The era of using traditional land-line phone calls or mobile roaming has its own flavor but come to an end.@Viber offers many reasons to enjoy Wi-Fi calling and mobile internet, from starting a video call with your friends and family halfway around the world, to sharing fun art in a public chat about your favorite celebrity.The app started life as a basic VoIP service in 2010 in Tel Aviv. Today, it connects 800 million global internet users. Freely.
In conversation with an executive officer Veronika Kesova, Productized got a sneak peak into Viber Media office in Minsk to get a glimpse of where innovation happens.
Can you please briefly tell us what is Viber’s start-up story? Why did you decide to open company’s office in Minsk?
It all started in March 2010. Two friends from Israel [Talmon Marco and Igor Magazinik, Editor’s note] were looking for better alternatives to other communication apps available such as Skype. Both of them had some positive experience working with Belarusian programmers, so the decision to open a development center in Belarus was clear from the very beginning. Initially, we were one-two people, developing the first Viber version from a small office. Immediately after app launch, the first iOS version was received with one million downloads within 3 days. As we grew up we started developing for other platforms, including Android, Mac, Windows, Linux and Web. Today, our core development offices are located in Israel and Belarus and we also have smaller offices in other countries.
What explains such a rapid success, in your opinion?
One key to success is to give people what they really need, give them something what they don’t have. Back then, we all needed fast and simple communication in the internet. Viber appeared at the right time and at the right place. Easy registration process has been one of our strengths: we use a phone number to set up and confirm user Caller ID. In addition, Viber was (and still is) free to download. The app is also easy to install and the product is well explained. Before, there were apps where you needed to have the registration first, then you had to type in other person’s nickname, wait for the response to your request,etc. With Viber the whole process has been fast, convenient and transparent.
Nowadays online communication tools have reached new heights. Whatsapp, Slack, Telegram, Skype, all of these apps are perfectly suited for business and personal communication. Aren’t you afraid of competition?
Competition is definitely something what we shouldn’t be afraid of. On the contrary, it only helps! Healthy competition is good for your business and we are very happy that this market niche is so popular. First and foremost, it indicates that we pretty much nailed it, that we are on the right track and that people do actually need our product.
Who works at Viber in Belarus?
In total we have 113 employees, 5 of them work from our small office in Brest [a border town in the south-west corner of Belarus, Editor’s note]. Our staff is divided according to the platforms Viber is created on. In total, there are 9 teams: iOS, Android, Web (3 teams), Desktop, Core Team, Testers and Admins. All teams work in separate rooms. And so like our teams, each room has its own personality with its own artifacts (photos from corporate events, postcards, handmade souvenirs, memes, jokes,etc). To become a part of Viber family you really need to integrate directly into your team and just truly enjoy the time spent together.
We are relatively a very young company. On average, most of our employees are in their early 30s, however, it really depends on the team. 70% of our staff is male, but for «non-tech» jobs we actually have more female employees. Girls mainly work in administration sector, app testing, product managers and executives; while guys have more ‘technical’ responsibilities as product developers or admins.
How do you select the right people for your teams? What qualities do you look for in your prospective employees?
Experience and motivation : that is what Viber is primarily looking for. With such a large user base and extended functionality, we need somebody who can pick up the task quickly and then successfully continue the project within the team. However, you don’t have to be a senior! If we see fire in your eyes, motivation to become a part of something ‘global’ and desire to evolve technologically, you might be a perfect fit for the position! There is always a team leader involved in the interview process, so the whole selection process is very transparent and the final decision is usually made by our tech-lead.
And what about creating opportunities for university students? Is it possible to get an internship at Viber?
Without question, we’ve had positive experience hiring the university students, but not on an internship basis. We would like young professionals to join Viber as full-time employees and real team members. Like that, some of our employees are the last year students who balance part-time study and work.
What is a typical work day like at Viber?
Our main rule at work is to use common sense. Viber has offices all around the world, so we need to make the whole process as productive as possible. Each team has its own working schedule that doesn’t differ from overall office schedule but may slightly vary. This enables us to communicate fast and keep up high development speed. Every morning we organize team briefings where we discuss 3 important questions:
● what did we accomplish yesterday?
● what are are our goals for today?
● if there are any problems?
As I’ve mentioned before, we work a lot in teams. Thus, it is important for all of us to have team members physically present in the office. But if you have some personal errands to run, there is never a problem with that. You just need to coordinate your shift with the team leader.
Of course, every company has its unique culture. What are the corporate traditions at Viber and why they’re important?
Over the past years we’ve got quite a few traditions that have become a part of Viber culture. For long time we used to invite a ‘Friday’ guest to our office to tell us more about his/her profession.It could’ve been any person not related to IT industry, from musicians to coffee gurus. Once we even invited a medic who taught us great massage techniques for neck pain. All meetings had an open format of a dialogue, where we could ask questions and try out new things together. There was another tradition to give our ‘newbies’ a jesting exam after the probation period. Each candidate had to recite by heart all of his team’s memes, quotations, rewards and achievements. Or, for example, just recently we organized an event in the form of old school sports days. Sack race and team competitions, — we definitely had a lot of fun!
Some of the corporate traditions we share together with our international offices. Now we have supported the weekly tradition of Vibeer (Viber+beer). All our offices around the world, regardless of timezone, connect at the same time to highlight our personal and professional achievements. We tell about our plans, new app features, share our ideas. Different teams have an opportunity to present their projects in a non-formal environment. Our CEO also joins Vibeer to answer the most tricky questions from our employees. During the entire week everyone can send him any kind of questions and get the detailed and sincere answer at our meetings.We also make some «updates» about personal lives. If one of the employees, for instance, got married or a baby was born, we discuss this and share some pictures. It is very important to keep the informal spirit. And no hierarchy! Communication on equal terms was at the basis of our company and this is what we’ve preserved up until today.
Viber has evolved a lot since its’ first launch in 2010. What are your new features that Viber user needs to know?
Viber team has recently released a number of new features that we are really proud of:
1. Now it is possible to reply to messages in Viber with a quote. Our users have been asking to develop this tool already for a long time and, finally, it is on!
2. Our users can delete Viber messages from their own phone and it will be deleted from the devices of everyone you sent it to immediately. We’ve all had this awkward moment when you realize you’ve a sent a wrong text message to the wrong person. So no more regrets!
3. Our developers have also integrated the third-party services into the chat. This new chat extension allows you to find content (and share URL links) on Youtube, booking.com , Giphy, Spotify and other popular platforms without leaving a chatroom. It is very convenient,especially if you are on the go and need to share some information with your friend right at the moment.
In conclusion, what do you think about start-up development in Belarus? Is it a myth or an opportunity to influence the business market?
The main condition for startup development is an accumulation of expert knowledge. At a certain moment IT industry comes to the point when there’ve been a lot projects carried out, a lot of new technologies tested and a lot of ideas brought into life. As a result, as according to Hegel’s assertion, quantity changes lead to quality changes. Belarus has all the necessary attributes for it. This process have already started here and will successfully continue.
by Katsiaryna Drozhzha
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