David Darmanin de Hotjar

Café Fundador, episodio 010

Soy Jeroen de Salesflare y éste es el Café Fundador.

Cada dos semanas tomo un café con un fundador diferente. Hablamos de la vida, las pasiones, los aprendizajes,... en una charla íntima, conociendo a la persona que hay detrás de la empresa.

En este décimo episodio he hablado con David Darmanin, cofundador de Hotjar. Su empresa ayuda a decenas de miles de propietarios de aplicaciones y sitios web a ver cómo utilizan realmente su software los visitantes y a recopilar más y mejores opiniones de los usuarios.

David runs Hotjar’s remote team from Malta, a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. He previously used to build websites, was a VP of Design, and is now spending most of his time working on people and culture at his famous scale-up company.

We chat about why he got started, how they defined their values, why he’s not taking VC funding and how he practically manages his international remote team.

Bienvenido a Founder Coffee.

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Jeroen: Hi David, it’s great to have on Founder Coffee.

David: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Jeroen: You are the founder of Hotjar. Obviously for those who don’t know yet, or perhaps don’t have a SaaS company or a website, would you like to explain what Hotjar exactly does?

David: Hotjar es una especie de grupo de herramientas reunidas en una solución que te permite entender prácticamente cómo se utiliza tu sitio o aplicación. Puedes visualizar dónde hace clic la gente o cómo se desplaza. Incluso puedes reproducir la experiencia real o ver en qué punto del recorrido se detienen, y luego también puedes hacer preguntas para averiguar por qué estos usuarios o visitantes se comportan de la manera en que lo hacen.

Jeroen: ¿Por qué suele utilizar Hotjar la gente? ¿Cuáles son los problemas que intentan resolver?

David: Typically, I’d say there are two kinds of groups that we’re addressing. There are marketers or sales individuals who are trying to attract visitors to a page or site, and they want to see how they are actually reacting to the content there, their experience and what happens after that. In a way, improving the performance of their spend, budget and of their time to get more value out of what they are doing.

También tenemos equipos de producto y equipos de asistencia o equipos de experiencia del cliente. Suelen estar más interesados en observar a un usuario que vuelve o a un cliente, y cómo se desarrolla su experiencia. Esto les ayuda a identificar los puntos de bloqueo o los puntos de dolor, cosas que pueden mejorar para los clientes.

Jeroen: So it’s all about learning where to improve?

David: That’s it.

Jeroen: ¿Es algo que partió de su propia experiencia? ¿Cuándo decidiste crear Hotjar?

David: Yo había trabajado internamente en una empresa de software. Estuve allí bastantes años, empezando como especialista en optimización y como diseñador, hasta llegar a vicepresidente de diseño.

I attended quite a few events, used quite a few tools. In many ways, I was the actual user. After that I moved on to consulting with quite a few big businesses and also startups. It was interesting to see my pains were shared by other companies. It was interesting to see how they described what they were looking for, and their lack of knowledge around how these tools can be powerful. That’s the journey we’re on right now. With Hotjar, I’m building a solution I wanted back then basically.

Also, hopefully changing the way change happens. That’s a big phrase to say.

It’s mainly because I mentioned before that Hotjar allows you to ask questions. There is analytics and data, but there is also feedback, qualitative inputs. With Hotjar, we are aiming towards combining these two together in a very powerful way. Rather than just look at the data, it would actually help you understand what the hell that data is telling you. Like, what’s the story behind a certain behaviour?

Jeroen: En cierto modo, ¿estás intentando obtener una opinión holística de gente que no está a tu lado?

David: Correct. It’s so easy in today’s world to get stuck behind the screen, looking at your graphs and data. The teams are not speaking enough to the users to understand what’s really driving that behavior.

Jeroen: So here it is all about getting insights into a person’s experience, without having to speak or sit next to them. What’s the company you were working at when you were doing design and what were they into exactly?

David: This is pre-smartphones. You’d think I’m old when I say that. Basically it was a software utilities for PCs. It was really super basic B2C software for the Windows OS. Then I moved on and that’s when I started working for Conversion Rate Experts. That’s where I started doing all the conversion targeted work.

Jeroen: ¿Empezó más bien desde el punto de vista de la conversión?

David: Sin duda.

Jeroen: Now I imagine it’s also more about usability as well?

David: Sí, definitivamente.

Let’s put it this way, I was always a design-product UX passionate guy, and then conversion was kind of where I started to work closely with marketing to bridge the gap between the two.

You really start to realize that in today’s world, where the experience is everything, this is really important. The way your users talk about you or rate or review you, is really what’s important — maybe more than what it was a decade ago. Maybe it would make sense to use the term ‘growth hack’ here. In reality, as we move forward, growth and optimization really comes from improving the customer’s experience. Making it worthy of word-of-mouth, for people to say that you are doing something amazing, is the only way to win going forward.

In many ways, we’ve built Hotjar around the same thinking and that’s how we run our sales. Obviously we do our fair share of inception, eating our own dog food. We use Hotjar to improve Hotjar, and we try and put it in that way. Rather than testing, we’ve heard a lot about split testing and testing, rather than testing for the sake of testing.

We are always obsessed about users and our customers, to understand where is the next biggest improvement that we need to make. Then the test really is the tool you use to measure what you are doing, but it’s not the means to the end.

Jeroen: ¿Cómo funciona eso para ti? ¿Tienes un entorno de pruebas que utilizas tú mismo o también trabajas en la parte de producción que incluye solo pruebas para desarrolladores?

David: No, definitivamente tenemos un entorno de pruebas. Pero también hacemos algo que internamente llamamos, feature flagging. A veces construimos cosas que sólo están disponibles en nuestra propia cuenta. Eso nos permite experimentar mucho y ver si realmente lo estamos utilizando nosotros mismos, antes de ponerlo a disposición de todos los demás.

Jeroen: Makes sense. It’s something we do too; it’s often easier. Also, then you can just deliver it to a handful of users, see what they think before you basically roll it out to all of them.


Jeroen: Has mencionado que primero te interesó el diseño. ¿Estudiaste diseño? En realidad, ¿podrías contarnos algo más sobre tu historia, por ejemplo, dónde creciste?

David: It’s a fun story there actually. My parents immigrated to Australia from Malta in the late 70s. Basically, back then, Malta being a tiny island, wasn’t going through the best times. A lot of people left the island. My parents went to Australia.

My dad wanted to create a community. He bought a small Mac and a big printer photocopier so that he could kind of create some stuff that he could circulate to create a community. That’s where I really fell in love with design. The whole idea of using the interface of that Mac was a very first mackintosh class. And also, I totally fell in love with the idea of creating and printing stuff out. I was quite young.

Fast forward, this was always my passion. I was always doing design, but ironically, I ended up, for some reason, going to law school — which is very funny now.

Jeroen: Eso ya lo he oído antes. ¿Cómo es posible?

David: Basically, I was always very good at languages. Apparently, I’m quite persuasive. Everyone back then shared their career advice, which is always around what you should do or where you should go. In Malta, going to law school is kind of the big thing. It’s crazy how many people go to law school.

Jeroen: Is it because it’s a government job?

David: I think historically, but I think it’s changing now. It’s just that professions like lawyers and doctors, in Malta, used to be looked at with a lot of respect. I was pushed a lot in that direction. Ironically, I pretty much never went to a lecture at university. I managed to hack my way through.

De hecho conseguí mi doctorado, con orden judicial y todo. No tengo ni idea de cómo. Durante ese tiempo, siempre estaba trabajando en diseño, para poder salir los fines de semana. Empecé una agencia de publicidad.

I had loads of jobs. I was working a lot. I was doing a lot of print back then. Then, the big breakthrough came through a big international client I was working with, that was based in Gozo, the smaller island close to Malta. This was for the comedian Billy Connolly, actually. They asked, “Hey, you do amazing print works for us. Can you do it for a site?”

I was like, “Of course, I can do a site.” I had no clue obviously. This was a very long time ago.

That’s where it all started. I just learned enough to be dangerous. I played with some Drupal, ASP, and unfortunately Flash, because the client wanted Flash. That was actually the point where I built something.

It was very frustrating for me to measure what I’ve built there — is it good or is it not good? It was frustrating to me that I relied on my client to give me that feedback. The aspiration would be to try and win an award or something. In a way, that’s really the David that we’re building Hotjar for.

We do sell Hotjar to really big clients. But we have this vision, which is, we’d like to really change the way that web is built and improved to make it more about the user. I think putting this technology into the hands of students, small tiny startups, people will just get going. Being able to see or measure the response to what they have created, is a very powerful thing to have access to.

Jeroen: De hecho, he visto que tú mismo has empezado un podcast, ¿o está a punto de lanzarse aproximadamente después de que se emita esto?

David: Se lanzará para entonces, sí.

Jeroen: The Human Strike Back. What’s the idea behind the title of the podcast?

David: The big idea, is to tie the podcast to our vision. Like we were saying before, it’s so easy to end up stuck behind a screen, looking at the numbers and the lines. Let’s change the layout, let’s move the button. The reality is, the only way to truly win, to truly succeed, is to understand the challenges of users and see what they are trying to achieve.

Todo el mundo quiere convertirse en una versión mejor de sí mismo, ¿verdad?

The idea is to understand the emotion and form a connection to their challenges. And then, to basically build around that. That’s the whole idea with the ‘human strike back’. We are interviewing very interesting personalities about their stories. Of how we’re putting people first, as opposed to just the numbers or revenue or the conventional metrics.

Poner a las personas en primer lugar, en realidad les permite tener mucho éxito. En algunos de estos casos, porque podrían entender todos esos datos de una mejor manera.

There is also going to be some other stories that talk about putting people first, not just from an experience or a business point of view, but also from a personal point of view. The team and the culture. It’s going be quite interesting. It’s just giving a bit of visibility to a different way of thinking.

Jeroen: Actually, I’m trying to do a very similar thing with this interview series/podcast. I’ve seen that many podcasts are about figures and growth hacks, and I don’t know what. It’s very nice to see the people behind it, what the actual issues are. The way you are improving your company, instead of how much MRR you’re making. It adds so much more value, I think.

David: Absolutely. It’s the real story!

Jeroen: ¿Cuál es el tipo de cultura que intenta establecer en Hotjar? ¿Cuál es el tipo de empresa que estás tratando de construir?

David: When we started working together, the co-founders, the four of us were based in Malta. Though one of is Swedish. The other person we worked with, was based in Sweden, that’s Johan. Even though we were four in Malta were so close to each other, we still worked remotely. Purely because we knew we were going to be remote eventually.

La razón por la que empecé con esto fue porque sustenta gran parte de nuestra cultura, en la que creemos que hay que contratar a personas increíbles que compartan los mismos valores. Sabemos que pueden ser diferentes a nosotros, pero deben ser capaces de aportar a nuestra cultura o al menos igualarla de alguna manera. Eso influye mucho en nuestra forma de ser en la empresa.

We believe a lot in freedom and leadership versus management. Very early on, when we were starting to hire the first few people, we kind of listed down some values that we had to hire around. This is something I highly recommend that everyone does when you start to hire — sit down together, founders or initial group of people running the startup.

¿Qué valoramos? ¿Qué nos gusta de nuestra forma de trabajar? ¿Qué valoramos de los demás o de nuestra forma de ser?

And don’t be fake. You have to be honest, because even if you are kind of different or unique, it’s good to embrace that. It’s good not to be influenced. That’s what we did.

Nos gusta ser muy escuetos y muy honestos. Valoramos mucho el respeto. Así que enumeramos todos estos valores. De eso hace ya tres años o tres años y medio.

Now that team is, we are pretty much I think around 60, we’ve come a long way. It’s a much bigger team. We’ve now brought in a third party. They’ve actually interviewed the whole team, and asked them how they feel about those original values.

Fue muy interesante. Hicimos varios ejercicios en los que la gente votaba sobre los valores que más les gustaban. Ahora estamos lanzando nuevos valores. Vamos a lanzarlos con el equipo. Son ellos quienes los han creado. Sólo estamos presentando los resultados del estudio.

Now we’ve brought it down to four simple values, each of which builds out kind of how that value comes into practice. We are actually going to be blogging about this whole process and these new values as well. That’s something that we will have on our blog soon!

Jeroen: Al principio lo fijabas tú, ahora lo revisas con el equipo y sale otra cosa, ¿o era muy parecido?

David: That’s a good question. There were some things that we hadn’t given enough importance to. But now they have come up higher in importance.

For example, we took for granted how transparent we are, because that was just how we were running things. It’s actually come out as one of the strongest values we have. Now that has become one of these four pillars.

Whereas there are some things that we had listed weren’t really values, we thought they weren’t. That was part of this process of having a third party look at us from the outside, which I think is very powerful. The thing is, it’s very easy to be biased, or to do it yourself, especially when you are a bigger team.

Some things have shifted and more importantly, it’s distilling what’s there to make it more crystal clear and easier to share and understand — especially when hiring and building out the team, to make sure they accept it all.

Jeroen: Debe de ser realmente difícil si tienes 60 personas y están por todo el mundo, no físicamente juntas como un equipo. Cómo se mantiene todo sincronizado?

David: I think it is just a mindset situation. I find it to be much easier. I was in a company where 150 people were in an office all together. To me, I think that was more complicated than doing it remotely. That’s probably just the nature of who I’ve become as well.

What do I mean by that? I think when you are in an office together, there is obviously huge advantages — like the fact that you can bring everyone together and just talk directly. I think my gut feeling is that it actually needs a certain political situations as well — of where are you sitting and who is close to whom, and this person is always next to that person.

Then when you are too big, you need to think about why certain people don’t speak to certain people. I think remote offers an interesting opportunity, which is, it instantly gives you a quality. As long as your internet connection is as good as everyone else’s, I’m the same distance.

For example, myself as the CEO, I’m the same distance away from everyone in the team. We all sit next to each other. What we found in terms of keeping ourselves in sync is really, the word, ‘discipline’.

I think again, when you are in person in an office, it’s very easy to drop the discipline parts because you kind of just take it for granted. But I think with remote, it forces, in a way, to be even more disciplined. Now that we are 60, for example, we are doubling down on alignment. We really write and build together — what our priorities are and what we are working on. We are using the model from Salesforce called V2MOM.

Jeroen: ¿Y qué es eso exactamente?

David: Any team that’s grown to over 30–40 people, it’s definitely an interesting model to look at. Marc Benioff created it. It’s basically the idea that every team or nearly every person should have vision values, methods, obstacles, and measures. Basically, now that we are a bigger group, we are defining these for every team. We are still doing this. This is going to help us be better aligned. Then there are simpler things that we do. Every Friday, the whole company manages in one year to demo what’s been done — only what’s been done not actually shipped.

Then we have company meetings. We have the weekly, what we call, bonfire meetings, where we chat and talk. I think there is always a way to kind of replicate the outputs. I think the dangerous thing is when you are remote, you can’t think in terms of trying to replace what was in physical, but instead to just think in a different way.

Jeroen: Por ejemplo, también tenemos todas esas reuniones quincenales o semanales que mencionas, pero las hacemos físicamente. Uno de los principales atributos de esas reuniones es una pizarra. ¿Cómo se sustituyen las pizarras?

David: The reality is that, in these weekly meetings we don’t really need a whiteboard. What we do is that everyone who is demoing, we just use zoom. You either share slides, which might have something in it that you want to show the team, or you just share your screen and you show what you’ve actually built and how it works.

Jeroen: Si tienes una reunión, ¿escribes los puntos que alguien comparte en un documento de Word o Google?

David: That’s a good question, actually, because we take these things for granted. Now in our leadership meetings, what we do is, we definitely have this mentality of we don’t like to make slides and working documents beautified. We hate that.

Todo es superpráctico y está hecho para trabajar. Por ejemplo, cuando hacemos una reunión de liderazgo, ponemos una casilla que dice notas, acciones o lo que sea. Se escriben ahí, luego se trasladan a Trello y se asignan a la persona.

Again, it’s all about discipline at the end of the day. Coming back to your whiteboard question, there are teams where they do struggle without a whiteboard. Especially when you are doing stuff like design, or you are doing stuff like user experience. But then they are using different tools and different approaches to kind of replicate that. We are now actually experimenting. I think G Suite has a physical hardware whiteboard which is digital for sharing, which is something we are going to experiment with this time.

Jeroen: Interesting. I looked at the funding for Hotjar, and I didn’t find anything directly. Are you guys funded or are you still bootstrapped?

David: The reason why you didn’t find anything is because we are self-funded.

Jeroen: ¿Nunca has pensado en buscar financiación?

En realidad sí.

What we found, is that we are profitable and we were profitable very early on. We are growing quite well, but we definitely do have challenges. When talking to some investors, we found that we do think in a slightly different way than your typical company. Probably because obviously, we are profitable and that’s obviously led us to be very nimble and very frugal, careful with money. We are always investing slightly behind the curve as opposed to ahead of the curve.

The investors wanted us to be thinking much bigger, and investing much more aggressively. We are somehow really big believers in building an actual business that is profitable, that makes money. That’s something that we like a lot. I guess probably we didn’t particularly feel a good fit when we spoke to investors, and probably they didn’t feel fit with us as well. I guess since we don’t really need to raise money right now, there is no point of doing it. But we will continue to think about it going forward.

It’s a funny situation though. I’ve had a few nights thinking about this. Because it’s interesting, especially when you have investors chasing you down constantly. There is this fear of missing out.

¿Somos estúpidos si no lo hacemos? La mayoría de las empresas tienden a estar en dos extremos. Un extremo es que aumentan como locos, invierten como locos, de modo que básicamente nadie puede competir contigo, y prácticamente te apoderas del mercado por la fuerza. Eso significa que tienes que subir de empresa en el mercado, cobrar precios altos para compensar ese despilfarro.

The other route is where you kind of take things a little bit slower, more profitable, and still can be growth oriented. That’s more kind of, the Basecamp or MailChimp like approach. I think as a startup, when you are growing and you are doing well, it’s easy to have a little bit of an identity crisis in terms of what you really want to do. I guess going back to the whole remote and freedom, we give everyone in the team budgets that they run themselves. They have allowances, people book their own leave.

We really value our lifestyle and the way we are on the business. Given that we are profitable, we’ve decided to stick to that route for now.

Jeroen: ¿Qué es exactamente lo que haces ahora en Hotjar?

David: I’d say the main thing I do right now, is resist the temptation to interfere.

Jeroen: ¿Te sientas ahí todo el día o...?

David: No. Interfering in stuff. The thing is, as a founder, I’m a generalist. There is quite a few things that I’m quite experienced at. User experience obviously, conversion rates optimization, copywriting, etc.

There is a lot of things that I’ve been involved in, for a lot of time in my career. When I’m working with the teams, I really want to jump in and join them. But you start to realize as you grow, being the CEO, that can be dangerous. Simply because it’s very easy to not allow your team to grow, to really own the how of ‘how we are doing things’.

Plus, when you say something as a CEO, it’s taken as that’s the way it should be done. I’d say the main thing I’m learning about is, what’s the best way to find that balance between letting teams run on their own so they can grow, while also giving inputs as we go along. That’s something I’m learning.

Actually, it’s exciting to be able to learn this new thing of how can you be a leader, and help empower others to learn while not interfering, and telling them what to do. That’s a really interesting challenge for me.

Besides that, I’d say my biggest focus is definitely people and culture. That is my top priority; especially now that we are hiring also for some more specialized roles — director of sales, key roles in marketing, key roles in product, etc. Hiring is definitely my top priority. Finding people that can do a much better job than me, so then I’ll definitely be able to resist the temptation to interfere.

Then, just general running of the business. In terms of looking at finance, leadership, prioritizing what we should work on next. I’m still very deeply involved in product, and I always will be.

The roadmap for Hotjar, what we are building for the future and speaking to customers. That’s really what I’m focused on.

Then the final piece is, I’m the only C level member of the team. So I’m very public facing. When it comes to stuff around privacy, or anything related to security, I’m the one who goes up there and speaks to the market and to our customers about any challenges or opportunities, or stuff that we are doing.

Jeroen: También participas en podcasts y otras cosas.

David: Exactly, that’s the fun part.

Jeroen: Parece muy entusiasmado con los productos y la creación de la empresa.

David: Sí, sin duda.

Jeroen: ¿Te sientes como un constructor? ¿Qué es lo que realmente te da energía mientras construyes Hotjar?

David: That’s a good question, again. There are ups and downs. Definitely the journey is a tough one, and there are many, let’s say, tough moments as you go along on the journey. I think you know that as well. That’s why I tell many younger startups that I advise or help out, to whom I just give some advice and not get paid or anything, that, if it’s really difficult in the beginning when you start, then you should definitely consider that as a negative towards the business you are trying to create. Things do get tougher and tougher over time. It’s like you can’t be in struggling to sell or build what you are trying to do, very early on. If that is too difficult, scaling that is just gonna compound later.

Jeroen: ¿Cree que las cosas se ponen más difíciles? En realidad pienso lo contrario. Creo que los problemas mejoran. Siempre hay problemas, pero mejoran. Puede que sean mayores, por supuesto, a mayor escala, pero muchas cosas también se hacen más fáciles.

David: They do. Maybe I didn’t explain myself well. The diversity of problems change. My point is, as you grow, your focus shifts more and more to other diverse type of problems.

Jeroen: Sí, lo hacen.

David: Whether that’s people, or hiring or I don’t know, regulatory, legal. There are so many things that then you need to add on top, especially as you start to break through, what I call the visibility thresholds.

Like, as a company, when you reach the brand level. Some people that you say reach brand, I don’t know why they use ARR as reference. When you hit 10,000,000 ARR and you start to become more visible to the outside world, that’s where things do become more complicated.

Don’t get me wrong. In terms of growing the business, definitely things do become easier, because people are more aware of you, so more people are applying. But things do get more complex as well. My point is that if it’s already tough, very tough in the beginning to sustain and grow, you are kind of already stuck. Later on, you will just add more complexities to it. It’s good to remember that eventually you are going to need to shift your focus away from that stuff to the newer problems.

In a way, what you are building definitely has to have a little bit of a life of its own, and its own trajectory if you know what I mean. As opposed to someone who is selling manually, one deal after the other. Even in hiring, if you keep adding the complexities, it’s so easy to burn out and lose it. To come back to the original question, there has definitely been ups and downs.

The energy you need varies at different stages. I think that’s where our purpose and our vision, I realize, have been so important to us. Even though we are only four years in, it feels like it has been much longer. The vision and our purpose, that’s what really keeps the fire alive, because we know that we, in terms of the product, what we’ve built and what we are doing, we are literally at the very beginning. We have barely started.

If we didn’t have that, I can see now how it could be so easy to make it just about the product, and how easy it is to get tired of it all, if you know what I mean. That’s why it’s so important to have that purpose and that vision in place.

Jeroen: Acabas de mencionar brevemente el riesgo de agotamiento, ¿cómo lo gestionáis? ¿Cómo evitan el agotamiento?

David: That’s a good question. What we’ve done is, give a good amount of vacation leave, and we encourage it a lot. End of last year, we were actually shaming people who were not taking breaks. We have like leaderboards of people who don’t take breaks. I think that is the most basic and the most important one. Then again, we also check in with everyone quite regularly, we use 15Five, which is a great tool, to see how everyone is feeling and how everyone is doing.

In reality, I think it really comes down to not pushing oneself. And being realistic about what can or cannot be done. We definitely have had circumstances of people that were close to the limits. I’m very proud that even though we don’t have a specific system or tool in place for it, our existing systems and people have noticed these things and we’ve tackled them.

Una vez más, cuando uno se financia por su cuenta, contrata cuando las cosas se rompen un poco, ya me entiendes. Irónicamente, usted es un poco más propensos a empujar las cosas un poco más allá del límite.

Jeroen: Sobre todo cuando trabajas a distancia. Supongo que la barrera entre el trabajo y la vida también es menos evidente si trabajas desde la mesa de la cocina.

De acuerdo.

In fact, what we have done around this is, we’ve introduced a few allowances. For example, while we give, I think it’s around 4,000 euros to set up your home office budget, so that’s equipment or chair or this.

Then, we also have a monthly, what we call working space allowance that can be used if you want to go work in a café or in a coworking space. Or if you just need to get stuff at home to be able to kind of just basically have a nicer environment.

También tenemos cosas como un presupuesto de vacaciones. Este año hemos introducido un presupuesto de coworking. Puedes volar o viajar en tren para ir a trabajar junto a alguien con quien vives cerca o lejos.

Jeroen: That’s really good!

David: Or if you have little kids and you can’t travel, you can use that fund to fly in people to work with you. Then, we also have a wellness budget, which can be used towards maybe even a therapist or going to the gym. We actually realized that the key is to have a compensation to our employees and contractors that is not only monetary, but in a way by having these allowances and budgets, we kind of in a way, force our team to utilize the resources. It’s been really amazing to have someone who is actually based in San Francisco, working for Hotjar.

He said, the way you’ve done it and structured these allowances and everything, we love it, because we’ve never used these things, or done these things before, because obviously were being careful.

We have a young family. I can see the impact of doing this. Also, we have a few people over in the US. They are obviously a minority, and they don’t spend that much. They don’t have as much time overlapping with the other team members.

It was nice to see, now we’ve introduced a coworking space model. They all flew out to meet one of the team members who was in Mexico to spend time together. You can see the impact of having this in place. It builds up rapport and people get out of their homes. We also do sessions. This bonfire, I talked about what are the negatives and positives of remote working, and we shared tips about how to break up our day. I agree, it is definitely a challenge. There is again, a lot of self discipline that is required here.

Jeroen: Sobre los colegas americanos. Me preguntaba si tienen las mismas vacaciones que los europeos.

David: Yes, and they love it obviously. What we’ve done is, we took quite a lot of our benefits, and allowances and all these things that we offer. A lot of them have evolved iteratively over time. We are lean even in doing that.

Creo que ahora somos 60 personas de unos 17 países o algo así. Sobre todo en lo que respecta a los días festivos, las bajas por enfermedad y los permisos parentales, cada país tiene cantidades diferentes.

What we did was we said, screw public holidays. We are going to give everyone 40 days of leave. That means if you want to be off in your country on your public holiday, you have to book that, which means you inform the team. What’s great about that, is that I don’t particularly enjoy taking public holidays in Malta. That means I actually take rest when I need as opposed to when the government decides I should rest.

Then, on top of that, we set quite high amounts of parental leave and sick leave. We also allow people to take unpaid leaves as well, for as long as they want. We’ve put together a structure which works independent of the countries. Everything works out of what we call the team-man way, that’s where we put all these rules together.

Jeroen: Muchos países tienen normas específicas sobre los días festivos. Por ejemplo, hay que coger esos permisos o estar de baja por paternidad durante un tiempo determinado. Entonces, ¿han conseguido crear un sistema que abarque todos los países y los cumpla todos?

Sí. Lo que tenemos en la mayoría de los países, son contratistas, no empleados. Serían una especie de autónomos.

Jeroen: Así es más fácil.

David: That makes it much easier, and that obviously again, allows us to have this structure. In choosing the numbers for parental leave and everything, we’ve made sure we cover pretty much every country, even the most ambitious ones — to make sure we are covered across the board.

Una cosa que hacemos, por cierto, en cuanto al permiso parental es que concedemos la misma cantidad de permiso tanto a las madres como a los padres. Es algo que nos apasiona. Si tienes la suerte de tener un pequeño en la familia, creo que como padres también deberíamos tener el mismo derecho, ¿no? Disfrutar también de ese momento tan especial.

Jeroen: ¡Por supuesto! En términos de tiempo, ¿cuántas horas trabajas al día para Hotjar?

David: The lines are definitely quite blurry. As the CEO, I don’t have many people to take care of me, my burnout or division of time. I think earlier on, I used to work much longer hours. It was a little bit too much. Now I have two young kids, one is going be four tomorrow.

Jeroen: ¡Felicidades!

David: Thank you! The other one is one. He’s going to be two in June. I actually use my calendar now. Every day, from about six o’clock, I have a three hour block for dinner, which means no one can book anything with me then. I actually stand up and leave.

Jeroen: That’s a Maltese dinner then, three hours.

David: It’s mainly feeding the kids, it means taking care of them afterwards, putting them to sleep and all that stuff. Just making sure I stay involved. I’d say roughly, it’s not that extreme. Probably I’m working around 50–60 hours a week right now.

Jeroen: Mejor que ser consultor de estrategia.

David: I’m not sure.

Jeroen: Oh, I’m sure. Where are you actually based out of, because you mentioned Australia and Malta?

David: I’m based in Malta now.

Jeroen: Vale, con sede en Malta.

David: Yeah, my wife is Swedish. She loves Malta and the weather we have here. We have all our family here. We love being here. Many people think that we are in Malta for tax reasons, but actually that’s not the case. As Maltese entrepreneurs, we actually pay a relatively high tax, European standard-wise.

Jeroen: ¿Sí?

David: Yeah. I think corporate tax is around 35%. We are not complaining, but it’s just interesting that Malta has created a reputation for itself as being a tax optimization place, but it’s not the case for us.

Jeroen: Entonces, ¿la empresa también tiene su sede en Malta, porque ha mencionado el impuesto de sociedades?

David: Yes. It’s a Maltese trading company.

Jeroen: ¿Hay otras empresas interesantes en Malta, o sólo están ustedes?

David: En Malta hay algunas empresas interesantes, pero en sectores muy diversos.

Jeroen: ¿No tanto en la misma esfera?


Jeroen: ¿Encuentra algún talento local o, de nuevo, es sólo cosa suya?

David: No, we do. We have found local talent, but we don’t think of it as local, if you know what I mean.

To us, it’s just like, it’s another country. We might find people in Malta, but it doesn’t make much of a difference. In Malta, we do have, what we call a lounge. It’s kind of a HQ, where basically we can do meetings and stuff, but no one has a desk or an office or anything. We typically hang out there on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Jeroen: ¿Suele hacer cosas en Malta con el equipo o la gente suele quedarse donde está?

David: A veces viene gente a Malta, sobre todo si se incorpora alguien nuevo al equipo. Puede que celebremos una reunión aquí. A veces hacemos reuniones, pero estamos dejando de hacerlo. Malta no es el mejor lugar para viajar. Normalmente requiere una parada.

For example, now we have a leadership meeting coming up in May. We are all going to meet in London, because it’s one central location, we all can fly in. Then again, twice a year, we do a whole company meetup or retreat. The next one coming up, in June, is actually in Malta. It hasn’t happened in two and a half years. Last one, in December, was in The Alps, and the one before that, was in Spain Marbella.

Jeroen: That’s nice. Slowly wrapping up, what’s the latest good book you’ve read and why did you choose to read it?

David: That’s a difficult one. I read quite a lot of books.

Jeroen: ¿La última buena?

David: I’m a big fan of Radical Candor. It’s a great book that we’ve used to improve the way we give feedback to each other within the company. We’ve also done training around it. I was recently speaking at an event in Stockholm, and I decided on the way there that I wanted to improve the way I present. I read the book then. I’m sure you’ve heard of TED Talks, right?


David: There is actually a book called TED Talks, and it’s kind of the official guide to public speaking. That was quite a good book!

Jeroen: I’ve heard people talking about it, but I haven’t read it myself yet.

David: Lo recomiendo encarecidamente a cualquiera que quiera presentar.

Jeroen: ¿Candor radical y charlas TED?


Jeroen: Supongo que el candor también está muy relacionado con tus valores.

David: ¡Tiene toda la razón!

Jeroen: El valor de transparencia que has mencionado, en particular. Última pregunta, si tuvierais que volver a empezar con Hotjar, ¿qué habríais hecho de forma diferente?

David: Odio esta pregunta.

Jeroen: That’s why I ask it!

David: I hate it because the reality is, that I’m quite a perfectionist. If I go back, I’ll do a lot of things differently. The problem is, whether we would succeed or not, right?

Whether I’d screw it up or not? Definitely, I would say, I would have wanted to spend more time, a little bit more time in beta. A little bit more time defining and designing what the product would be in the future. Over the last year, we’ve moved a little bit slower, because we’ve had to re-architect, to re-engineer the back ends. That could have been potentially avoided. Having said that, that could have easily meant that we missed this perfect time window within which we launched. Then we wouldn’t have been as successful. It’s always difficult.

I’d say it’s this really difficult balance when you launch something quick to go to the market quickly or build something a little bit more complex, thinking more of future growth. I say that because the previous startup we did, we spent quite a lot of time building upfront, but then we actually didn’t succeed, because we spent too much time building instead of validating. That’s why I said I would have loved to run the beta longer. We had the eight to nine months of beta. I think we could have easily done a year or a year and a half.

Jeroen: Más aprendizaje. Para que, a largo plazo, obtengas mejores resultados con tu producto?


Jeroen: I totally understand. Well, that’s all for now! Thank you again David, for being on Founder Coffee. Talking with you was super interesting!

David: Ha sido un placer, grandes preguntas, tío.

Jeroen: Thank you and we’ll catch up again, soon!

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Jeroen Corthout