The growth levers and GTM strategies that drove Deel's hockey stick growth and a $5.5B valuation, while making remote hiring a walk in the park.
Ruchin Kulkarni is a co-founder at Toplyne where he leads all things Growth. Previously an investor at Sequoia Capital, he writes about SaaS and product-led growth (PLG) at the Top of the Lyne newsletter. Find him on Twitter at @Ruchin_Kulkarni.
Many months have passed since the onset of the global pandemic, and yet nothing has managed to bring us together as a species quite like that video of 25 celebrities singing John Lennon's imagine
. Widely acknowledged to be one of the worst things to have ever happened, we broke the barriers that separated us and came together as one to pick this video apart.
"Imagine there's no countries… it isn't hard to do," sang Eddie Benjamin and Jimmy Fallon, while John Lennon rolled over in his grave.
Hindsight is 20/20 but turns out this motley crew of celebrities were actually on to something. Since the video united us in our collective cringe back in early 2020, COVID-19 has fundamentally altered the structures around which our personal and work lives are organized. And as usual, tech came to the rescue.
The Zooms, Hopins
, and Slacks of the world gave us a platform to log in from anywhere in the world. The Calendlys
of the world made scheduling and work-life balance a breeze. Airtable
, and Notion
made it easy for us to collaborate with anybody in the world. Physical and geographical boundaries evaporated into thin air, and suddenly it didn't matter if you were in Baku, Bangalore, Brussels, Bhutan, or Boston.
It really isn't hard to imagine a world without countries anymore.
This has had many far-reaching consequences, including changing the way organizations hire talent. With remote work annulling geographical constraints, the locus of the hiring pool has shifted away from traditional metropolitan areas. There are far bigger pools of talent to hire from, and the playing field has been optimized for merit rather than zipcode. Global hiring policies are a no-brainer, and just make sense. The problem? Companies weren't equipped with the infrastructure to support these newly evolved hiring practices yet. Regulations, payroll compliances and other local protocols still had to be navigated.
The stage was set for a PLG company to don its cape and come to the rescue again. The world was about to discover the magic of Deel.
MIT alumni and friends Alex Bouaziz's and Shuo Wangs's first version of Deel was an influencer payment solution that allowed independent contractors and creators to manage their receivables better. The initial GTM process to acquire influencers failed to meet expectations in a fintech market where trust and brand value superseded all other factors. The founders quickly pivoted to focus on clients - the businesses that contracted multiple creators from across geographies for full-time and part-time gigs. Empathy for client pain points juxtaposed with personal (and unpleasant) experiences of being remote workers in the past presented an opportunity and a new direction for the fledgling startup
Solving hiring, payroll, and management for a global workforce!
Before we dig deeper into the $5.5B disruptors, let us understand the old-school route for accessing talent in a foreign country.
1. Set up a local entity
2. Set up a local office and register the address as a subsidiary
3. Set up a local bank account
4. Figure out regional labor laws
5. Figure out regional benefits
... 50 more steps for the bureaucracy to feel productive
55. Hire your first employee
... 45 additional steps to ensure onboarding is 10x tougher than hiring
100. Pay fines for breaching a local law amendment that was added last Tuesday
... 20 steps to harass job creators
121. Pay fines for...
Aaahh the good old days! 😍
Now that you see the opportunity Alex and Shuo did, let us talk about the solution - An EOR! 😇
An Employer On Record is a local entity that is legally authorized to hire, pay and manage employees and contractors on behalf of their foreign clients.
Regional and specialized EORs eliminate the need for a local subsidiary by managing the entire employee lifecycle from hiring, onboarding, contracting, payroll all the way to termination and exits. The EOR maintains contracts that are updated for the region and runs payrolls up-to-date with local employer costs like benefits and taxation. Advanced EORs facilitate equity allotment (NSOs for US organizations) and offer strict IP protection and Data security.
- Just imagine... a revolutionary business partner who provides access via a dashboard to 80+ EOR entities across the world.
- Now imagine a second cutting-edge software company through which your HR team can hire global talent in minutes without sending your legal department on a 2-month exile across the globe.
- And lastly, imagine a third lightning-fast payroll solution with which finance processes a global payroll across currencies without missing the new tax law that <insert remote country> rolled out.
Each of those companies could independently be worth 10s of billions of dollars in the modern remote world 🤷🏻♂️
But much like Steve Jobs at the first iPhone keynote, we're not talking about 3 different companies.
🚀 Enter Deel! "so good it feels like cheating"
Today, Deel is a $5.5B global tech giant employing a 500+ globally distributed workforce (walking the talk) used by 6000+ organizations across the world to hire, pay and manage their global workforce of employees and contractors. The Coatue, A16Z, and YC (amongst others) backed startup brings home a mind-blowing $50M+ in ARR, clocking 12.5x YoY growth in 2021! 🤯
Deel’s pricing plan
🚦Rolling out the red carpet
Deel's operations team led by Dan Westgarth goes to different geographies across the world and sets up EOR's so that you and I won't have to 🥺.
Expansion strategy and operations managers scope out rules, regulations, and global conditions, and partner with regional legal entities to incorporate EOR's. These entities, managed by payroll managers and employee experience specialists handle the complete EOR employee lifecycle for all the clients and talent mapped to them.
In lightning-fast pace and execution excellence, Deel-owned entities popped up across the globe and certain geographies were outsourced to trusted partners. Deel currently boasts a presence in 150+ countries across the world and can undertake payroll in 200+ currencies! 🤩
❤️ Frictionless integrations = Customer love
The best workplace tools are ones that recognize and respect the existing workflows of their users. An effort must be made to seamlessly integrate your unique value addition as a layer on top of existing systems, consequently making the user experience more robust! Deel facilitates easy integration with:
- Accounting tools like Intuit, Netsuite, and Xero to sync invoices and manage expenses.
- HR management tools like Bamboo HR to which new employees are synced
- and ATS tools like Ashby for all things upstream to contracting and onboarding on Deel.
🤔 "How to ask for payment professionally?"
As the world navigates a new normal, queries around remote hiring are often left hanging on the internet.
Deel's Growth and Content team enters the chat.
Deel's extensive blog and resources section host 300+ dedicated posts that capture queries like:
- what is a w9 tax form? 🧾
- how do you set up a proprietorship in Canada? 🇨🇦
- how to get paid in bitcoins? 🚀
Educating prospects about the possibilities of recruiting globally while at the same time generating organic demand for the product.
The blog accounts for more than 60% of the website's traffic! 🚦
Content efforts are amplified by a buzzing social media presence across LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. An extensive Global Hiring Guide details unique hiring requirements across countries while an Employee cost Calculator that outputs region-specific incremental costs of hiring, tries to emulate Shopify's success with free tools.
Deel also deals (hehehe) country-specific NFT's - returns from which are donated to code.org.
💰 Selling a Superpower!
Up and to the right 😳 ... aka, a Deel Curve 👇🏻
If you head to the artist behind the numbers for advice, Co-founder and CRO Shuo Wang's reply will most likely be:
"Treat sales as an engineering project."
With customers spread out across the world now aplomb with Fed printed, venture distributed dollars, Shuo's team needed to speak the right language and match alarm clock timings with their prospects.
Deel’s CS and Sales team is truly Global! 🌎
In a capital deployment spree second to none, the outreach team grew from a handful to 150+ (30% of the workforce)
- Account Executive's (60-65)
- Customer Onboarding & Success Managers (20-25)
- Sales Development Representatives (20-25)
- and New region-specific sales playbooks were created by Country Sales and Expansion heads (10-15).
SDR's prospect and qualify inbound and outbound leads. Account executives further divided as SMB, Mid Market, and Enterprise, engage and convert these SQLs. New accounts are greeted by customer onboarding managers and success managers for a frictionless introduction and later with calls for expansion. Support specialists hired per timezone ensure 24x7 assistance for all paying customers.
Early investment in revenue ops and enablement can be hailed for 'enabling' this massive hiring and deployment spree.
Deel also employs Partnership and Affiliate channels for sales which incentivizes payroll providers to shift operations to the platform and also enables enterprising individuals with the right networks to resell Deel.
⏩ What's next
With a War-Chest 💰 filled to the brim with series D dollars, we expect Deel to continue their conquest opening more EORs across the world. The Open API product that will further increase integrations and the global payroll product that will let organizations with entities abroad run payroll through Deel are up and coming features that we can't wait for! On the GTM front, the number of open positions under the Rev ops and Sales headers suggest that Shuo's is doubling down on her engineering project. The Deel curve is only going to get steeper and we are super excited to see how it unfolds! 🚀
This story originally appeared on Top of the Lyne, a weekly newsletter about product-led growth.