Tony Jamous - Oyster



Tony Jamous is the founder and CEO of Oyster - a distributed HR platform that empowers companies to hire, pay, and care for talented teammates regardless of location. Tony founded Oyster In January 2020 and since then they’ve raised around 220 million dollars, grew the team to approximately 600 FTE, and have reached unicorn status.

Prior to Oyster Tony founded Nexmo, a pioneer in the Communications Platform as a Service (“CPaaS”) category - the company went public via a merger with Vonage in 2016.

After a successful Nexmo exit, Tony took some time off to consider what to do next. He began to invest in “platform models that can change the world”, Tony’s investments include Hopin, Hyperloop, Graphcore, and DialPad.

During this episode we discuss about the challenges and learnings of starting, scaling, and exiting Nexmo, why removing the barriers of global recruiting is important and the mission of Oyster, and how he hired the executive team at Oyster to increase the chances of success.



  • The monk and the riddle and why you should not defer your life planning - 3:08
  • What are some of the learnings and challenges from starting scaling and exiting Nexmo? - 6:16
  • Best team wins - 8:49
  • What are the things that a company has to have in place to go through this hyper growth period? - 11:11
  • Why it’s important to be a distributed company - 13:31
  • Why is removing the barriers to global recruitment so important? - 16:09
  • What’s next for Oyster? - 18:48
  • The impact of the civil war in Lebanon on his life - 21:18
  • What was the most challenging period in Tony’s career and how did he overcome it? - 24:12


Tue, 9/20 11:09AM • 27:34


company, people, called, business, job, oyster, team, build, create, terms, years, left, ceo, starting, morocco, countries, deliver, world, work, employment


Tony Jamous, Calin Fabri

Calin Fabri  00:27

Tony, welcome to the pod. Let's start with the story of your first business. So just to set the stage a bit. You worked in sales for a couple of years, and then you decide to found Nexmo. I was wondering what was the catalyst for you to take that risk to move from a comfy job and build a business? And maybe you can tell us a little bit about what Nexmo is?

Tony  03:08

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me here on the show Calin. So I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. And that's why when I left my work, I went to do business school in Switzerland, which I've learned a lot there, but realise that it wasn't really fit for an entrepreneurial career, it was MBA schools are fit for lending your job in a big corporation. But when I was there, I stumbled upon a book called The monk and the riddle. It is a book that talks about the deferred lifeline and why you should not defer your life planning should go after what you need and what you want right away. And that have convinced me that I should consider starting my business right after business school. And before going to the business school and my sales job. I was working for one of the leaders of mobile technology platforms back then, and mobile messaging platforms. And they assigned me a project about the API's API's were something new, there was really there was really no API's in the world at that time. So I worked on this project and customer loved it. But the company decided to shut down this project for a number of reasons. And when I went to my business school, I was obsessed with that opportunity. And I took that opportunity of adding API platform on top of a globally fragmented messaging network SMS, you have, you know, hundreds of carriers around the world are 80 countries. And I look at that opportunity through the lens of marketing, strategy, finance, innovation, you know, I used every piece of my MBA programme to build my business plan. And when I graduated, I was ready. I was ready to start the business. But when you when you graduate from a business school, the biggest thing you have is liability. Because essentially when I pay you back your loan your you've spent so much money to this expensive education. So I needed an investor. I needed a job friggin an investor. So I started interviewing and parallel, I was looking for investors. And I had a, an ex customer of mine in Morocco, who's an intrapreneur. tech entrepreneur in Morocco. He never invested in his life. And he told me, Tony, whatever you do, I'm going to invest in your business. So I called Azeez. And told him Look, actually, when I landed my job, I was offered a job of an assistant to CEO of a large multinational telecommunication company. And I went and spent a week was the CEO. And before I signed my contract I called Alice and Rocco say is, look, I'm about to sign this employment contract, would you like to invest or no? And he said, Yes. So I went back to the CEO to him, sorry, I'm starting my business. And then this is how Nexmo started in early 2010.

Calin Fabri  05:44

And what was the debate in your head, if you should take the risk or not? And what was the conversation with the CEO?

Tony  05:51

Yeah, the debate was, if I can secure funding, I should absolutely do it. Because I would have solved my financial issues to pay my MBA school, already paid it. But if I was broke, and have anything left. So that was the only thing was, Can I have a safety net, if I have a safety net, through a form of investment and the opportunity to fall back and find another corporate job if I need to, then it's a no brainer decision. And the reaction of the CEO he knew, he told me like, I knew you're gonna go start your own company. He understood that and we stayed, we stayed in contact, and we became, we became friends after that, but I did not join him.

Calin Fabri  06:26

And what are some of the learnings and challenges from starting scaling and also exiting Nexmo, I just read in the press that you, you kind of exited for about $230 million.

Tony  06:39

So with Nexmo we rapidly had 200 million of revenue in the first five years of operation. And in mid 2016, we merged it was a public company called Vonage on the NASDAQ to accelerate our entry into the public market. And I stayed there for a couple of years tripled the market cap of the company in the result. And more recently, last year, it was acquired by Ericsson for 6.5 billion. And the company was last year already nearly a billion dollar of top line revenue. So the challenges we face there to scale are numerous. The biggest one is how can you build a company that operates in 40 plus countries and make it scalable because of the nature of our business, we had to employ people in all these countries to build relationships carriers and to develop the local markets. So that actually, I could solve the cultural issues, we could build a unified culture, I could solve the collaboration, communication issues. There's lots of tools and methods to do that. But one thing I could not solve was, how can we create a great consistent employee experience no matter where people are, and I couldn't understand why it would take me six months to hire. Mohammed in Morocco, I found Harmony's amazing talent, I need to go find a lawyer hire an accountant, payroll provider, a benefit provider, I have no clue what great employment look like in Morocco. And despite the fact that we spent millions of dollars building our internal employment infrastructure, we failed to deliver scale for our team, we were bloated in terms of legal and HR and finance to be able to manage that. But also, we failed to deliver great experience from Muhammad in Morocco and everybody else in these 40 countries. And that led me to think about oyster. This is how oyster idea came to life is that there must be a better way to do this.

Calin Fabri  08:26

Yeah, tell me more about oyster. So you, you have this problem yourself, then you're thinking it just must be like a better way to do it. You exit Nexmo and then you are with the company a little bit longer. And then you're like, Okay, I want to start a company that solves this problem. Because if I have this problem, probably multiple businesses have this problem. What are the next steps that you're taking? How do you build a team?

Tony  08:49

Yeah. So at Oyster, the learning I took from Nexmo was the best team wins. And I look at the data back then in late 2019. When I was gearing to start Oyster, I found that unicorn companies companies that reach over a billion dollar valuation in less than five years, have over invested in their executive team earlier than other companies. And I partner with a guy called Andrew Andrew, who was the general manager of to search in Europe to search is like a large executive search firm. He left his company and he partnered with me to design what is the best fit for purpose and mission aligned executive team looked like before even before even getting funding for the company. And we went on for the last two and a half years actually, we started the business in January 2020. He hired pretty much everybody on my executive team with a stringent process of interviewing a high number of talented people for the role. We do a case study with a shortlist of candidates and we ensure that we optimise for fit for purpose. So essentially they they have seen this before they have experienced and so they already have a relevant experience exam Both Emily, our SVP product, she was at Carta, replacing lawyers with software. We have Miranda, our General Counsel, she was a trainer taking employment compliance and implementing that into software. We have Kevin as VP marketing, he took buffer, which is a social media platform and turning into remote work iconic company. So we really kind of optimised and can continue, everyone on my team is here for a reason. And they're all mission aligned, they are here to make a difference. They don't need a job, they can find any job they want. But they are here because they want to make a difference. And that change in how we recruit, fit for purpose. And mission online, makes a huge difference in terms of alignment with team in terms of speed of making decision in terms of trust, within the team that is absolutely needed. If you're running a distributed company, like we do, we are we are in 70 countries, where 60% of women in terms of diversity, including on the on the executive and leadership team, very proud of this craft of the organisation that you're able to deliver in the last two and a half years.

Calin Fabri  11:03

That's amazing that actually you were so thoughtful of getting Andrew on board and have the fit for purpose. And then mission aligned. They have done that before. So they can also do it. And how do you scale that up? How do you look at it? Now you're a team of almost like 600 FTEs. So just like two years ago, you were only 20? So I would assume that you're just very thoughtful in the beginning, you know, with the executive team, how do you scale that quickly? So what are the things that a company has to have in place to go through this hyper growth period?

Tony  11:33

Yeah, so number one, is have a scalable team yourself, right? So I've built scalable companies in the past, but I need everyone on my team have experienced hyper growth in their career. They know what they're getting into, they can anticipate challenges. I think that's number one. Number two, is you need to have a strong culture, a strong culture, you know, not talking necessarily about the values values are definitely really important that can tell you more about them. But it's also the culture is how you work together. You want to be very prescriptive, of how do you get stuff done? How do you build trust in the team, and you need to model the way you as the leader of the organisation and the team. And in our case, as a distributed company, we have created a model that is called follow the sun. This is our own way of working across time zones. And that gives people flexibility and freedom, but yet deliver high level of engagement and productivity. Our engagement levels are top 2% of all these companies.

Calin Fabri  12:32

What does that mean? So engagement level, top 2%?

Tony  12:37

Yeah, so we use a tool called culture amp that other VC backed companies use. And they survey their team on a regular basis that they could pulse the organisation from various dimensions, and then they they rank, essentially, your results versus the market.

Calin Fabri  12:53

Got it. Got it. And also, I remember seeing like a post on LinkedIn that you have made, that you work on specific hours where you feel the most productive. And also, you just mentioned now the follow the sun model, you want to tell me a little bit more about how do you see productivity? And how do you actually make sure that your team is highly efficient and competitive that and they're working hard, but at the same time they have like their own maybe time zones? And maybe families? How do you see that?

Tony  13:23

Yes. So it starts with creating a culture that measures outcomes versus inputs. And why this is important. It's important as a distributed company, because you're not any more asking people to come work in the office and you're not correlating the presence of the person in the office was results. So you have to change your chip as a leader and as a manager, and trust that people are doing their job based on what you expect from them. And to do so you need to have the infrastructure to be able to set expectation clearly and measure them on the individual level on the team level. And on the company level we use at OSA is a methodology called objective key results OKR for its acronym, and we have we have the maturity of a company that is three times of our size when it comes to setting the right goals and measuring them on an individual team and company level. So you owe it to your team to create an environment that can make them successful no matter what they are. Secondly, you need to adopt your own version of asynchronous work. So you need to find the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous. So in our case, most of our work is asynchronous and the company less as you go up in the hierarchy because as you go up in the hierarchy, the task becomes more ambiguous. So you need more sync time then when the task is much more defined. But we strive to be increasingly a synchronous show today. For instance, on Tuesday morning, I have all the videos or the noon videos of my team my direct reports about what happened in the last week and where they need help. Come, in Tuesday evening, I have my call my executive team call or everybody has already consumed in advance the agenda, they came prepared. So the conversation become much more effective and efficient. Like every meeting I do that qualify need to have an asynchronous component where you send me something in advance, I consume it, it's blocked in my calendar, the time for me to consume it, I'm not under pressure to find time to consume it. So and we also have focused Friday, focus, Friday is day on Friday, where we don't have any internal meetings, it's 100% a sync day. And that enable us to that enables me to go through everything I need to go through. At the end of the week, you know, my inbox came up my slack channel, and be ready to go in the weekend and completely disconnect. We also don't expect people to respond immediately on Slack. So if you ping me on Slack, it could take two weeks to come back to you on my assess the urgency maybe on PTO, if it's urgent, you can text me or call me, rarely, rarely happens. But essentially, you want to protect the privacy of people protect their own way of working and make sure to create an ecosystem for them, where they can be successful, no matter where they are.

Calin Fabri  16:09

Interesting. And I think this is key for a future where people are working all over the globe, they need to feel comfortable that they can do their work with a combination of deep focus, synchronous communication, but as well, asynchronous communication, so you are operating in the future of work trend or industry now, what does the future of work look like from your perspective? And why is removing the barriers to global recruitment so important?

Tony  16:38

The future of work that I like to see is work that is more equal in terms of access to opportunity. And the barriers of that is the ability to employ people in other countries easily and fairly. And I've spent a lot of time before starting oyster looking at this question, both macro economically and also from an impact standpoint, just to give you some data point, Brian Kaplan, who is the economist of George Mason University, in his book, open borders, he argues that if you remove the concept of borders, from talent, mobility, you can triple the world GDP. At the same time, you have 90 million jobs going unfulfilled in the West, mostly knowledge work. And according to BCG, that's $8.5 trillion economic loss, while at the same time you have 1.5 billion knowledge worker coming into the workforce in the next 10 years. So I don't see a way other than a cross border employment to be able to capture that loss economical value. And by doing so you integrate talent from emerging markets. When you think about it, if you're an amazing student in the top university in Coverdale, which one of the smallest African countries and you graduate, the best job you can get there is to work for the local bank. Just wait five years, human capital potential will plateau. But if the same talent get access to some of these 90 million jobs, opportunities in the West, that think differently about enabling human capital, then that person can grow with the opportunity while staying back home. They don't have to brain drain. Today, the biggest problem in this in the world creating inequality, one of the biggest problem is brain drain. The best brains of these emerging economies have left the they are leaving in masses to go work for cooperation in the west and leaving their communities. Now they send back home 5% of their income on average, that's remittance. It is the biggest foreign direct investment FDI from north to south is remittance, but it's only 5% what they earn, if they stay home, they can bring back 100% with the earth and they can stay in their communities and access the world as they always turn when they're looking for a job. It has to happen and it needs a platform that makes global employment as easy as local employment they was was our platform companies can issue clicks higher Merion, Athens, how many Morocco or Diego and Argentina and give them a fair, and a safe employment experience?

Calin Fabri  19:05

I love the vision, love to see that you're working on it. And tell me like we're in the journey. Are you with oyster and what is next?

Tony  19:12

Yeah, so Oyster started in January 2020. We, the first year was really building the infrastructure, getting the first customers building the software building the team. And it was a very unique year, as you know, we had the lockdown the first lockdown and realised that we had to go really fast. So we build an implement infrastructure on an 80 countries platform that makes global hiring as easy as possible hiring and build this massively diverse team distributed in 70 countries. And last year, we saw growing like crazy we've grown 20x last year, we've reached double digit ARR in terms of our top line, and we raised in total, over 220 Millions funding we reach a unicorn status, end of q1 q2 Thank you. And by the way, we were very fortunate to raise our CVC end of q1, early q2, that was the timing was perfect. So we, we got fortunate twice at oyster starting the company in January 2020, and raising our CVC 100 $50 million a few months ago. So now the journey is really about how do we exit oyster from this face as a more resilient and a stronger player in the category we've created this category was always other players in the in the market, because Global Employment platform category, we've created an iconic Future of Work brand that is leading the way in terms of change that's happening in the future of work, and you've delivered already delivered social impact, we've produced our impact reports on our website, where we measure our impact on businesses, people, communities, and we want to be major foreign direct investment vehicle shifting capital from North 2010 years, we're going to be sending billions of dollars to emerging economies. And we want millions of people to we want to elevate millions of people from these people that want to have the opportunity, they already are well educated, they have good infrastructure to work from home, we want them to participate in the global technology, job market. And beyond.

Calin Fabri  21:18

Amazing. I mean, I'm from Romania, and I left just to get a better job, right. And I see now like in a way you're privileged when you can stay next to the family or next to a community where you kind of grew up, and so on and so forth. So it's a lot of talent that are moving from their home market to the West because of better jobs. But actually, if you can open the opportunity to work from next, your family and to work for a global company. I think it's just amazing. And I just wanted to congratulate you for all the achievements that you have made so far. I think you're also lucky, but also probably you are prepared to take advantage of this opportunities.

So let's change gears a little bit. And let's get personal. You weren't the first 10 years of her life surrounded by civil war in Lebanon. How did that affect you? And how did that influence the manual today?

Tony  22:09

Yeah, so yeah, it was born 1980. In Beirut, this was in the middle of the Civil War ended in 89. And 90, it was one of the most confusing and brutal and cruel war in history. And I was living two miles from the Democratic demarcation line between Beirut, east and west where most of the shelling happened. And for the first few years, I was okay, because essentially, you're in that environment, you don't know your child, you're growing up, you don't know what's happening. So essentially, I was fortunate to be very close to my grandfather, he gave me safety and warmth that children need in such an environment. Unfortunately, he passed away when I was seven. And since then, I felt a continuous sense of lack of safety in the world. And that has shaped the person why became not only from a business success standpoint, because when you feel like safety, you want to go and start. You want to become successful to protect yourself, right? In this world that tells you you know, monetary success is the way you protect yourself. So it was very driven, it really created that drive for me to be successful, because I was lacking personal safety. And it's also on the downside of that living in constant fear, dying or anything else, create post traumatic stress disorder. So I've been I've been suffering for post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD for all of my life. More recently, in the last 10 years, I was becoming more aware of it. And I've taken concrete actions to alleviate this mental health condition. And how it drives me today is like, think about safety, I'm committed to create the safest work environment for my people in the company. Work is not safe work is a place where we go to work and our fear and anxiety are amplified. We are afraid of being wrong, we are afraid of saying something stupid, we're afraid of being judged, and so on and so forth. We're afraid of losing our jobs. And so my goal is to create the safest environment for work in the world. And why I do that, because if I create safety for others, I can give safety for myself. It gives me internal peace. And that's that's the journey.

Calin Fabri  24:13

Wonderful, very mature, very mature view, you know, have the awareness of looking back and see how that shaped you and actually how you can change the current present for the people that you're working with. What was the most challenging period in your career? And how did you overcome it,

Tony  24:29

compared to my ability to handle challenges? Because that ability improves over time? You know, I think the challenges that you have now are bigger, and the challenges that had next month, my previous company, but I'm more equipped now, back then the biggest challenge I faced was the phase where we had to merge the company was a public company wide was challenging because first mergers, you know, there's always high risk of failure. 80% of m&a fails. Secondly, there was a public company so you could not talk Talk about it internally, you had to keep a very small team of people knowing about it, it would have been announced at the same time as the earning call to the whole company. And so you had to plan behind the scenes integration was it was a bigger company that is public. So I was lucky to be surrounded by people who knew what they were doing. I was lucky, I had had my general manager, Louis, who really came and filled the gap in terms of my operational abilities to merge two relatively big companies together. And also, I had to do a lot of internal selling at the new company to make sure that my company had been perceived, rightly so as the star of the future, because my company was doubling every year, in terms of growth ready at a big, we were $100 million, we're getting acquired, and we were doubling every year, while the other businesses were merely growing, some of them are declining. So you had to kind of go in and shift the capital allocation to the high growth, high potential segment of the business. And that works well, the company invested in it, it has grown rapidly after I left, it went from a million to nearly a billion dollar in few years of top line, and treated was a reason why the company got acquired by Ericsson for 6.5 billion last year. So yeah, that was a challenging period of my life to be able to do that operation and still deliver very successful outcome for the company, despite the fact that 80% of m&a fails miserably.

Calin Fabri  26:28

Thank you very much for sharing. Also, I know that you have to jump in another meeting. So let's end up with the last question. So if Tony from now would meet Tony from 10 years ago, what would you tell him,

Tony  26:39

stop fighting, everything's gonna be fine. And why? Because we end up, we get caught into these thoughts. You have to do something, to fix something, you have to be reactive to all these events that happen to you in life. And my message to Tony 10 years from now is to increase your level of acceptance of what's happening to you. And because you cannot change them, all you can change is your reaction to them. And that reaction creates unnecessary pain and suffering that you can remove and also reduce your negative impact on others as you do so as the founder and CEO.

Calin Fabri  27:11

Increase the level of acceptance, Tony, thank you very much for taking the time. This was a pleasure.

Tony Jamous is the founder and CEO of Oyster - a distributed HR platform that empowers companies to hire, pay, and care for talented teammates regardless of location. Tony founded Oyster In January 2020 and since then they’ve raised around 220 million dollars, grew the team to approximately 600 FTE, and have reached unicorn status.

Prior to Oyster Tony founded Nexmo, a pioneer in the Communications Platform as a Service (“CPaaS”) category - the company went public via a merger with Vonage in 2016.

After a successful Nexmo exit, Tony took some time off to consider what to do next. He began to invest in “platform models that can change the world”, Tony’s investments include Hopin, Hyperloop, Graphcore, and DialPad.

During this episode we discuss about the challenges and learnings of starting, scaling, and exiting Nexmo, why removing the barriers of global recruiting is important and the mission of Oyster, and how he hired the executive team at Oyster to increase the chances of success.