Growth At Vercel

by Paul Adams

Having recently moved to Vercel, I thought I would piggy-back on yesterday's anouncement of a new funding round to talk a little about why I made this move.

Recent History

I am very lucky in that I have never worked anywhere mediocre in my career. Every company I have worked for has been a pioneer in their field. My own role in those businesses has been varied: engineer, engineering manager, manager-of-managers, regional director, company director... and often a combination of the above.

Two things in common with all these roles. I was working with:

  • Excellent people...
  • ...challenging what was thought to be possible.

I learned a lot from all of these roles. A lot about engineering and engineers. About businesses and how they function. About leadership. About myself and what I like in my career.

My most-recent work has been particularly satisfying. These positions have been more like a "mini-CEO" than an engineering manager; I have been not just managing engineering managers, but also collaborating on product management, legal issues, accounting, employer branding, hiring, budget... At Scout24 I was also involved with acquisitions. This variety was a lot of fun and tied together by breadth of experience nicely.

Vercel and Next.js
Click image to enlarge.

Joining Vercel was a tough decision; I was having a lot of fun at Scout24. But Vercel was offering something special that, ultimately, was hard to say "No" to - the chance to lead their German subsidiary. This tied together all these things I had been enjoying recently, in the context of a Silicon Valley unicorn. Yes, plz.

Vercel's Goals

On the back of yesterday's anouncement Guillermo blogged his own thoughts on this milestone and took a moment to remind us all of Vercel's goals:

  • Build The SDK For Web
  • Lower The Barrier Of Entry
  • Focus On The End-User

I thought I'd take a moment to talk a little about my thoughts on these and how they attracted me to Vercel. Note: These are my thoughts and don't necesarilly reflect the views of Vercel.

Build The SDK For Web

For me, the crucial word here is "the". There is no interest here in being one of many. We want to be the first choice for moden web development. I am a huge fan of competition: it drives innovation and lowers costs, typically. In the front-end development space there is no shortage of options for building your modern web app. The Vercel platform supports many of them: Gatsby, Vue, Angular, Nuxt.js, React.

Of course, Vercel has its own framework: Next.js. Next is built on top of React; a highly powerful framework in its own right. However, where React focuses on components, Next adds additional abstraction to introduce the a page-based concept. Next.js, in the contest of the Vercel platform, is an incredibly powerful combination.

Ultimtely, it is through providing seamless integration between framework and platform that we will deliver on this goal.

Lower The Barrier Of Entry

Vercel's products are designed to make life better for front-end developers. "Better" can be measured in a few ways, but at Vercel we focus on one specific metric: speed. We want to build a better web, faster.

With this in mind, developer experience is everything. After all, developers are the user.

Speed is always important for developers. What do they want to be faster? Well... pretty much everything:

  • Builds
  • Deployments
  • Feedback loops from their team...

For me the last of these is the next crucial step for Vercel.

At our recent special event we launched the next major update to Next.js: Next.js 11, including Next Live. Next.js is the ultimate expression of fast feedback loops - realtime collraboration with all your team mates, in the browser.

This technology will lower the barrier for all team members. So now it will be easier for everyone, not just your engineers, to collaborate and contribute to the development of amazing websites. With features such as chat and drawing, it will be extremely simple for, say, designers to point things out and work with the engineers to make the crucial changes for delighting users.

Focus On The End-User

I once remember having a great conversation with my main man, Mikio Braun. We were both working in Zalando's search department. Something that both Mikio and I were constantly having to reminds our teams is that the end-user is the end-user.

OK, arguably this is a little tautological. But stick with me for a moment...

Mikio and I were both leading teams whose customer was basically another team inside Zalando. In such an environment, it is easy to mistake that other internal team as the end-user. Nope. The end-user is someone shopping on Zalando for an awesome pair of shoes.

That is the person you should always have in mind.

At Vercel we think in kinda the same way. Our products are used by software engineers, but the end-user is the end-user. We need to remeber that and give them what they want.

And what do they want?

Speed. Security. SEO? All of these. And more.

My Goals

Like all the roles I take on, working at Vercel is an opportunity for me to grow. What's particularly fun is returning to a startup to grow as it does. I bring a lot of experience and I'm looking forward to using that in support of Vercel's goals.

At this point, I really only have one personal goal: to finally pivot from engineering management into business leadership.

As I said previously, I have spent a lot of time doing a mixture of these. I want to stay in the technology industry because, after all, I am an engineer and the experience of being an engineer will help me to be an effective business leader in the tech space. I have always (and continue) to love working with engineers. But I've learned that working with lawyers is also cool. And marketing teams. And sales teams. And... And...

So bring on the variety! I'm here to help.