Shuo Wang is one of the founders I admire the most. Years ago, I would run into Shuo at least once a week at a future of work event or around town fundraising and recruiting to get her startup Deel (a Worklife portfolio company) off the ground. Since then, Shuo has revolutionized working from home internationally, helping over 8,000 customers in over 150 countries settle into the new normal. Remote work has made the work life balance more accessible and employee friendly, and at Worklife we’re all for it.
Starting as a robotics student from MIT, and transitioning to co-founder of Deel, Shuo has brought massive changes to how people will work in a more remote, digital age. Founded by Shuo Wang and Alex Bouaziz, Deel allows companies to process international payroll seamlessly and eliminate the ongoing admin of local compliance of taxes and benefits. Companies like Shopify, Notion, and Nike use Deel to make global hiring easy.
In August of 2022, I was able to sit down remotely with Shuo to talk about her roots and day-to-day operations overseeing Deel’s rapid growth and revenue.
Read the full story below, or catch the interview on our community chat.
The journey from robotics to Chief Revenue Officer (CRO)
Brianne Kimmel: So you’re the co-founder and CRO of Deel. Can you tell me a little bit more about your roles and responsibilities, and how that has changed over the last couple of years?
Shuo Wang: The CRO is chief revenue officer, so my main responsibility is making money for the company. I ensure we:
- Continuously grow our revenue
- Continuously hit our revenue target
- Adapt to sales conditions and marketing conditions
- Forecast our revenue target
I actually have a very technical background; I studied robotics while I was in college and I have a master’s degree in robotics from MIT. It’s been a dramatic change to transition from a technical role to a sales role.
I think running sales as a founder means I know where our business is at, understand how to pitch the product, and enable the team to do sales in a more efficient way.
I think having a co-founder in charge of sales or working as the CRO is becoming more and more popular.
Brianne Kimmel: I love this model. I talk to a lot of founders, and if you have two technical co-founders and no one owns revenue you can stay in free land for way too long. So I think growth and monetization is something that can easily be an afterthought when you have two founders who are really focused on product and product alone.
A little more about Shuo Wang
Brianne Kimmel: Is there one thing in the early days of Deel that you did that really set the company up for success?
Shuo Wang: I think Alexander and myself were aiming to build a payment platform for international talents to be able to get paid based on their performance automatically, to make sure they always receive their payments.
And I think everyone really liked that idea, but hated our pro-initial product. It was just super complicated to use. We didn’t acquire any clients within the first three weeks we were at YC.
And then Alex and myself had a long conversation and we decided we should give up on this product. We should talk with our batchmates and great funders out there and see what kind of product we can build for them.
And I think for the rest of the three to four weeks, we spoke with every single founder in our batch and tried to understand our problems, and how they made payments to talents. And then based on their feedback we built a completely new product.
I think that definitely helped us understand the market and train the set of our foundation.
Brianne Kimmel: Do you have the best practices? Are there certain operating principles that you have with Alex or with the rest of the team that allow you to move very quickly and directly?
Shuo Wang: Alex and myself have a very transparent communication style with our team. Whenever we realize a client need, we report to our product team, and report to our ops team directly. Then we trust our team, and have them test a strategy at the very beginning and see how that works.
If we see some kind of traction we would invest in the new product feature. So I think effective communication, transparency and honest conversations provide really good and honest feedback to the product team.
Brianne Kimmel: Do you have any principles or philosophies that you have internally on how to take in customer feedback and prioritize it?
Shuo Wang: I’m always patient about my clients when it comes to their problems. They come from Twitter, they come from Facebook Messenger, or Instagram or direct emails. Always take the time to be patient, understand their problem, and to help solve the problem.
I think that’s very important. And to build the trust between you, the company, and the clients.
Brianne Kimmel: How do you balance work and life? Do you feel like you have certain things that you enjoy doing on your day off? Are there certain kinds of best practices or even boundaries you have in place as a founder?
Shuo Wang: As of today, I don’t want a vacation. I’m very excited about where Deel is at today. As I travel, I always like to see new opportunities, and I want to promote Deel. I want to build a local network, and expand the market.
Brianne Kimmel: Because I know you’re in Singapore, is there anything you wished you learned either in starting the company or something that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
Shuo Wang: You know how we hire rep ops? And why that team is important? I wish I could’ve known that much earlier on. And then I wish I could have hired my first rev. A 50 person sales team instead of like 150 much later on.
Brianne Kimmel: When you go into meetings with Alex and you have your CRO hat on, what are the things that Alex owns versus what you own? How do you approach that in specific meetings?
Shuo Wang: I think Alex and I have very separated and independent responsibilities just because we’re a remote company. I’m in charge of revenue, and he is in charge of product, scaling the company, and a lot of operations as well.
We maintain an investor relationship where you build strategic partnerships as well. I think we are very independent, so we make decisions on our own and move very fast. I think that is one of the reasons Deel has been growing so fast.
We move at Deel speed, and we identify problems and propose solutions. And based on those solutions we test different strategies, and find the best one and execute it. We always touch base, but in day-to-day work or responsibilities, we’re very independent and make decisions on our own.
Shou Wang on Deel and the pandemic
Brianne Kimmel: What do you think about Deel today versus the pandemic? What are some things that you didn’t expect or anticipate pre-pandemic?
Shuo Wang: The pandemic definitely accelerated the need for Deel, and it helped us find a product market fit much faster. I think we didn’t expect our company to scale so fast.
I remember before the pandemic in 2020 when we first graduated from a 10 person team. In early 2020, we were a 20 person team. And then right now after 3 years we’re a 1,200 person team. We scaled the team much faster and then we started to accelerate hires. We became more serious about time planning, strategy planning, and then product design as well.
Brianne Kimmel: Do you find that the revenue team specifically is fully distributed? If so, how have you scaled that team?
Shuo Wang: The sales team is about 30% of our overall headcount, including sales, marketing, revenue, operations, plus the SDR team, as well as a partnership team.
We look at a global scale. Deel is not only focusing on the US market since day 1. We had a small sales team focusing on the market, focusing on APAC and Latin America very early on. And that definitely helped us build a very efficient sales strategy when we were ready to scale.
We always look at sales talent that has an international background. Then we can adapt to the remote working requirement, and we’re always driven. Another thing I look for is if the sales team can execute on their own, and whether they are aggressive enough to be able to close deals in a very efficient way.
Re-forecasting Deel and market changes
Brianne Kimmel: Last time we spoke you had mentioned that you were very quick to re-forecast and quick to make changes when the market started to turn. Can you tell us a little more about if you changed the team structure from a revenue standpoint? Did you have one person driving the re-forecasting? How did you reorient the business when the market started to change?
Shuo Wang: That’s a great question. We changed our revenue and organization. As we grew bigger, we added a new team, and on top of the sales team we have a revenue operations team.
The responsibility of this revenue operations team is making sure that our sales team is efficient and they help us build a go-to market strategy, or help us expand internationally to global markets.
So when it comes to optimizing more strategies based on market conditions, we always have a rev ops team to work with. So these two teams always work together for re-forecasting.
Things we consider when it comes to reforecasting:
- We wouldn’t keep a close eye on our pipeline generation, like our dimension function
- Previously we had 100 monies every month, and today because of market conditions we could only have 80
- And that is one of the measurements we closely look at just to make sure we understand what’s going on, and if we have enough pipeline leads
Moving at Deel speed with Shuo Wang and acquisitions
Brianne Kimmel: I’ve also noticed the team has been really aggressive and excited about acquisitions as well. Do you feel like these acquisitions are going to serve as more expansion revenue, and opportunities to upsell? What are your goals with acquiring other companies?
Shuo Wang: When we look at acquiring companies, there are two things we measure.
Number 1 is from a product standpoint, whether this company’s product or the services the company provides are aligned with Deel’s vision.
Number 2 is the team culture, whether we can work together. And then if the 2 teams can integrate together smoothly. Overall I think we did 4 acquisitions recently, mainly around HR products and integrations.
The most recent, bigger acquisition is a global payroll company, but in India, based in APAC, and then headquartered in Singapore. They’re very good at global payroll, and have served many bigger clients. We’re trying to expand or upsell our existing clients to a global payroll product, which is a new service we’re providing today.
We also acquired a company which is called Legalad, which will help us build our mobility product.
I’ve built up a lot more structure, processes, and systems in place when it comes to a company having to sponsor their global talents. All the acquisitions that we have made are very aligned with our vision and how we are going to provide better service and better product to help all kinds of companies to hire remotely, or hire international talents in a very efficient way.
Deel and currency
Brianne Kimmel: I also find you are not afraid to experiment with different product offerings, different currencies. I’d love to learn a little bit more about how crypto came about.
Shuo Wang: I think Alex and myself are very open to crypto. I think he built a crypto product very, very early on, on top of Ethereum. We believe in crypto as a payment system and a payment infrastructure. So that concept makes sense.
When it comes to building a payment platform for international talent. which is the initial pitch, we are naturally adapting to all kinds of payment systems. And we integrated with many greater payment providers out there, including local banks, PayPal, and TransferWise, as well as crypto payouts.
Today, we are open to integrate all kinds of payment platforms into our system.
Crypto is becoming a bigger and bigger part of that place.
Brianne Kimmel: Are there certain markets where you’re seeing crypto being adopted faster?
Shuo Wang: Yeah, I think around 10 to 12% of the withdrawals of the day are into cryptocurrencies, and the major markets including APAC and Latin America.
Economic growth within Deel
Brianne Kimmel: How do you think about unit economics vs growth?
Shuo Wang: I think at Deel we’ve been very efficient, and efficient on marketing spending and user acquisition. One thing that I have learned as a founder or as an entrepreneur is always making revenue and then making businesses.
We do investments, but it needs to make sense. And then we need to be able to measure the return, the ROI of every single dollar that we spend.
Brianne Kimmel: I do feel like Deel was first to market. You had the benefit of having a strong brand and partnering. You see companies in the early days who have now scaled into very big companies, which is true for a lot of enterprise companies that go through the program. How do you think that’s changed now that there’s more competition? Do you feel like investing more in marketing or that some of the marketing tactics have changed?
Shuo Wang: The strategy around marketing has changed, because we need to adapt to the new system and the new rules of playing this game. I remember our keyword deal, it was two years ago. The CPO is like $10 right now, $5 to $10 today.
You can see the CPO is around $2,000. It’s crazy because competitors keep on beating on our keywords. So we actually did not keep up the spending, and then we found organic ways to grow our pipeline. Then we knew that organic growth is the most efficient way. It drives more like a sales qualified lease, or sales qualified opportunities for other AEs.
So to drive more organic growth, we have developed all kinds of good assets, and we provide the salary information, insights based on different jobs, and then responsibilities for different levels of talent as well.
Last month we released a global hiring report. That automatically drives several thousand leads already.
Shuo Wang’s relationship within Deel’s marketing team
Brianne Kimmel: When you think about the sales side of things, do you work really closely with marketing on developing some of that collateral and some of that research? What do you think the relationship is like with sales and marketing?
Shuo Wang: I think today at Deel sales and marketing as well as the product are working together. There is one system to make sure that the product is building in a market that’s needed.
We have been focusing on and making sure that those three parts are aligned, and for marketing and sales I wish we could work more together. I’m always finding all kinds of ways for those two teams to work together.
Brianne Kimmel: I know you’re alive in many markets and you have teams all over the place. How do you think about translation? Is it something where you fully translated Deel and you have sales and marketing in each market?
Shuo Wang: So it’s a hyper model. For our tier 1 markets and tier 1 countries we have marketing managers who would be in charge of all those translations, and then translate our websites to local languages.
Which makes it more efficient. But for some of the regions, like a key region where we do not have a marketing manager, we work with local talents or local translators who translate the website.
Brianne Kimmel: It’s been crazy to see the company’s growth from a revenue standpoint, from an employee standpoint, but as an investor I get to enjoy it because I meet really interesting people all over the world. So I always love meeting folks that work at Deel.
Shuo Wang: Thank you, Bri. We are very lucky to work with you as well. I know you’re building a great community.
Continuing to forecast the new normal
With WFH pushing workers to find a new balance between work and life, future of work leaders like Shuo Wang have taken this new remote age by storm. They’ve reinvented hiring and payroll for startups, small businesses and even large corporations in ways that are new and inventive.
Remote work has become the new normal, and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. The world will have to continue to adapt, and Deel has done just that, offering employers and employees alike an easier way to process remote, international payroll and more.
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