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Deel’s Alex Bouaziz on how to pivot with conviction

The Deel co-founder and CEO discusses his company’s billion-dollar pivot and leadership philosophies.

By Adam O'Donnell, Sit Down Startup podcast host

Last updated October 30, 2023

Founded in 2019 as a simple solution for hiring freelancers and contractors internationally, Deel pivoted just a week before demo day. The company restructured its program and grew to over 1,900 employees, acquired 10,000 customers worldwide, and raised over $600 million.

In this episode of Sit Down Startup, Deel co-founder and CEO Alex Bouaziz provides a behind-the-scenes look into the company’s success. He also shares his three key philosophies: time is money, be customer-centric, and put your hands in the mud.

Time is money: Move fast and see what sticks—your growth defines you

Initially, Deel was a payment infrastructure solution that allowed people to send and receive international payments. Growth was good but it could have been better. That’s when Bouaziz noticed the way that one customer was using the solution.

“They took the early concept we had which was bridging payments and contracts in one place,” he recalls. “The spark was bridging those two things together. When we saw that use case, we knew there was really something there.”

With one week to demo day, Bouaziz and his co-founder decided to pivot the company and restructure their program. “Everybody was like, ‘Okay, what do we need to do?’ They worked every day until 3 a.m. to shift it, and it really got us moving.”

Successfully pivoting a company in such a short period is an incredible achievement—something Bouaziz credits to his team and their speed.

He says, “Time is money. You don’t have a lot of that, so you need to move really fast and see what sticks. If you don’t have people with the right mindset to follow you into whatever execution needs to happen, you are going to be in trouble.”

Bouaziz adds that startups are defined by their growth. “If you are not growing, you are dead.”

Be customer-centric: Have strong customer empathy and work hard to maintain their appreciation for your product

With countless programs available in the market, Bouaziz believes that a company must continue to win its customers’ appreciation to maintain retention.

He says, “The cliché of being super close to your customer is not a cliché. What’s important is, can you build the right thing for them to pay for? If they are paying, can you maintain their appreciation for the product? Are you customer-centric enough to shift to the next thing that’s going to make them pay more or help them in the next cycle of their company?”

By putting their customers first, Bouaziz and his team can ensure their continued success.

Put your hands in the mud: You must be able to fully understand and do the job yourself before you hire other people

In Deel’s emerging days, Bouaziz and his co-founder worked on founder-led sales. They built the best practices so that when they scaled the company, their sales team could improve them. “If we can do it, a professional sales team can do it better,” Bouaziz says.

He and his co-founder take this approach when hiring managers. They believe management should be able and willing to fulfill the responsibilities of their team.

“In my experience, the best managers are the ones who can do the job and put their hands in the mud until they can scale their team. If you can’t put your hands in the mud, you are probably not the right person to lead that team.”

Bouaziz insists that this approach to hiring means that managers can empathize and help their staff complete tasks. “You want to avoid the people who give orders and walk away,” he says. “The people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done are the best people.”

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