What's the difference between a good outsourcing experience and a bad outsourcing experience?
The caliber of the talent. Simple, right?
Taso Du Val thought so. He's the CEO and co-founder of TopTal, an online freelancing platform that connects elite software engineers (emphasis on elite) with idea-driven companies and entrepreneurs. The Silicon Valley-native wanted to start the platform after realizing that powerful talent exists everywhere, but isn't necessarily at your fingertips -- even in the internet age.
"You can Google keywords like 'PHP developer,' but some of the greatest talent are creating profiles in their native language, so the keywords might not even be on the keyboard," explains Taso, who was a lead engineer on projects like Fotolog and Slide.
With this communication gap in mind, Taso decided to connect with fellow engineers the old-fashioned way: in person. In March of 2011, he landed in Budapest, Hungary -- a spot on the map he regarded as "pretty untapped" -- and started the slow work of building a network. Over the next year and a half, he was able to exchange knowledge and forge friendships through the shared languages of English and coding. Luckily, one of Taso's European friends (who was living in California at the time) facilitated contact with just one developer in Hungary, and the lead allowed Taso to fully cement himself within the tech community.
"On a topical level, we definitely connected as engineers," he said. "They're super smart. Hungarian engineers are some of the best in the world."
Now a resident of Moscow, Taso has traveled across Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Ghana, Morocco, Thailand, Singapore, Netherlands, Germany, Chile, Colombia, Sweden, and Ireland. For the first six months, he was a one-man traveling-and-sourcing team -- a role he never could have predicted for himself.
"I actually had almost never left the United States before this trip. So it was a very peculiar thing for me to do, of all people... it was very far off my comfort zone," he said, though admitted that the lifestyle suited his spontaneous personality.
Recruiting also came naturally to Taso. While he had never recruited before in a formal setting, he pointed out that it happens out of necessity in Silicon Valley, where developers are often compelled to create teams of like-minded people.
"It was really surprising for me to learn that there was an entire industry surrounding this. It's really easy if you know what to look for... if you know exactly what to ask," said Taso, who realized that being a truly tech-savvy recruiter was a unique skill he could leverage. Meeting potential freelancers in person is a core strategy of their company since it brokers trust between the client and the talent in ways that Skype cannot.
Being from that tech world also meant that he was able to gauge developers by the "Silicon Valley standard," a crucial barometer that tech companies (including TopTal clients) depend upon for success. He said these talented techies were on par with employees of Google and Facebook. In fact, Taso's team has coined a new term to reflect the level of talent with which they connect: topsourcing.
"You can have a bad outsourcing experience, but you can never have a bad topsourcing experience," he said.
But I wondered... after witnessing all of these unexpected "hotbeds" of talent around the world, did he think another locale could usurp Silicon Valley's gold standard? Not yet.
"I don't think that'll hold true past 10 or 20 years. The caliber of engineers isn’t different at all," he said. "What's lacking is entrepreneurial drive and the ability and the environment to take risks. Once that skill set rises, it will become more democratized. But you have to discover it."
That may be why untapped hotbeds haven't blossomed into global tech hubs just yet.
For TopTal and Taso, the work of meeting developers in person will never be finished. Most recently, his recruitment work took him to Ghana.
"It's a very dilapidated place, in every way you can think of -- their food, their water supply, their economics, how business is done," said Taso. "The surprising thing was the software engineers -- some of them were super sharp...I could definitely see the up and coming of Ghana."
And TopTal is proof that lots of untapped talent isn't just "up and coming" but "here and now."