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Palo Alto enterpreneur seeks Eastern European software gurus

Palo Alto entrepreneur Taso Du Val recognized that while many of his co-workers overseas were just as good as his friends and colleagues at Google, Facebook, it was simply impossible to find more of them. Thus, he set up TopTal as a solution to the skyrocketing demand for top engineers in Silicon Valley and Europe despite the shrinking local graduation rates of such engineers. Taso recently decided to move to Budapest to find 300-400 engineers to subcontract to top international IT firms.

Q: Why Hungary?

A: I first came to Hungary last April during a trip around Europe. I went to Budapest, Bucharest and Amsterdam. After going back to San Francisco, I evaluated my options and I said, OK, where did I have the most fun, which place is cost effective and all that sort of stuff. Budapest was the right mix of being inexpensive, but still relatively modern and westernized. When I came to Budapest, I met some really fantastic people who helped me a lot. With the combination of that, I decided to move here in June.

We have an amazing lifestyle out here. Since we raise money in Silicon Valley and we make money in Silicon Valley, to come out here and have that, is really disproportional. If we raise a couple of hundred thousand dollars out here, it is like raising a couple million out there. So, renting a penthouse apartment is the easiest thing, it is like getting a studio in San Francisco.

Quite frankly, the girls are hotter, too. There are also very few girls in Silicon Valley, and it is a very big problem. I think Eastern Europe is balancing having attractive girls and great engineers perfectly. Beyond that, there is just a different way of living here. It is not all about work, I like the cafes and the food is definitely better out here.


Q: I thought that you were here to find cheap Russian engineers?

A: Yeah, that is part of it. We have not started hiring too much here yet, but we are looking for local engineers from the region. A lot of them are really good, they just do not have access to the ecosystems that have the money and the knowhow to make great software. They are currently going on either oDesk or Elance or one of the other platforms for subcontracting. But still, it is hard for them to get really good jobs.


Q: Do you think that your company can fill this gap?

A: That is precisely what our company does. We try to find engineers and we subcontract them in Silicon Valley, in New York City and in western Europe. The big thing is finding these people with the current engineering shortage in Silicon Valley. If you go to platforms like Elance or oDesk, you usually do not get really good people. They cannot speak English very well, they cannot code very well and they do not understand the products. We do not yet have much competition in the region, we are the first true topsourcing company, as we call it, from Silicon Valley here.

Eastern European engineers are, without question, better than their Asian counterparts, in our experience – mostly because of the wider cultural gap and the language barrier. We would like to find them through going to conferences and setting up partnership with local outsourcing companies and the top technical universities.

I have already met some people from Docler Holding, and I know some people in the startup area as well as engineers and recruiters. Our goal is to know everybody, to know the ecosystem and to understand the mindset.


Q: What are the average hourly rates of US and Hungarian engineers?

A: The hourly rate of an American engineer can be anywhere between $50 to $150, while that of a Hungarian engineer is $5–30. A huge difference.


Q: Is the quality of their work similar?

A: Usually not, which justifies the price difference. But sometimes people do not know what they are worth and we can recognize that. This is what our business is based on. We can identify who is just terrible, who is amazing and who is mediocre. We are also taking people who currently work at a company but are either bored or they do not have a lot of work, which is very common. If they have another forty hours to put to work beside their full-time job, we can bring them out into our network and they can be full-time even if they already have another contract.

Subcontracting is a different lifestyle. So you have to know what you are getting yourself into.


Q: Have you set up a company here?

A: We haven't yet, but we are thinking about doing it for legal purposes. We set up Toptal a year ago in the US. We have approximately two dozen clients from all over the world, from Singapore through Switzerland to London and about 30 subcontractors. By the end of next year, we would like to have 300-400 engineers, of which about 15–20% will be eastern European. We currently have $2 million revenues, and our next year target is $5 million.