Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey! I’m Gino Ferrand and I’m the founder of TECLA. I’m originally from Lima, Peru, and I’m currently living in Seattle, Washington. My business makes it easy for startups to interview and directly hire software developers from an invite-only network of the top talent in South America (same time zones as the U.S.).
TECLA is a hiring platform designed specifically for startups and software agencies that are looking for pre-screened, vetted, talent and are open to working with remote team members. Today, we have almost 9,000 remote candidates on our platform from all over Latin America. We’ve successfully connected hundreds of senior-level engineers and designers with companies from across the U.S. for full-time positions.
A big differentiating factor for us (in a crowded market) is that companies can directly hire the candidates we introduce them to. They don’t need to work through us. Although we do offer staffing services if companies prefer to work on a contract-basis with candidates (mostly short-term).
The newest version of our platform allows companies to create job searches with specific parameters that help our system connect the startup’s job with the right candidates in our network based on filters such as technical skills, seniority, communication skills, cultural fit, and time zone.
I started TECLA in 2013 with $15k in total investment from my own savings. The business has always been 100% bootstrapped. Today, we are a team of 12 full-time (core) team members, 5 part-time contributors, and a network of 9,000 tech professionals, working remotely (from home) from countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, and Uruguay.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started TECLA fortuitously, and as a result of working (and failing) on a completely different business. In 2011 and 2012, I was working on an online mobile (sim) game that was going to be published in the AppStore and PlayStore. I was studying at the University of San Diego at this point and in my senior year. My skills were mostly in iOS programming, UX and UI design and so I was badly in search of backend software engineers who could work with me to bring this game to life, but I had some technical challenges:
- I didn’t want to outsource the project to an agency. I wanted to build my own team.
- I didn’t have the right network to find a co-founder.
- Most of my friends in the Computer Science department were already being hired by Facebook, Google, and other tech giants in Silicon Valley and they had no interest in working on a mobile game.
I did what a lot of people do in similar situations. I started running Google searches looking for ways to hire backend software developers. Got into Upwork (previously oDesk), Guru, Elance and some other sites that offered freelance talent.
Not every startup needs VC investment, and growth doesn’t have to “explosive” for a venture to be a good business.
It was a hit or miss process on those freelancing sites. For me, at least. But the whole process validated a few things:
- There are very talented engineers all over the world
- The sourcing and recruiting process on these sites can be hit or miss, inefficient, and too time-consuming
- Time zones made it extremely difficult to collaborate with my team in real-time
Then, I got a big break, and through a mutual connection in Lima, I ended up meeting our current CTO. When this happened, I remember asking myself, “Why in the world have I not been recruiting back home in Lima?”
The game was eventually released and we got about 100k installs. It was a minor, but worthwhile success.
(Bear in mind this was in 2011/2012)
After a decade of living in the U.S., I decided to move back to Lima. I would lower my living costs substantially, and build a remote team based out of South America to continue working on the game.
I hired a great backend engineer with 10+ years of experience who lived in Chile and an iOS developer who lived in Lima who had previously worked on projects for Google and IBM. I decided not to spend cash on an office, and so we all worked from home.
Game Version 2.0 was looking promising...
But, before we could even work on the game for a full two months, I already had other small companies reaching out interested in me building a remote team in South America for them. All through word of mouth and LinkedIn.
I continued working on the game for some time, but I quickly realized that the process I had developed for remote recruiting in South America was something that addressed all of my own pain points, and it seemed that other companies had been struggling with the same issues when it came to remote hiring (time zones, sourcing, and efficiency).
My recently hired team liked the vision I proposed for TECLA, and we went with it!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
After working for a full year with clients, I began thinking about ways we could make the process more efficient. The entire hiring cycle was taking a bit too long, and I wanted to make things as efficient (and engaging) as possible for both employers and candidates.
As our network grew, we also started bringing in designers, data scientists, and other software professionals onto the platform. This diversified our offering, but it also made it that much more complex when working on recruiting and matchmaking. We needed a way to make sure that the client’s openings were being shared with the right candidates.
Sharing jobs with the wrong candidates wasted not only the company’s time but also the candidate’s time.
In the early days, we were taking requirements using Google Forms and via email. We would send out jobs via newsletters and run a very manual process. We still have many recruiters on our team who are actively engaged, but we also have a platform that allows for companies and candidates to have a more efficient process to find each other.
The technology we put into our platform helps us be more efficient and accurate, but we’ll never replace the human part of our recruiting process.
If anything, technology has allowed our team members to spend more time on the stuff we want to be spending time on (connecting people), and less on the data entry and mechanical type of stuff.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The business really came about as a response to companies requesting my recruiting services personally. A few friends who had founded companies and were looking to hire engineers (remote or in-office) asked me about consulting with them to help them recruit remote talent. This in time turned into what TECLA is today.
By no means has our growth been “explosive”. In any way. It’s been stable and consistent. Growing the business anywhere from 20-40% YoY for the past six years. But always growing, and always doing it profitably.
I have to admit that, initially, this was a bit frustrating. I spent a lot of time thinking about ways that we could grow much faster. Modifying marketing campaigns, channels, messaging, and pretty much everything about our customer acquisition strategies. This led to great small pivots that we have made throughout the past years, but nothing led to the explosive growth that sometimes entrepreneurs expect from startups these days.
Turning back, it’s satisfying to think that the business has stability, promising future, a wonderful team of people, great YoY growth, and that it was all started with an initial investment of ~$15K of savings. It’s been entirely bootstrapped from the beginning with no credit or outside capital investment. We have happy clients, a growing network of engaged candidates, low overhead, a diverse team with people from so many countries, and everyone enjoys the perks of flexible schedules and working from anywhere.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Even though we are all about our platform and making the process of recruiting/hiring more effective through automation, the fact is hiring/recruiting is still a pretty slow sales cycle. It takes customers really trusting that you can deliver on your promises of great talent. I really can’t overstate the impact of having testimonials from current and former clients.
Our first year we grow entirely through word of mouth.
We have dabbled in many digital marketing channels. Organic, social, paid social, SEO, email marketing, and others. I think what has worked out the most has been focusing completely on optimizing one channel per quarter.
Early on I always made the mistake of putting together a marketing budget and then trying to do everything with it. Putting some of it into SEO, ads, sponsorships, etc. This made things extremely difficult to measure. We ended up not being able to measure any of our results with consistency because our attention was spread too thin.
If you’re in B2B, embrace your inner salesman-self. Accept that your business relies entirely on sales. If you’re the founder, then you’re the main salesperson.
One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was, again, waiting for TECLA to take off like a B2C consumer startup. I treated marketing as if our platform was a product. Once we changed the mindset and started focusing on creating connections, I made sure our marketing and sales teams invested a lot more time in growing their networks and creating meaningful relationships with people whose companies we could help.
We’ve also gotten so much support from current and former customers who want to provide great testimonials for us. Thinking back on it, sometimes customers really wanted to help and we were prioritizing other marketing initiatives instead of taking advantage of that. That was a huge mistake, looking back on it. Today, if customers want to help and want to provide testimonials, all of our attention turns to that. Leads from existing customers are way more valuable than any lead that a B2B company can acquire through paid ads, or any marketing campaign really.
I would say our biggest investment now, marketing-wise, is on LinkedIn, conferences, networking events, and just getting out of the building and meeting real people. In addition, working with our current clients and getting them to introduce us to other founders, CTOs, and other people in tech who might be interested in our services.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We have several things in the works for this year! There’s a couple of things we are very excited about in regard to our platform, but we are also very excited to grow our talent acquisition teams throughout the Americas. We are expecting to hire 3-5 more talent acquisition specialists in countries like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Mexico.
We hit a big milestone for us this past year (2019) when we were able to get to just over $1 million in revenue for the first time. We are currently at $85k per month and hoping to get to $100k per month this year (2020).
Growing the team: we have plans to hire a few more people for our talent acquisition team.
Platform: our technical team’s goal for this year is to refine the platform’s ability to match jobs with candidates, in an even more accurate way. We are always working on improving this system. It works well, but it can always be better. Any improvement in this area will ultimately help us lower the time it takes for employers to find the right candidates, and also will lower the time that candidates take to go through the entire hiring process. We have plans to leverage more video on our platform so that, even though all of the hiring processes is virtual, the entire experience feels more personal for all parties.
These are the kind of emails we strive for with candidates in our network. We want them to think of us as a valuable resource for their careers.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think taking advantage of existing customer networks was a very impactful lesson for me. I used to think of the process like this: close a deal (new client), wait for them to ask for more business. We are lucky that our retention is high, and most clients do/did ask for more business, but it’s also been very helpful for us to reach out periodically to find out more about our clients. By learning what their long-term and short-term needs are, we are able to help in more ways than they had initially imagined, and we’ve ended up expanding our relationship with key clients.
I remember when I first started, I was always chasing our next client. Not enough time was focused on growing the relationships we already had.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Slack: we are a 100% remote team and Slack is our virtual office. It’s been an amazing tool for us and we hopped onto it very early on. Throughout the years, we’ve developed some games and channels within Slack to get to know our own team, and have some great non-work-related conversations and exchanges.
Copper CRM: I went out looking for a great way to manage our sales communication and found Copper, which is a great tool for Gmail users. We use G Suite, so Copper has been a great addition.
Veem / Xoom: two great payment-processing platforms for any company working with team members from around the globe. I really recommend them both. They are easy to use. They debit directly from a U.S. bank account and deposit directly in U.S. Dollars or local currency. Great way to pay team members located outside the U.S.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
These are the books that have made the biggest impact on my work life.
An amazing book that taught me the value of remote work and how to do work with a distributed team. I would recommend it to any founder who is interested in building a great team regardless of location.
For anyone, like me, who considers themselves an introvert. I mentioned earlier the importance of network and real-world relationships. If you’re an introvert, like me, it’s even harder, but it’s doable.
A really well-told story that makes you realize creating a hugely successful business is a combination of luck, perseverance, and pretty much all the stuff typical startup founders deal with. The journey isn’t that different even for how extremely large companies were created.
The importance of hard work and determination and how it can overpower any kind of natural talent. Very applicable in the startup world. Some founders pivot too early, in my opinion. Some too late, definitely. But there’s a bit of both.
I didn’t think this book would fit with my management style, given that it’s a book with a lot of military analogies. It surprised me. It’s not really about management styles. It’s about leadership, and how important it is to really take ownership of whatever you’re doing, especially as a manager.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Three biggest things I’ve learned through building TECLA:
- Everything is digital, but real-world connections and networks still matter (a lot!)
- Not every startup needs VC investment, and growth doesn’t have to “explosive” for a venture to be a good business
- If you’re in B2B, embrace your inner salesman-self. Accept that your business relies entirely on sales. If you’re the founder, then you’re the main salesperson.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking to expand our talent acquisition teams in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. In addition, we don’t have set roles we hire for, and instead, we leave the door open for anyone in terms of partnerships, sales, and marketing. If anyone thinks that they can help us grow, that’s a conversation I would love to have even if there’s no specific open role. I’ve met a lot of people who we’ve worked with in terms of sales and marketing (mostly) who just reached out and said, “Hey, this is how I can help you grow.” I’m always paying attention to that, and I’m excited to meet people who are passionate about sales.
In terms of specific roles we are hiring for, they are all 100% remote but looking for recruiters who have networks in software and IT and who are based in South America for the moment, since most of our business is in helping companies connect with engineers in Latin America.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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