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How Do You Build A $5Bill Unicorn In A Pandemic?

Earlier this year, I interviewed Alex Bouaziz, Co-founder and CEO of Deel, and asked him how he was able to build a unicorn, which was valued at $1.5 billion.

Just 6 months later, they closed a Series-D, raising $425 million and valuing the company at $5.5 billion.

And all this was done in a pandemic using a fully remote workforce!

Now, if you don't know what Deel does, they offer a software-as-a-service solution that allows companies to hire "compliantly in Under 5 Minutes", pretty much anywhere in the world.

So, if for example, your company is headquartered in South Africa or the United States, but you want to access developers in India or Ghana, Deel makes that possible with just a few clicks of your keyboard.

(Sounds impossible, but it's actually true as I've tried it).

To do this, Alex had to work with legal teams in every jurisdiction imaginable to understand what the local regulatory requirements were for employing or contracting staff and then build a super easy platform for companies to hire and pay remotely.

(You can learn more about Deel's offering here)

All of which is pretty impressive, especially to anyone that's ever tried to employ anyone overseas.

But how did Alex manage to go from the idea to a $5.5 billion valued business in under three years? And is his approach something that the likes of you and I should try to apply in our businesses?

I'll let you decide once you've skimmed over the key learnings I took away from the interview....

1. Solve problems you've experienced.

Alex is french. He has lived in London, Israel and the US. And prior to Deel, he had built businesses that employed talented engineers in places like Albania, at a fraction of the cost of their equivalents in Silicon Valley.

He was therefore acutely aware of the benefits companies can gain from hiring quality people from lower cost locations. He was equally aware that this is a difficult path to follow, due to the complexities of local regulations when it comes to enrolling remote teams.

By focusing on solving a personal, lived experience, Alex has a significant competitive advantage.

Question - Are you living the problems you want your business to solve?

2. This wasn't his first fandango.

Alex didn't magically succeed on his first outing. Prior to Deel he'd tried multiple times to build new businesses.

Some did ok. Some didn't.

But the key here is he honed his entrepreneurial skills from learning-by-doing.

Books might be interesting, but they cannot compete with getting out of the classroom to learn-by-doing in the real world.

Question - Are you getting out there to try to build and sell your ideas? Why not?

3. Decide fast and see where the mud sticks.

I asked Alex how he went from idea to execution so quickly.

One of the things we are really good at is making fast decisions. We are decisive. Sometimes they are not the best decisions, but making decisions really fast and following through on them is critical if you want to scale a business.

When you are building a startup, you don't know what's going to work and what will not.

It's therefore important to quite literally throw mud at the wall and see what sticks.

For Deel that meant that as soon as they had the idea about the product, they literally started building within 24 hours.

This build, test, learn and iterate cycle to see whether a product is going to work is critical. It's also much easier to get funding when you can show potential backers some evidence about the potential of your offering, based on real-world results.

Question : What is a more effective strategy? Building quality products based on assumptions, or building crappy prototypes to learn what customers like?

4. Don't care about your teams location. Care about their skillsets.

Perhaps obvious this one, when you consider what Deel solves for, but none the less Alex could have focused on creating a core team that all lived nearby.

This would certainly align to the classic "it started with a small team in my parent's garage" story.

But the reality is technology is now enabling companies to employ the best talent, no matter where they live in the world.

So don't fret about your staff's location. Fret about how to find the 'best value' talent, no matter where they sit in the world.

Question - How comfortable would you feel to only hiring remote workers for the next 12 months. (If the answer isn't very...., you might be losing out.)

5. Find supporting networks

Networks are critical. I'd go so far as to say it's probably the single biggest determinant for a companies future success.

Whether you want to learn from others, find funding or gain help in distribution, the better your network, the easier it becomes.

Deel found the ideal partner with Y Combinator and I'm convinced that the network that this introduced to Alex has been critical to their success.

Question : Is it better to share your ideas to build networks, or protect your IP by building in stealth mode?

6. Raise capital, fast.

Prior to Deel, Alex like many founders, bootstrapped.

I don't know whether this was due to lack of interest, or reticence towards giving up part of his company. I do know in the interview he said he'd change his fund-raising approach if he could go back in time to redo his early ventures.

Anyway, Alex was clear on the call that the decision to raise capital has been Deels catalyst to growth.

And referring to the previous point on networking, if you can find the right backers, they also play an important role in helping you find those future backers.

Question - Is it better to retain a big slice of a small pie, or a small slice of a massive one? So what are you waiting for - you can't scale by yourself!

7. Be purpose-driven, not profit-led

Rather than summarising this point, I felt Alex's opinion was so important, it's better to simply add the video segment.

Question - What would be the impact on your company if you transformed from profit-driven, to purpose-led?

8. Should You Make Mistakes?

Deel has a principle here. They don't try to understand if their products are optimal. They just want to understand if it makes their customers happy.

If it makes them happy, they ship it and fix it up later on.

So in short, Alex believes that making mistakes is critical. It's the only way to learn. As long as you believe in what you are doing and iterate, it's the best way to design product.

Question - How are you creating environments for your teams to fail to learn?

9. How Long Should You Take Developing Features?

If it takes more than two weeks to develop, it's probably not a good use of the teams time.

Question - How would you need to restructure your team to get into bi-weekly product release cycles?

If you want to participate in future interviews, check out the event page.

10. How Do You Develop Killer Products Or Features?

Test, learn and iterate.

Every day Deel develops new ideas for additional features. More often than not the ones they felt were going to be loved were not, and the ones they were less sure about were.

The key is to keep trying new features and observing what the clients do.

And where you get positive feedback, or even better see positive behaviours, then make sure you work out why and develop the product feature further.

Question : What indicators do you use to assess whether a particular product or feature is truly loved by your clients?

11. How Do You Motivate Remote Teams

Companies have got to place more trust in their teams. This is critical. You can't go around checking whether your teams have worked a 4 hour or 8 hour day.

Deel is driven by a clear purpose and then takes an outside-in approach to set quarterly KPI's and targets.

This of course means you have to hire teams that can self-manage and don't need to be micro-managed.

Question : Is it more effective to hire expensive self-starters?

12. Who Makes The Decisions?

Initially, when Deel was starting out, Alex would take all the key decisions.

As he said on the call, this quickly becomes a bottleneck and he is currently working hard at delegating more decisions to his teams.

After all what is the point of hiring great people and then not giving them decision rights?

Question : Would you be willing to delegate more decision making authority to your teams? If not why not?


I Hope you found this summary helpful?

If you did and/or you want to listen or watch the interview then here are the links:

- For the podcast, click here.

- For the video recording, click here and go to the Future Of Work section.

In fact if you go my video or podcast pages, you'll find interviews with global leaders from around the world, that I hope inspire you to be curious, courageous and purposeful in everything you do!



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