In this episode, we speak to Nick Gavronsky, CEO and Co-founder of Welcome, about the power of appreciating people in your product, the need for more transparency around compensation for employees, and how his team at Welcome is improving pay equity and equality across the board for the companies on their platform.
Nick has been a pivotal part of the tech community in NYC, helping to build leading product teams and experiences in consumer and enterprise tech over the last 12+ years.
Prior to founding Welcome, Nick was co-founder & Chief Product Officer at Trade Coffee, helping scale the business to tens of thousands of subscribers and tens of millions in revenue. He previously served as the Director of Product at Slice, building a marketplace experience and brand for millions of consumers and thousands of restaurant partners, scaling the business to over $100MM in GMV. Nick was an early employee and Sr. Product Manager at Betterment, where he managed web and mobile experiences, built new product lines for financial advisors and employers, and led the growth team, helping take the business to over $7Bn in assets under management. Prior to that, Nick led Product at OpenFin, building the financial industry’s first common operating system which is now deployed on over 200,000 financial desktops. Nick started his career at Citi as a Product Manager and Financial Analyst, working on the bank’s payments products.
Teja: Hey, what’s going on, Nick. Thanks for hopping on. I really appreciate it.
Teja: Maybe it’s helpful. I’ll just share a little bit about our company. So my friend and I started this business a few years ago and we were developers and we were just looking for places to work online on freelance engagements.
And when we started the business, we were getting out-competed by off shore devs, basically. Right. So we wanted to make a place where companies can hire the best folks and have folks compete on the basis of scale, not on price. And you know, also if I wanted to sub out the work that I got. I couldn’t really find anybody capable and it would be a pain in the ass to interview a hundred people that I would get on oDesk and stuff.
So that was kind of the Genesis of the business. And we’ve ran it bootstrapped. We’re doing a couple million in revenue, which we’re very happy with. No institutional investors. And I know you’re a mentor at first strand and a couple other funds. So I’m curious about that. How’d you get into technology and you know, what got you interested in building your career?
Nick: I’m originally from South Africa actually. And we moved to the US we left and moved here in 2000 and ended up moving down to Florida. Then I slowly made my way up to up to New York. But yeah, I mean, what got me into technology is you know, a lot of my family.
They’ve been in forms of entrepreneurship. My dad and my brother in South Africa and now here in the States. And then so I, you know, I was always interested in that, in that side of things going up and saw what my dad did and my brother did and, and other folks around me.
I remember this one moment vividly. My sister got a computer now, but infrastructure and technology in South Africa when I was growing up is not as advanced as it is today there, but even, you know, it was way behind the US but my sister had a computer at her apartment and I would often sleep over there on like weekends and she pulled up DOS one day and she just started printing questions and I would type in the answers and like things would happen. And my mind was just kind of blown when that happened. And I never thought of myself as like, Oh, when I, when I finish college, I’m going to go like work in technology. It just kind of naturally happened over time.
I actually started my career in finance, so I was working on product. And then throughout, you know, my time in the U S going through kind of high school and college, I’d always dabbled in design. I, I did a lot of kind of abstract design and 3d design, and then that kind of morphed into more kind of web design and product design.
And I’m by no means a trained designer, but I kind of just spent a lot of time there as a personal interest. And then also taught myself just, you know, simple, the basics of coding and building websites. And that got me a lot more interested, in technology and what it could do. And. You know, I started to see, Oh, there could be a career path here, but I didn’t really know what I ever wanted to do.
So I ended up going to college. I went to the University of Miami and I studied finance and marketing and. Kind of said, look, I’ll just get a business degree and I’ll figure it out. After I started working in finance right as the market crashed in Oh eight. But I worked on a product team which was interesting.
So I worked at city group and I worked on their payments product team. And that’s kind of where I discovered this whole world of like, Oh, well, there’s this thing called a product that kind of blends customer business design and engineering all in one. And I kind of. Found it by mistake. And that’s kind of now led me down the path of being a product person, which I, which I think is interesting.
Cause that’s a product like no one grows up and says, I want to be a product manager. Right. It’s like, it’s one of the world’s weirdest. I always tell people it’s like one of the weirdest jobs at a company. But I also think, you know, bias. I just think it’s one of the coolest jobs, so yeah. And then you know, I was in New York as well at that time.
And it was after, you know,, the 2008 crisis and the New York tech community. Back in, you know, 07 or 08 was really starting to kind of come into its own. And there was a lot of discussion around the opportunities here. And you had a lot of venture dollars flowing in and a lot of people starting companies.
So I, you know, I kind of got involved in the early days of the tech community here. And I’ve met some incredible people and that kind of has afforded me a lot of great opportunities where I spent several stints in various operating roles at the earliest of stages through the growth stage of companies. Companies like OpenFin, Betterment, Slice, and then I started a company before that called Trade Coffee in the consumer space, and now, Welcome. So, yeah, that’s kind of how I got into it. Just kind of being at the right place at the right time.
Teja: It’s so interesting. I mean, I think also that there’s just an allure of working in technology, like the growth opportunity, the intelligence of your colleagues, and how ambitious folks are.
The business community, like as a professional, it’s probably more fun to actually build the company, you know, and more meaningful to, in terms of impact.
That’s really cool. So how’d you start Welcome? Was it just born out of seeing, sort of, a need across all the companies you were working with as an advisor?
Nick: Like a lot of folks, it kind of happened naturally.
So, the longer backstory is, you know, every step I’ve taken in my career has gotten me kind of closer and whether it’s been intentional or not, I don’t think it’s been intentional. It just kind of happened, but every kind of change I’ve made in my career has gotten me closer and closer to eventually starting something, but it’s always led to a lot of learning.
So, you know, when I first left City and joined at the time of a very early stage FinTech company called OpenFin, and they took a huge bet on me, and they’re doing some awesome stuff today in the financial space, but, you know, that was where I was kind of thrown into the deep end at a startup, and really had to learn how to do product properly.
And, you know, every change after that, I joined Betterment really early, and it was one of the early products, you know, managers there and got to see our growth across everything from the organization, to the product, to scaling, to all the things that come with that and learn it.
I learned a ton. And then I ended up, after reflecting you know, I’d been working in FinTech at that point for about 10 years. I love FinTech, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something more consumer-focused. I was also interested in marketplace. Businesses. So I had an opportunity to, to join a company that was called mypizza.com.
And everybody thought I was crazy. There was a little bit of that in my own head of like, I’m joining a company called My Pizza, which became Slice, which was an incredible journey. And you know, an awesome story there too with the leader, the founder and what he’s built, and the impact they’ve been able to have in the industry.
But when I was at Slice, I also met my co-founder there. So my co-founder Rick was the Chief People Officer and he joined a little bit after I did. And You know, he came in to really build out the team and culture and process and organization. I came in to lead product and worked on our rebrand to Slice and launching our mobile apps and really scaling the business.
Rick and I just kind of naturally gravitate towards each other while we were there. And we obviously worked together building the team, recruiting and building the product team, the design team, and the engineering team. We just got closer and closer and realized we shared a lot of the same values as humans and as colleagues and a lot of the same interests and both had aspirations to start a company together one day.
We kind of always said to each other, like, “Hey, look, let’s keep in touch, and one day maybe we’ll, we’ll do something together”. I ended up getting an opportunity after that, where I left Slice and I joined venture studio and entrepreneur and residents where I helped them bring a company to the world called Trade Coffee, which is similar to Slice.
t’s a platform that makes discovering and buying amazing coffees personalized to your own tastes, preferences, and interests from the best roasters from across the country and really helping these amazing independent brands build a much bigger online business outside of just their core wholesale channels.
So I ended up going and working on Trade. Rick and I kept in touch. We did some awesome work at Trade. We scaled the business, scaled the team. And as I reflected on my time there, that was another step of getting closer to starting a company. And I learned a ton of great things there. Kind of joining the venture studio and being involved in the earliest of days of starting a company from nothing and Rick and I kept in touch.
We started talking in the summer of 2019 and both kind of realized that it was time for us to go do something on our own, that we were the people we wanted to work with. So for me, the way that Welcome came about was, I was at least more than I think Rick too is more people-focused.
So like, well, who do I want to work with first? Let me figure that out. And you know, Rick and I actually spent a lot of time just talking about why we wanted to work together and what values we shared, and why we felt like we were the right people to go do something together. And then, with Rick’s background, having been in the HR and people space his whole career, he obviously has a natural slant towards doing something in the people’s space and obviously has a lot of expertise and insights there for me.
As I reflect on my career and I see the things that have been done well at organizations like when OpenFin started to scale. When Betterment really scaled, I joined when we were about 15 people. I think we ended up growing to over 300 pretty quickly. The people, team there, and the focus on culture and the process, and the employee experience, and candidate experience is always top of mind.
I got closer and closer to that as an employee. As I stepped up into more of a leadership position at the slice, the same thing, I had to come in and help build a foundational team. I got much closer to the people processes. Then, at Trade, the same thing, I was the first person working on that business and led a lot of the hiring of the early team.
I just started to develop a much deeper appreciation for people, the people process, the experience. I was starting to pay more attention to the software platforms and the experiences that are out there today for candidates, employees, as someone who is building a team. I also became more aware of the challenges that everyone has around compensation and how to talk about compensation and how to be competitive in the market and how to explain equity.
So all of these patterns are happening in my own head and then, you know, Rick and I got together, and we both just felt like doing something in the people space was going to be of the most interest to both of us and where we felt like we could have the most impact as a team coming together.
We went through a bunch of iterations. We looked at a bunch of different parts of the people experience, recruiting, and other things. We ultimately landed on Welcome just through a lot of customer research and discussions. There was just kind of a few ‘aha’ moments as we got deeper into customer discovery, where we had some early assumptions. Compensation is really interesting and in our experiences, it’s always been a bit of a black box and not just for candidates or employees, but even for recruiting teams and how to one, get your hands on the right data to think about, how can I be competitive in the market? Or what the market looks like? To, how do I explain equity to a candidate? How do I explain equity to an employee? How do I explain how to explain this stuff to my teams so that when they’re out recruiting and hiring and closing candidates, they can effectively talk about this stuff and they’re armed with the right way to do it and they understand it as well?
That just naturally led us down the path of what ultimately became Welcome, just a lot of value alignment and what we wanted to build, the space that we were interested in, and just spending a lot of time talking to customers, but also, just having our general points of view.
I don’t know, there was one day I was walking down the street, Astro place. I just remembered this and it all just came together in my head as we’d spent months exploring and it just kind of hit me in the head.
Teja: How pumped were you when you were walking? You were probably just like, Holy shit I got it!
Nick: I was excited. I mean, we still didn’t know exactly what it meant, but we were able to really start to string things together and more of an outer narrative. I remember I called Rick and we talked about it, and then, we got into the challenges of building.
It’s always a challenge, by spending months in the space and looking at all these different streams of themes and conversations. A lot of it was our initial focus of compensation. and how do we make that clearer and easier for all parties involved? And we eventually kind of strung together the general strategy for what’s now become Welcome.
Teja: Yeah, it’s interesting. As an employer, I definitely feel the pain of the black box of compensation. And in fact, that’s critical to our business too, because we get developers hired. So what’s your view on like, Glassdoor? Know, what’s your take on these self-reported comp databases?
Nick: I mean, look, I think things like Glassdoor and Levels and you know, all the other sources out there, I generally think it’s a good thing because I think it’s pushing the conversation for having more transparency and having more explanation around compensation, not just for candidates or employees, but also for the company.
If you look at what’s happened over the last four or five years, there has been a deeper demand from candidates who are pushing, and employees. They were pushing for more transparency around a company’s compensation philosophy and their equity and what it could be worth and how to think about ownership at the company and how to think about compensation and levels.
And, very importantly, I think there need to be more conversations around this, but I think there’s also a lot happening, more recently, around pay equality and gender equality and when it comes to compensation. So my view on that is like, Yes, the self-reported data sets can be challenging because they’re self-reported and they’re fairly inaccurate and they can also lag the market pretty significantly in terms of how close of a pulse that actually has on the market.
The market is changing so quickly, especially these days where everyone’s going to thrust into this remote world. A lot of companies are going to stay this way, or at least, be some hybrid. A lot of companies are hiring talent in places they’ve never had to hire before, and they don’t really know what that market looks like.
Putting that aside, I think a lot of the stuff that’s happening in compensation, in general, is a good thing.
I think a lot of companies are spending time trying to be thoughtful about, what is our compensation brand and how should we talk about compensation to candidates and to our employees? And how do we do this effectively so that we can be more transparent to make sure we are paying people equitably and getting closer to where the market is? And also ideally, helping them because you know, our view is by doing that, companies will actually improve their close rates when they’re trying to win over a candidate and also, ideally improve their retention rates because employees are coming in and understanding the philosophy of that company’s compensation and also understanding the value they’re helping create and the opportunity that’s there for them because, anecdotally and like, my career and Rick’s career and the customers we’re working with.
Most employees don’t understand this stuff. They don’t understand equity. They don’t understand how it actually works. They also don’t understand how to think about, you know, their overall total compensation and how to find all these different things.
So again, I think it’s a good thing for everyone involved.
Teja: That’s so interesting.
I think you can definitely draw a straight line to recruiting from having a solid compensation framework that’s, you know, probably somewhere at or above market. And I think you can probably think about retention as a function of that too. Is there a way to think about maybe employee engagement?
How would you measure that? Like, somebody feels good that they’re getting paid this much and they talk to their friends, who are engineers and I wonder if it also helps engagement when they’re actually working in those jobs as well.
I mean, people are always going to, you know? You can’t stop employees from talking to other friends at other companies and you always have those inputs and data points.
I think those conversations are also good because it means people are being thoughtful and they’re asking the right questions but I think if you look at it from the company’s perspective, it’s so much better. If the company can preempt some of those questions and help those employees truly understand it.
Sometimes, what you’ll see is, and I’m sure you’ve experienced it as an employee, will talk to a friend at this early stage startup and then someone will go talk to their friend at Facebook and they got this huge option grant. Then the employee comes back and says, “well, my friend at Facebook has like, a hundred thousand shares and I have like, 5,000 shares” and it’s like, wow.
The number of shares doesn’t actually mean anything. You have to think about the broader picture if shares are outstanding, and again, Facebook’s a much bigger company.
So I think those conversations are generally good, but I think, you know, ultimately, it serves companies too to be more transparent and not just being transparent, but just being open with what their compensation philosophy is. So that employee’s expectations are set correctly, and that also employees can understand their compensation and how it fits within that company’s model. And, more importantly, the opportunity that’s there for them.
I think a lot of employees often forget get that stuff. And so teams, or even at a company for two, three, four years, you got your option grant, you know, four years ago or three years ago, and it’s like, “yeah, I got some shares and it has a strike price and I know my base has gone up, but like, What does this all mean? The company’s valuation has changed three times. We’ve raised three rounds of funding. What does that mean for me? What’s the opportunity still ahead of me?”
Because oftentimes, there’s still big opportunities there for those employees to continue to grow.
Teja: I have so many questions there and we don’t have much time.
So, I would say that the amount of money that we’re putting into the economy has really subsidized a lot of these big tech firms and their ability to give massive RSU grants. Are you seeing that with team-level compensation, with the number of venture dollars flowing into private companies? Like, company valuations are rising, but is comprising for the everyday person?
Nick: Honestly, that’s not something we track right now.
I think longer-term, those are trends we could start to look at and provide an industry perspective on, it’s not something we look at right now as we’re building the company.
But anecdotally, what I would say is, independent of company valuations rising and capital flooding in, I think there are a lot of things being built and a lot of awesome things happening, which I think is a good thing for everyone involved. All it’s doing is creating more employment opportunities for skilled folks on the generic side or even, business roles.
I mean, you name it, there are so many interesting opportunities now being afforded to people. I still think there’s a lot more work to do across the industry, making those opportunities more widely available to everyone more equally. But I think dollars flowing into companies and companies being built and growing and being successful is ultimately a great thing for people to come in and learn and grow and succeed in their careers.
We are also seeing, as we work with companies, a lot of them philosophically are already bought into what you said. They want to be more transparent about this stuff because they realize the value and they’re either trying before they start working with, with us but it’s it’s kind of manual and it’s not scalable, or when they start using Welcome, they get exposed to some of the tools that we provide and they start rolling it out, and experimenting with, and then scaling within the org. So, I think all of these things are a good thing.
Independent, obviously there are always issues and challenges in the industry. I still think overall it’s a good thing, but I don’t have any hard data to comment on like, our salary is always rising or anything specific there. But yeah, that’s kind of how I at least think about it.
Teja: Cool. Yeah, we actually use a compensation consultant and she’s awesome, but I would welcome a conversation with Welcome. I’m curious to see how the platform works and all that stuff.
Nick: Even for companies that are growing and scaling and helping them, you know, think through, “okay, well, now we’re series B and now I need to implement comp ends, and how do we do that? And what impacts that decision? How do we think about leveling? All of these things aren’t necessarily directly tied to compensation, but they are as well.
Teja: A hundred percent.
Nick: I think there’s a lot of opportunities there to drive the right type of impact and change, and it’s something we want to be able to do for every company.
Teja: Yeah, totally.
How do you guys build your database to find out how, you know, this salary is at 50th percentile or this is at 75th percentile? How do you guys build that database?
Nick: At a high level, what we’re doing at Welcome is, we’re trying to make compensation planning easy for everyone involved.
What that basically means is, there are a few ways we do that.
So, we help teams improve their offer acceptance and close rates through our digital offer platform. We help them with collaboration on the whole closing process across the recruiting team. We also help candidates better understand their offer and more importantly, understand their total compensation through that experience.
Once that person then becomes an employee, we have a product called Total Rewards, which basically helps employees better understand their financial relationship with their employer and the opportunity ahead of them, as the company continues to grow and what their equity could be worth.
We’re ultimately helping support the performance review process at a company, but also ongoing retention or even, pre-retention so employees really understand their opportunity there as they continue to grow with the company and their equity continues to vest, and as the company’s valuation, ideally continues to increase as they continue to work there.
For teams, for HR teams and even, to some level of finance and exec teams, we offer a planning and benchmarking tool to help teams better plan for the future of their organization and think about how they should be level-setting compensation as they’re going through performance processes and merit cycles. And also, how to think about it as their company grows, how should we be thinking about that growth and budgeting for that growth?
We are also building out a real-time data set for both cash and equity compensation, which is then integrated back into the platform. Where, if I’m creating an offer in Welcome, I can get a real-time pulse of what the market is for that role in that geography for that level. Also, as I’m thinking about my own team and its merit cycle season or performance season, I can also look at that data to get a better sense of where the market is as I’m benchmarking my compensation.
The way we’re building that out today, the latter part, is with the data that’s flowing through the Welcome platform. We’re very transparent about that with customers and that’s how we’re building it out.
It’s going to take time to scale, but we think it’s the right way to start to build it out. Over time we’ll eventually have a pretty comprehensive data set that we’re very excited to bring to the industry.
Teja: That’s awesome because that’s actually real market clearing data. That’s not self-reported data that nobody can verify. So, that’s so sick. That’s really awesome.
Nick: We’re very excited about it and so are our customers, and we’ve got some early versions of it and we’re excited to kind of bring that to more teams.
Teja: Yeah, that’s so cool.
Okay. So, I’ve noticed that in performance review and comp review, there’s two camps. One camp is, they’re tied and the other camp is, that they’re not tied.
How do you guys think about it and, does your product have a workflow?
Nick: No. My point of view on this stuff is, Welcome is meant to help you and be flexible to what your philosophy is today.
So, we don’t try to dictate and tell a company what they should be doing, if they aren’t doing what we ultimately think they should be doing. Every company is different. Their evolution is different. The political infrastructure of the company is different. The management infrastructure is different. They’ve all got their own kind of uniqueness when it comes to everything, not just compensation. The way they hire, the way they set up their teams and their org chart, all of that’s different.
We don’t try to dictate the way a company should use Welcome. We try to give them the tools so that they can then best fit Welcome into their existing processes. However, over time, we do think that, whether it’s with data or whether we have anecdotes and things that we can share, we can start to help companies think about ways to improve their current processes around the way they close candidates or how they run performance review cycles.
We have no aspirations to build a performance management system. If anything, we have a bunch of integrations live today. We’ll integrate with folks like Lattice and 15 Five and, others.
But I think the way that we look at that is, we can, over time, drive hopefully positive change for all parties involved, companies, candidates, and employees, and be able to say to companies, “Hey, you’re doing it this way today, here’s a bunch of data or stories from customers we’ve been working with that are doing it this way. Something for you to consider or use as a reference point, as you’re thinking about evolving your comp philosophy or the way you’re doing things”.
So we try to be neutral, which I do think is important.
We don’t want to come in and make the company change the way they’re doing everything, but I think over time we can influence some of their bigger, more important decisions around content.
Teja: That’s a really cool way to think about it, because you know, with all of these tools that kind of augment your internal business processes, you have to almost buy into the methodology that governs the product. So I love that worldview.
I mean, it’s something that we struggle with internally because we have a strong point of view on the best way to interview somebody, let’s say. There’s a debate that’s ongoing in the product team around, should we make them do that way or should we let them do it however they want?
Nick: Yeah, don’t get me wrong, we still have strong points of view on certain things, and you know, the way we build the product, we have strong points of view around of ultimately driving the customer in a certain direction because we think it’s the right thing for them. But also when it comes to their actual policies, we don’t, that’s up to the company.
And again, over time we can maybe influence the right changes as we grow and we scale, but it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out too. I think there’s going to be some cool opportunities there for us to have some real positive impacts for the specific companies, but also, the industry at large.
Teja: That’s really cool. Get some equity, gender equity, pay equity, all this stuff. So, yeah, I think that’s really cool.
Okay. So let’s see, I wanted to ask you about venture capital. You’ve been in the halls, you’ve likely talked, spoken to the LP class, which is something that not many entrepreneurs get to do, you know, the people who give you the money you raise from.
What’s your take on this whole indie hacker bootstrapping versus, building a big business with venture dollars?
Nick: I think ultimately, the company and the founding team have to do what they feel is best for them.
I think what’s happening in like the creator economy and all this stuff is awesome. I think you’re seeing whether it’s individuals building a brand or, an individual that has now become a company they’d like to productize. They’ve productized what they built and not even just them, there’s a great group of companies that are bootstrapped and have built their own growth with their own funding and finance, you know, their growth with their own revenue and I think that’s awesome.
I’m all for that. I think it’s a great thing and I think, again, what’s happening with the creative economy. You look at what’s happening right now with like, NFTs and that stuff’s awesome.
I don’t understand NFTs but it’s only on my feed every single day.
I have FOMO. I’m like, “oh, maybe I should”. I don’t, maybe I’ll, spend some time doing more research, get better educated.
I don’t necessarily view it as a personal decision. I just think it becomes a question of, okay, well, what vertical are you in? What industry are you in? How are these companies typically built? What do you need to have successfully built the business? I think you’ve got to be able to answer those questions and venture capital, I think can be a great thing.
It can help you build and scale. It’s obviously a very different path, taking on venture money versus bootstrapping and there are pros and cons to both. It’s a mix of personal, do I want to do that? And it’s a mix of, well, if I want to be successful in this category, this vertical, do I need to do it? You’ve got to figure out what the right thing is for the business at that point in time, especially when you’re starting out, like, okay, can I bootstrap this and slowly grow this? And am I going to be able to really scale it and grow it effectively? Or at the earliest of days, do I need venture capital to help me get to market and help me really scale and help me build the right team? What is the makeup of my early team? Do I need to hire more people? If so, how do I do that effectively? Do I have the capital to do that?
So I think it just comes down to a lot of different factors, but I think both approaches obviously, have their pros and cons, and I think it just depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. You’ve got to be very thoughtful about that, of what are you ultimately trying to accomplish. What are the variables at play and what do you need to go and get that done?
That’s how I at least think about it.
Well, Nick, thanks so much for hopping on and telling us about Welcome.
Take care, everybody.