Building Remote-First Engineering Teams
Remote-first engineering teams from Greece, Athens as a remote work hub is 🔥, Skroutz Plus, 820 jobs, funding news, events and more
👋 Happy Friday! Welcome to Hunting Greek Unicorns #31. I’m Alex, a product guy turned VC, and every two weeks I send out a newsletter with everything you need to know about the Greek startup industry.
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🎙️Building a remote-first engineering team from Greece to disrupt the dev tools space with Sokratis Vidros, Founding Engineer at Clerk
Greece + working remote, while disrupting the dev tools industry - sounds cool right? ☀️ 🏖️ 💻
This week I’m really excited to have Sokratis Vidros, Founding Engineer of Clerk, on Hunting Greek Unicorns. Sokratis is not a stranger in the Greek startup scene, being employee #6 at Workable with his most recent role there as VP of Engineering. The past year he’s been leading the engineering team of Clerk, an exciting startup in the dev tools industry, aiming to become the go-to tool for user authentication. Now, another interesting story here is that this startup which has two American founders and investors (including founders and early employees from Stripe, PagerDuty, Segment, etc) decided to build almost their entire team from Greece, and do so in a remote-first manner! This is a pattern that I see happening more and more the past year. No wonder why Athens is in the list of the most consistently growing remote work hubs the past 5 years.
With Sokratis we discussed:
the reasons why a tech startup with American founders and investors decides to build their engineering team mostly from Greece
why dev tools space is hot and what’s next for this industry
setting up effective communication practices in remote-first teams
Why does a tech startup with American founders and investors decide to build their engineering team mostly from Greece? What is the story of Clerk?
Greece has some brilliant engineering talent. This now known fact has resulted in many foreign companies investing in Greek talent by creating tech hubs that build world class products. I believe one of the core reasons is the strong foundation created by Greek academia, which provides a deep focus in computer science, mathematics and science. The important thing is that graduates are taught the core principles of sciences and then they can easily adapt to the different technologies the market demands. The tech space is changing fast, so the right foundations give people the right attitude to be trained for any required skill. At the same time, Greece's high quality of life with relatively low cost of living compared to other European countries or the US, allows international companies to give high compensation plans (much higher than the Greek market average), but still lower than what they would get for talent of equally high quality in their countries of origin. Hence, companies can extend their runway and that’s a solid investment.
When it comes to Clerk, our story started in June 2020. A partner from S28 Capital, a San Francisco-based VC fund, who I had met a few years back at a networking event in Greece, reached out to me on LinkedIn to discuss a new opportunity. He had already worked with small engineering teams across Europe, including Greece, and was impressed by the quality he had encountered. He pitched to me several enticing projects and one immediately stood out; it was about creating a dev tool to manage users in every website. Two talented American engineers had started working on this project and had just raised their first money to take things to the next level. We started discussing how we can convert this project into a successful company and I suggested that we start building our team in Europe, and hire the first engineers in Greece, as this would enable us to find top talent, whilst optimally utilizing the capital we have.
Now, eight months in, we just secured our Seed round, which is around $4.1 million and we are a team of 14 people, across 6 different time zones. We launched our product in February 2021 and our early adopters came soon after. The team is strong, one of the most talented ones I’ve ever worked with, and we are entering the phase where we are working hard to find product-market fit. We’re growing a team that is so far predominantly based in Greece (10 out of 14 - with another Greek working from Amsterdam), working remotely from Athens, Trikala, Lamia, Chios and who knows where next!
For every international team landing in Greece to build a team, I think it’s all about making the right hires starting from the first hire you make. This person needs to act as an ambassador for the project and it’s key that they have the right mixture of skills including team building, managerial and technical. They also need to have a vast network with potential hires for the company, because together with their reputation, their network will help attract the next 3 key hires. As soon as the first 3 people are hired, you have the core team.
Can you share more about what Clerk does? What problem does it solve for developers?
With Clerk, you can add beautiful, high-conversion ‘Sign Up’ and ‘Sign In’ forms to your application in minutes. After signing in, Clerk empowers your users to take control of their user profile data and account security with multi-factor authentication and device management.
If you’ve ever found yourself thinking that there’s got to be a better way to build the authentication system for your product, Clerk was built with you in mind. It truly only takes minutes to add best-in-class authentication experiences to your application, and Clerk’s team is constantly working behind-the-scenes to make them even better.
The dev tools space is super hot right now. What do you think is the next frontier for the industry?
In order to understand why there is currently a hype around dev tools, we need to go ten years back. At that point, the focus of the tech sector was mostly building B2B software around the different company functions (finance, HR, product, etc) and B2C products aiming to disrupt traditional markets. After a decade of building and selling these tools, it is evident that nowadays every company is transforming into a software company. Software is eating the world! As a result, developers constitute a big valuable market and drive the business strategy. This has led to the proliferation of dev tool products.
In general, products for developers optimise the way they work, by increasing their velocity and reducing the cost. Since most applications developed have many components in common such as user management, billing, text search, notifications, etc, they can be packaged as Cloud Native tools to allow developers to focus on coding, building and selling their apps in the cloud. Clerk aims to be the go-to product for user management, just like Stripe is for billing or Elastic is for search.
As I look to the future, I see another rising trend in our industry. It’s a new wave of no-code / low-code platforms. The promise of no-code platforms is that they’ll make software development as easy as using Word or PowerPoint so that the average business user can move projects forward without the extra cost (money and time) of an engineering team. Unlike no-code platforms, low-code platforms still require coding skills, but promise to accelerate software development by letting developers work with pre-written code components. I’m really looking forward to the innovation this new way of building software will bring to the world.
You’re building a remote-first team. What are the challenges when it comes to hiring and culture and how are you addressing them?
To share some more context, we started building our team during the second lockdown. Due to the unprecedented circumstances, we had never met in person until recently, when the Greek team met in Athens. So, Clerk is a fully asynchronous, remote company and always will be. This is our main mode of operation, with some regular in-person meetings and activities throughout the year.
As far as hiring is concerned: it’s hard unless you create a strong employer brand. And it’s even harder when it comes to attracting great engineers, as they have a lot of great options, particularly in the remote era we are living in. In order to attract top talent, you can’t just have an interesting product, cool tech stack and good pay, you need the right culture that will attract a top engineer to come, grow professionally and feel fulfilled and creative in their job. One of the different elements at play in a remote-first organization like ours, is that you should try much more to foster personal connections, as you won’t cross paths in the hallway or by the watercooler. Therefore, it’s crucial to set up effective collaboration practices and virtual team building.
This starts by figuring out how to communicate well. For instance, at Clerk we have created several touch points over different channels to increase the visibility and engagement of the team. In order to get to know each other better, on a personal level too, we often organise online game nights (Drawful and Gartic Phone seriously rock!) and soon we’re going to organise our first Clerk summit to fly everyone in the same location and spend some time together. Team building activities are crucial and should be nurtured by all members. With this in mind, don’t try to blindly follow online recipes, as people will feel obliged to participate in fixed set ups and won’t enjoy it. My recommendation would be: listen to your team, test things and see what resonates.
In terms of the tools we use to facilitate our remote-first way of work, apart from the usual suspects such as G Suite, Notion, Github, Figma and Slack, we are also using some really interesting next-gen collaboration software:
SpatialChat for our virtual Clerk office where we hang out often throughout the day. We also have a virtual pool!
Rume to have multiple conversations, as well as play games at the same time.
If you are interested in learning more about Clerk, the growing dev tools space or more information on how they’re building a remote-first company with the majority of the team hailing from Greece, check out their website or reach out to Sokratis on Twitter! The team is also hiring. Check out their openings here.
🦄 Startup Jobs
Apifon - DevOps Engineer (Thessaloniki) - Apply here
Balena - Technical Sales Lead / Sales Engineer (EMEA) (Remote) - Apply here
efood - Product Manager Quick e-Commerce (Athens) - Apply here
FlexCar - Talent Acquisition Associate (Athens) - Apply here
Geekbot - Senior Software Developer (Thessaloniki) - Apply here
Netdata - Community Manager (Remote) - Apply here
Signal Ventures - Entrepreneur in Residence (Athens) - Apply here
Spotawheel - Marketing Analyst (Athens) - Apply here
TileDB - Developer Advocate (Remote) - Apply here
Wappier - Programming - Summer internship (Athens) - Apply here
Viva Wallet in discussions with investors for its next funding round, a Series D of €350M. That would take the company to a €1.5B! valuation 🦄 More details here.
FlexCar, a car-as-a-service company headquartered in Athens, has recently raised a new funding round that takes the total funding to €50M. The team previously raised a €1.5M seed round in 2019 by UniFund and Venture Friends.
Terra, a startup building the API layer for fitness and health data, raised a $2.8M round from General Catalyst, Samsung Next and NEXT VENTURES. The team was also part of YC W21.
Skroutz launched its delivery subscription program Skroutz Plus (free delivery service with annual fee €17 for orders above €20). It's been close to a year since the team clearly started a series of strategic moves to vertically expand their offering: shut down Skroutz Food, acquired EveryPay, acquired SendX and now Skroutz Plus.
Applied Materials, after acquiring Think Silicon last year, planning to 3x its local team by 2022 and launch a research centre in Thessaloniki. More details here.
Groceries delivery is one of the hottest industries globally funding-wise. More players are entering the Greek market with rounds to be announced soon. Some details here.
New legislation regarding spin–offs from Greek universities and research centres will be in effect soon to nurture the creation of such companies and ventures.
A 6-months entrepreneurial programme from EIT Food offering training, mentoring and networking opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the agrifood sector is accepting applications until the 13th of June 2021.
Arrikto, a startup accelerating ML models to market, was named a 2021 Cool Vendor by Gartner.
🤓 Interesting Reads
Athens as a remote work destination is 🔥
#6 in most consistently growing hubs the last 5 years and #10 in most consistently growing hubs with affordable real estate. Check out the data from Nomadlist, here.
A report from Endeavor Greece on the state of Greek Tech in 2020 with predictions for 2021. The verdict is out: the Greek startup industry is booming!
Think big, Obsess over customers, Execute fast. Another spot-on post by Babis Makrynikolas, VP Product & Pricing at Blueground, on how to build great products with lessons learned from Amazon's success.
Greek government is planning to introduce a visa scheme targeted to digital nomads (specifically UK citizens) during summer according to Kathimerini.
A post by Adam Markakis, CEO of Kineo, on the Greek national plan for bicycles.
An intro into many areas of digital marketing with examples from the real world by Alexandra Marinaki, Content Writer at Moosend.
Spiros Xanthos, VP of Product Management of Splunk, introducing the concept of observability, how that has evolved over the years and the role it plays in performance management, cybersecurity, and IT operations here.
Argyris Argyrou, SVP of Data at Orfium, on an introduction to Machine Learning for Product Managers.
A podcast with Christina Voskoglou, Director of Research at SlashData, on understanding developers with data, how they measure developer engagement and more.
Andreas Constantinou, CEO & founder of SlashData, talking about how they built a culture of accountability inside the company and lessons learned along the way here.
Some interesting events coming up from the Greek tech community:
“To The Point: Checking in on Cyprus, a gateway to innovation” by Tech.eu on June 16
“Bitcoin smart contracts and DeFi” by Bitcoin & Blockchain Tech Meetup on June 16
“Applying Reinforcement Learning in Industry” by PyData Cyprus on June 17
"V as in MetaVerse" a conference on NFTs, smart contracts, DAOs and startups by Jon Vlachogiannis on July 3 and 4
Stay safe and sane,
Greek Startup Pirate 👋