Anti-Lean Startup: Yottaa Yearns for Big, Fast Growth by Hiring Global Workforce

8/29/11Follow @gthuang

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teams to be truly global. Yottaa is positioning itself to grow quickly by tapping into Beijing’s developer talent pool (which Wei says is very deep and fast-moving) and making that a fundamental part of the company’s culture.

But having the team split across such a huge distance is very challenging, especially for a startup. In fact, geography is a big reason why techniques like agile software development don’t work for Yottaa—fast iterations and code releases (on a daily basis, say) usually require developers to be in the same room. Still, some aspects of the lean startup process persist in the company. For instance, as Wei has figured out “how to run a team in a global scale,” he says code development has “converged to a semi-agile, semi-waterfall [traditional]” model.

Regular visits to Beijing and daily meetings and e-mails are the norm at Yottaa. Until recently, co-founder Bob Buffone (formerly chief architect at Nexaweb) was head of Yottaa’s Beijing group, even though he’s American and doesn’t speak Chinese. That must have been interesting. Buffone is now back in Boston, and Shawn Hsiao, a recent hire from TripAdvisor and IBM, has moved to Beijing to head up the office there (he does speak Chinese, I presume). Meanwhile, Wei has been keeping his finger on the pulse of Beijing developers. He compares it to 1998-99 in the U.S., in that three out of every 10 people you meet on the street are working on startups, he says.

Yottaa currently has 36 employees—about 10 in Cambridge and the rest in Beijing. It is actively looking to hire senior sales and engineering staff, as well as a Web designer and system engineers, in Cambridge. The company, which raised $4 million from General Catalyst, Stata Venture Partners, and Cambridge West Ventures, went from zero to 50,000 users in the 10 months after it rolled out its beta product last summer. Interestingly, Yottaa is not going after customers in China, Wei says; it is focusing on the U.S. and Europe for now.

The company’s global-workforce approach clearly isn’t for everyone. And it’s too early to say whether the growth model will even come to fruition—that will depend on whether its product for website optimization really takes off. But it sounds like Wei has reached the point in his career where building a $5 million company isn’t going to satisfy him.

“We’re getting to the level where we can start to look at scalability right now,” he says. “We could have achieved what we have so far with a Boston [only] team faster, but now we’re built for the future.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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