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EPISODE 3: Hiring Globally (w/ International Tech Recruiter Ilya Brotzky)

The Startup Stack
EPISODE 3: Hiring Globally (w/ International Tech Recruiter Ilya Brotzky)

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Ilya Brotzky has a global mindset.

The son of Russian and Israeli immigrants, Ilya grew up in Vancouver, went to university in the United States, and after graduation, instead of returning home to Canada, he up and moved again — this time to Brazil. It was the early 2010’s and in Sao Paolo a young but vibrant tech scene was growing, maybe growing a little too fast. There were more coders than there were jobs. Ilya took note, and a few years later, with experience (and a few ill-fated startup attempts) under his belt, he founded VanHack, an HR startup that connected those Brazilian coders with tech companies in Canada. It hit big.

Six years later there are more than 200,000 high-qualified tech professionals on VanHack’s platform, which attracts top talent around the globe, and placements have expanded beyond Canada to include Europe and the U.S.

Ilya joined Louis from his (home) office in Vancouver to discuss the state of global recruiting at a moment of massive global change. 

“One of our core values is that code has no accent. So if you can code, if you know JavaScript, you can speak JavaScript anywhere.”

-Ilya Brotzky

🎙 Highlights Include

  • A survey of global tech, including Africa and South America
  • The difference between U.S. and Canadian VISA processes
  • Shifts in global hiring and the ramifications of COVID-19
  • What the current uptick in remote work arrangements means for global talent  

This Week’s Guest

Ilya Brotzky of VanHack

Ilya Brotzky

Co-founder & CEO of Wunderdogs

Ilya Brotzky is the CEO and Co-Founder of VanHack, an HR startup that connects employers with more than 200,000 highly-qualified tech professionals around the world.

The Startup Stack’s Host
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is louis-1024x1002.png

Louis Beryl

CEO, Co-Founder of Rocketplace

Rocketplace is a curated marketplace of high quality professional service providers. A 3x founder, investor, and board member, Louis began his tech career as a partner at Andreessen Horowitz. When he’s not working or podcasting, Louis enjoys cooking for his family. His pizza, he’d like you to know, is incredible. 

Full Episode Transcript

Ilya Brotzky    00:00:00    Why did the koala bear get the job?

Louis Beryl    00:00:03    I don’t know.

Ilya Brotzky    00:00:04    He was the most qualified candidate.

Louis Beryl    00:00:06    [Laughing] Good I like it. My kids are gonna like that…koalified.

Louis Beryl    00:00:12    This week. We’re talking to Ilya Brotzky, the Founder and CEO of VanHack. One of the largest international tech recruiting firms, sourcing candidates from all over the world. Global recruitment is a fascinating space. It’s changing incredibly fast, especially right now. And Ilya is the person to ask about it. So I did that.  Let’s roll!   

Louis Beryl    00:00:33    Ilya thanks for joining today. I’m really excited to have you on The Startup Stack. Maybe to kick it off. There’s a lot of recruiters out there. There’s a lot of different types of recruiting firms. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about VanHack, what they do and how it differentiates from other types of recruiters. 

Ilya Brotzky    00:00:50    For sure. So, um, VanHack, we, um, are a tech recruiting company, so we’re socialized specialized in the software, engineers, tech talent, DevOps, um, field. And within that we do direct full time hires. So we’re not outsourcing or contracting, um, like many other companies. Uh, we just do direct hires. And at the same time, it’s direct hires for candidates all over the world. So whether those candidates work for you remotely, or in many cases with VanHack they would relocate to the cities that you’re based in or to the country you’re based in, uh, to help with things like time zones and to have the person closer to you. So that’s been the biggest difference is actually being able to find talent anywhere in the world. Um, so we can find more qualified talent, uh, more diverse talent faster. 

Louis Beryl    00:01:33    You talk a lot about direct hires, you know, is there, do people approach you or is there a lot of confusion about, um, are you actually helping me find like software dev shops or these contractors?

Ilya Brotzky    00:01:46    Yeah. Yeah. So it’s funny. I actually never, I never meant to start a recruiting company. And so I’m kinda more for the last few years I’ve been learning how all this works. And one of the things that I has been a little bit of a challenge is that there’s so many of these dev shops and kind of, you know, from different, you know, if I’m sure people can and know the countries I’m talking about, where the people are sending you messages on Linked-In or sending you cold emails and saying, Hey, we have all these developers for you that can work on X, X rate. And, um, we’ve been kind of lumped in with those because we also do international hiring. So people think of VanHack sometimes I feel unfairly as just another dev shop. We don’t have a, this, this model we do direct hire. So the person is on your payroll, part of your culture and your Slack, permanent employee for however long they stay with you. Um, which is a huge difference to these kinds of project based companies or, uh, outsource companies. So it’s, we really want to try and differentiate ourselves from them. 

Louis Beryl    00:02:39    We at Rocketplace have used you guys and work together and hired someone onto our team. She’s amazing. Um, you know, from, from what I understand, you guys are approaching a thousand people hired, you have, you know, hundreds of thousands of people in your talent pool. It’s really impressive what you’ve built, but let me ask you, you said you, you said you’d never found a recruiting company. Give me the story, you know, what, what were you doing when you thought of this? Do you have a super international resume? How did you find this international recruiting company?  

Ilya Brotzky    00:03:11    After university. So I went to school in the U.S. uh, and in upstate New York and was thinking, um, after, uh, around, I graduated 2010 just after the financial crisis. And I was thinking, okay, what’s, what’s next in my career. What do I want to do? All my friends were going to, to wall street or to consulting companies. I wanted something different. I wanted to actually get an international job myself. Um, I had seen, um, a guy from Mahindra and an Indian company. He talks all about how you can get an international job and then come back to Canada. The U.S. a few years later, your resume is going to be way better than someone who just went and got a kind of a quote unquote, regular job on Wall Street. Um, and that stuck with me and I had been, had actually been an immigrant ever since I can remember, like at my first job, uh, my first memory of my life, sorry, was, um, moving from the Soviet Union, Israel when I was two and a half and then I later moved at at five to Vancouver. Um, so kind of moving around, uh, has been part of, of who I am for a long time. Um, so I got three offers after university, one in India, one in Brazil and one in China. Uh, and I ended up getting the Brazil offer. It was actually the best paying. So that was, uh, the motivation as well as I had been in Brazil before and I really liked my week that I spent, uh, doing a volunteer spring break trip there. Um, so I went there and…

Louis Beryl    00:04:20    Everyone likes their first week in Brazil.

Ilya Brotzky    00:04:24    [Laughing] Which was a lot of fun, um, you know, I was 21 years old, so it was, it was fine.

Louis Beryl    00:04:27    [Laughing] Exactly exactly. Like this is great.

Ilya Brotzky    00:04:30    Yeah. I’m, um, married to a Brazilian woman now, so I kind of went full circle.

Louis Beryl    00:04:34    Awesome!

Ilya Brotzky    00:04:35    Um, anyways, so that, that, uh, that kind of first job, um, was a really great experience as well. Back in 2010, 2011, the economy there was going really well. Um, and I ended up actually quitting that job about a year and a half later cause they sent me back to Canada. I was like, no, I want to keep working in Brazil. I found out about this startup accelerator in Rio called 21-212. Uh, it was the area code of, of Rio and taught two and two of New York. So there was an American investor and a Brazilian investor created this accelerator. They’re trying to be the YC of Brazil. Um, and they, um, you know, I just showed up one day to their, I turned their demo day.  Everyone thought I was an investor because I was a foreigner. Um, but I just broke college. So I recently graduated and I just started meeting people. And um, one of them actually ended up needing a co-founder to do sales and marketing or else they were going to get kicked out, um, kind of perfect timing. And he said, you know, what, if you joined me or I made a proposal, Hey, if I join you, we ended up doing the program can I have a percentage of the company be a cofounder? He said, yes, he didn’t really have much to lose.

Louis Beryl    00:05:36    Wow!

Ilya Brotzky    00:05:56    Yeah. There you go. I wrote a blog post about it. I was walking and had been on a beach. It was kind of cool. Sorry, looking back. And anyways, uh, so that’s the little more details and, and, uh, fast forward a little bit. And during that time, I just say I met a lot of developers, um, and that was my first kind of experience in tech. I didn’t really know anything about tech. I did finance and marketing before, and then worked in a mining company. I didn’t really know about, um, you know, what a pivot was or anything like that. I kind of learned all the jargon and, um, lean, lean startup, uh, you know, read, read all Eric Ries and everything like that, and just loved that, that world. It was just so much more exciting for me. Uh, I’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur ever since I was a kid, but didn’t really know how, um, so that’s how I, um, and ended up meeting all these soft software engineers. Um, they were either working with the startups or co-founders of the startups. And a lot of them were asking me questions about Canada, um, or cause they knew I was Canadian. So Hey, how’s life in Canada? Maybe I have a cousin who wants to move there, something like that. Um, and then at that time I was, I created a course called uh, Brazil Career Blueprint, which was helping, uh, foreigners moved to Brazil and all of my friends there I’m corps Brazilian said I was doing it the wrong way. I have to help Brazilians move to Canada. So that’s kind of where the idea came from. Um, and it was in my head and when I moved back to Vancouver in 2014, uh, after four years in Brazil, I started getting messages from all these developers. I met, uh, at the accelerator and different meetups and they started saying like, Hey, I really want to move. How can you help me? And my first idea was to help them, um, help people move to Canada, uh, to do coding bootcamps. But what I ended up realizing is people who are more senior, they needed help with soft skills. So they didn’t help with things like resumes and understanding how to do, um, job interviews. And that’s how our first education product was born. Um, a year later or about six months or a year later companies start asking me for instructions to developers. And that’s how, uh, we started the recruiting side.

Louis Beryl    00:07:28    And then you still do the other side? 

Ilya Brotzky    00:07:31    Yeah. Yeah. It’s actually a big part of our talent acquisition strategy. So, um, a lot of like we call it, finding the diamonds in the rough and shining them up. Because there’s so many great developers out there all over the world, not just in Brazil, we’ve expanded to over 170 countries now where one of our core values is code has no accent. Right. So if you can code, you know, Java script, you can speak JavaScript anywhere, but English a little bit more challenging sometimes, especially for developers a little bit more introverted. So we kind of help them improve those soft skills. And then it’s much easier for us to place them in jobs because, um, typically like we have first access to this talent cause we’re the ones that know that they’re ready to go. Um, and so that, that, uh, yeah, it’s uh, we had, um, we call it VanHack premium. So one of our premium members got hired, uh, this week. So, uh, it is a small percentage of our talent pool, but um, they’re the kind of most committed ones I would say. And it’s definitely a big, um, uh, talent acquisition strategy for us.  

Louis Beryl    00:08:23    I love that saying code has no accent. It’s great. 

Ilya Brotzky    00:08:26    Thanks!

Louis Beril    00:08:27    Tell me a little bit more about the, you know, on the other side of the platform, the companies that are hiring on VanHack. Tell me about what countries are they in, what stages are they typically, maybe what verticals, how are they finding you and VanHack? Tell us a little bit more about those.  

Ilya Brotzky    00:08:42    Yeah, so we started off in Canada, um, and that’s, that’s still our biggest market. Um, but we also in 2017, uh, did the tech stars program in Germany and Berlin. Uh, so my co-founder and I moved, moved to Germany and we spent a year and a half living in Europe. So Europe is actually our second largest market Germany, the Netherlands, um, kind of Western Europe. Um, and then recently we’ve really started expanding more into the U.S. because of remote, you know, being much more accepted now. Um, our typical customer is I would say a kind of a mid size scaling startup. Um, maybe they’ve raised the series seed or series A, they have between 20 and 200 people and they need to hire, let’s say three to five engineers as soon as possible. Um, and they just can’t find enough talent in the local market. Um, so they come to us whether to find someone who will work fully remote, or if someone who will work remotely to start and then move, uh, when the time is right,  

Louis Beryl    00:09:29    A lot of ways you differentiate VanHack differentiates me from a typical recruiting firm, but I think there are also some really interesting logistics that you have to tackle in terms of how do you move someone or what are the work visas like? How do you, um, how do you do the interview processes? Maybe you could tell us a little bit more about all those logistics that you guys have had to figure out in, in building a global recruiting platform.  

Ilya Brotzky    00:09:57    Early days, it was really hard for us to get companies to pay attention to that, to VanHack because just the visa process, especially in Canada, was so difficult. And one of the reasons we moved to Europe to Germany specifically is that they’ve had this fast track visa for developers for, for quite a while. Um, places like the Netherlands, for example, even give you a tax break. If you’re a skilled worker who moves there, you get 30, you have to pay 30% less tax for the first eight years that you moved there. So there’s this kind of like.

Louis Beryl    00:10:22    Wow!

Ilya Brotzky    00:10:23    Yeah, yeah, I know, right. It’s a global, global battle to bring as many types of high skilled workers and taxpayers to your country. Um. Yeah. So it makes it, so you have to kind of be experts in all these places or, or partner with experts. So in the beginning and early days we would just partner. So we would have an immigration consultant who would be, um, helping us. Um, and we still do that in Europe, but in Canada we decided this is such a core function for us that we brought it in house. Um, and we have, uh, two immigration consultants who work for us full time, as well as relocation coordinators. And they’re just on work visas all the time. Um, we were just about to launch actually a visa pipeline where we’re going to have like a Kanban board where all the different steps of the visa process will be easily seen and you will know exactly what documents to upload, uh, and what’s missing, what’s not missing and all that kind of just visibility into the process very easily seen. Uh, whereas, you know, usually when you think of a visa process or government processes, there’s just, it’s just so many forms and it’s really complicated. So we’re, we’re looking to streamline and automate that, um, that’s coming soon, but right now it’s, it’s mostly done just by our immigration team internally. Um, and because we’ve, we’ve, we’ve helped so many different companies hire from abroad, especially into Canada. We’re actually the largest international recruiting company in the country. We brought more developers to Canada than any other single entity. Uh, Amazon is number two. Um, they’re the largest single.

Louis Beryl    00:11:41    Wow.

Ilya Brotzky    00:11:43    Yeah, yeah. It’s all public data on the government website. So you can, I can say that with confidence. Um, and yeah, it’s just really exciting. Like we, we helped one company hire over 120 people, um, and relocate all of them to Canada. Um, so yeah, it’s, um, it’s exciting. Of course that was COVID things a little bit different, but still, I believe that people want to move to great countries even more now than before. So like moving somewhere that has a high quality of life is, um, you know, it’s this, I always say this, like we found something that developers want more than a higher paying job. It’s a higher, higher quality of life.  

Louis Beryl    00:12:12    I mean clearly one of the reasons you’ve been successful is figuring out all these hurdles, you know, figuring out what you just were speaking about, about how, you know, developers don’t just want a higher paying job. They want a higher quality of life. But if you think back to the early days, what were some of the biggest hurdles for you and starting VanHack and making this work? And when did you know you had that moment? That aha moment when it was, when you said to yourself, I actually think this is going to be successful. 

Ilya Brotzky    00:12:39    Yeah. The second question is actually really interesting. The first one is definitely people, um, hiring teams stuff. Um, I…

Louis Beryl    00:12:50    How big is your team now?

Ilya Brotzky    00:12:51    We’re 32. Um, we were close to 50 and then COVID happened. We had to make an adjustment unfortunately, but, um, you know, we’re kind of slowly growing back up now, um, hired a few people in the last couple of weeks, then it’s exciting to go in that direction again. Yeah. Um, early days actually, most people don’t know this, but VanHack we in the beginning had me and three other co-founders that was really, really difficult. Actually. I started as a side project and really didn’t like it, cause what you said, the second question was like, when you know, this was going to be successful at first, I totally did not think it was going to be successful at all. I just said, cause I had done all these different projects that never worked out. Like in Brazil, the startup I worked at didn’t work out, uh, um, just a bunch of stuff. We’re kind of a bunch of failure after failure about like three years of things not working out. Uh, and so when I started VanHack, it was just a, it wasn’t even starting it, it was just kinda like, okay, I’m going to try this project. And I’m having like a Facebook Messenger group with me and three other people. And we’re just like, this is this, that project sounds cool. Let’s start it. And um, I actually started off, um, giving everyone the same amount of equity, which is like a big learning life lesson with it without vesting or anything like that. It’s like, okay, we all get 25% for co-founders. Um, and that caused a lot of headaches because even then like the first two weeks we had to let the first person go because she just went on vacation and like, didn’t tell us. And it was a huge miscommunication. We actually didn’t even meet in person. It was, uh, we had one person, two people in Brazil, two people in Canada and the people in they’re all living in different cities. So anyway, I can go on and on about that, but long story short, there was, um, ended up getting rid of all those, like the three co-founders one, one harder, more stressful than the other. Um, and now it’s, it’s my, my, my wife and I are kind of working together on the business, but the people and hiring was just super hard and also on the tech side, like I’m not a technical cofounder, like I’m not technical at all. I can make a WordPress site and that’s what VanHack was in the beginning. Actually it was a landing page in the beginning, uh, using Unbounce a members’ area was like, it was all just off the shelf, off the shelf software. Um, and building our first actual product was a huge pain because one of the co-founders who was like, um, uh, the early earliest age, I, I don’t know if you’d call co-founders. One of the people early days who started the company with me, um, he, he was like in charge of tech and he took three months off and he just, he, he also, he moved to Dublin and, uh, he, his friend was doing the coding. It was just, it was a mess. I, and so like that feeling of not being able to have confidence in my product being built because I’m not technical, um, and having to rely on others and others, not delivering and just like scratching, like, like just, um, pulling my hair out. I don’t know what to do to make this happen. Um, it was really, really hard in the beginning. Um, and, uh, yeah, now we use VanHackto, to hire developers and, um, one of our, um, kind of first employees is now our CTO and he’s, he’s amazing. We built a really great team.  

Louis Beryl    00:15:29    I love the story. I want to ask you some questions about companies that work with VanHack to hire, you know, as you, as you meet those companies, what they, they must be looking at, working with different recruiters. If you were going to give advice to those, the, you know, the entrepreneurs at those companies and the people at those companies, what are the questions that they should be asking in evaluating different recruiting firms or agencies that they’re working with?  

Ilya Brotzky    00:15:56    Kinda basic questions would be, um, fill, fill, rate, like how, how often, how many jobs, like what’s the percentage of jobs that you fill, um, that, that would be a big one. Um, technical vetting or vetting process in general? Like what do you do to make sure that this candidate is good? How do you know they’re good, also speed. Like how quickly can you get me candidates? What’s your average time to close a role or average time to send candidates. Right.  

Louis Beryl    00:16:18    And let me come back to a second on, on technical vetting. Cause that’s something that I imagine a lot of people really want to understand, like how do you do that? Especially with the huge talent pool across so many countries. I think you said 170 countries, right? And you’re, you’re approaching 200,000 people in your talent pool. Well, how do, how do you scale such a massive technical talent network? 

Ilya Brotzky    00:16:43    The thing with that number like there’s there’s that that many people have signed up to VanHack, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all good. Right? So a large percentage. Yeah. 

Louis Beryl    00:16:50    Yeah of course.

Ilya Brotzky    00:16:50    A huge percentage probably like 60, 70% of those people can easily say, Hey, you’re not, you’re not a good fit because they’re either their English isn’t, isn’t that good. We have a self serve English test that they can take and record the videos so we can see, you know, their English communication is not where it needs to be. Um, then, uh, they’re just not developers or they don’t have the right skills or they’re too junior. So, most people aren’t, aren’t fit to be there. From there for the technical side. We, we, um, we have kind of a first step with a HackerRank test where someone would do a coding test on HackerRank and we get an API integration with them and it shows up on their back profile and companies can see the results. And then we’ve recently started implementing technical vetting where we have, uh, a developer, um, who’s kind of turned into turn recruiter or a developer is doing this kind of frost as a part time gig, um, do an actual technical interview with the candidate, um, and then, and say, Hey, you know, we think this person is, is, is, is good or not for a specific skill, but it is really hard. Cause you know, there’s so many different scales, right? Python, Java, et cetera, et cetera, JavaScript, React of course, um, DevOps, there’s so many different ones. So we’re, we’re trying to figure out what are the most in demand skills that we can kind of prevent and create a talent pool for, um, that we have high confidence that, um, vetting these people that are actually going to result in, in, in, um, in making a placement of the, of the, of the candidate. 

Louis Beryl    00:18:03    The world is just software development, as you said, code has no accent. So it’s really gone global and exactly. Do you have companies that you’ve met that you haven’t wanted to work with because you felt that maybe they weren’t set up to make international talent succeed?

Ilya Brotzky    00:18:18    There’s a few small companies, um, that we’ve kind of been worried about and, and kind of went with caution and sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t, um, I rarely would turn down a company if they want to work with us. Um, most of the time if I do it’s because I just don’t like the attitude of the company. It’s more because of like, um, you know, I only want people who are from Europe and speak a certain language and have a, you know, are, have a certain type of background. And it’s like, you’re, that’s something that’s really hard to do. And, um, you know, I, for example, I just want to hire people who used to work at Facebook or Google or Amazon, like only, fame X thing, employees. Well, you don’t have the budget for that probably. So, um, that that’s typically what happens. And, um, and sometimes we, we…  

Louis Beryl    00:19:05    Are there other things that you wish that, um, that potentially companies either did, um, to make the process better for them in either recruiting people or getting the best out of their talent or maybe things that you wish they knew before they start the process of working with you to just really help align?   

Ilya Brotzky    00:19:22    Yeah. That’s a great question. I think a lot of people don’t take it seriously. They just kind of say, you know what, like if we happen to find a great candidate, we’ll hire them. Like, well, it’s not, it’s not that like, you have to actually invest a lot like great candidates aren’t just sitting around hoping to be found.  

Louis Beryl    00:19:38    Let’s talk about that. So a company that is very successful working with you, what do they, what do they do? What type of process do they run?  

Ilya Brotzky    00:19:46    Well, they’re just, they’re just engaged in fast. Like they reply, um, they don’t miss interviews. They, they don’t, um, you know, reschedule interviews last minute. They don’t, uh, waste candidates’ time or, um, you know, they don’t do little, little things like, oh, the candidates, internet connection wasn’t so good. So I’m going to reject them, um, get in the way, you know, sometimes, okay, the candidate didn’t have the best internet connection. Maybe they, you know, live in Venezuela where there’s brownouts, right? Like doesn’t mean that they’re a bad developer. They just happen to believe in a place where there’s not the best, uh, electricity. Right. So I think a lot of times companies are expecting the candidate to kind of like do the work to get to them where if you really want a great candidate, like everyone else does too. And that person probably is going to get a few offers. So, um, just cause they’re from another country, it doesn’t mean that they’re desperate to work for you. Um, you know, that’s not the mindset. I think sometimes people have this mindset of like, Oh, these people are out there. They’re so desperate. They just want to get out of their country. No, it’s like these people are the cream of the crop in their countries. They just want one another job.

Louis Beryl    00:20:48    It seems like no matter what, no matter where in the world you live, the top talent is always in really high demand. So I wonder, um, specifically on the side of top talent, you know, we’ve talked about a couple of things. We’ve talked about, work life balance, we’ve talked about compensation. Um, we’ve talked about more than just compensation, you know. Tell me a little bit about how from, from your vantage point, all the, all the talent that you’ve placed, you know, what do you think that those candidates are really thinking about? What really makes the difference to them and choosing one, one company versus another?

Ilya Brotzky    00:21:20    Yeah. Culture and, um, is huge. And what does culture mean? Um, like for me, it’s how, um, the onboarding process is how the, you know, the general day to day, like what’s expected of them, are they, are they, are they kind of being, um, with a boss who is a slave driver and just said, hey, get this done right away. Or someone will be more flexible than our standing. Um, we had a company actually recently, um, where the candidate just said, like I quit after two weeks because it was just so unreasonable with what the company was looking for. So things like that. Also legitimacy. Um, this is kind of a, an interesting one because like, you know, you gotta look at, from the candidate point of view there, um, most of the time with the VanHack there, you’re not going to relocate and they’re gonna move. Uh, most of our candidates they’re between 30 and 35 years old. Most of them are married. Some of them have young kids. So they’re kind of in this phase of life where they can’t, you know, take a risk on a, uh, on a company that’s not serious and not going to, you know, pick them up at the airport. And, um, you know, really just do all those little things. That’s going to help out nothing. Let me not pick up there first, not the biggest thing, but you know, is the company gonna be around in six months to a year? Like, are they going to move to a country that they don’t know anyone, they don’t have a job, their visa is tied to this company and all of a sudden this company’s gonna go out of business. Like, oh my gosh. So those kinds of things, I think even more when hiring international candidates, makes a difference because they’re not, they might not, not have heard of you.  Like, I probably never heard of you, especially if you’re an early stage startup, a lot of companies come to us because they don’t have that employer brand. They’re not the major companies, the major companies are the ones coaching their talent. So how are they gonna to compete in that hack is the solution there. So, yeah, it’s, it’s a big, um, it’s a big part of, of our, kind of what we say to companies is like really proof of these candidates and how you do that is, you know, showing up to interviews on time. Um, you know, being responsive, taking things seriously, giving feedback quickly, whether positive or negative, but the worst thing is waiting like three weeks for a company to give feedback. Uh, it’s just, they’re going to lose the candidate.  

Louis Beryl    00:23:10    I want to talk a little bit about how this has changed over time. And you know, how, how you’ve seen over the last five years, you know, the mentality around international talent and how that’s changed. And, you know, one of the things that it reminds me of is it reminds me a lot about the value proposition around Rocketplace, which is that, you know, for all different types of service providers, whether it’s recruiting or, or software dev, um, there so often that, you know, those are the great firms that we want to work with aren’t actually right in our backyard. And, and it’s the same thing here, whereas there’s actually a ton of amazing talent, but has that, has the mentality of people been changing and what have you seen?

Ilya Brotzky    00:23:51    Yeah, I think so. Um, I mean, I guess I’ll, I’ll just talk about Canada because that’s one of the one I know the best, the, um, the market, I know the best, um, especially with Canada, the biggest thing was the global town stream news that came out. So, um, it’s basically what happened in 2017 is Canada pretty much made like a, a fast track visa for tech talent, kind of similar to how Germany in the Netherlands had before. Uh, what I hope one day the U.S. H1B program will be turned into, um, is basically if you give a developer a job offer, they can be in the country in about two months and then, their spouse can work and all these things it’s been really, really great. And that process has really opened up companies’ mindsets. And I have many conversations with, with HR folks or founders who know what it used to be like before. And they would just say, oh god, it was so terrible before, I would not even consider, like, if you didn’t have on your resume, like Canadian citizen or permanent resident, or, you know, local candidates, um, we wouldn’t even, we would automatically reject you now. That’s really changing.  

Louis Beryl    00:24:46    A big part of your business is helping people relocate. But now we’re living in co you know, we’re living through COVID, there’s a ton of companies that are really, really moving towards distributed workforces. Yeah. So are you finding that companies want to work with you, but they’re actually less interested about the relocation piece it has. How has that changed things? What do you think happens over the next six, 12 months? How well, you know, what’s going on with this trend?  

Ilya Brotzky    00:25:13    Yeah. It’s, that’s one has been, um, I would say w definitely a double edged sword. We’ve had a lot of companies that just say, Hey, you know what, we don’t even want to think about national hiring. We just wanna hire locals because of COVID too many moving parts and uncertainty around that. We’ve had other companies and more and more companies that are in this stuff. Okay. Where they’re saying, you know what? We tried the remote thing for a few months. It’s great. Let’s hire people. We can have them start remotely. If they want to relocate, we’ll provide them that as a perk. Uh, if they want to stay where they are, we’ll let them stay where they are. And giving people that work from anywhere, a flexibility option is, um, in my opinion, a huge, um, lever that you can pull when trying to compete for top talent. Um, so sometimes candidates will be, you know, hey, I want to stay remote for six months and then maybe I’ll, I’ll, I’ll look to move and then keep working remotely after they move. So that’s actually what we do at VanHack. And we’ve been doing this before. COVID and…

Louis Beryl    00:26:02    You guys are totally distributed, right?

Ilya Brotzky    00:26:04    Oh yeah yeah. For five years. Since the beginning.

Louis Beryl    00:26:05    Right so you’ve been just living this from the beginning. How many, how many different countries do you have people in today?

Ilya Brotzky    00:26:12    I think between 10 and 15, 12 ish. Um, I, I don’t track that as much as I should, but yeah, about, about 12, I think it was the last count and yeah. Uh, it’s, it’s, it’s a big part of us. Our other value we have is we are diverse and we really value that. Um, and we have been able to, um, have this multicultural, diverse workforce because we’re distributed. And at the same time, what we do for our team is, you know, top performers, if you’re looking to relocate, we’ll facilitate that. So, uh, two of our developers and one of our VPs, uh, moved to B.C. to Canada in the last couple of years. Um, and then actually the two developers and said, you know what? I actually miss my family. Cause they’re kind of in the early twenties, I want to go back to Brazil. So they went back to Brazil and we’re totally fine with that. And then maybe one day they want to come back here, whatever. Um, and, and that’s like giving people that opportunity if you’re not bound by borders, or at least not by all borders, because yeah, you can, you can actually move to X country. Um, that’s such a huge life changing value proposition. Like I’m, I immigrated when I was, you know, five to Canada. And my dad always talks about how, like, how life was in the Soviet Union versus how life is here. And I think that like a little bit of a big part of that is, is, um, get my big part of my reason why I love VanHack, like working on VanHack so much, just cause I get to give that to other people. Um, and I think that because of COVID actually people want to relocate more, um, especially to places like Germany, Netherlands, Canada, where there are a few cases it’s relatively safe. The healthcare system works really well. Um, so the like benefit has gone up. The value of moving to Canada has gone up. So, um, that, that I think is, is, and, you know, when we see that, like in our numbers, we’ve had more people apply to jobs in July 2020 than any other month in our history. So yeah, like people and also a lot of people out there looking for jobs and getting out of work unfortunately. So there’s, there’s that too. But, um, yeah, I think that some companies, if they want, if they really want to compete for top talent, you should have the, uh, remote plus relocation and having them start remote is really nice because you can have them and like versus pure relocation because before we used to have companies that were just like, well, we’ll just do the whole relocation process, you know, two, three months of not having the person working on meeting the person and then they’ll move and then they’ll start when they’re in the office. Um, and uh, then like we didn’t have, we actually have a really good success rate of how many people stay or that’s actually another question you should ask for recruiting companies is what’s your success rate of offer acceptance as, as well as, um, for passing probation. Cause like…  

Louis Beryl   00:28:39    Let’s dive into what those rates are. Maybe just spend a second on what you were at, what you were talking about.  

Ilya Brotzky    00:28:47    Sure sure sure. So offer acceptance rate it’s just how many people, um, that get offers, accept the offer, right? So let’s say you, you, um, are working on a job, kind of gets an offer and the candidate rejects the offer. That’s a terrible experience, right? Because the company went through that whole entire process, wasted hours of their time, probably like very expensive employees spending hours of their time. So lots of money is spent as well. And desk morale, it’s like a frustrating experience. You have to start from scratch. Like, Aw, damn it. Like, wow, another candidate we lost. It’s, it’s a terrible experience. So, um, you know, you want to have that as low as possible. Um, I don’t know the exact percentage. I wouldn’t say it’s around 90% offer except for it’s on VanHack. I know it’s much higher than with local candidates, which is another benefit because candidates who are from abroad usually don’t get two or three offers at the same time. Um, so that, that’s, that’s much less rare or, and also the chances of them getting a counter offer from their current company, which is usually the reason why people don’t accept an offer is because their current company likes matches or gives them even a bigger raise. Right. So like, um, that, that doesn’t happen. Or if that does happen, it doesn’t really affect it. Cause it’s not really about the company it’s about the location. So yeah. So, and then also our, um, uh, probation pass rate. So pass, pass, pass the first three months, that’s uh, about 95%. And so we, we have, um, for example, 2019, we had, I believe 250 hires and we had like five or seven people, uh, get, let go in the first three months. So it’s that immigrant mindset, you know, you have that person who’s moving, they’re really invested in them. Like, like for example, Anastasia on your team, like it’s not just another job for her. It’s another like a change of life. Right. I heard her and she’s moving to another place. So you can see that in the kind of passion that developers bring. Uh, that’s what I hear from our customers is that developers are not, they’re not just kind of mailing, mailing it in, gjust cashing the check, Hey, like I’m going to do my 9-5 code. Um, they’re really engaged. And a big factor of that is, is international peace. Um, which is why I think in COVID times, even, even though people can’t necessarily relocate as much as they could before, but right now maybe three, six months kind of things come back online, faster. The relocation, the propensity to relocate, I think will, will go up. Probably less people will actually relocate. But the desire to do that is going to be greater.  

Louis Beryl    00:30:55   The last question I have for you. You know, you, as an entrepreneur, you’ve built this incredible business you’ve had, you’ve had a lot of starts and stops, but VanHacks is doing fantastic. If you could go back in time and give the young Ilya some advice as an entrepreneur or maybe the, all the other entrepreneurs out there listening to this podcast, what would be the key pieces of advice you would want to share?  

Ilya Brotzky    00:31:19    The first one is vested, vested and scheduled for equity.

Louis Beryl    00:31:20    [Laughing] That’s a good one that’s a good one.

Ilya Brotzky    00:31:24    [Laughing] Yeah, yeah, no. And then like contracts, um, like simple things, right? Like I, I didn’t take things seriously cause I had so many failures before and just kind of things didn’t work out. And um, so I just said, you know what, we’re all friends, everyone’s, everyone’s nice. We’re all gonna get along. Um, and I think that’s another thing, like I’m a little bit too trusting as a person, um, or at least have been, um, like, especially when I was younger, um, kind of naively maybe, Oh yeah, we’re all going to get along and no one will, we’ll, we’ll, we’ll kind of, um, be on dishonest or whatever. And, and um, you find out quickly that, uh, that, that does happen unfortunately every once in a while and you want to protect yourself.  So I used to get really intimidated and worried about those kinds of things. Like, Oh my God, if I asked someone to sign a contract, are they gonna think that I don’t trust them and ruin our relationship and stuff like that. And, um, I really feel like that, um, you know, having learned the hard way, it’s, it’s not that big a deal if you ask someone for that and, and having that, even if it’s your best friend, you know, just having all that written down and, and kind of, um, taking care of best case, worst case scenario analysis, um, is really important. Cause that’s like more of a logistical thing, but I think just like on the general stuff, um, if you’re non technical learning how to grow, um, do growth is so, so important. So I, I remember like learning how to do ads, um, how to do landing pages, conversions, all those kinds of things and getting into the metrics of the pirate metrics that Dave McLaren is talking about in 500 startups that is so important and so powerful.  And you should start like, just with a simple, like, I don’t know why I worked at the previous startup in Brazil. It failed because we just put way too much emphasis on the product and not enough emphasis on marketing our growth and distribution. Um, and so we, we, we, we failed because VanHack I think I took the different approach where I just put up a really terrible looking landing page or the basic message and said, Hey, if you’re interested in your email and they just did a bunch of customer discovery calls and that worked out and that kind of learned learning and listening to the customer, is there an important, and the last thing I’ll say is the importance of building community. I didn’t really think about this in the beginning, but the way I built VanHack was with the school mentality. So we were kind of like we have together as our first value. So we’re kind of learning together, working together and helping each other out. And that community mindset has actually been a huge growth factor for us where we’ve been able to, um, get more referrals. People always say, like I found out about VanHack from a friend generally, like have that feeling of we’re all in this together. And we’re creating content and creating content and engaging. And we actually have a Slack group with almost 70,000 people in it. And that kind of thing really, I think, drives our candidate experience and having that powerful kind of engagement. And that’s how the market, which allows us to then make, make like, you know, placements faster for our, for our employer side. So the community aspect and community management side I think is very underrated. Um, and you know, you look at, uh, uh, like the, uh, the guy from products, not to forget his name, if he does a great job with that. I think he’s like that…

Louis Beryl    00:34:10    Ryan Hoover.

Ilya Brotzky   00:34:11    Ryan Hoover exactly of course, yeah. Um, with a huge smile on his face and Twitter. Right? Yeah. Learning that skill I think is super valuable. And, and one that I think is underrated. Um, so I would, I would get into that if you’re a nontechnical.  

Ilya Brotzky    00:34:24    Okay. This was awesome. Thank you so much for the time today. It’s been great working together, you know, thank you for being part of Rocketplace. Thank you for joining us today on The Startup Stack and sharing, uh, you know, your story and all your experiences and advice it’s been,  

Ilya Brotzky    00:34:36    It’s been really exciting. So thanks. No, my pleasure Louis, ever since I met you and Ben at that coffee shop last year, it’s been really great. It Is great to get to know you guys and help you. This has been really cool to reflect on some memories I haven’t thought of for a while. So I appreciate the questions and it was a lot of fun.  

Louis Beryl    00:34:51    For more on our conversation today visit We upload a new episode every week. So if you haven’t yet make sure to subscribe to The Startup stack in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to them. Thanks again for joining us.  See you next week. 

Announcer    00:27:45    The Startup Stack. Written and edited by Hannah Levy, produced by Leah Jackson.