November 15, 2023

How Supabase Found Its Product and Talent Market Fit

I’ve never heard founders say, “I want to build the same product as another company.” It wouldn’t make sense. But I’ve seen plenty of companies build talent strategies mirroring those of iconic companies like Stripe, Google, or Zappos. And this is a major mistake: your product and your talent strategy are intertwined. You can intentionally design your talent strategy like your product strategy so that it’s authentic and gives your company a competitive advantage. Failure to develop your talent strategy or simply copying an existing company’s strategy leaves a huge opportunity on the table. Your answers to strategic questions like—”Should you spend more on experienced talent? Is a remote-first culture the right fit? What should our cap table look like?”—determine who, where, when, and what types of people you hire and how you retain them. When you intentionally align your talent and product strategy—you build an organization greater than the sum of its parts. 

Enter Supabase, where co-founders Ant Wilson and Paul Copplestone have launched what can only be described as a brilliant talent strategy trifecta designed from scratch, unlike anything that exists today, and hyper-aligned with their personal and company ethos.

The Supabase trifecta looks like this:

  • Hire ex-founders, in order to build a team of owners and high-performers
  • Hire remotely, expanding the talent pool exponentially, attracting people who work well autonomously
  • Extend the exercise window and don’t adjust pay for geography to become more attractive to the candidates you want to hire and align their financial incentives with yours

Hiring ex-founders

Self-motivation is a hard requirement for recruiting. But having self-motivated employees is valuable, especially when you intend to have a fully remote workforce. In their “Who we hire” podcast, the Supabase team sums up why their unique approach to hiring ex-founders helped them accomplish this talent strategy:

“We have a bias towards people who previously ran their own companies. This typically hints towards high levels of personal ambition. Ex-founders tend to be very flexible in their role. They can identify low-hanging fruit and change focus quickly to address the needs of the business as a whole. If the person is technical, it also reduces the translation needed across the tech and business sides of the company. Something we especially value are team members who take on the responsibility without asking and without being asked. Founders do this regularly. Clearly, these traits are not only found in people who’ve started companies, but it can be an indication. It’s not the credentials that we value most, but the mindset.”

Ant says to help these self-motivated employees be successful remotely, it’s important to schedule fewer meetings and compensate by over-communicating asynchronously. 

Hiring remotely

Hiring a remote team was also an authentic choice that reflected the product strategy. “This is how all open software is made anyway,” said Ant. “It would ironically be ‘going against the grain’ to try and cultivate this same development methodology in person.” It also gave them “access to a global talent pool and the best possible person for the job.”  

Hiring at the appropriate speed often comes with a tradeoff for cost. To move quickly, you need armies of recruiters, pipelines of talent, and often external recruiters, which comes at a cost. But, according to Ant, hiring remotely helped them avoid this tradeoff by giving them access to “high-quality talent, quickly, and without external recruiters, or convincing people to relocate.” For the company, it reduced costs, increased execution speed, and thereby reduced risk during the early stages.

When it comes to learning that might help other founders, Ant said, “It’s too challenging to try and turn people who thrive in an office environment into people who thrive in remote. It’s better to screen and filter for this.”

Don’t adjust pay for geo and extend the exercise window

The money they might have spent on high recruiting costs has been more effectively allocated to employee salaries, and it’s working: their close rates are outstanding—96% over three years and 100% in the last 12 months. No geo-adjusted pay has made salaries at Supabase very attractive for remote workers, which has helped them to close the right candidates (self-motivated ex-founders, those that thrive in remote environments) quickly. 

One learning from this is that certain countries make things prohibitively expensive through exceedingly high employer costs/fees/contributions. It would have saved pain for Supabase to know this upfront.

In closing

I’ve spent a lot of my career building companies through hiring. My teams have hired thousands of people to join some of the most exciting companies out there, including Atlassian, Okta, Databricks, and Stripe. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about what worked to attract the right talent and keep them engaged.  

Supabase exemplifies three things that great companies do well. One, they’re building a high-performing team by hiring high-performing talent that fits the product’s strategy. Two, their talent strategy supports their growth at an appropriate speed, and three, it affords them capital to equitably reward their employees across the globe, keeping them engaged at scale.

Making changes to programs in the middle can be difficult. It can lead to inequity. It can feel expensive to do it well. It can be hard to make sweeping changes to things like compensation and equity as you scale. It can be difficult to get large groups of people who bought into one vision to buy into a new one. And while it’s not impossible to change your talent strategy later in your journey, these challenges underscore the importance of outlining a vision and plan before you’ve reached 50+ employees. No matter when you develop a talent strategy, I encourage you to make it authentic and strategic for your company’s growth—just like your product.