Setting up in London #3: Stack Overflow
Stack Overflow is the largest, most trusted online community for developers to learn, share their knowledge, and build their careers. More than 50 million professional and aspiring programmers visit Stack Overflow each month to help solve coding problems, develop new skills, and find job opportunities.
The company was formed in July 2008, has raised $68M to date and is headquartered in New York. I had the pleasure of chatting with Ben Kiziltug, Regional Director for Stack Overflow, based here in London.
Ben, how did you find your opportunity with Stack? What was your hiring story?
Prior to joining Stack I was trading on the foreign exchange market. I was always interested in getting involved in the startup community. This was 2012, when the London scene was little more than a dozen companies. I started helping a startup based at TechHub in its original Old Street location (editor’s note – now demolished and replaced by the White Collar Factory building). There I met Dimitar Stanimiroff who was Stack Overflows first hire in Europe.
Why did the company choose to set up / open up in London?
When the team grew to 6 or 7 people, we had a choice make on where we should scale the business. We considered Dublin, as it was a little cheaper than London — however the deciding factor was access to a deep and diverse talent pool – London beats everywhere else. Now, we service Europe from the London office, with regional teams.
What is your local go to market playbook, and does it differ from the US playbook?
We want to try and keep things consistent, but we have autonomy to make own decisions. We don’t use a cookie cutter approach.
For the most part Stackoverflow.com has stayed in English, however the business to business content targeted at Enterprise has all been localised and translated. In the early days we could only take payment in USD and all our marketing was in English. We have grown and got smarter – we have hired bilingual content marketers, and strive for local relevancy via local customer stories.
When you began to hire, which roles were your priority?
We have scaled through sales. My early focus was aggressive growth by getting out there — talking to clients and getting people signed up. Our first 7 or 8 hires were Sales, with one person to take care of the office. As we began to scale we added Product, Engineering, Marketing, Ops and Dev Insights into London.
How would you describe your role today?
Regional Sales Director – I still have a focus on making sure we make money. I also work across the teams to make sure things run smoothly. A lot of people have line management back to New York, but I help with a lot of the local moral and culture. People always want someone to talk to face to face.
You mention culture, tell me a little about how you approach building that?
Stack Overflow has 3 offices, and a number of smaller hubs. Each office has been built on the same cultural foundations, but each has its own distinct feel. Denver – NYC – London: they are all different.
As a company, we have a real commitment to our people — a good working environment and autonomy in our jobs. I totally believe that people make the culture, you can’t impose a culture onto the people. I remember when we had 3 people in the team — when the time came for us to hire 3 additional people, it meant that there were as many ‘new’ people, as existing. That was a little scary!
I mentioned our office has grown primarily via the sales organisation. This is despite the fact that there is a stigma in the market about ‘salespeople’ — in fact, this has been a big success factor in building a great culture. We were very selective and went after sales people that wanted to share knowledge and be independent. We created what I call ‘Agile Sales’ — the Sales Team hold weekly stand ups, and are constantly knowledge sharing.
It’s a popular initiative, and other departments have picked up on the same philosophy.
I agree about the Sales stigma, how do you find the right people?
Nowadays, we have an internal recruiter (thankfully). But in my experience, I would say that there is no one common trait in the people we hire. We have ex-teachers, ex-journalists, its varied and diverse. We have a 7 stage interview process and a huge part of it is to find the people that will have a positive impact on the culture and weed out those that could have negative impact.
We learnt you were helping out a startup back in 2012. How has the London tech community changed over the past 5 years?
There has been crazy change over the past 5 years. It went from around 10 – 15 successful companies trying something exciting, to the emergence of many of co-working spaces, Google Campus, etc. It’s really cool to see the knock-on effect and the opportunities it creates. The London startup scene really captures people’s imagination.
Do you encourage your people to get out there in the community?
Yes – we have a space for 60 – 100 people to host events in our building. As an organisation we encourage people to speak as much as we can. I speak at events and our developer team speak a lot — they are very popular, a lot of people want to know what it is like to work at Stack as a developer (which is good for recruitment and to help build our profile). We have actually been involved in a lot of events over the past 5 years to build awareness.
How do you manage communication back to HQ?
It was at its hardest back at the very beginning when we were on our own in region, and more dependent on HQ. As the local team grows you feel you have your own environment, and you can get more done locally. We have a policy to over communicate. I spend at least an hour every day communicating with HQ. 3pm – 5pm is my busiest time of the day. More recently Slack has helped, but you need to consciously disconnect as it can quickly become a 24/7 job.
What has been the hardest challenge to solve?
Initially I found it quite hard to let go of everything as the team grew. You go from being responsible for everything from the revenue, ordering the stationary, to picking where lunch will be from. It’s the inverse of a typical role – the more senior you get and the longer tenured, the less you have control of as the company grows. Of course it’s impossible to scale without letting go, and trusting people, but it felt weird nonetheless.
What are the plans for the next 12 months?
Open more markets and further penetrate the markets we’re currently in (at the moment, we have teams for France, Germany and ‘Rest of Europe’). We are incredibly data-driven and getting smarter in how we do things. We typically start with a Sales Team in a new country. We are looking at the Nordics and Benelux. If we see traction, then we will move onto full GTM.
Stack Overflow continues to be the best place for developers to learn, share and build their careers. Our Talent platform allows developers to find the best opportunities and for companies to find the best developers to hire.