Launch HN: Astro (YC W21) – Build your own dev teams in Latin America

162 points by FrankLicea 5 days ago

Howdy HN! We’re Jacqueline and Frank from Astro (https://www.tryastro.com/). We’re a platform that gives you access to engineering talent in Latin America and lets you build teams there. We take care of the sourcing, payroll, HR, benefits, local procurement, and equipment, all from an easy-to-use dashboard. (Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmiVOVfbHFI)

Before starting Astro, we worked as leaders at the same company, Jacqueline in sales and Frank in engineering. As we built our teams, we found it was very hard to compete against top tech companies for talent. Therefore, we broadened our search beyond Austin, Texas.

We ended up working with various partners in Latin America because of the strong talent pool, great English, and US friendly time zones. However, finding and retaining engineering teams in Latin America was a challenge. We loved our teammates, but were never thrilled about the outsourcing firms they worked for. Because they weren’t our employees, we couldn’t control what they were being paid, couldn’t give them benefits and perks, and the only visibility we had was the $150/hr bill we got from the outsourcing company. How much of that actually went to the team?

Because traditional outsourcing firms tend to attract non-tech clients and their culture revolves around billable hours, our team members were also unsatisfied with the outsourcing company that they worked for. Freelancing could be an alternative, but is also difficult for teams in Latin America due to its inherent risk and likelihood of being treated as a second-class contractor on a foreign team rather than a first-class stakeholder.

We were stuck with three uncomfortable options: outsource the entire product, manage a large team of independent freelancers, or rely on an outsourcing company to create our engineering culture.

What we really wanted were our own teams, including our own offices, equipment, salaries, benefits, etc. But setting up a foreign entity and knowing how to hire in foreign markets was a distraction and difficult—not to mention payroll, benefits, procurement, legal compliance, etc.

We ultimately went to work at different companies, but continued to experience the same pain points at our new companies. Finally, in 2018, after commiserating many times over beers, we decided to build the company we kept looking for, a company to automatically handle all of these international complexities.

We originally called ourselves Austin Software and we started by building teams by hand for startups in Austin, Texas. Then, we started to realize we had gotten good at solving lots of problems on behalf of teams in the US: sourcing Macbooks, finding competitive local benefits and perks, legal compliance, even organizing happy hours, travel and SWAG. Our idea was to productize what we’d learned and make it available to other companies. We got tired of explaining that we build teams, not bill project hours! So we built Astro (“Austin Software Tool for Recommendations and Opportunities” :))

You can think of Astro as something like a love child between Toptal + Gusto + WeWork + Amazon (the latter because of the logistics we do — more on that below), tailored specifically for software engineering teams in LATAM. Unlike Toptal or Turing, we fulfill local benefits, equipment, even team-building events. Our pricing is also transparent, in contrast to companies that charge by the hour, upfront fees, or handcuff you to long-term contracts. Customers review and pay for 1) the developer’s desired salary, 2) benefits and taxes, and 3) our 15% management fee on a week-to-week basis.

Here’s one example of the kind of thing we take care of. A 16 inch M1 Macbook Pro is not just a perk in Latin America, they actually save countless hours when dealing with heavy dev environments. But they’re difficult to source in Latin America, especially outside of the handful of major cities. And even if they are sourced, they’re extremely expensive, especially if they know you’re an American company, and getting them to teammates across South America runs the risk of theft or damage. We solve this by having local entities, local logistics, local distribution and secure local offices.

We’re proud of the fact that developers in Latin America have a much better experience working with us. That’s because our customers (i.e. the companies using Astro) are looking to scale their engineering departments with long-term stakeholders, not temporary “horsepower”, and also because real tech culture (the sort of thing devs in Silicon Valley take for granted) is a huge draw for developers, but nearly impossible to find via outsourcing shops, and very hit-and-miss on Toptal/Turing.

We hope you’ll try us out! Visit https://www.TryAstro.com, and configure your desired team (See video tutorial and screenshots below if you're just curious). Astro will source, pre-vet, schedule interviews, send offer letters, manage employment contracts, and coordinate equipment, office space, and SWAG. Once that’s set up, you can use Astro to manage your team on an ongoing basis: salaries, bonuses, additional benefits, perks, equipment, etc.

Check out some screenshots here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/17qYsZLKrhPdE1Ud1LA5A... and a video tutorial here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmiVOVfbHFI

We’d love to hear your feedback and we’re excited to answer any questions!

Marcelovk 5 days ago

I think that this is a fantastic idea.

Before the pandemic, all the good software development jobs were attached to big cities, and hardly any company accepted remote work. What would happen in many instances, is that companies from outside latam would pay a lot for relocating them (and their families) to other countries, commonly to US, Canada, Spain, Germany and UK - however a portion of those devs come back because there is a lot of value living in the countryside/smaller cities of latam when you have kids, it ends up with a better quality of life overall.

In the end those professionals (usually already seniors) open local companies to work as a contractor for their previous employer or any other company that accepts remote work and can pay invoices overseas, this way they end up keeping a high salary (especially when you consider the exchange rates) and the perks of working from home.

How would you hire/contact those professionals? Usually I get a lot of local agencies trying to contact me to work for outside, but offering local salaries, which makes absolutely no sense. In other words, how do you differentiate from Accenture/Thoughtworks or any other consultancy to hire the engineers?

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Sure, because we're not a consulting agency, Astro is designed for teams that know finding good talent wherever they are located is a real risk to growth. Typically these kinds of companies are true technology companies and know the value of good people, so they often pay above market rates whenever they find the right person.

    These kinds of companies don't typically use Thoughworks to develop their own product, but are willing to accept international logistical help to find and manage their own teammates.

  • jacsamira 5 days ago

    Yes, we couldn't agree more! People shouldn't have to uproot their life. My mom moved half-way around the world for work and building a family away from your family, while professionally necessary, was very hard on her and us. In today's modern society, it's simply not necessary anymore.

    And to answer your question, top tech companies aren't usually price sensitive and are willing to pay for top talent. Because of our transparency in our fees, everyone knows what everyone is making and it's the developer who sets their own rate.

smallerfish 5 days ago

Not to be a downer, but that's pretty expensive. I spent last week in [latam capital city] and met with 3 local outsourcing firms, down from 6 that I'd pre-screened by Zoom. I then reduced the list to 2 based on the co-founders of each being technical, and their solid recruiting practices. Both have offices which devs are free to come into (or work remotely), both pay salaries and offer benefits, both provide embedded developers with project managers in the background, both provide in house training and skills development. One charges $30/hr-$45/hr, one $40-$55, with the rate difference being based on the location of the devs (the cheaper range is 2 hours north of the metro area).

Both have accounts in the US which you can pay directly if you don't want to deal with wire transfers (though those also are easy). Both handle taxes.

  • moonchrome 5 days ago

    At those prices I'd expect inflating estimates, catfishing juniors by selling seniors in interview/contacts and splitting senior staff between multiple clients.

    Basically that's the price range a senior developer can make on his own remoting on platforms like toptal - there's no buffer there for the agency cut unless they are some partnership or losing money to catch clients.

    And best case scenario - they have decent devs available at those prices right now - it's likely they will figure out what I've said and cut out the middle man/work for some US client directly and get a 30% bump for little effort.

    • FrankLicea 5 days ago

      We kept encountering the same issues you mention.

      Our teammates weren't satisfied with the outsourcing company and didn't like being interleaved between projects (formally or informally). And with negotiating down lower rates, the clients they tended to attract weren't exactly tech companies, which was uninspiring for our latam teammates.

      We believe that by providing a platform that lets tech companies provide a premium developer experience, similar to the "Silicon Valley engineering culture", we can provide access to teammates that aren't typically found on Toptal/Turing nor at the typical outsourcing firm.

      • sebleon 5 days ago

        Dude - it's way better for companies to hire developers directly, no need for a middle man like Astro that's charging 15% (eg. 15% of $80k/yr = $12k/yr in middle man fees)... platforms like letsdeel.com or remote.com charge as little as $50/mo per person to take care of compliance and payroll

        • FrankLicea 4 days ago

          Yeah, we get the concern that Astro is just a middle man. Let me give a concrete example for why we think we provide more value than that.

          We work with a few companies, whose names people would recognize, that feel more comfortable using a US business entity that they can sign contracts with to move specialized equipment, like locked down macbooks, installing special software on work equipment, or installing specialized local network equipment, etc..

          These companies have physical security requirements that makes it tough for them to directly hire freelancers. Through our platform we bring those kinds of opportunities to our teammates that would be otherwise localized only certain US cities.

          It's also common for freelancers to come onto our platform for various reason, 1) they didn't get paid by the customer or the customer withheld payment for onerous project tweaks 2) "contractors" were the first to get fired when times got tough, 3) "contractors" didn't get access to certain dev environments thus limiting their growth, etc.

          We understand it's not a solution for everyone, that's why we describe our business model clearly, and people can decide if what Astro brings to the table is worth it!

        • lincolnParkKid 4 days ago

          Have you ever had to deal with paying salaries in local currencies in many countries, with all the legal/tax implications in countries like Argentina and Venezuela with ramping inflation and multiple legal currency exchange rates? Maybe if you need one you are better off doing it yourself but if you are going to build a team and want to avoid dealing with all that crap this model sounds interesting at least

        • 1123581321 5 days ago

          Oh, it’s only 15%. No, it’s not say better to avoid paying that. Just marginally better, and that assumes the ability to reliably attract and retain the same talent.

    • smallerfish 5 days ago

      They have decent devs, as I talked to several candidates. Both have high retention, under 10% churn. Devs are fully embedded, so there's no opportunity to split.

  • jacsamira 5 days ago

    Not a downer at all! We're not a fit for everyone. We totally get that. We let the devs set their prices, and then have a standard premium benefits package because we believe everyone should have silicon valley level perks. We're definitely not the cheapest, but we're invested in a long-term relationship for both parties and not just a cost-savings play. In our experience, turnover ends up being super high with low rates. But maybe you found some gems! I hope it works out. I really believe there is a need and an opportunity for everyone. We're just trying to do our part to help in any way we can.

    • Shorel 4 days ago

      Honestly, reading many comments from potential customers and their complaints, and then reading your answers, while me being from Colombia and knowing many developers who could benefit from your vision, I thank you.

      While the others seem to care about cost-cutting to catering to their customers, you seem to also care about the developers, and this is a breath of fresh air. I hope many of my friends in Colombia will benefit from your initiative.

      The idea of extending Silicon Valley level perks is the one that works in the long term. I wish you and the developers all the success.

      • FrankLicea 4 days ago

        Thank you Shorel! I think many people that object to the model haven't experienced these pain points themselves, either in the US or in Latam. But we recognize the model is not for everyone.

    • eulercoder 5 days ago

      I want this too please Thank you so much!

  • mantas 5 days ago

    Do you want cheap price or smart people?

    Coming from eastern europe, such sweatshops usually pay local salaries and attract junior people. If you have experience and ain't afraid of talking to clients... You cut the middleman and work with foreign clients directly.

  • woleium 5 days ago

    Would you be willing to share your research? my email is on my profile if you are.

    • smallerfish 5 days ago

      Sure, emailed.

      • ricardonunez 5 days ago

        If you don't mind sharing, I am interested too. Email is my username @gmail. Thanks

      • oohaba 5 days ago

        Living in LATAM and would also like to see your research, if you'd be so kind.

      • agucova 5 days ago

        At this point, you might be tired of requests, but I'm also interested :).

      • moltar 3 days ago

        Me too, please :) email in the profile!

      • lobocinza 5 days ago

        Also interested. hn at posix dot dev dot br

      • horlux 5 days ago

        sorry to bother but with me too please

andrew_ 5 days ago

> Our pricing is also transparent

I'm sure there are reasons, but your pricing isn't truly transparent until I can find it from the homepage, without signing up for an account. Should I have to sign up with my burner/spam email address just to access that?

Edit: I'm not able to find the pricing even after creating an account. This isn't a great user experience for someone trying to figure out how much the platform might cost (and I'm actually in the market for this kind of thing)

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Thanks for the feedback, I see your point! That's on oversight on our side, nothing nefarious intended, we'll have to figure how to best spell out the pricing.

    Pricing-wise, I'd say the all-in fees on a per dev basis are comparable to a developer's salary here in the US (Austin, TX), the fees are all inclusive of benefits, tech equipment, offices, perks, etc...

    When you decide to make an offer to someone, you'll get a break down of 1) the teammates's personal salary requirement), 2) the benefits and taxes and, 3) our management fee.

    Because we don't set the rates, the candidates do (just like in the US), it's hard to say exactly what the price will be, it depends on the individual's requirements.

    That said, we can def offer guidance on what the market tends to be!

    • rootsudo 5 days ago

      "Pricing-wise, I'd say the all-in fees on a per dev basis are comparable to a developer's salary here in the US, the fees are all inclusive of benefits, tech equipment, offices, perks, etc..."

      Well, then as a USA based org, I'd have to say - what's the point? If it's comparable to a USA dev Salary, what savings/arbitrage/win a I achieving here? Wouldn't it be easier for a USA based company to just corp 2 corp/1099 or such someone onshore, then offshore and have a middle man?

      • FrankLicea 5 days ago

        So for us, hiring domestically (either 1099 or FTE) vs internationally, wasn't a mutually exclusive decision. Finding good people was a real risk to our growth. So we expanded the top of our funnel to more locations simultaneously.

        However, we weren't just interested in salary arbitrage, we really did need to attract good people with premium benefits. Good international teammates aren't going to leave their team only to risk being a second class contractor on a foreign team. So we found that by offering our teammates a premium experience: health insurance, gym perks, education resources, Macbooks, and other apple products, career paths and salary reviews, we expanded the pool of people that were interested in working with us beyond the pool of people on Toptal/Turing and other platforms with no fulfillment on the ground.

        Not all teams are interested in that philosophy in hiring but we've had the most success with it.

        • causality0 5 days ago

          That's nice but would you mind actually answering his question? Why should he pay comparable rates to someone residing where the cost of living is a fraction of the US? There are concrete benefits to having dev teams composed of people who share a common culture. What's on the other end of the scales to balance out losing that if it isn't money?

          • FrankLicea 5 days ago

            I believe I did answer the question, but let me try rephrase!

            First, the rates tend to be comparable to _just_ the salary component of a US teammate (Austin, Texas). The US salary component doesn't include insurance, taxes, and other perks, which could add another 30-50% to the cost of employment. With Astro all those items are included in the rate.

            Second, and hopefully I answer the question, the reason you would pay for those benefits for an international teammate (and not just an arbitrage play), is because we believe that it allows companies to recruit and retain a different pool of teammates not accessible on the other platforms like Toptal/Turing/Outsourcing, etc.

            I hope that's better! Let me know.

          • 0xffff2 5 days ago

            I'm not in this space at all, but my reading of OP's comment was that the _total_ cost of a dev from their service is comparable to just the _salary_ (excluding benefits and other overhead) of a US developer.

          • Rebelgecko 5 days ago

            The cost of employing someone in the US can easily be 2x their actual salary.

      • TuringNYC 5 days ago

        >> If it's comparable to a USA dev Salary, what savings/arbitrage/win a I achieving here? Wouldn't it be easier for a USA based company to just corp 2 corp/1099 or such someone onshore, then offshore and have a middle man?

        I'm not affiliated with the GP, but here are my takes:

        1. Talent is talent, so doesnt matter where you hire from as long as it is good talent with good communications skills

        2. I cant find someone overseas, so this is a good platform to do so

        3. I dont want to deal with international money transfers/taxes/restrictions, so this takes care of that

        4. I doubt you can get this type of talent at Austin rates, so the rates are good. If you need talent NOW, it is even harder to get it at good rates

    • andrew_ 5 days ago

      What percentage does Astro charge on top of that (e.g. management fee)? Where's the breakdown? You're claiming transparency but it looks fairly opaque. I'm not trying to be combative, merely pointing out the marketing pitch is at odds with the data available.

      • FrankLicea 5 days ago

        Oops, forgot to mention that. The management fee is 15%. You would get a break down for any teammate that you want to interview for your team. It would look something like:

        1) The teammate's desired salary 2) Benefits and taxes 3) 15% management fee

        I see you point about this not being spelled out on our landing page! Good catch!

  • jacsamira 5 days ago

    Andrew, thank you for the feedback. This is something we'd love to be able to be better at and would love any advice you may have.

    We send the rate with each developer. We don't have a flat rate; otherwise, that means we set the rate. The developers set their own rate and we send that over with their profiles after you state what you're looking for and who in our platform is a match.

    What's a better way of going about this?

    • andrew_ 5 days ago

      I'd recommend some document that outlines the fees Astro charges based on selections for the teams. Any AWS pricing calculator is a decent model to use.

      • jacsamira 5 days ago

        amazing suggestion, seems so obvious but we had never considered - thank you! <3

edferda 5 days ago

Hey this looks pretty awesome. Currently I work in LATAM for international corporations and it is also hard for us, developers, to find a good fit. Dealing with Latin American agencies is always a pain, it seems Astro might attract companies that care more about their people and building quality, long term relationships. What are you doing to treat candidates like human beings? How do developers join your roster?

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Thank you for the kind words! Your experience is exactly why we built Astro!

    We do a few things 1) Astro provides a standard set of benefits and perks, this tends to attract companies with great culture, 2) Because Astro isn't a project-for-hire platform, this also attracts companies that need long-term teammates, and 3) the Astro team isn't scared to provide insight to companies on how to best retain their international teammates; salary reviews, career paths, meaningful local perks, and time off. We know that professionals in LATAM have lots of options.

    See my email in my profile so I can tell you more about how to join the platform!

  • sebleon 5 days ago

    Yeah you don't really need a middle man to "take care of payroll." Most developers in Latam prefer to be contractors on paper, and have a direct relationship with the employer. Most agencies take a 30-50% cut of what employers pay, way better for developers to skip the middleman

    • FrankLicea 4 days ago

      Yeah, good point, of course direct freelancing is always on option. We believe that we provide enough info so that everyone can make a rational economic decision.

      For example, the way customers pay is : 1) Customers pay for the developer's salary "en mano", which is specified by the developer, not us, 2) Customers pay for a standard benefits package and taxes (Health insurance, education, equipment etc.) and 3) Customers pay our 15% management fee (charged to the customer, not the developer)

      That setup, of course, may not work for everyone, but we do have great companies, companies whose names we would recognize, that feel more comfortable using a US business entity that they can sign contracts with to move specialized equipment, like locked down macbooks, installing special software on work equipment, or specialized local network equipment, etc.. These companies have physical security requirements that makes it tough for them to directly hire freelancers. Thus we bring those kinds of opportunities to our teammates that would be otherwise localized only certain US cities.

  • lobocinza 5 days ago

    Being in a similar context I must concur. My experiences are anecdotal but let's say that is better being taken advantage of by a US or EU company than to be 'well treated' by a local company.

bberenberg 5 days ago

Seems cool. How much coaching do you have for US companies to better understand the team's local culture issues?

For example, I worked with teams in Brazil in the past and while they were smart, kind, etc they were slow in every sense of the word. They didn't have the US culture of respond quickly, unblock people, get shit done, etc. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, in fact working slower may be a benefit, but the US company needs to understand this as they establish the relationship.

Your pricing makes sense, but I would like to understand some kind of ballpark numbers based on role title. Can you share that?

  • wefarrell 5 days ago

    Brazilians tend to take two hour lunches without work interruptions. Outside of that time, the ones I have worked with have been fast and responsive. Had I not known that I too probably would have thought they were slow and unresponsive. I figured that out by actually going down there and working with them for a week.

    As far as the "unlbock people, get shit done, etc..." I think that's the case with a lot of outsourced work in general and I don't think it has anything to do with Brazilian culture. Outsourced labor are used to being treated like cogs in a machine so they are less likely to take the initiative or speak up when they see something that doesn't make sense.

    • CodeBeater 5 days ago

      I wholeheartedly second this. I have an unique lens on this issue as I'm in a unique spot. Despite being Brazilian myself, for most of my career I worked and managed US based developers, and just very very recently shifted to working directly with Brazilians. I saw no major difference in responsiveness and "get shit done" (aka initiative) between those two cohorts.

      The only thing that took me by surprise is that Brazilians DO NOT take well to getting busy outside of working hours. If you text someone during their lunch break, expect to hear a complaint along with your response.

      • skeletal88 5 days ago

        Why should someone be happy to deal with work stuff outside of work hours? It seems to be a thing in the US, but not in Europe or other places.

        • CodeBeater 5 days ago

          I agree with you, nobody should. But what took me by surprise was that they get angry even about their headspaces. For instance, sending someone a text and saying "don't worry about this until you're back from your break" will yield little to no effect, as they value being completely disconnected from work during any hours they're not being paid for.

          Which I think is perfectly reasonable.

          • KptMarchewa 5 days ago

            > For instance, sending someone a text and saying "don't worry about this until you're back from your break" will yield little to no effect, as they value being completely disconnected from work during any hours they're not being paid for.

            That's interesting. As someone who works from Poland with US companies, this is opposite of what I do. There is little common time despite me being very much not a morning person, so I think giving ~20 minutes of my evening by responding to people in US is very reasonable.

          • schnitzelstoat 5 days ago

            I think the problem there is that in toxic workplaces that can be "don't worry about this until you're back from your break wink wink" and in reality you are expected to get it done.

          • ricardobayes 5 days ago

            I don't live in LATAM but I have every work device switched off and stowed away during the night, and weekends. I'm not getting paid to do overtime or to be on-call so why would I? I think this should be the normal for everyone. You can't be on 24/7 else you'll pay for it with your health.

  • jacsamira 5 days ago

    We work very closely with our devs and US partners. We have intermediaries to help with these cultural blockers. We believe it's never a technical bar that are misses, but a cultural one. We've designed our entire support system around this to help both our US companies and our LATAM devs. And our support system aren't 20 year old CS reps with no knowledge of anything, our support system are seasoned Engineering Managers with former experience working on US teams and local to our LATAM offices.

  • jacsamira 5 days ago

    Pricing-wise, I'd say our all-in fees on a per dev basis are comparable to a developer's salary here in the US, but our fees are inclusive of benefits, tech, offices, etc... and the US salary is not.

    • scantron4 5 days ago

      Its frustrating that over and over you say "comparable to" rather than a number.

      • FrankLicea 5 days ago

        I understand the frustration and I'll try to explain a bit more.

        Candidate salaries tend to vary based on country, experience, skillset, etc. People on the platform set their personal salary requirements and it's up to companies to provide a compelling offer.

        Astro itself doesn't have a fixed rate card or salary bands. Our concern is that we could unintentionally anchor or band someone's salary. That said, we do see trends in the market and we're happy to provide guidance on what's considered above or below market.

        Someone earlier recommended we setup something like a AWS cost estimator, i think that's a great idea, so long as we can figure out a way to do it without undercutting people on the platform.

    • runako 5 days ago

      Thanks for this. Could you expand on this a bit, given "developer salary" in e.g. the Bay Area/NYC means wildly different things from (say) Houston or Pittsburgh?

      Were you indexing against Bay salaries or US median/average?

      • jacsamira 5 days ago

        Austin, TX :) Thanks for pointing that out

neolander 5 days ago

This looks cool! I've been bullish on Latin America since remote became more popular. It's natural that people in the US would want to hire someone in more similar timezone and culture than people on the other side of the world.

There are great people everywhere, but in my view, it's been much harder to source good people from Latam than it is from Eastern Europe or South Asia.

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Would love to hear more about your experience finding people in Latam vs Eastern Europe or South Asia.

    In my experience the real risk with remote teams isn't really technical, it's possible to find great people everywhere. The real risk is human: communication, courage, culture, yes even timezones. And you mentioned that Latam overlaps more in culture!

  • sebleon 5 days ago

    It's a matter of time before smart folks in South Asia and Easter Europe move to Latin America to get higher salaries as they get into more US-friendly timezones.

    That being said there's a lot of amazing developers in India that are open to working US-work hours for max collaboration

  • lloydarmbrust 5 days ago

    That's because the rails didn't really exist for hiring the kind of talent modern startups needed until recently. We've had about 10 developers in LATAM for 3-4 years and it's been a game changer for my companies.

wefarrell 5 days ago

I am 100% your target market as I've built several teams in Latin America mostly by finding developers directly and paying them as C2C. Sometimes when I need talent immediately I'll use Toptal.

Is it possible to use your logistics without your sourcing? Frankly I think I'm better at finding the best combination of skillset and personalities for the project I want to use than you or any other staffing service. However a lot of the developers I find are hesitant to jump through the hoops to start their own company and receive international payments.

  • jacsamira 5 days ago

    Thanks for the note! We have one team we do this with. Email me and we can discuss offline j@austinsoftware.com

swatcoder 5 days ago

If Astro is providing ongoing “local fulfillment” to make “teammates” feel like first class workers on an international stage, what happens to my team in XYZ when Astro makes a radical business decision (closing offices in that city, pivoting to court a next funding round, etc) as VC-funded startups often need to do?

Aren’t I making my business extraordinarily vulnerable to an unpredictable early-stage startup? How is that better than hiring/contracting through a mature overseas staffing agency in Mumbai, Kviv, or Buenos Aires? I mean, there are thousands of the latter, many with great history and references, and I don’t see what you’re adding besides risk and branding.

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Fair question!

    Regarding VC influence, we actually bootstrapped the company in 2018, and we've had to build a profitable self sustaining business from the get-go. So we don't have the "court the next VC round" problem and given that we've built a sustainable and growing business, we're don't want pivot away from that either, but I see where you are coming from.

    And yes, there are plenty of international staffing agencies to choose from, but keep in mind that their reputation in the US is only part of the equation. Among international developers, these staffing agencies may have a different reputation. We believe that by using us, companies can provide their teammates with the kinds of experiences that attract a different pool of professionals otherwise unreachable through overseas staffing agencies.

ivanmontillam 5 days ago

Venezuela and Argentina have vibrant software development community, but have challenges in terms of payment methods, specifically about local currencies.

How'd you deal with that?

The challenge with Venezuela and Argentina is that you cannot pay developers in local currency, otherwise they'd be losing a truckload of revenue (e.g. Argentina is heavily taxed for remote workers and the official exchange rate for foreign money received is too low compared to the parallel/blackmarket exchange rate).

I'm happy to discuss specific problems (my Twitter handle is open to DMs).

  • rootsudo 5 days ago

    The easiest way is to pay in dollars and advise them to not use the Government rate/bank rate to convert. There is a market rate and government rate - and there are services that will just pay out in Dollars in those countries.

    Also, cryptocurrency. Ironically enough.

    • ivanmontillam 5 days ago

      Exactly, but do you realize that's tax evasion in Argentina? By law[0], all foreign income must be converted into ARS (Argentinian Peso) using the Government rate/bank rate.

      And yes, I meant "tax evasion", not "tax avoidance". "Tax evasion" the illegal version of the topic.

      --

      [0]: https://maxifirtman.medium.com/gu%C3%ADa-definitiva-para-cob... (in Spanish)

      • nomdep 5 days ago

        However the employees choose to convert their dollar salaries is their responsibility, not the employer's

        • ivanmontillam 5 days ago

          So, it's not the employer's responsibility to comply with the law? :-)

mattfrommars 5 days ago

Fantastic work. Basically, you want to be the TCS, Accenture of South America. Awesome.

What I'd love to know is how did you get 50+ US start up to use your services? How did you compete/or reach out to the folks who are directly involved in vetting outsourcing firms to use your services and not the industrial standard TCS/Accenture/Wipro - who dominate the space.

I do want to start an outsourcing agency one day but getting the client to choose my firm over the rest is what gets me.

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Really good question. Honestly, it was word of mouth and referrals. I had a successful career as a software developer and product manager for various startups and large companies in the Austin area. Eventually I had colleagues that went off to leadership positions at other companies. Jacqueline was similar but on the sales side.

    The biggest advantage we had in getting started was trust. Also in the beginning, we didn't quite start out with our grand vision. We picked up PM work and projects and miscellaneous things here and there, but slowly that expanded our network of people who previously worked with us. We asked all these early customers for introductions to other teams. Overall it took us 3 years.

    Is there something you could do to generate a working relationship with your prospects that leads to trust?

    • mattfrommars 5 days ago

      Very interesting. Great to see you leverage the circle you had to take the business to the next level. One thing I have a buddy of mine is he is unable to scale or secure big contracts. We have a slightly different business than yours, instead of creating remote teams for US companies, we abstract that requirement all together! We instead work exactly what the requirements are and take it to completion. We offer on monthly basis for tech support and its an on going thing.

      What tips/resource would you have to gain into the market to secure work at US corporation who work with Accenture/Wipro/TCS firms? What makes them 'approved list of contractors' to get work done as hiring is absolute pain the US and slow, along with talent shortage. We, currently, do not have a network that have higher reaches in firms. Currently, we are only able to secure smaller contracts via freelancing website, e.g. Elance, Freelancer, etc.

      • FrankLicea 4 days ago

        Happy to jump on a chat on work through this together, I hope i can be helpful! Checkout my profile to see my email address and send me a DM! we'll get in touch.

    • FrankLicea 5 days ago

      More ideas, do you have former colleagues you can reach to? Can your colleagues introduce you to new people? Getting a personal warm introduction has been the best route for us.

rodogarcia 3 days ago

First of all: a disclaimer: I work for Austin Software. Before Austin Software I worked at one of the biggest software factories for eight years, and before that as a freelancer. I know that experience doesn't cover the full spectrum of options we have today in terms of "middlemen", but I have experienced some of the trade offs that you can find in the different options. Not every company or any developer has the same needs and neither Austin Software or any other option is the best one for everyone. Having said so, I think may not be the cheapest "middlemen" out there, but they are investing in giving us good perks and finding good matches with clients. Providing perks gets easier with scale, and I've seen them reach some milestones (for instance providing private health insurance) far quicker than other companies. I don't feel my career as managed with a top down approach but they really pay attention to our needs and interests in terms of client assignments. We have periodical meetings with engineer managers to discuss all that. Also, the only way they have to increase what they charge for my services is increasing my salary. That doesn't use to happen in a software factory and that aligns our interests naturally. Freelancing on the other hand doesn't give you easy access to some kind of companies and so many interesting projects. To get the most of one developer they need to be doing something they see as an important step of their career and I think Austin Software is trying to build a good service to find good matches to make it happen.

zebulonevans 5 days ago

I have experience with teams in different time zones. Years ago, I used oDesk which became Upwork which was just a payment and sourcing platform. The heavy lifting was on me.

The extras provided here in Astro with the office, swag, perks, and vetting is very intriguing and certainly puts this a couple up in my book.

  • jacsamira 5 days ago

    Thank you, zebulonevans! Yes, upwork is great, but we really needed help with all the other logistical stuff that really makes a difference in being able to treat teammates like core members of the team! We hope to hear from you :)

jokethrowaway 5 days ago

There is nothing stopping companies from hiring freelancers from Latin America, without adding another middleman (like your service) which will, of course, cost something.

Having tried this setup and having dealt with middlemen (eg. Pilot) and not, I can't say I noticed much difference with dealing with self employed.

Especially if the team members are senior, they're likely to know the ropes of setting up business in their country.

That said, hiring from Latin American has its challenges - the language barrier is not easy to overcome and the political instability can take a toll on your friends and coworkers (especially in these trying times).

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Interesting experience! Would love to know more, if that's okay. How many freelancers did you manage? and how big was your team?

    I think that a few freelancers are manageable (not sure if that applies to you!) But we've noticed companies that are managing engineering departments with ~50 or more and growing quickly really benefit. At that point both the HR and engineering department need something like logistics partner on the ground to coordinate meaningful benefits, specialized equipment (test devices, locked down laptops), help with company events, etc.

jeanlucas 5 days ago

Sr dev from Brazil, was a hiring and devrel for a (good) software house that hired a lot in Latin America.

How does this differ from companies like remote.com? Does it work in Brazil?

Will you focus on "teaching" companies that it is OK to hire in Latin America? I feel that besides payment the biggest struggles are:

* Trust - the distrust was clear about several things from people "disappearing" to legal fears of hiring in Latin America

* Language - also a trust issue,

* Technical proficiency, companies treat developers as if they are less efficient or less informed (even if you show cases).

How are you going to work on these issues to convince companies to start hiring and using your platform?

I ask this because the hardest part was not finding devs, but all points above. With several clients even vetting developers from Latin America just because they prefer if they were in Canada and/or Mexico.

It is a real barrier I dealt with several times.

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    We actually do everything that remote does plus a few other things: We have local fulfillment teams that can actually do things on the ground like help with local recruiting, finding meaningful local benefits, provide local equipment like Macbooks, Airpods, even treat teams to local team building events, etc.

    Our best shot at convincing companies to use us is to point to the large engineering departments that are already trusting us to expand their engineering departments in Latam.

    • jeanlucas 5 days ago

      I see, I think you will have to spend a lot of energy on creating that trust to make them want to hire before they are convinced to use your platform. Otherwise they won't be interested in just using it.

      Or... They will already have developers in Latin America and already have a solution to hiring here overall.

mwcampbell 5 days ago

> We ended up working with various partners in Latin America because of the strong talent pool, great English, and US friendly time zones.

I'm curious about whether you tried to find developers in the US but not in Austin or one of the big tech hubs. Or have you found that most of the good US-based developers head for the tech hubs? (Even if that were true before, surely it's different post-pandemic.)

I'm not opposed to hiring good people wherever they are. But some of the challenges discussed above go away when hiring domestically. And, based on the comment elsewhere on this thread about working with companies that recognize the value of good people and are willing to pay above market rate, I gather that the point of hiring in Latam wasn't to be cheap.

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Good question!

    At the time, hiring domestically vs internationally, wasn't a mutually exclusive decision. A team that really needs to hire fast to, say, launch a new revenue feature, needs to be expanding the top of the funnel of good people in all locations simultaneously.

    So we ended up with a mix of teammates in Austin and in Colombia, and crucially, we did our best to make us all feel like one product team working for one company.

    • mwcampbell 5 days ago

      Fair enough. But why not, say, Austin and Wichita, Kansas? Is it too hard to find people outside the big cities?

      When you hired in Colombia, and when you hire in Latam now for Astro customers, do you bring a bunch of people together in a physical office, or do they work from home?

      • FrankLicea 5 days ago

        You know, if I could do it over, we would have also considered Wichita, Kansas or El Paso, TX (my home town) but unfortunately we didn't do it for no other reason than it just didn't cross our minds at the time.

        I speak Spanish and I had experience working with a team in Colombia, so we naturally gravitated in that direction!

        Regarding office or work from home, it's up to the team! We have local offices in 6 different cities. in places where we don't have offices, a quiet co-working location with great internet and office perks is built in when building a team with Astro.

darau1 5 days ago

I've been in contact with 3 different firms like Astro in the past 3 months, and now you guys pop up. Did something happen somewhere in the American job market? Or have I just been discovered to be living under a rock?

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Ha! I can't say why of course, but our bet is that more companies are open to expanding their engineering departments to other parts of the world. Keyword being "departments" with strategies for benefits, perks, equipment, etc. and they need a logistics partner on the ground to help, etc.

    That's our hope anyway!

    • darau1 5 days ago

      Well I'm happy to see opportunities coming our way. Best of luck to you guys. Maybe I'll hear from an Astro rep one of these days :)

karaterobot 5 days ago

Do Astro developers sign any kind of exclusivity or non-compete contract that would make it harder for them to leave to work for another company?

A former company I worked for hired some excellent Central American developers through a company, and I later learned those guys had all signed contracts that made them give more than half their salary to the outsourcing company for two years, and if they wanted to leave before the end of two years, they had to pay a lump sum that was about a year's salary.

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Yikes! half the salary to an outsourcing company for two years? That's nuts, and those are exactly the kind of horror stories that made us want to build Astro, as U.S. devs, we often take for granted the "Silicon Valley" engineering culture we enjoy (vague I know, but roughly captures what i mean)

    All we ask is that if a company builds a team using Astro, they don't try to cut us out, similar to the terms that other platforms have.

samstave 5 days ago

Looking at your screenshots, suggest you provide definitions...

You have a screen: https://i.imgur.com/dRVwqZ2.png

What if a profile doesn't match that?

--

When looking for a "scrum master" <--- Define Scum Master?

How am I to then evaluate who ends up in said bucket... but If I select a bucket, how can I be known to the guy who heavily sides on scrum master (in your bucket) but they are really a talented [OTHER] bucket that doesnt show up with my check-box clicks?

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Thanks for the feedback! Yes good catch. We chose the roles we see most often requested, but when you scroll a little further down, you'd see a field where you can just type the role you're looking for! Thanks!

    • samstave 5 days ago

      OH... I have an idea:

      If one selects a bucket chexBox: HIGHLIGHT they other check boxes where a candidate is ALSO purview of

      So if I have a realtion to X, but I also have a weight to XYZ then show that...

      Inversely correlating me:

      I know X and I also know Y. but my affinity is more to Y than X, but I still know Y.

      The Bill Hicks Algo.

      I used to do C, but I now know Java, But I still used to do C also....

    • samstave 5 days ago

      May you please make the titles a link to your typical job desc/min quals that one in a title may have?

      This should be an open repo for job descriptions....

pftg 4 days ago

This is just our staff model, which Ukraine companies have provided for the last 25 years. We have a lot of them. I have not found any difference or deal breaker in your story.

TopTal changed that way to have better-motivated people, who want to work anywhere, so your idea is to step back.

martinpg 5 days ago

Seems like a great idea! How do you keep the engineers feeling engaged to the team and the company after they are hired? Especially now with remote work as the main option.

  • jacsamira 5 days ago

    This is tricky indeed, but something we keep at the front of mind and is very important to us. We have local offices and local teams solely focused on team engagement and happiness. We even have a community happiness manager. We have spent the last 4 years creating a community in every location we have an office with the sole focus of offering support, friendship, guidance, and mentors. Our goal is to help each team member feel like a core stakeholder on their US team. Another way of doing this is we're not afraid of firing customers. We don't let our customers treat our developers like second-class contractors. If that happens, we have a clause in our contract that we can terminate the relationship.

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Companies have a few avenues to help with this. The Astro dashboard lets the US company sponsor meaningful perks that value teammates and really make a difference with retention and wellbeing; Bonuses, health insurance, gym memberships, education resources, access to co-working or offices for the team, even coordinate hard to get equipment like Macbooks, Airpods.

    We can even coordinate travel and off site retreats to really help the team feel like one. Finally, our platform keeps US companies accountable for things like regular salary reviews and career paths. All the perks in the world won't matter if that's not in place.

setgree 5 days ago

This seems like a great idea and I’m glad to see you working on it!

Just curious, of all the ways you might get this off the ground, what tipped the scales in favor of VC funding? Personally, it’s hard for me to imagine this becoming a Reddit-sized operation (perhaps I lack imagination) and really easy to imagine your funders pushing you to pivot when you’re not growing 10X YoY or whatever.

Did you think about incorporating as a non-profit?

  • jacsamira 5 days ago

    Thanks so much! We grew like crazy last year (over 400%). Do I think we can do the same this year, not sure, but definitely 100 times again this year and 100 times again next year.

    The company is only as big as the need for employing great devs worldwide. We may not be a consumer known product, but we hope to help lots of companies and devs for many years to come! Also, we've been very careful to not give up control so the company would never be forced into pivoting against our mission!

    • csmpltn 5 days ago

      > "We grew like crazy last year (over 400%)"

      You went from 0 to 4 paying customers?

      • jacsamira 5 days ago

        lol! The HN I know and love. We started in 2018 :) So not 0, but I do agree, percentages can be bullshit.

SOLAR_FIELDS 5 days ago

It’s not super clear to me, or maybe I don’t have deep enough knowledge here and that’s why it’s not obvious. Are the people that Company A hires through this service direct employees of Company A, or are they C2C paid hourly from Company A to Astro who then has their own C2C with the developer?

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    We love this question. We become the employer of record, similar model to a Professional Employer Organization (Think Tri-Net). We'll handle all the international legal HR stuff. Then Company A signs a contract with us to work with the teammate full-time and transfer all the IP, etc.

santiagoep 5 days ago

In my previous company they used the strategy of hiring employees directly and through Astro. The truth is that Astro's experience is very noticeable when it comes to hiring quality talent. I think it ends up being more economical to have Astro, because of all the headaches they solve.

lincolnParkKid 5 days ago

What about it is at all different from toptal, Turing and the like?

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    As mentioned above, you can think of Astro as something like a love child between Toptal + Gusto + WeWork + Amazon. Unlike Toptal or Turing, etc, we fulfill local benefits, equipment, even team-building events.

    We’re proud of the fact that developers in Latin America have a much better experience working with us. That’s because our customers (i.e. the companies using Astro) are looking to scale their engineering departments with long-term stakeholders, not temporary “horsepower”, and also because real tech culture (the sort of thing devs in Silicon Valley take for granted) is a huge draw for developers, but nearly impossible to find via outsourcing shops, and very hit-and-miss on Toptal/Turing.

    We believe our approach gives teams access to teammates that are otherwise unreachable on platforms like Toptal, etc. and traditional outsourcing/staffing firms.

jamal-kumar 5 days ago

Excelente! En cuáles países eran la gran parte de sus trabajadores?

  • probably_wrong 5 days ago

    Small friendly correction: ¿En cuáles países está la mayor parte de sus trabajadores?

    "Ser" vs "estar" is one of those hair-pulling verbs with one "simple" rule and a hundred exceptions.

    • mejutoco 5 days ago

      I might as well :p

      ¿En qué países están la mayor parte de sus trabajadores?

    • jamal-kumar 5 days ago

      You're probably correct, I have no good excuses for my Spanish other than that I learned it by immersion over years instead of taking a class or something

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    We operate in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay!

    Gracias!

    • 01acheru 5 days ago

      Is there a reason why you don't operate in Brazil? Language maybe?

      • FrankLicea 5 days ago

        Just haven't gotten there yet!

        One of the founders speaks Spanish and the other previously worked with teams in Colombia and Uruguay, so the Spanish speaking parts of South America came naturally to us. That said, we've got big plans for expansion!

purplepatrick 4 days ago

If you paid $150 for LatAm outsourcing before, then this is definitely a better setup. You overpaid by a lot ;)

whymauri 5 days ago

Are early startup employees in Latin America finally getting stock or are they going to continue being exploited as they build unicorn after unicorn?

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    It's up the companies to make compelling offers to candidates if they want to find good people. What I can tell you is that this is more common now then when we first started, which we're very glad about!

    In fact, on our platform we've seen some companies not only provide stock options but some even pay US level wages, or significantly above local market to entice professionals to join their teams.

    The companies that provide these kinds of offers don't fit in the traditional outsourcing models. We believe Astro fits them better to attract talent that isn't accessible with the more traditional channels.

    • whymauri 5 days ago

      That is good. I was shocked to hear about unicorn and decacorn companies in LATAM hiring staff level engineers to make core contributions with no stock.

      The more I read your responses, the more I believe this could be a net good with a more healthy attitude towards working in Latin America. Cheers and good luck!

      Edit: by the way, do you facilitate sourcing talent for companies operating or building within Latin America?

0xfacfac 5 days ago

This is the same as Austin Software, right?

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Astro is by Austin Software! It's a productized version of what we do.

    People kept thinking that Austin Software was a product outsourcing firm, i.e. they kept asking us for quotes or rate cards, etc. So to avoid confusion we built Astro, which is a UX over our team building infrastructure.

    • pelagicAustral 5 days ago

      Alo! As a dev, where do I register for the platform?

      • FrankLicea 5 days ago

        Send me an email and I'll get you setup. See my email in my profile!

fatskier 5 days ago

The future of distributed teams. I think this model works well when executed well by partners like Astro.

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Thank you! You're obviously a smart person! :)

urthor 5 days ago

Excellent, excellent product idea.

rocker3011 5 days ago

Now this is what I call an idea, its like building your dream team in a game but in real life!

  • FrankLicea 5 days ago

    Thank you! We really appreciate it!

2015BatchCEO 4 days ago

Why Latam? Which countries do you have operations on?

  • FrankLicea 4 days ago

    I had worked with a team in Colombia before and I speak Spanish, so we initially gravitated towards hiring people both in the Austin, TX and Colombia.

    We found really great teammates, who spoke great english. We also loved the US timezones, it was possible to be more responsive to our US customers.

    And finally, I was surprised at how much overlap in culture we had as software deveopers. For example pop culture like movies, shows, video games, anime, music, etc.

    It was a really good fit!

mleonhard 4 days ago

Congratulations on launching. I'm considering hiring a DevOps engineer to share oncall for my solo startup. I need to know salary bands. Do you plan on providing this info?

LatAm is a big place and I don't read Spanish or Portuguese so I expect finding the info will be challenging. Levels.fyi has only Brazil, lists salaries in local currency, and has no info for DevOps engineers. Glassdoor lists large bands. For example, the bands for DevOps Engineer are USD 18k-75k in Rio de Janeiro and USD 14k-25k in Belo Horizonte. Glassdoor's salary bands don't account for English skills.

sgt 4 days ago

I tried creating a team, then I got an error saying "There were an error".

  • FrankLicea 4 days ago

    Thanks for letting us know stg. Sorry about that, we'll look into it immediately.

    In the mean time, I'm happy to setup you up on my end. Would you mind emailing me? You can find my email in my profile.

    • sgt 4 days ago

      Your profile shows empty