and companies from Serbia should really tap into it and see how lean and scalable it can...

...be because, you know, we are an emerging market and we have so many talented people and so many wonderful companies who are doing great things. So it's high time, you know, they're heard of. Yep, I'm less or not least. What's next on your agenda and on the Asogen and my genday is lunch. That is the biggest thing. But jokes aside, we are we're growing as as a team. Deal is hiring for more people. So we will not stop at two hundred. We're going to hire more people to expand our regional opportunities also to scale, because we are building a platform that is scalable so it can support, you know, ten people, two hundred people and a million people. That means that you neque people to make that happen. So we're hiring the cross teams across the parks are just as that question. Yeah, if you don't, if it's so in terms of scalability and bringing on more and a lot more people into deal, are you looking at geographical scale or are you looking to no segments of the markets? What? What's what's the thought behind? It's a it's a little bit of both. We are on a very strong vision and path to truly unlock all the the perks and benefits for people working internationally and people and companies hiring for in talent. So whatever we can do to kind of expand our services so we're not only considered, you know, a contracting or payroll platform, but truly a go to place for anything related remote work, when it comes to to HR and finance in a way. But it goes a lot beyond there...

...and, as I mentioned, we last year we introduced employer of record, which is a service or hiring international employees. So we are we are really focusing this year on hiring, on opening our own subsidiaries so we can facilitate and truly control this process to ensure that both employes and contractors get the best possible experience they can, regardless of where they are. Sounds like the best easy to come. Oh, I truly hope so, and I'm very excited to witness it. That's fantastic. It's been a very great conversation with your thinking, for your insight and sharing a lot of the good moments and experience. I'm going to be looking forward to talk to you soon again, because they know that we will have a lot more quassion for you. So for now, have a great lunch and a great location. And stay out of the heat. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure as always, and I'm guessing when you post this you will also include my contact information or deals information, so if anybody wants to reach out to kind of if there's a question or comment, I'd love to meet fellow remote workers and the ones considering doing it. So yeah, thanks again and I'll see soon. Fantastic to hear. Thank you, Ana. Have a great day. Thank you, by the thank you for following our we founders podcast, subscribe to Youtube Channel, listen to our eppisodes on podcast dot R S and sounder, and check our websites for updates on we founderstnet.

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