Deliverect has been expanding at a rapid pace. We finished 2020 with 116 team members from around the world, and are still hiring across the globe - looking for more talented people to help us streamline food order processing for restaurant businesses.
But how do we make sure that culture remains at the forefront of our expansion plans? How do we keep our staff culture alive in the midst of the Covid-crisis?
To answer that question, we have to go all the way back to 2018. That's when with a shared ambition and passion for technology which improves and adds value to the hospitality sector, Jelte Vrijhoef, Jan Hollez, Zhong Xu and Jerome Laredo joined forces to form Deliverect.
With ambitious plans designed to show that it is possible to scale a global business from Europe
rather than the US, Deliverect received a capital injection of €16.25m in April 2020 to fund our
Deliverect Founding Team: Zhong Xu, Jan Hollez, Jelte Vrijhoef and Jerome Laredo
Like many fast growth firms an entrepreneurial mindset sits at the heart of the company culture. Although a digital-based business proposition, Jan and Jelte have placed culture and attitude at the forefront of their expansion plans.
Not an easy task in the middle of a pandemic, however, 2020 proved to be a runaway success.
Despite a major downturn in the hospitality sector, simultaneous country lockdowns and a global recession on the horizon, Deliverect proved that staff culture remains the true marker of success when it comes to expansion.
According to polling firm Gallup in its 2020 workplace survey, the impact of the pandemic on company culture has been radical: “Culture can be understood as ‘how we do things around here.’ Right now, the how is changing daily - and in some cases, forever.”
The Silicon Valley giants of Facebook, Apple and Twitter, to name but a few, are facing a seismic shift in the fundamental structures of how and where they work. As CNN Business reported in May last year: “…after spending billions on fancy digs and convincing workers to move to some of the priciest real estate markets in the country, these same tech companies must adapt to a sudden and potentially prolonged shift to telework.”
"Despite a major downturn in the hospitality sector, simultaneous country lockdowns and a global recession on the horizon, Deliverect proved that staff culture remains the true marker of success when it comes to expansion." - Jan Hollez, Co-Founder & CTO
With many global business leaders now into a ‘new normal’ Deliverect is pioneering staff culture in 2021 and post-pandemic as it overcomes the challenges of recruiting and building a remote global team.
Jan describes the Deliverect approach when it comes to team culture: “As you scale the passion, visions and values of the founders can easily translate directly to staff when you are relatively small. But as you grow to hundreds of staff it can never be the same as when you were at 50 people.
“We used to go out to restaurants to celebrate successes. Going to bars, doing activities together like karting or bowling was a regular occurrence. The work team was always an extension of a family and friends’ network.
“However, as you get bigger the founders can become bottle necks, so it is very important to instill the right culture from the beginning. There has to be a proactive effort to empower people to take ownership from the start.”
This is a concept echoed by global management consultancy firm McKinsey: “Companies should focus on the ties that bind your people together. Pay heed to core aspects of your own leadership and that of your broader group of leaders and managers.”
Employee Stijn Verhaegen, who works as a team lead for the core development team in Belgium echoes this: “From the outset the culture was explained to me. It was clear to me how much freedom and responsibility they give to employees – this company allows people to grow. And that is one of the big reasons I decided to join Deliverect.”
Robbe Vanhaesebroeck, software engineer with the front-end development team, developing the web applications, describes his experience having started as an intern and now in a full-time position: “I like the fact that people feel responsible and go above and beyond for customers as well as each other. The team really supports each other, people take the time to understand and there is a real family feel in the way we encourage each other. It’s also not super serious - we have a lot fun and the people really support each other and laugh with each other.”
“We want to get to know the people. We spend time trying to find out what makes them tick as people, what do they care about. It goes beyond their own skills or experience to do the job. We talk about hobbies and how they see the world. Everyone has a back story." - Jelte Vrijhoef, Co-Founder & CIO
With over 50 people recruited to the team in 2020 and 150+ roles to fill in 2021 staff culture cannot be allowed to ‘just happen’.
“We don’t believe in bosses, we believe in leaders,” says Jan. “People get promotions because they are already showing they are doing the next job in their career. Maintaining and promoting our company culture and values is always a consideration in the way we review our team, it’s central to how we operate commercially.”
Culture has to be lived (or worked) and not prescribed. “We do not want to burn people out. It’s important that everyone works in a positive and supportive atmosphere. There needs to be a balance between work and life.”
According to a Forbes’ article on the subject in 2020: “The core tenets of what makes a great culture haven't changed. 2020 has just emphasized them even more. Employees want a meaningful mission, a core set of values, goals, and priorities that guide the team.”
Jelte picks up on the Deliverect approach to its culture: “We always try to be more like friends and family than formal co-workers. When we started, we decided we wanted to be informal as a team. From day one we organized lunches and ate together in the office. We try to do fun stuff but not make it too ‘company organized’.
With the whole team moving online during the pandemic and in the middle of an ambitious expansion plan, Jan and Jelte were determined not to lose the ethos they engendered when they founded the business so they started to consider ways to innovate to maintain this sense of togetherness.
Customer success associate for North America’s Deliverect operation, Stephanie Gee, joined the company in October last year after losing her previous job because of the pandemic. She describes the ethos of the business: “The culture is based on personal experiences. The company is big on being a single global team even though there are seven offices and we are all working remotely. They are big on open communication and talking about any issue. All teams interconnected with each other and team members are supported and celebrate wins. Everyone is open and welcoming. It’s a positive environment to be in.”
“We would not be able to grow at the speed we are if we did not have passionate people in the business. Even through Zoom you can feel the energy and love for the work people are doing. We make sure we celebrate successes as a team. It’s always a collective effort.” - Jan Hollez
Now focused on the not insignificant task of scaling globally, Jelte describes the recruitment process to ensure the right people join the team:
“We recruit into the company culture. Everything is done remotely obviously so there is a lot of Zoom calls! It takes longer and we may have missed out on good candidates as a result.
“We want to get to know the people. We spend time trying to find out what makes them tick as people, what do they care about. It goes beyond their own skills or experience to do the job. We talk about hobbies and how they see the world or ask them what they did at the weekend. Everyone has a back story.
“We have had interviews where people have not been able to open up and talk in this way and that means there is unlikely to be a real connection. This approach doesn’t mean we don’t like introverts - far from it - but we do need to be able to talk to every member of the team on a personal as well as work level. We have many very tech savvy people working with us and that might be their passion instead of social aspects of going out, that’s ok. We just want to see people talk about something they like and are passionate about. It could be anything from gaming to flower arranging!”
Deliverect's Christmas event in 2019
More than half of Deliverect’s workforce has been recruited during the pandemic.
“We would not be able to grow at the speed we are if we did not have passionate people in the business. Even through Zoom you can feel the energy and love for the work people are doing. We make sure we celebrate successes as a team. It’s always a collective effort,” adds Jelte.
Core to the success of the team growth has been the creativity employed to generate the team ethos alongside structured internal training designed to fast track capable and ambitious team members into management.
“We have started a leadership programme. It focuses on a range of soft skills as well as training on our ethos. But the training is structured so everyone can be an individual. We don’t want people to be clones of each other,” explains Jan.
“Covid has taught us all that people are more important than location and we have put this at the heart of how we work.” - Jelte Vrijhoef
The company has also introduced a focused programme of online social activities including motivational speakers, ‘Zen’vember – a programme of wellbeing and inspirational activities throughout November. Christmas saw the gifting of Oculus VR sets for every member of the team so they could take part in a specially designed and created VR party room.
Determined to not fall into the trap of many major corporates where culture becomes diluted and impersonal, Deliverect is committed to maintaining its personal approach. When asked how the firm differs from a US tech firm, Jan says: “No one is a number here. This year we will have 300 people in the business. Everyone’s opinion is valid.”
When asked how this approach will be possible, he continues: “We will continue to be open with the team and present every stage of the company growth. We mix up the teams across territories to inspire genuine co-working rather than country or territory specific silos.
“This spirit of working together on shared projects and mixing teams is very important. In the past we would have flown everyone to one place once a year for a company presentation and get-together but now that is not possible, we have to be more creative.
“The implications of people working from home can be a feeling of isolation and loneliness. We’ve developed online gaming challenges every Friday evening. We have team building events and escape room activities as well as a direct communication to help manage home working etiquette. We’ve had to encourage people to make sure they stop working at 6pm!”
“Covid has taught us all that people are more important than location and we have put this at the heart of how we work.”
Deliverect was founded in 2018 by Jan Hollez, Zhong Xu, Jelte Vrijhoef and Jerome Laredo, who combined their long-standing industry expertise to create an innovative new tech solution for restaurants.
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