We love showing off the amazing content created on SquadCast by way of feed drops on our podcast. The SquadCast podcast is all about content creator tips, sharing SquadCast’s updates, and discussions about the future of content creation.
This week, we’re featuring the work of SquadPodder Noah Labhart. In this episode, Noah interviews Franzi Low.
Here’s what it’s about
Franzi Low doesn’t have the usual CTO path. She studied economics, and was doing her PhD in econometrics, prior to her current venture, and was a teaching assistant. She loves to play sports, and can’t go a day without playing some sort of sport. She is passionate about triathlons, which is something she can do with her recently injured knees. Living in Hamburg, Germany, she and her husband always enjoy hiking and being outside. Learn more.
Noah’s been a member of the SquadPod since the beginning. Thanks for being part of our community!
Also in this episode
- Learn more about SquadCast’s New Studio and Backstage
- Join our community
- Submit your show to be featured on our podcast
- Starfleet Leadership Academy podcast pre-roll
- Written and produced by Arielle Nissenblatt
- Mixed and designed by Vince Moreno Jr
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- Transcripts by Sabeena Singhani
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ZACHARIAH MORENO: Hey, welcome to The SquadCast Podcast. I’m Zach Moreno, co-founder of Squadcast.fm. And on this show, we bring you tips on content creation, interviews with creators, and we share the latest and greatest from SquadCast. Today on the show, we’re continuing our tradition of feed dropping incredible content recorded on SquadCast onto our feet. If you haven’t noticed we’ve been pretty busy behind the scenes. We just launched the new SquadCast Studio and Backstage, which includes a whole redesign of the product and empowers you to collaborate with more team members. Check it out at SquadCast.fm, and try it free for 14 days. Okay. Onto this week’s episode. We love showing off the incredible interviews recorded on our platform. We think you’re gonna love this one.
NOAH LABHART: Hello listeners. Welcome to The SquadCast Podcast. I’m so excited that my show Code Story was selected to be featured. My name is Noah Labhart, and I’m a member of the Squad Pod. I’ve been enjoying getting to know some of the other SquadCasters in our Slack channel. If you’re interested in joining, head to squadcast.fm/community. Okay. You’re about to hear an episode of my podcast Code Story. It’s a show featuring founders, tech leaders, CTOs CEOs, and software architects reflecting on their human story and creating world-changing, disruptive, digital products. In this episode, I’m interviewing Franzi Low, CTO and co-founder of Localyze. Franzi doesn’t have the usual CTO path. She studied economics and was doing her PhD in econometrics prior to joining Localize and becoming the CTO. She and her co-founders wanted to come up with a solution to help people during their relocation process and enable companies to hire talent beyond borders. Big thanks to my friends at SquadCast for the opportunity to share my show Code Story on The SquadCast Podcast. Now let’s get into it.
FRANZI LOW: You are hearing so many opinions and so many, “this is how you do it” stories. And we heard that so many times. That this is not the approach that you would usually do. And we were like, yeah, but this is how we want to do it. But to be really honest, the product or the, the company, especially in the first one or two years, it’s the founders. And if you’re not able to stay authentic, then people will not believe that you are the person who’s able to build that product or that vision, or that idea that you have. My name is Franzi Low, and I’m the CTO and the co-founder of Localize.
NOAH: This is Code Story, the podcast, bringing you interviews with tech visionaries, who share in the critical moments of what it takes to change an industry and build and lead a team that has your back. I’m your host, Noah Labhart. And today, how Franzi Low built the platform to enable your company to hire talent beyond borders, all this and more on Code Story. Franzi Low doesn’t have the usual CTO path. She studied economics and was doing her PhD in econometrics prior to her current venture. And she was a teaching assistant. She loves to play sports and can’t go a day without playing some sort of sport. She’s passionate about triathlons, which is something she can do with her recently injured knees. Living in Hamburg, Germany, she and her husband always enjoy hiking and being outside. When COVID hit the world, the topic of global mobility was pushed into view. Franzi along with their co-founders used to live abroad and experienced the lack of support when moving to a new area and settling in. They wanted to come up with a solution to help people during this relocation process. This is the creation story of Localyze.
FRANZI: Localyze is a software that helps companies to relocate international employees. Um, this is how we started, um, COVID happened and we kind of moved more towards this global mobility topic, where now we are not just managing relocations, but we have people living somewhere else than the headquarter. And you still have to manage, um, your global workforce. So everything, like all those global mobility processes that are happening, uh, due to COVID. And basically what we do is that we have a software, HR software, where the HR department can manage and track all the employees that are living wherever they wanna live. Um, but on the other side, and this is really important to us as well, is that we all have a personalized to-do list for the talent that is relocating, or whatever global mobility closes might be in the end. This is how we’ve started this whole thing, all three of us, so we used to live abroad. Hanna was living in China. I was living in Argentina. Lisa was living in Denmark. We experienced it ourselves, what it means to move somewhere and not to having the support that you might need in order to settle in quickly. And we were like, I guess the people would have the same problem moving to Germany. We wanted to come up with a solution that helps the talent or the person that is relocating, but we really found out that it’s easier to build a B2B startup. [laughs] So, and Lisa, one of my co-founders, she used to work for big gaming company in Hamburg, and she was working for the HR department there, and she did like relocation for two years. So I, I think she relocated like 2000 people. So, this is how, how we came up with the idea.
NOAH: Tell me about the MVP and, and, you know, given some of your starting story, it sounds like it’s, it started in different places, and perhaps, you know, came together when you, you all came together to do Localyze. But tell me about the MVP. How long did it take you to build, and what sort of tools did you use to bring it to life?
FRANZI: This is actually another really funny story, I have to say, because when we started Localyze, we were looking for a technical co-founder because my background is actually not software engineering, but statistical engineering. I had no idea on how to build a client or how to build a server or how to connect a client and a server. I actually didn’t even know what those words mean, but it was really hard to find a technical cofounder for the three of us, and then Hanna, my cofounder, she, she was mentioning like Franzi, you know how to code? Can you just build the MVP for us? Because at that point in time, we were basically just pitching the idea, but we didn’t have a product. And then actually the first time when people split in R. Not a cool programming, like software development program language, but it was good enough to show what we want to do, because I think people didn’t really understand what we are trying to do because it wasn’t there before. And it’s still not really there before, uh, it’s not really there. This was back-not something that we sold to our customers, but it was something that we used to kind of pitch to investors to accelerate the programs. And then the real first MVP was build in Ruby on Rails. And this was also the thing that we, uh, moved to the market with that we sold our customers in the first place. And yeah, the backend story will be on Rails. We still probably have some code from four years ago, which of course is not great. But we are, we are slowly in the refractory mode for, for the last pieces there.
NOAH: With the MVP, right? When you’re building any MVP, you’ve gotta make certain decisions and trade offs about, you know what you’re gonna start with, right? Or, and you mentioned some of this, the choosing the language, but, but dive into that or, or other decisions and trade offs you had to make too around technical debt or feature cut and how you coped with those decisions.
FRANZI: As I mentioned in the beginning, the, like the initial, or let’s say the motivator to start Localyze to really help the person that’s relocating. And we are always in this trade off between the talent and the HR department, because we are still like a fairly small engineering team. So we are now 10 people, but we are growing like in the engineering team, we are 10 people. So there was always the trade off between, are we building a new feature for the HR person or are we building a new feature for the talent? And in the beginning, we really focused on the talent because we were like, yeah, companies, they will invest in employer branding. They wanna help them have the best onboarding experience. So we invested a lot in features, like showing them where they can do their sports, showing them where they can put your-their kids to the kindergarten, and not so much on the process automation side, which is like, how do they actually get their visa? And what does the HR department has to do, um, in order to support them? So this was like the first pitch that we went out for our first customers. We told them we have this really cool app for employees where they basically can see what they can do in Hamburg, or wherever city, they might move to Germany. And they were like, yeah, that’s nice. But actually we didn’t really care about it. Please just help us with like everything I takes visa and all those kind of things. That was the first like trade off that we have to make, that we really invested in HR features and really like focused on the customer that is paying for the service rather than on the talent that is relocating. Like when we showed our value add for the HR department, with what we are doing, we also, then we’re able to focus more on the talent because they realize that if the talent has a good experience with us, then they will also stay longer in the companies.
NOAH: Then move forward. Right? You have your MVP, it’s working, you’re gaining some traction. How did you progress the product and mature it? And I think to wrap that in a box, how-how did you go about building your roadmap, and how did you decide, okay, this is the next most important thing to build.
FRANZI: We always were really good in developing features or developing our product close to our customers. We always include them in what we are working on next. That was always our approach. It also comes a little bit from the fact that like neither Lisa, nor like me, or Lisa or Hanna, we are not coming from this tech world, the startup world. We all have super different backgrounds, but none of us like had ever built a startup before. And we were like, okay, how do we actually know what we have to build? And then intuitively, we just like asked our customers because they should know what they need. We did like onsite, the most something that you cannot really imagine now anymore, really kind of going to their offices, showing what we have and in their meeting rooms. Um, and then ask them for feedback. And I guess this is like how we developed our roadmap in the first place. Now, of course, we also know that when you ask your customers, they oftentimes don’t really know what exactly they need. Now, of course, we have a product team, um, that is super experienced and we have UX researcher team, and it’s a little bit more structured. During COVID and shortly after COVID, when this whole idea of moving wherever you wanna move and like working from everywhere what’s happening, HR departments, they were quite confused on how they can find their place in this world. And what what solution do they actually need to support their employees? And this was a time where we did a lot of experimentation around our feature sets. Uh, we just asked them what is the problem that we wanna solve. And I think we build at least like three features in like an MVP style-ish way, that we then threw away. Just because we thought that they might need it, but then we saw that they didn’t really use it. This is something where do things that don’t scale on the beginning mindset, uh, was, is still really big, uh, and how we decide on what we do next be, I guess always first try out, and then decide on if we wanna move forward with a feature.
NOAH: Let’s switch to team. So then how did you go about building your team and, and what I’m most interested in is what did you look for in those people? To indicate that they were the winning horses to join you.
FRANZI: I think in the beginning, we were really looking for those independent developers that maybe don’t have too much experience. So maybe they’re not like in the market for five years or so, but they are just looking for a role where they can find creative solutions, where they can build MVP features fast, where they can just, without a lot of guidance from product team, for example, independently decide on how to build something. Um, I guess this was a really good idea for the beginning, for the first one or two years. But then at some point, you are in a different phase with, with your technology, with your startup. And there, we really looked for someone who is more experienced, that can clean the mess a bit from the first years. And take a little bit more ownership on code quality and all those kind of things. But of course, it’s still important that you don’t want that developer in your team or any developer in your team that’s really just like looking for code quality, and it’s not really looking for what is the value that we are creating for our customers. And I guess this is something where we are still looking for when we hire someone, do they have a pragmatic mindset? Still of course, being able to write quality code, but having the idea of whatever they are doing. It’s because the ultimate goal is to create value for our customers and to help our users to, I don’t know, get a visa. So they, they should be kind of mission driven on what we are doing and what we are trying to do with Localyze. And to be really honest right now, since like I’m kind of a like female techl ead, for me, what we are looking for right now is also really like supporting female developers and making them grow in the role and to allow a lot of diversity in the team, not just in gender, but like whatever kind of diversity you can look at. It’s really important for me that this is a focus since the beginning, when we are building the team.
NOAH: So let’s flip to scalability. So did you build this to scale efficiently from day one? Or have you been fighting this as you grow and gain traction?
FRANZI: Um, no. We didn’t build that with having scalability in mind. And I think the term scalability is something that’s just becoming important for us. I mean in the end, we don’t have thousands or millions of users on our platform. We have on a, like, let’s say peak day, we would have 200 users on our platform. I guess like from like now on it’s growing, and we will have more, but it’s not gonna be gonna be 10 times more or a hundred times more. It’s probably gonna be four times more, five times more in this year and maybe next year. So scalability was never a super big issue for us. Until now, we were always able to fix any issues that we would have with just like adding more dinos to the server or something like that. So scalability wasn’t ever baked in, in what we build so far, and it’s just happening that we hired someone who’s a little bit more experienced, like head of engineering that is coming from, from a bigger technology, like from a, from a bigger company with like more scalable technology who’s facing those, or who’s addressing those topics. To be really honest, since my background is not software engineering, it was never on top of my mind to build something that’s scalable.
NOAH: Now, that’s interesting. So as you’ve progressed in your, you know, technical founding as the company has progressed, and, and I hear you saying that scalability is more of a factor now, but I would even ask, how has that changed in, in your mind being a, sort of a non-technical technical founder? How have you grown in that way and in your leadership towards scalability?
FRANZI: I think for me, the harder part was building my skillset in managing people, rather than building my skillset in technology. Of course, I’m coming into this technology world, this software engineering world, without any prior knowledge to, on how to build that. And I had a lot of imposter syndrome moments, especially while we were in Silicon Valley for the Y Combinator. But then I also realized that people are super nice and really helpful, and they always help you out with that. So I’m really good in diving deep into tech-technological problems, really understanding what’s the issue behind. And if I know that I’m not able to fix it, asking the people to help me fixing it. So, everything around technology, I guess I’m just pretty good and, and learning fast. And also because I just really love it. I love coding, and I love everything related to technology. I, as I mentioned for me, the harder part was, and still is to be honest, managing people, um, managing expectations, helping them grow, being able to just support them in the best way so they can be, or they can succeed in their role. I guess this is kind of the hardest part. Like many of your listeners know the, um, the book from Kim Scott, Radical Candor. And I’m definitely on the ruinous empathy side where I’m just sometimes too kind. So I guess this is kind of my, my, my, my biggest challenge, to be really challenging to people and help them understand that they need to, like, they need to be challenged to, to, to grow in their roles. So, as I mentioned, yeah, I think all this topics around team setup, team development. This is the harder, the harder part for me. Um, not so much the technology.
NOAH: Well, as you step out on the balcony and you look across all that you’ve built, what are you most proud of?
FRANZI: I’m really, really proud of the team that we have right now. And also that we had in the past, of course. Personally I’m of course also proud on like the, the technology and, and the thing that I was able to learn during the pa-past four years. If someone would ask me what I’m most proud of, it’s really definitely the team that we are building. And, um, I can see that we have some employees that are with us since three years, some even since four years since the beginning. And to really see how they are growing in their role and all the challenges-challenges that they overcame in the past. Um, I guess it’s, it’s really like the team and what they’re able to achieve with the limited resources that we had before series A.
NOAH: Well, let’s flip the script a little bit. So tell me about a mistake you made and how you and your team responded to it?
FRANZI: I see mistakes as nothing really bad, to be honest, because in the end it’s just technology and you can fix it. But I guess the biggest mistakes that we are always doing is that we start to develop features without being really, really sure that this is needed. But then again, I mean, you really only know that you should build a feature if people start using it or not start using it in, in those times. But I guess we can get better in really validating what we are building in the first place, because of course in the end, it’s like you are losing, you are losing time. And especially for a startup at our stage, time is super crucial. And whenever you feel like you are doing something that doesn’t create direct revenue, it just feels like a time waste building a feature that wasn’t really required, taking too much time finding that out. You just have to iterate fast. And if, if you’re not able to iterate fast and also throwing away what, what is not needed, building features that are not relevant for our customers are the biggest mistakes that we are still doing.
NOAH: Let’s switch to you, Franzi. Who influences the way that you work, name a person, you look up to and why?
FRANZI: I would definitely say that my two co-founders Lisa and Hanna influencing and loves the way that I’m working, especially in the beginning. I think I mentioned that we all have really different backgrounds, so Hanna, she’s coming from consultancy. Um, Lisa’s coming from HR, and I was working at the university. I was not even teaching or anything. I mean, I was, I was a teaching assistant, but usually I would just sit in my office alone and writing on my research papers, not talking to anyone for a week or so, maybe my, my, my professor. And then I was thrown into that startup world where you would be sitting together with your co-founders, and you would be chatting all day. And it was really challenging for me in the beginning. And they were asking me constantly, like, Franzi, how’s it going? Hey, what are you doing? Like, how’s the progress? And I felt really offended by that, because I was like, don’t you trust me that I could do it. And they were like, Franzi, you didn’t talk to us for one day. Please just let us know what you’re doing, because just, we need to kind of coordinate to get an understanding on how you actually work in a team that was really influenced by, by Hanna and Lisa in the first place. And, and still whenever I feel like, I don’t really know how to behave or what to do in the situation, I always ask them kind of what is, what is the normal thing to do in that situation in a company? Because I never worked with a company before, and then I just don’t know a lot of situations. So I guess those are the, the two persons that mostly influence my way of working. And then I also consume a lot of podcasts and books, I have to say. Um, uh, I’m a, I’m a big fan on, on all those podcasts. And all those audio and, and written books written by, by people that are super smart and that have a lot of good ideas around that. Um, I, I guess this is also influencing a lot, the way that, that I’m working.
NOAH: Top of the list is Code Story, I’m sure. I’m sure.
FRANZI: Definitely, definitely. [laughs]
NOAH: [laughs] What does the future look like for Localyze, the product, and for your team?
FRANZI: So we started Localyze with a strong focus on Germany, um, on the German market. Most of our customers are German customers. And of course, if you want to grow, you need to grow either vertically or horizontally. Um, and we are growing into different markets, which means that right now, we are opening markets in the UK and in Netherlands and in Spain and Portugal, wherever our current customers have, for example, developer apps, but also where we see new customers, prospective new customers asking for our support. So Localyze currently is expanding in Europe, um, which also of course need-means that we have to rewrite our product a little bit to make it adaptable, or more adaptable. We had a similar situation when we went to the Y Combinator two years after we started the company, where they told us that Germany is probably not the most scalable market. So you should maybe want to try out UK or Canada. We then decided that we wanna focus on Europe. So this year is really about expansion in Europe, but then after this series B, we also said that we will try out Canada again, the U.S. market as well. Um, and other markets where our service might be a, a big value add for, for the companies that are hiring there. For the team, we are now 60 people, in general. And we are growing a lot right now, a lot means not like kind of doubling within a three months time frame, but rather 100, 220 by the end of this year. Which of course, it’s, it’s a big challenge for, for any company for any, any organization, if you grow, you just have to have in mind that there are different steps and different stages in your company culture and how you do things and processes, how you document. So we are currently trying to set up processes, hire internal teams, to make sure that those processes are still scalable when we hire more people, but still don’t lose this culture of being a startup and working together with smart people that want to achieve something.
NOAH: Well, we talked about a mistake earlier, but a little bit different spin. If you could go back to the beginning, what would you do differently, or where would you consider taking a different approach? And that can be at Localyze or really anything you wanna bring up?
FRANZI: I would ask for help earlier. And that that could be like in different situations. So I, I, I think maybe the situation where maybe most of your listeners can relate to the most is that when you start a startup, you get credits for everything. Right? You get credits for Google Cloud, you get credits for AWS, you get credits for, I don’t know what. And of course we were like, yeah. Okay. I mean, we need a server, so let’s start it somewhere. And I was just like getting into this whole EC2 cloud computing. I, I just, I, I really had no idea what I was doing. And I was losing myself in the AWS documentary, which is a nightmare, if you don’t have any clue about, um, those topics. So we were just like, okay, just like, like go, go with AWS. I was watching a lot of YouTube videos on how to set up a server and how to connect it to the internet and how to set your SSL certificate. And I spent my nights trying to figure that out and to debugging that one day before we went to a customer to present our product, the server was basically down, and I tried to fix. And then at some point someone came to me, they were like, why don’t you just use Heroku, Franzi, if you have no idea about DevOps, why, why should you like get yourself into that too much? Brain freeze with this documentation, just use Heroku and Oh, my God. Like, why didn’t I do that before? Like, why didn’t I just ask around for other solutions that might be helpful for a startup in our situation? So, yeah. Then, then we started using Heroku, and we did, we don’t have a DevOps person until now. We are still using Heroku. I could have made my life a bit easier if we just like moved to Heroku earlier. So I guess this is one, one big part of like, oh one, one thing that I would make different next time.
NOAH: Well, Franzi, last question. So you’re getting on a plane, and you’re sitting next to a young entrepreneur who’s built the next big thing. They’re jazzed about it. They can’t wait to show it off to the world. Can’t wait to show it off to you, right there on the plane. What advice do you give that person, having gone down this road a bit?
FRANZI: Stay authentic. Because you are hearing so many opinions and so many, “this is how you do it” stories. And we heard that so many times that this is not the approach that you would usually do. And we were like, yeah, but this is how we wanna do it. And I think if you really wanna distinguish yourself, and the product, but to be really honest, the product or the, the company, especially in the first one or two years, it’s the founders. Investors, they invest in the people who founded the company until the series a, series B, I guess. After that, of course it’s not about numbers, but in the beginning, it’s a lot about the people who are building the company. And if you’re not able to stay authentic, then people will not believe that you are, that you really want that, or that, that you are the person who’s able to build that product, or that vision, or that idea that you have. So I guess this would be like one advice that I would give.
NOAH: That’s great advice. Well, Franzi, thank you for being on the show today. Thank you for telling the creation story of Localyze.
FRANZI: Thank you so much for having me.
NOAH: And this concludes another chapter of Code Story. Code Story is hosted and produced by Noah Labhart. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or the podcasting app of your choice. Support the show on patreon.com/codestory for just five to 10 bucks a month. And when you get a chance, leave us a review, both things help us out tremendously. And thanks again for listening.
Arielle Nissenblatt is SquadCast’s head of community and content. She’s obsessed with all things podcast-related and is the founder of EarBuds Podcast Collective, a podcast recommendation engine.