Hired as the 9th team member at Careem where he spent more than 3 years, Ibrahim Bou Ncoula, CTO of Washmen answers our questions on the factors that make a challenging work environment and how to hire the best candidates for your team.
Q. I know that you’ve previously worked with Careem. How did it start?
A. After juggling a few jobs in Lebanon, one was in banking software, another was in a big corporate I decided to give Louis – AstroLabs co-founder a call. I told him that I was bored and pretty dissatisfied with work and asked him what I should do? He told me about this small company called Careem. They were doing some ride-sharing service and I should maybe give them a try. I didn’t know what I was jumping into and I didn’t even know what a startup was or how it works but I did the interview and got the job. I moved from this big corporate where I had to wear a suit and tie and went to meet a co-founder wearing pants and a t-shirt.
Q. And how did that go?
A. was employee number nine and I would describe it as similar to going back to childhood as I don’t remember my first year very well. I made a lot of mistakes int he first year but I rebuilt throughout the next two and a half years. I was the only engineer in the Dubai HQ and there was a very small team in Pakistan as well. Basically, I had no life for three years. Despite the tough environment, there was always a sense of belonging and it really felt like a family at Careem. No one was a superhero in the company because all of us were part of building it, It was a distributed effort and everybody worked hard. This is where I grew up and matured and became more present, more self-aware. I think my attention to detail shot up drastically and my learning in tech became almost unmatched. Careem humbled me a lot too.
Q. And then you left Careem? How did you end up being the CTO of Washmen?
A. After three and a half years with Careem, I decided that I wanted to take on a bigger responsibility and I started looking around for a CTO type opportunity. I was introduced to Designer24, an online fashion rental company, by a friend of mine who was also ex-Careem. I started to build a tech team in Lebanon for them. We looked at their systems and ended up building the whole e-commerce rental platform for the company. We built a supply Website where suppliers can go in and see their actual numbers, put in their new items and get approved and all of that. We also built an internal company, sort of POS computer system for the showrooms as well as a mobile app for the company.
Soon after my time at Designer24 I was introduced to the co-founders of Washmen. I joined them as CTO and we now have 15 engineers who are building the whole tech stack. Washmen is a combination of Careem and Designer24 because our items go back and forth. We have drivers, we have a driver app, driver optimization, routing optimization. We also have a customer app as well as a facility to manage and automate by ourselves including integrations with machinery.
Q. Successful teams need to work at a fast pace because people don’t have time but there’s also that growth and learning element. It’s not linear, but more of a dynamic relationship, isn’t it?
A. Yes, it’s very dynamic, especially in markets like Lebanon and Dubai. If you’re a startup you cannot afford engineers from Google. You might hire someone who has never been exposed to the environment you’re in and you need to have patience to grow that person into what you want them to be. As long as you’re hiring the right attitude and as long as you’re following certain principles of respect and appreciation, things will work out. I think you just have to make sure that you’re equipping the right person who has the right attitude with the right content or the right learning platforms.
Q. In terms of remote teams, if you’re just starting out, is it good to go remote or better to have someone physically in the room?
A. It doesn’t matter. But you should build a culture around remote work, which is what we’ve been trying to do at Washmen from the start. Regardless of the current crisis, we’ve developed this flexibility in the team where people say, I’m going to work from home tomorrow or I’m not going to work today, I’m going to work on Saturday instead. I’m not going to work now, I’m going to work in the evening. The kind of talent pool and the current generation of people that are coming out to the market today have no tolerance towards typical office hour restrictions anymore, they want flexibility.
Q. Back to hiring. How do you judge someone? Is an interview enough?
A. We trial people a lot. To date we have hired about 16 people and I think we’ve around 36 people. We have had people come for a week and we give them homework or tasks to do in the office and we have one of our developers mentoring them. If you’re recruiting a senior back-end engineer from a reputable company, you obviously cannot ask them to trial but we do still give them an exercise to complete or a live coding session.
Listen to the full interview here!