How to run an analytics startup like a game

by Dea Martinjonis May 04, 2017

The story of CALLSTATS I/O — a global team building a sophisticated SaaS platform in Finland

So four startup founders, none of whom are Finns, move to Finland and bootstrap for 18 months… This is not a setup for a joke. This really happened, and the startup is called CALLSTATS I/O. Fast-forward a couple of years to two successful funding rounds, including a $3M Series A round, and double the team. And they’re not showing any signs of stopping.

We had a chat with CALLSTATS I/O-s founder and CEO Varun Singh who called us Job Search 2.0. From there onwards it was only uphill.

Three of the four founders caught in this photo — co-founder & Lead Engineer Marcin Nagy, founder & CEO Varun Singh in the middle, and co-founder & Lead Engineer Shaohong Li on the right.

CALLSTATS I/O is a three-year-old Finnish startup that provides Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) analytics. Meaning that all companies incorporating any form of audio/video communication in their app or service can make a use of Callstats. Be it for Skype, central applications, customer support, online learning education or team communication.

“It is a vast gamut of services that form our product — Callstats.io,” comments Varun Singh, adding: “Our mission is a real-life service that helps our customers scale quickly.”

View of Finland’s capital Helsinki from the sea on a sunny day. Photo: Alexander Kazarin/Shutterstock.

Varun tries to explain it to me like I’m a four-year-old (I asked him to). “Think of it as Google Analytics, but instead of analyzing web pages you analyze video communication. When someone initiates a call, the call starts JavaScript and starts collecting data at the endpoint of both callers’ browsers. We don’t capture any of the audio; we measure the quality of experience based on what is happening. When sending a high-quality video or audio stream, you’d expect it to be rendered in high quality on the other side. We have models that help determine if you lose the beginning, the end or a part in the middle of your audio stream. Our service will be calculating in the back if you’re missing words or missing whole sentences, for example. We don’t care much about the content of the call, but if you cannot hear all of the words correctly, it’s unlikely that you’d be able to understand what is being said.”

CALLSTATS I/O — a Software as a Service platform providing performance monitoring and management to real-time media communication applications — bootstrapped for 18+ months, raising their first round of funding in the beginning of 2015 and second — a $3M Series A round in summer of 2016.

Today they’ve grown from an eight-person startup to sixteen-person startup. The team is also quite diverse. Of the four founders, two are from Asia and two from Europe, none of them Finnish. Besides the founders, there are a dozen people with six or seven different nationalities represented. “We have India; we have Germany, Poland, the Netherlands…” Varun lists. “And since we’ve secured our funding, we’ve been looking to hire more talent and welcome people from everywhere — be it the neighboring Russia, obviously the European Union, but also countries that are not yet part of European Union, for example.”

Team CALLSTATS I/O is very diverse.

Varun says they feel very strongly about communication in the company. “There are always a couple of questions we ask the people we’re hiring. And the main thing that we are looking at is not the answer but how they present the solution,” he says and continues: “Of course, when it comes to developers, we ask them how they solved or diagnosed some particular problem in the past. And typically what we’re looking at is what was the problem and how did they diagnose it and how did they fix it? Sometimes the only thing there is to do is to go out and buy a new Wi-Fi router — there’s no point to spend more time on the problem if the problem lies in such a simple fix. The other thing we’d like to comprehend is whether they found the hack around it or did they just leave the problem there.”

A company that works as a game

For CALLSTATS I/O as a company, communication and being able to solve things quickly are the most important things they look for in a candidate. And since it is an analytics company, they’re also very customer-facing. “Our clients call us directly when they encounter problems. And then we have to understand what the end-user might be facing and how our product can quickly help them. Ideally, we’d like to train them once regarding that and then they can teach all the other employees to use the dashboard and never have to call us back,” Varun explains.

The company has done their share of remote hiring where after a culture fit interview and some problem solving a strong candidate might be flown over to their HQ in Finland to meet their team members and have a face-to-face conversation. And well, sometimes the hour of truth arrives when the person lands in the Nordic winter — they’ll quickly understand whether this is something they could cope with in the short term.

For individuals who move to Finland to work with CALLSTATS I/O, the company has a relocation agent to help them out with everything — apartment, settling in with a family etc.

“Our main idea is to ease the transition, so they’d not have to worry about their luggage, finding an apartment or moving their stuff,” Varun says.

Finland has beautiful, untouched nature and thousands of lakes. Photo: vvvita/Shutterstock.

“Our company works as a game. For onboarding an employee successfully, we start giving them tasks that start off easy. And then over time, after the four-month probation period, we try to maximize that. So we start with smaller problems and see how far they can get, and once they are completely on board, they’ll have a lot of choice of what type of challenges they want to solve,” Varun describes.

He also says that when one employee is already doing a particular task, the other has to pick something else. “Our core engineering team kind of works more like foragers. They just go and pick stuff that they need to do and then they feel excited about doing them,” Varun laughs.

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