- Founder Secrets
- From 0 to $1B in two years
From 0 to $1B in two years
The playbook that enabled Tony to build a unicorn, twice
Tony Jamous is the founder and CEO of Oyster HR, a platform that enables businesses to hire and manage employees internationally. Oyster was launched in 2020 and rapidly grew to over 600 employees, securing a $150M Series C at a $1B valuation after just two years.
What's even more impressive is that this rapid growth was not Tony's first successful venture. In 2010, he co-founded Nexmo, which grew to $100M in revenue within the first five years and was later acquired by Vonage. In this episode of Founder Secrets, we delve into the playbook that allowed Tony to achieve such remarkable success not once, but twice.
One thing I've learned after interviewing founders for almost a year is that it's often not the founders who choose their startups; it's the startups that choose them. "The story of Oyster is linked to my personal story," says Tony. "I was born in Lebanon, a failed country that I had to leave as a teenager in search of better opportunities. When I arrived in France, the government gave me a monthly check to study and pay my rent. This made me realize how unequal the world was."
That’s what led him, as the CEO of Nexmo, to allow anyone in any country to join the company, managing a workforce spanning 45+ countries. These experiences profoundly influenced his drive to create Oyster. "After the acquisition," he recalls, "I took some time to align my life and my purpose. I realized that I wanted to build something that gives people opportunities, something that could put an end to this birth lottery that I had to experience."
The unicorn’s blueprint
Very few founders get to build $1B companies, let alone two of them in just a decade. So how did Tony do it? A few common themes emerge between Nexmo and Oyster. Tony explains, "The first recommendation for founders is to deliberately position yourself to build for a large addressable market." Addressing a significant problem that affects a large number of people is crucial in building a company that can experience exponential growth.
Another shared thread is that both ventures capitalized on significant historical changes: Nexmo rode the wave of cloud-based communications, while Oyster took advantage of the remote work trend, which coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tony notes, "There are certain markets where the old ways of doing business are not going to work in the future. These are the seismic shifts that you have to take advantage of.”
The third factor that contributed to the success of Nexmo and Oyster was Tony's ability to create a new category and become the market leader in it. According to Tony, having sufficient resources to quickly capture market share is crucial in achieving this. This is particularly important for products with high switching costs, as the more market share your competitors gain, the harder it becomes to take it away from them. Fundraising can play a critical role in this endeavor. For instance, in Q3 2021, Oyster had to temporarily pause new customer onboarding due to overwhelming demand. That's why they made the decision to raise substantial funding to address this issue.
The role of brand building
Tony's growth strategies at Oyster encompassed various channels, including inbound and outbound efforts, as well as partnerships. However, at the core of everything has been brand building. According to Tony, competitors can replicate your product and growth strategies, but they can’t copy your brand. Tony believes that successful brand building means occupying a prominent position in the minds of potential customers, making your product the first choice when they need your solution.
He explains, "The company that wins in a market category is not the one that just has the best product, but it's the one that has the best product and the best brand. With enough money and enough time, anyone can copy your product and your growth tactics. But you can build long-lasting differentiation through brand building. That's why it's important to layer it on top of your growth activities. You need to own that real estate in the mind of your buyers.”
Managing 600+ remote employees
Scaling from zero to 600 remote employees in three years is no small feat. Tony credits the success to his Golden Triangle philosophy, which balances growth, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement. According to Tony, this equilibrium is vital to prevent burnout and turnover. "As you grow," he explains, "you cannot just focus on hypergrowth and forget to take care of your people. You have to increase the triangle's surface area proportionally, or they will burn out." To do that, Tony follows a set of principles to create a safe and productive environment for remote work:
Sustainable leadership: As the leader, it all starts with taking care of yourself to effectively take care of others. Tony reflects, "If I burn out, my team will burn out. If I'm always on and working at 2AM, my team will feel the pressure to do the same. I already experienced burnout in my previous business, and I started this one with the commitment that I don't want to burn out again. You need to lead yourself first as a leader to be able to lead others. It's a promise for myself. I don't want to go back to the office. I don't want to burn out. And that's why I'm doing this. It's a gift to myself and to everybody else that works with me."
Safe work environment: Recognizing the unique challenges of remote work and the potential for stress and isolation, Oyster has developed a comprehensive approach to support its global team's mental health. "My commitment to Oyster," notes Tony, "is to create one of the safest work environments. Everybody has access to therapists, and we have a mental health channel where people can share their struggles both anonymously or not. We want work to support life, not the other way around."
Team and individual objectives: Another key factor for a thriving remote company is that people need to know what is expected from them. Tony explains, "With a remote company, you don't get to see people working at the office. That's why it's important for both employees and managers to know what is expected from them and what their success looks like. That's why we are very deliberate in creating objective and key results that cascade from the company to the individual level. That's what makes remote companies stronger. You are forced to be a better-managed company."
Productive meetings: As a remote company, the chances of getting lost in meetings are high. That's why it's important to manage them effectively. "To make meetings successful and productive," notes Tony, "it's important to leverage asynchronous communication effectively. When we have a meeting, all the information must be sent in advance through videos and Google Docs. We also have a focus day, we call it Focus Friday, where we don't have internal meetings. It's our opportunity to catch up on the week, disconnect, and recharge our batteries."
As Tony wraps up his insights, he leaves us with one last piece of advice: “Align what you do with what you believe in. Go find your purpose and follow it. And lead from both your mind and your heart.” Purpose-driven leadership is the cornerstone of Tony’s approach to management, and it's a guiding principle that he believes can transform not only businesses but also the lives of those they touch. If you want to follow along, you can find Tony on LinkedIn, where he shares his thoughts and advice about building a unicorn remote company.