Interview with: OAK’S LAB

OAK’S LAB is an ecosystem designed to support tech startups on their journey from concept-to-scale. Since their inception in 2016, they’ve grown the team to 75 and together have worked on 28 startups with a valuation of $700M. The OAK’S LAB ecosystem is comprised of four separate business divisions:

1) OAK’S DIGITAL – Idea to Series A
2) OAK’S BOOST – Scaling offshore, yet in-house
3) OAK’S VENTURES – Investing in what we build
4) OAK’S ACADEMY – Transformative apprenticeships

A startup working with OAK’S LAB can leverage one business division independently or all four depending on the stage of the startup. The ecosystem is designed to propel startups through (1) developing digital products, (2) scaling in-house tech teams, (3) providing venture funding, and (4) educating young talent.

Tell us more about your Product team – Could you introduce your team structure and methodologies you are using?

Our aim is to focus on quality over quantity and so we develop between 8 to 10 startups at a time. Since we’re working to launch multiple products at once, we’ve had to incorporate a structure that allows our engineering team to be laser-focused, yet promotes knowledge-share and individual growth.

To achieve this, we’ve adopted the “Spotify Model” which suits our structure perfectly. The model consists of 3 interconnected groups: (1) Squads, (2) Chapters, and (3) Guilds.

1 – SQUADS

Squads are our teams that are focused on building and launching products (the web and mobile apps for our startup clients). To ensure that we are focused, each Squad develops one product at a time. Every member of the OAK’S product team is exclusively part of one Squad. Each Squad has a Product & Project Manager, Lead Designer, and also a Lead Engineer who is responsible for making big tech decisions. An example of a Squad at OAK’S LAB is the “West Tenth Squad” that launched West Tenth, which is an app we were hired to design and build for one of our Los Angeles based startups.

2 – CHAPTERS

Chapters serve the purpose of promoting individual growth of every member in our team. Each person is again exclusively part of only one Chapter. Each Chapter has a “Chapter Head” (think Mentor) and “Chaptees” (think Mentee) who meet on a regular basis to work on personal development. Chapter membership is an essential part of being in OAK’S LAB and forms a long-term relationship between “Chapter Heads” and “Chaptees” allowing continuous growth for everyone within the company. All “Chapter Heads” report to our CTO to ensure that even senior members of our team are continuously growing.

3 – GUILDS

Guilds were created to share knowledge horizontally across our company. Each Guild has a “Guild Master” or “Guild Masters” who are in charge of organising Guild get-togethers and workshops. An example of a Guild at OAK’S LAB is the “Frontend Guild” that focuses on frontend related topics such as React, UI, UX, state management, consistent component styling, and so forth.

As the majority of our startups are located in the US, we set up the “virtual office space” consisting of Slack, Google Calendar, Google Meet, and Google Drive to streamline communication and emulate the feeling that the stakeholders and our product team are sitting around one table, even though we are on another continent. To develop our products (by our Squads) we follow Agile practices, mainly Scrum, where we work in two-week sprints. Our teams use Figma to design and prototype, Jira to manage our projects, and Confluence to document our knowledge. Lately, we’ve been experimenting with Miro for online whiteboarding.

 

What tech stack do you use?

We use full-stack Typescript, meaning React on the frontend, Node.js (Apollo Server) on the backend and React Native on mobile, with GraphQL in the middle. We also leverage Github, Travis CI/CD, Docker and Google Cloud Platform on all our startups. This stack has proven very powerful yet we’re continuously growing and adopting new technologies as we see fit it.

Do you have examples of technologies the team has learned in the past year?

Yes, we’re intrigued with Prisma.io 2, which is showing very good promise. We also like GitHub actions – GitHub’s own CI/CD tool – and using React Hooks has simplified a lot of our frontend work.

 

How do you measure work performance/success within the team?

We leverage Jira to manage our projects and use relative estimations to measure our teams’ velocity and sprint performance. At the end of each sprint we hold a sprint retro to analyse what went well and what didn’t. We also leverage a company management framework called OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) to ensure that we are all unified and working towards a common goal.

 

What is the most challenging goal/mission for you and your team in next months?

We are working on some very exciting startups that will be launching in the upcoming months. Our goal is to make sure that they are as successful as possible!

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about?

We speak English in the office and have 18 different nationalities in our team. Let me try to name all the countries for you: Canada, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong (China), Iraq, Jamaica, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey, Ukraine, USA, and Vietnam.

This interview was conducted with: Theo Dluhy-Smith, Founder & COO at OAK’S LAB

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