Welcome to the stage: our new series where we interview founders and CEOs, discussing leadership, culture, and wellbeing.
Our first guest is Tony Jamous, CEO and founder of Oyster HR. Together with Ally Fekaiki, founder of Juno, Tony discussed his backstory, his thoughts on workplace culture, mental health, the impact of the state of the economy on businesses, and more.
So, buckle up and let’s dive in.
An Intro to Tony Jamous
Tony: I'm originally from Lebanon. I had to move when I was a teenager for better economic opportunities, and 12 years ago, I became an entrepreneur in technology.
I started a business that was an API business that grew rapidly, went public, and got acquired for a number of billions by Ericsson last year. More recently, in January 2020, I decided I want to start a new business called Oyster.
What is Oyster?
Tony: Oyster is a global employment platform that enables any organisation to hire people around the world. Oyster’s mission is to make a dent in global inequality by removing all the barriers in front of companies to hire globally.
And that's why it's called Oyster - the world is your Oyster with free time!
Ally: I think one of the most remarkable things that you’ve done, aside from achieving unicorn status in a very short space of time, is building an incredible culture.
It’s very obvious that you prioritise culture and you make sure that employee wellbeing and mental health are really front and centre of your culture as well.
How has your personal background influenced the prioritisation of culture at Oyster?
Tony: I was born in a civil war in Lebanon, so there was no physical safety, let alone emotional safety. So safety for me is important.
I thrive in an environment where I can say, “I don't want to feel judged as a CEO”. So how can I create an environment where I don't judge people? You don't want to be judged? You don't judge people. You want to be accepted. You accept people, right? And so on and so forth.
I want to work in an environment that has certain characteristics that fit me as a leader and as a human being.
There are some foundational things that are important for me such as psychological safety, being surrounded by a high level of diversity, being mission-driven, giving people opportunities, elevating talents, and building trust.
It turns out, it's not only me - everybody wants to have emotional safety. Everybody wants to have work that is purposeful. Everybody wants to be surrounded by a high level of diversity.
At Oyster, we are in 80 countries with over 110 nationalities and 50% of women in the company. So we have the plan to level diversity and when you're working in a team that resembles the planet Earth, then there's no place for biases - there's 100% inclusivity.
How do you balance building such an incredible business with building a great culture?
Ally: You've built a unicorn, billion-dollar business in around two years, which is faster than Facebook and Uber - it's quite incredible. Building something that is so incredibly fast-paced and successful can sometimes be at odds with building a business that values people's work-life balance.
So, how do you balance these?
Tony: It starts with a commitment from the top. I need to be a model for work-life balance. I need to be the best remote worker in the company and redefine being a great remote worker, as somebody who can take care of their wellbeing and work-life balance.
Sometimes, putting wellbeing first and balancing it alongside growth, revenue and customer satisfaction also means you have to make tough decisions.
Maybe we lost a quarter of growth, but as long as you play a long-term game, this doesn't matter. What matters is that you want to create this high level of engagement in the company.
You have to have the strong will of the team on the mission and you want to really care as a leader about how people feel working at your company and working with you.
How do you deal with making mistakes as a leader?
Tony: Mistakes are made every day. They are small mistakes. They are not deadly mistakes. So I think the fact that you can allow yourself to make a small mistake is actually important.
Recognize that you are not perfect and that you're a human being like any other leader - you have strengths and weaknesses.
Ally: It's so important to instil the idea that you are not godlike to your team.
It's very easy to pretend that you know all the answers because you feel as though you are a leader, but being honest and saying, “I'm trying my best, I'm gonna get it wrong”, is such a good starting point for you and the rest of the team.
What do you think the future of work looks like?
Tony: Work has evolved massively since the Industrial Revolution - it’s become more purposeful, and there's more equality when it comes to being able to access purposeful jobs. So, there's been a lot of improvement in work.
We are moving towards work that helps us feel fulfilled because we want to be purposeful, we want to build connections with others, and we want to be in the service of others.
The world is going to become more and more prosperous. There's no doubt about it.
There's a new generation of wealth holders that care about things that do the environment no harm, and that are not investing in the corporations that are creating deforestation, oil and gas, or pollution.
So as the money shifts to a new generation, I think we're going to see capitalism evolving into meaningful capitalism.
Where do you see the main focus in the future of work?
Tony: Companies want to be more employee-centric.
We've done recent research at Oyster that shows 85% of organisations across the verticals (SMB enterprise, technology, non-technology) want to be more employee-centric.
However, the problem is that there are so many excuses not to be employee-centric.
That's why services like Oyster and Juno are so important because they remove all the barriers for these managers and people leaders to be human-centric.
After all, we are put in a system where it's hard to be human-centric. So, by changing the game for organisations and giving them tools like Juno and Oyster, we empower them to do what they always wanted to do.
A huge thanks to Tony Jamous for taking the time to sit down with us. You can find Tony on Linkedin and explore the world of Oyster over on Oyster HR.