David Darmanin van Hotjar

Oprichter Koffie aflevering 010

Ik ben Jeroen van Salesflare en dit is Founder Coffee.

Elke twee weken drink ik koffie met een andere oprichter. We bespreken het leven, passies, leerervaringen, ... in een intiem gesprek, waarbij we de persoon achter het bedrijf leren kennen.

Voor deze tiende aflevering sprak ik met David Darmanin, medeoprichter van Hotjar. Zijn bedrijf helpt tienduizenden eigenaren van apps en sites om te zien hoe bezoekers hun software echt gebruiken en om meer en betere gebruikersfeedback te verzamelen.

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.

Welkom bij Founder Coffee.


Liever luisteren? Je kunt deze aflevering vinden op:


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 is een groep tools samengebracht in Ć©Ć©n oplossing waarmee je kunt begrijpen hoe je site of app wordt gebruikt. Je kunt visualiseren waar mensen klikken of hoe ze scrollen. Je kunt zelfs de feitelijke ervaring naspelen of zien waar ze afhaken in het traject, en dan kun je ook vragen stellen om erachter te komen waarom deze gebruikers of bezoekers zich gedragen zoals ze doen.

Jeroen: Waarom gebruiken mensen meestal Hotjar? Wat zijn de problemen die ze proberen op te lossen?

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.

Dan hebben we ook nog productteams en ondersteuningsteams of klantervaringsteams. Zij zijn meestal meer geĆÆnteresseerd in het bekijken van een terugkerende gebruiker of klant en hoe de ervaring voor hen verloopt. Dit helpt hen bij het identificeren van blokkerende punten of pijnpunten, dingen die ze kunnen verbeteren voor de klanten.

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

David: That’s it.

Jeroen: Is dat iets wat je vanuit je eigen ervaring bent begonnen? Wanneer besloot je Hotjar te bouwen?

David: Ik had intern gewerkt bij een softwarebedrijf. Ik heb daar heel wat jaren gewerkt, beginnend als een zogenaamde optimalisatiespecialist en als een ontwerper, helemaal tot VP of Design.

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: Op een bepaalde manier probeer je holistische feedback te krijgen van mensen die niet naast je staan?

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: Het begon meer vanuit een conversiestandpunt?

David: Zeker weten.

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

David: Ja, zeker weten.

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: Hoe werkt dat dan voor jou? Heb je een testomgeving die je zelf gebruikt of werk je ook aan de productiekant waarbij je alleen ontwikkelaars test?

David: Nee, we hebben zeker een testomgeving. Maar we doen ook iets dat we intern feature flagging noemen. We bouwen soms dingen die alleen beschikbaar zijn op ons eigen account. Dat stelt ons in staat om veel te experimenteren en te zien of we het zelf ook echt gebruiken, voordat we het voor iedereen beschikbaar maken.

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.

David: Ja.

Jeroen: Je zei dat je eerst met design bezig was. Heb je design gestudeerd? Kun je ons meer vertellen over je achtergrond, bijvoorbeeld waar je bent opgegroeid?

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: Dat heb ik eerder gehoord. Hoe gebeurt dat?

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.

Ik ben zelfs gepromoveerd, met bevelschrift en al. Ik heb geen idee hoe! In die tijd werkte ik altijd in design, zodat ik in het weekend uit kon gaan. Ik begon een reclamebureau.

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: Ik zag eigenlijk dat je zelf een podcast bent begonnen, of wordt die ongeveer gelanceerd nadat dit is uitgezonden?

David: Tegen die tijd wordt het gelanceerd, ja.

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.

Iedereen wil een betere versie van zichzelf worden, toch?

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.

Door mensen op de eerste plaats te zetten, kunnen ze heel succesvol zijn. In sommige gevallen omdat ze al die gegevens beter begrijpen.

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: Wat is de cultuur die je probeert op te zetten bij Hotjar? Wat is het soort bedrijf dat je probeert op te bouwen?

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.

Ik ben daarmee begonnen omdat het ten grondslag ligt aan veel van onze cultuur, waarvan wij geloven dat het is om geweldige mensen aan te nemen die dezelfde waarden delen. We weten dat ze misschien anders zijn dan wij, maar ze moeten wel iets kunnen toevoegen aan onze cultuur of er in ieder geval op een bepaalde manier mee overeenkomen. Dat heeft zeker een grote invloed op hoe we allemaal in het bedrijf zijn.

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.

Waar hechten we waarde aan? Wat vinden we leuk aan de manier waarop we werken? Wat waarderen we aan elkaar of aan de manier waarop we zijn?

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.

We houden ervan om heel slank en eerlijk te zijn. We hechten veel waarde aan respect. Dus hebben we al deze waarden op een rijtje gezet. Dat was drie of drieƫnhalf jaar geleden.

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.

Het was heel interessant. We hadden verschillende oefeningen waarbij mensen stemden over de waarden die ze het belangrijkst vonden. We zijn nu bezig met de lancering van nieuwe waarden. We gaan ze samen met het team lanceren. Zij hebben ze gecreƫerd. We presenteren nu alleen de resultaten van het onderzoek.

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: In het begin stelde je het zelf in, nu heb je het met het team bekeken en kwam er iets anders uit of was het echt vergelijkbaar?

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: Dat moet echt moeilijk zijn als je 60 mensen hebt en ze zitten over de hele wereld, niet fysiek bij elkaar als een team. Hoe houd je dat allemaal synchroon?

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: En wat is dat precies?

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: We hebben bijvoorbeeld ook al die tweewekelijkse of wekelijkse vergaderingen die je noemt, maar we doen het fysiek. Een van de belangrijkste attributen die we in zo'n vergadering hebben, is een whiteboard. Hoe vervang je whiteboards?

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: Als je een vergadering hebt, schrijf je dan de punten die iemand deelt op in een Word- of Google-document?

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.

Alles is super praktisch en gemaakt voor het werk. Als we bijvoorbeeld een leiderschapsvergadering houden, plaatsen we een vakje met notities, acties of wat dan ook. Deze worden daarin geschreven en vervolgens verplaatst naar Trello en toegewezen aan de persoon in kwestie.

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: Heb je er nooit aan gedacht om financiering op te pakken?

David: Eigenlijk wel.

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.

Zijn we dom als we dit niet doen? De meeste bedrijven bevinden zich in twee uitersten. Het ene uiterste is dat ze als een gek verhogen, als een gek investeren, zodat in principe niemand met je kan concurreren en je de markt zo'n beetje met geweld overneemt. Dat betekent dat je de markt moet veroveren, hoge prijzen moet vragen om die verspilling goed te maken.

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: Wat doe je nu precies bij Hotjar?

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

Jeroen: Zit je daar de hele dag of?

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: Je doet ook mee aan podcasts en zo.

David: Exactly, that’s the fun part.

Jeroen: Je lijkt erg enthousiast over de producten en het bouwen van het bedrijf?

David: Ja, zeker weten.

Jeroen: Je voelt je een soort bouwer? Wat is het eigenlijk dat je energie geeft tijdens het bouwen van 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: Denk je dat het moeilijker wordt? Ik denk eigenlijk het tegenovergestelde. Ik denk dat je betere problemen krijgt. Je hebt altijd problemen, maar ze worden beter. Ze kunnen natuurlijk groter worden, op een grotere schaal, maar veel dingen worden ook gewoon makkelijker.

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: Ja, dat klopt.

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: Je noemde net kort het risico van een burn-out, hoe gaan jullie hiermee om? Hoe voorkom je eigenlijk een burn-out?

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.

Nogmaals, als je op eigen benen staat, zelf gefinancierd bent, huur je dingen in die een beetje kapot gaan, als je begrijpt wat ik bedoel. Ironisch genoeg ben je een beetje meer geneigd om dingen een beetje over de limiet te duwen.

Jeroen: Vooral omdat je op afstand werkt. Ik denk dat de barriĆØre tussen werk en leven ook minder zichtbaar is als je vanaf de keukentafel werkt.

David: Mee eens.

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.

We hebben ook dingen zoals een vakantiebudget. Dit jaar hebben we een coworkingbudget geĆÆntroduceerd. Je kunt uitvliegen of met de trein reizen om te gaan werken naast iemand die dichtbij of ver weg woont.

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: Over de Amerikaanse collega's. Ik vroeg me af of zij dezelfde manier van vakantie hebben als hun Europese collega's?

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.

Ik denk dat we nu met 60 mensen zijn uit ongeveer 17 landen of zoiets. Vooral als het gaat om feestdagen, ziekteverlof en ouderschapsverlof, heeft elk land andere bedragen.

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: Veel landen hebben specifieke regels over feestdagen. Je moet bijvoorbeeld verlof opnemen of een bepaalde tijd met ouderschapsverlof zijn. Dus het is jullie gelukt om een systeem te bouwen dat alle landen overspant en aan alle landen voldoet?

David: Ja. In de meeste landen hebben we aannemers, geen werknemers. Ze zijn een soort zelfstandigen.

Jeroen: Dat maakt het makkelijker.

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.

Overigens geven we bij ouderschapsverlof evenveel verlof aan moeders als aan vaders. Dit is iets waar we erg enthousiast over zijn. Als je het geluk hebt dat er een kleintje in je gezin komt, vind ik dat wij als vaders ook hetzelfde recht moeten hebben, toch? Geniet ook van die speciale tijd.

Jeroen: Absoluut! In termen van tijd, hoeveel uur werk je per dag voor 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: Gefeliciteerd!

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: Beter dan strategieconsultant zijn.

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: OkƩ, gevestigd in 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: Echt waar?

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: Is het bedrijf dan ook gevestigd in Malta, omdat je het had over vennootschapsbelasting?

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

Jeroen: Zijn er nog andere coole bedrijven in Malta, of alleen jullie?

David: Er zijn een paar coole bedrijven in Malta, maar wel in zeer uiteenlopende sectoren.

Jeroen: Niet zozeer in dezelfde sfeer?

David: Nee.

Jeroen: Vind je lokale talenten of ben jij dat alleen?

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: Doe je vaak dingen in Malta met het team of blijven mensen meestal waar ze zijn?

David: Soms komen er mensen naar Malta, vooral als er iemand nieuw in het team komt. Misschien houden we hier een bijeenkomst. Soms doen we meetups, maar daar stappen we eigenlijk vanaf. Malta is niet de meest optimale plaats om te reizen. Het vereist meestal een tussenstop.

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: De laatste goede?

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?

Jeroen: Ja.

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: Ik raad het iedereen die wil presenteren ten zeerste aan.

Jeroen: Radicale openheid en TED Talks?

David: Ja.

Jeroen: Openhartigheid heeft ook te maken met je waarden, denk ik.

David: Helemaal goed!

Jeroen: Vooral de transparantiewaarde die je noemde. Laatste vraag, als je opnieuw zou beginnen met Hotjar, wat zou je dan anders hebben gedaan?

David: Ik haat deze vraag.

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: Meer leren. Zodat je op de lange termijn betere resultaten behaalt met je product?

David: Ja.

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: Het was me een genoegen, geweldige vragen, man.

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



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Jeroen Corthout