Toptal Case Study - How Taso Du Val Created the Ideal Developer Company
We all like to read beautiful stories about how people work and live for their pleasure, remotely doing what they love. Someone leaves for warm countries, someone - away from civilization, while others, on the contrary, like to constantly be in the thick of things. Having freedom of choice in the matter of spending time is a great value for many.
It is all the more interesting to hear the development history of a company whose main task is to find a compromise between the desires and capabilities of talented freelancers and those goals for business that leadership and management make.
We had the opportunity to talk with Taso Du Val - CEO and co-founder of Toptal , the largest company in the world without a single physical workplace.
Toptal brings together under its flag 3% of the most suitable for companies companies that meet the highest requirements of professionalism. 5 years ago Toptal, a regular network of freelancers, employed only 25 developers and the same number of clients. Today, the Toptal network consists of thousands of programmers and designers (the company does not say the exact figure) and more than 2000 customers. As development management costs have doubled over the past couple of years, Toptal is finding more and more supporters.
Taso has been leading the company's development direction since 2010, when after the takeover of Google by the startup in which he worked (Slide), their development paths diverged. Oddly enough, but within the Silicon Valley, Toptal is one of those startups that they’re not much talked about. Firstly, because the founding team does not attract giant investment rounds. Secondly, because she doesn’t really need it - with such a demand for developers, Toptal was reluctant to accept $ 1.4 million from Andrissen Horowitz, Adam Di'Angelo and Adam Rockwell of Quora. Now the company's turnover exceeds $ 80 million per year, and in fact it is only the sixth year.
Leonardo DiCaprio has high demand and low supply
- Taso, our first question is classic. When did you come up with the idea and understanding that this could be a new and successful company?
I worked in various companies on a variety of products, and the fact that I constantly paid attention to is formulated very simply: “There are many professionals in the market whose high level is obvious. At the same time, you yourself know a lot of highly professional people in your own environment. They are just as cool. There is no real way to draw a parallel between them and compare who is a rock star and who is not, in the labor market, in specific companies or, in a general sense, on the Internet. ”
At a certain point, I told myself: “A solution must exist. People should be able to find out that there are cool specialists and they can be hired. And the way to find out about it should be absolutely scalable, and most importantly, all participants should trust it. ”
In principle, this was the moment when Toptal started as a company.
- I have a simple question in continuation of the topic of specialists. At Toptal, are all freelancers talented, or all talent freelancers?
We do not train people, we only identify highly qualified specialists. Perhaps in the future we will train specialists, and now we have a global mentoring program that brings together the best specialists in their fields in the world. Mentors help individual talents who want to improve their own position in the labor market, become the best engineers and designers.
Nevertheless, we do not train, even if we train a little. This means that we cannot teach people to work remotely.
Therefore, answering the question, our main task is to isolate the best talents, allowing them to work remotely on interesting projects.
- How do customer companies relate to your talent testing methods? Do they believe you?
I would say yes, they do. Our level of success in delegating company talent is huge. This metric proves that all our customers are extremely satisfied. Our clients include companies such as Airbnb, JP Morgan, Artsy, Zendesk, and a host of other companies, from Fortune 500 to startups.
- On your site it is said that only 3% of freelancers trying to get into Toptal eventually achieve this. Does this mean that the remaining 97% are irrelevant? Are they not talents?
They are not specifically relevant to us, for very specific reasons, which, in total, are very many.
Our idea and technology (here Taso said “framework”, but in Russian this term is poorly applied to professionalism assessment methods) exists to determine whether we are right when we say that a certain freelancer has the highest talent, and because - a valuable specialist, the best professional on the market. And it can work remotely.
Therefore, we need to make a decision: do we take it or not? There is a process that is designed to help us make this decision. We value a person from all sides, customers are satisfied - that means everything works.
Returning to your question that 97% are not talents. Some of them are good, we have “false positives” (false positives), because a person during the interview is somewhere very close to the maximum requirements that we make to talents.
That is, 97% can be good, but we can’t take that risk. Nevertheless, more often we see that 97% have much less experience and skills (hard skills - technical skills) than those people who we consider to be talents and who have successfully completed the selection process.
Given all of the above, we conclude that, most likely, 97% are inferior to our 3%. In one way or another. In addition, do not forget that there are a lot of cool specialists who simply do not know how or do not want to work remotely.
From what you are telling, I understand that your goal is a 100% match between talent and the company looking for it. 99% match doesn't suit you, right?
Yes. You can be the best C ++ developer in the world, you can objectively, but this does not mean at all that you can work with us.
You can even be a creator of C ++ and again, this does not mean at all that you will become part of Toptal. You can be the creator of PHP, you can be Linus Torvalds, all this does not mean at all that you will become part of Toptal.
If the client wants to work with someone, he asks the second side: can we do it on time? Can we call each day to check the status?
Linus Torvalds, in my opinion, will unequivocally answer: “I do not want to do this.” And this, of course, will not satisfy our client.
And there are a huge number of customers who have no idea who Linus Torvalds is.
Therefore, it doesn’t matter how cool someone is in your reality - a billionaire from another reality has no idea about it, by and large, it doesn’t matter.
If you are a freelancer and you have a reputation, it does not matter who you work with: a rich individual customer, vice president of products at Google, or in a startup. Every professional should be evaluated and work regardless of whether he is known or not (in his reality).
- Interesting. Another question - over the past 10 years we have seen enormous competition for hiring the best programmers and developers, hundreds of methods for evaluating and motivating employees have been developed. And when I see companies like Airbnb or Pfizer among your clients, the only question that beats me is: “Why don't they hire these people?” What is the motive for companies to use your services, the time of your, let's say, freelancers?
As you said, companies and corporations are always looking for ways to improve their own products. Therefore, as a rule, they use many ways to attract the best talents.
We provide the best service in the market, each of our clients trusts our metrics. There is no way to find the best brains in engineering and design as quickly and successfully as you can with Toptal.
As I said, companies use many ways to attract the best employees. But at the end of the day, when the company had 10 vacancies open, and it was we who filled them as quickly as possible with the best personnel, whose experience and skills were tested and not questioned, the company did not want to try other services. This happens most often.
Of course, companies look everywhere and look for the best people everywhere. But we win almost always.
- You talk about talent on your side, I hear that you are quite convinced of this. How do you find your people, what turns out to be the most important in the end - freelaser motivation or some secret ingredient in your company?
There is not a single skill that would make someone a unique employee. You can work fine remotely, but you can be a poor engineer and so on, the example is clear. It all depends on a combination of all your skills and experience.
We conduct an analysis and decide whether to accept or refuse.
- What are your plans for 2016?
This year we will grow, most likely, in many different directions.
Right now we are working with designers and engineers, but we plan to expand in many other areas, including outside of IT.
- You have many competitors, albeit with reservations. There are a lot of freelancers, and those who work with you will probably use other solutions. Do you have any special relationship with those talents that you ultimately select?
You can have 5,000 accounts on different platforms with different audiences, Toptal will exist. And, most likely, we will remain the best source of customers for the best professionals.
No site guarantees anything to the two parties, no rights in relation to the goals. We do this: a freelancer is a talent that will always put us at the top of the work and career hierarchy, as at Toptal he has the opportunity to work with world industry leaders such as Airbnb or JPMorgan.
As for companies, we are simply trusted more than the rest.
- Can you compare you with high-level consultants, for example, legal, auditing or financial services on the other side of the scale from a full-time accountant?
Yes, of course, in the sense that in our own name and reputation we give guarantees to our customers.
And the truth is, all world leaders are terribly afraid of what we are doing. I speak with many company representatives, and this is true. The problem with any such company is that it is sufficiently focused - no consultant can advise in all world industries at the same time. We just do not “advise” in the field of finance and taxes, but we will do this soon enough.
But companies, large and small companies, tens and hundreds of thousands of companies, know what Toptal has achieved during its existence. We have shown and proved that talents can work efficiently without “sitting out” their time in the office. Many hire employees who do nothing.
This is the main achievement of our company - we have created the best software in the world that allows us to perform our tasks without significant human intervention.
Take Deloitte or PwC as an example: they need a large, just a huge number of people just to start communicating with a client. A lot of documentation, many employees, a large number of meetings. This is not Google, where you simply clap your hands, call the boys and everyone starts to work.
In the end, any “corporation” provides quality labor. Medium or good executive with a surface layer of product / project management. If you think that you cannot do software for this, you are crazy. Of course you can.
A layer of team packaging, task delivery and a game plan - that is what should be done and that’s all. 5 years, maybe earlier, and this will be done by software, no doubt.
“I would like to believe it when you are so confident in telling about it, especially when your example proves it effectively.” Now the classic question is - what do you recommend to a hypothetical own child who tries and makes mistakes and asks for advice in creating some kind of product?
Learning to program is useful. It is not necessary to want to become a developer, in the end it will just give you good knowledge and a useful experience.
I love to write code from childhood and it has always been for me a peculiar form of self-expression. At the same time, it makes my thoughts more rational, built on a certain logic.
I always felt and knew that this would help me in life and in everything that I do. Starting from the assessment of any situations and ending with the management of the team, funds, everything else.
It makes you smarter, it makes your thoughts and actions more rational. I constantly notice a huge difference between engineers and everyone else - most people are completely irrational.
And most often, it works negatively.
So my advice is to learn, learn complex things, learn what you cannot understand, and work in complex systems. It will greatly help you in life.
- A career advice?
From my own experience. I left the university, everything that I achieved, I achieved myself. Work as a developer, find out what a software company is.
I can say with confidence that Toptal is the best company I have ever worked for. This knowledge gives me an understanding of where we are. Since I worked in many companies and got very different impressions. Someone is growing fast (Slide, bought by Google, where I left after the takeover) and is actively developing a culture of developers.
At Slide, we had weekly iterations in a team of dozens of people. And in Toptal, a team of 5 engineers is developing a technology that will seriously affect how dynamic systems work. It will take us a year and a half, but we will change the way we manage software, developers and development.
Other companies simply cannot afford to do this; they lack either flexibility, employees, or talents. And you can work with us.