PODCAST
Startup Recruitment Failures
JULY 27, 2022

Episode 5: Making Product and Engineering
Relationship Work

Vinted is a second-hand clothing marketplace valued at over a cool billion (the first unicorn in Lithuania - yay!). Mindaugas joined 10 years ago as employee #13, and now he leads a team of 400 engineers. What a ride! He shares about a Senior Manager who had a very strong background, but just couldn't thrive at Vinted.
Mindaugas Mozuras, VP of Engineering @Vinted

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Transcript

INDRE
Hello! Welcome to the Podcast of Startup Recruitment Failures. I'm Indre, Founder and CEO of jobRely. We're building outbound recruitment SaaS. And today my guest is Mindaugas Mozūras, VP of Engineering at Vinted. Hi, Mindaugas.
MINDAUGAS
Hey! I'm happy to be here and thanks for inviting me to join this lovely podcast.
INDRE
Thank you for participating. Maybe you could briefly introduce yourself and your startup?
MINDAUGAS
Absolutely. So I hail from Vinted. And Vinted is primarily a second-hand marketplace. But maybe you've seen in the news that we launched Vinted go which is our shipping solution. We're expanding into some different business lines outside of the second-hand marketplace. And I've been with Vinted for almost 10 years now. In 3 months it's going to be 10 years and I've started here as a Software Engineer. And 3 years in, I started leading engineering and I've been leading engineering ever since.
INDRE
Wow! A nice journey. It's pretty rare nowadays at startups that people are so loyal. So very glad to hear about it. So Mindaugas, could you please share your experience with us with the recruitment failures? Maybe you could emphasize one which was the most painful one?
MINDAUGAS
Absolutely. So Vinted engineering team has grown a lot since the day I started and since I've been leading engineering. So when I started leading engineering there were less than 30 people in our engineering team and now there are more than 400. So for context with hiring, we hit a pause button in 2017. And in then in 2018, we discovered a working business model and started hiring rapidly again. So in 2018, we doubled our team to 55 people in engineering, then to 110 in 2019. And then to 220 in 2020. So it was really fast-paced growth doubling the team each year. And I had to do a lot of hiring as we grew.
INDRE
I can imagine.
MINDAUGAS
And then when the engineering team was 30 people I managed the team leads directly and that worked perfectly well for a while. But then came a moment when I had to create another management layer. And for that I needed to hire a really senior Manager and the hiring failure is really about me trying to hire that first Senior Manager. Failing the first time and then becoming better at it later.
INDRE
So what happened? What were the reasons of this failure?
MINDAUGAS
So the process itself how we did it, was not unusual. We created the job ads, had a bunch of candidates, did the interviews, and did the tryouts, and eventually, we landed on a candidate we really liked. And we hired him.
Everything felt great. We're growing, we're creating a new layer of management, we have a strong candidate, that candidate liked us, we liked them. But some months later that person left the company and I had to take a really hard look at myself trying to figure out what went wrong. And the problem was not on the candidate's side really. To this day I can confidently say that the person is a great Manager and they're succeeding in other roles they had since Vinted. And with hiring just generally, we were looking for a match. There are no great people and bad people. Context is important. Our company is different than other companies, we have a different culture, we have a different team, we have a different situation. And in this case, our situation was that we were growing really fast, as I established before, we did not have a lot of established process and structure, and the candidate, that Senior Manager candidate, came from an environment where they had more structure and more process already established. And that's not unusual, right? If you're a Senior Manager, you're probably working in some bigger organization already and at the size, we were then, like most companies at that size as Vinted was then already have more structure and more process than we had at the time.
But because we were growing so fast we were focusing on other things, other than creating process, creating more structure. We were just trying to get things done in the best way we could and we were prioritizing things that enable growth instead of some more structural things. And so when this person came in they had to operate in an environment where there was less clarity than they were used to. So they really tried their best and they based their behaviors based on their past experience, and what works for them in other roles but in our specific company, not all of those behaviors worked.
INDRE
Could you give an example? What was the candidate, your new hire expecting, in terms of structures and policies?
MINDAUGAS
Yeah, so I can give a very specific example. So, engineering and product are two key pieces in any kind of technology startup that need to work well together to deliver value to customers. The product needs to define what product we're building and engineering then needs to deliver that technology. And in this specific case, the candidate was used to a different kind of product engineering relationship and then we had at the time at Vinted. There was a lot of friction then between them and their product counterpart and they couldn't figure out and me and my peer and product couldn't help them figure that figure out, how to make that relationship work. And I was not able immediately to detect what's the issue, right? Because I was used to this specific Vinted environment and everything's working in that environment, we're delivering things, our process is working, our relationship with the product is working. Everything's fine. But then this person comes in. They're used to a different kind of engineering product relationship. They're trying to make it work the way they know how and I'm unable, because I never needed to, explain to them explicitly how that relationship works at Vinted. Because I just never needed to explain that.
INDRE
What were you doing? How did you try to solve the situation? Because you can not create structures and policies overnight. They have to be implemented during some period of time. So, how did you try? Did you try to your new hire to help to adapt somehow or what were your steps you took after you realized?
MINDAUGAS
At that point when they left, I understood that I made some sort of mistake and one aspect I really focused on when hiring the next person is really figuring out what their role is about, what the person will be doing in their job, because that was another issue. I knew that I wanted to hire a more senior Manager to create that another management layer but I didn't really understand how much responsibility am I going to need to give to them for that role to make sense. I left it pretty loose, we'll just figure it out sort of mode. And then one thing I did before I tried to hire the next person for the role, I made a lot more things more explicit and I figured out more of the responsibilities that I should be delegating to them in that role. I made the role bigger in my head than I had it in my head previously. I think that helped, that definitely helped. Then we were able to find a better fit for that troll. And some of the other things I'm talking about today I only figured out later when I could really reflect on the situation from more distance.
INDRE
Yeah, that's of course, that's the thing. You usually don't understand what is the reality of the situation, right? When you're in it. But if some time passes you can reflect and you get the answer. I think what you're saying it's very important because there's huge growth, you're busy and you just need a person to help you with your workload, and most of the time I believe Managers just go with the flow, just look for people and they think that "I talk and I see that this candidate is suitable, I hire and then the person is experienced, we will together basically draw the position and describe accountability and responsibilities." But what is very important here, I think, it's to spend a bit of time and it's not a lot. It's an hour or so. Just to sit and really think and organize your workload, to see how you could dedicate and what you could dedicate to that person, then according to that to create the criteria like in your case. Yes, you need an experienced person, but maybe you would need to stress out to that person that it's not the same environment as he or she used to work at. These small things I believe are the key factors for success.  We are so busy with everything that we don't have time just to step back and to think a bit more before stepping further.
MINDAUGAS
Absolutely. Relatedly, this is something I always try to do. I think it's really important during the actual recruiting process to remain authentic and to give the candidates the opportunity to find out for themselves what the company is about, what their future managers are about. When recruiting we never should sell something that does not exist. We need to be genuine and real. I think that always gives the best long-term result.
INDRE
Yeah, this is again a little bit strange factor which sometimes happens that we over-promise basically. When the reality comes and when the person starts working, we need to change everything from what we talked about during interviewing process, right? So, it's a little bit strange exercise we're doing if we're not totally open from the very beginning.
MINDAUGAS
Yeah, absolutely. I hear that some companies do that and it's something that can only work in the short term. Maybe it can work for months but it's not something that will keep a candidate for years. Especially in this market where candidates can choose and they can choose a company that they really would love to work for.
INDRE
Yeah, and if they're not self-motivated, it's not so easy to motivate them then. So, it's very important to have a good match from both of the sides knowing everything what's going to expect. But what is also interesting because I really admire your 10 years of experience in one company and that you managed to grow from a developer to a VP of Engineering in that company. Could you share about this experience? Did you plan on doing that? Or did it go very organic? How did you succeed from a Developer to become a key Manager in a company?
MINDAUGAS
Yeah, absolutely. So, I did not plan to become a VP of Engineering. But when I was joining Vinted, I distinctly remember, I was working at a pretty good company. I was happy at that company, and then I decided to join Vinted.
INDRE
How big was Vinted back then?
MINDAUGAS
I think I was employee number 13 or something like that.
INDRE
Okay, so a very small team.
MINDAUGAS
Yeah, it's a very small team. I remember distinctly me and my mom met up during the weekend, maybe there was more family involved, but I distinctly remember my mom asking basically in the lighter way "What the hell are you doing? What is this manodrabuziai.lt? "Which is how Vinted was called at that time. "Why are you leaving this well-established company for this weird small company, and there's no safety, etc." I distinctly remember explaining to my mom that it's really all about growth. My primary motivation for joining Vinted at the time was growth. I knew that whatever happens in the next couple of years, maybe the company will crash and burn, you never know, it's a startup. Whatever happens, I'm gonna learn a lot. Because at that point I already knew that the company has received investment, and there's gonna be growth. You never know what will happen in 2 years, but there's going to be growth.
So, my primary motivation was growth. I had that growth mindset. I was ready to make mistakes, learn and figure out stuff. Then, when I became Head of Engineering, that's also interesting how that happened. Before me, there were no Engineering Managers at Vinted. I was the first Engineering Manager, and all the management was done on the product side. So, the Product Manager would also review Engineers' salaries, set goals, etc. Then our CEO decided "We need to create this, we need to have Engineering Managers because this is not scalable, the way that we're doing it now." Because we were a small startup, we were doing some things in interesting ways, let's say. So, he put it to a vote. He created an issue on GitHub, where he asked all the Engineers to vote for who they think should be the Head of Engineering.
INDRE
Nice, very nice. It's like an election, right?
MINDAUGAS
Yeah, exactly. I'm sure there are not a lot of companies that did it this way.
INDRE
I haven't heard anything like this. This is amazing.
MINDAUGAS
But you know, small startups, I'm sure they all experiment a lot, and we experimented on some weird things including how to select the new Head of Engineering. The good and the bad thing is that I was voted to become the Head of Engineering unanimously. The good part is that of course, it's nice to receive that much trust from your peers. The bad thing is that it creates a lot of pressure to actually do a decent job. The podcast is called "Startup Recruitment Failures", so, failures are critical to growth. If you want a grow there's gonna be a failure, there's gonna be situations where you're not gonna succeed and it's important to be able to reflect on those failures, not get stuck in those failures and to move on, to learn, accept that those failures happened because the worst thing you can do about failure is to ignore it or say that I'm still the best.
INDRE
Yeah, exactly. But I think that you most probably know that nowadays and especially at startups, people work for 2-3 years most and then they change jobs. So it's a very common situation to change jobs often and not to be so committed. What would you say? What is your approach? How would you comment on this experience of people changing jobs so often?
MINDAUGAS
Well, you know everyone can and should choose whatever works for them. But for me, I don't expect the grass to be greener somewhere else. So generally, I'm someone who's happy with life and optimistic about life. I don't expect things to be better somewhere else and I don't do changes in my life because I'm unhappy which I think might be the reason people often change jobs. They're unhappy about something, and they think that if they change the situation, they're gonna be happier. I think that it's usually the mirror you should look at if you're looking for happiness. That's one thing. The other thing, my motivation at first with Vinted was growth, personal growth,very selfish. But with time it's changed. With time, it became something else. Some years in I became very motivated by the fact that we're building something special, something unique - a Lithuanian technology company that is visible beyond Lithuania. I was very motivated by that.
INDRE
Yeah, well, it's one of two Unicorns we have in Lithuania, so it's really one of the greatest companies.
MINDAUGAS
Exactly. I was very motivated by helping build that, and now it's even more than that. I genuinely care about sustainability, and I think that with Vinted we're doing positive steps to make the world more sustainable, and I want to be a part of that. If Vinted stopped existing now, I would ideally try to find a company that is focused on sustainability and I would want to work in that kind of company and I'm happy that I work in that kind of company now.
INDRE
I can imagine. But still coming back to the first point you said that people are changing jobs and it's the same as to change the country and to expect that your life will be better. But well, it's not about the place, it's about you, the life is happening to you. Especially at this time. It's Covid, it's a war situation, there are really many many things people are upset about, and of course, they are looking what they can change and the market situation seems like you can go anywhere because everyone is looking for people. So what would you advise for people who are just desperately changing jobs and still not finding this happiness in their life? What would be your advice for them?
MINDAUGAS
It's difficult to give such generic advice because I'm sure there are many different situations people have, and in some cases, I'm sure there are people who will change jobs and will be happier because there was like a specific factor in their previous job that made them unhappy and that factor no longer existing will solve the critical issues they had in their life. I'm sure these kinds of situations exist.
INDRE
Of course.
MINDAUGAS
But I really recommend taking a look at yourself and trying to figure out what motivates you, what makes you as a person happy, what makes you unhappy. For me what really helped was I spent a couple of years in therapy, working with a psychotherapist, so that was really helpful for me in helping me understand myself, what I care about, what I don't care about, what makes me happy, what makes me unhappy. That's something that helped me a lot, maybe that's something that can help someone else too. There are other ways to figure out yourself. That is just one way that helped me.
INDRE
Okay, thank you for sharing. And thank you, Mindaugas, for your time and your story today. Thank you for all the listeners. For more podcast please visit http://jobrely.com.

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