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

Lean startup, schmean startup. There’s more than one way to build a Web company.

Just ask Coach Wei, the founder and CEO of Yottaa, a two-year-old tech startup in Cambridge, MA. Yottaa (pronounced sort of like the green Jedi master) makes software tools to help business websites run faster, monitor their performance, and generate sales more efficiently—a field known as Web performance optimization. In a previous life, Wei worked at data storage giant EMC (NYSE: EMC) and founded business software firm Nexaweb Technologies. He is a graduate of MIT and Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, which foreshadows the approach he is taking with his current startup.

Over lunch recently, Wei talked in depth about what he’s doing with Yottaa. You might call it the “anti-lean startup” (my description, not his). In some ways, it is the opposite of the lean startup model, coined by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries, which involves having a small team, creating software prototypes quickly, and using customer feedback to rapidly iterate code. The process is much faster than traditional software engineering and uses methods such as “agile” software development and “customer development.”

As Wei explains, that approach works well for some social media and Web startups, but not all. In particular, he says, if you’re trying to build a company that will be able to grow from, say, $1-5 million in revenue to $50 million, you could run into difficulties with the lean startup model. If you start small and local, ramping up to hire a team of 100 people in Boston or San Francisco will be almost impossible because of the current talent crunch and skyrocketing cost of good developers. “There’s a huge scalability gap,” Wei says.

So he’s trying something different at Yottaa—and he’d probably be the first to acknowledge that it might not necessarily work. The idea, he says, is to be “global from day one and have scalability built in.”

Translation: hire most of the team in Beijing and the rest in the Boston area, from the start. “We try to integrate the best of here, and the best of China, to build a company,” he says.

This is different from offshoring, he says, because it’s not about cost, and the Beijing employees are not seen as second-class citizens. “You don’t do it for the sake of cost saving,” Wei says. “You have to think of building a scalable growth engine into your company. You have to build it into your DNA.” More specifically, he says, it’s about “how to leverage the global workforce.”

Here’s how I see it. Plenty of U.S. tech startups—and big companies—make use of developer talent in other parts of the world like Brazil, China, and Eastern Europe. But few are building their … Next Page »

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