I had the exciting opportunity to interview Veriff’s brand new Head of People Operations, Piret Saag, about her life before joining Veriff, how she learned about us, what attracted her to join, and what are the immediate challenges in her new role.
Where do I start?
So, back in the day, it always seemed I was destined to go towards education. I had roles as a teacher and a lecturer, but at some point I felt it wasn’t quite right for me. I felt an itch. I understood that I wanted to do something else, and I was lucky to have an entrepreneurial group of friends around me to give me a push to do something on my own.
I founded a language training and translation business, and I found I loved the process of building something up, and embraced the people side of this, talking to people and figuring out how they learn best. I did this for a number of years, and despite really enjoying it, I again started to feel the itch, as the business wasn’t totally my cup of tea as much as my partner’s. This is when my path crossed with Fortumo, and I joined their team.
Initially, this was to help with key accounts and assist a little with a few HR matters, but within a couple of months I was full-time HR, helping to build systems as the business started to scale. It was a great experience of learning how we wanted to do things - everything from hiring to building the culture. This is when things really clicked and I learned that helping people within scaling technology companies really is something I loved doing.
As had become clear though, I like to challenge myself after a while, and after over 5 years with Fortumo I felt it was time for something new. I then saw a potential challenge in helping early phase start-ups who need assistance with a variety of topics but don’t necessarily want to hire someone full-time. So I moved into helping multiple CEOs and teams at the same time, which I ended up doing for 2 and a half years, and saw as a brilliant learning experience.
The itch I mentioned before, I think it shows me that I’m always looking to stretch myself. When you’ve previously only worked in one company, to then work with many and jump between them on a daily basis taught me a lot. And it showed me the big difference in cultures and approaches, and the way teams work together. People assume that start-ups all seem to have a similar vibe, but I learned first-hand that it wasn’t the case, and it’s helped to stop me making assumptions when I join a new company. I don’t think it’s helpful to a team that someone new joins and tries to force ideas or values that worked in a previous company expecting it will work perfectly. You need to understand the new waters you’re in before you can help the team.
I had kept an eye on Veriff for years, and during the spring my itch returned, wanting to again challenge myself and do something new. And I think it’s only yourself who can ultimately stand up for your needs, so I created a master spreadsheet and listed everything I wanted from my new potential challenge. What conditions should be met so I feel this is the right challenge for me?
As an example, I wanted the company to be bigger than places I had previously worked - if it were the same size (around 100 people) it wouldn’t challenge me enough. Also an international environment, and a product that I understand and believe in. Or you’re doing it artificially, which I wouldn’t want to do.
When I’d finished my list - I thought, nope, this isn’t going to happen. I’m based in Tartu, which is the second biggest city in Estonia, but the likelihood of meeting my checklist while living here seemed very unlikely. During lockdown though, it became clear that companies were able to be more flexible than was previously imagined, and things don’t entirely fall apart when we’re not all in the same building, so opportunities were closer than expected.
I mentioned my potential interest in a new challenge to a few people, and was suddenly in a lot of discussions! And it was a pleasure to be a candidate again, to sit on the other side of the table and analyse how other companies do recruitment, as I wasn’t sure when I’d be in that situation again. I was able to talk to different companies and different teams within them, and they were all very insightful conversations.
I eventually went back to my master sheet with all of this information and recognised that everything matched well with Veriff, and here I am.
Actually, funnily enough, I spoke with a friend after one of the discussions with Veriff and I couldn’t quite put my feelings into words. But what I realised, and the way I worded it was that these were ‘my people’.
I appreciate now that I was one of the first external visitors allowed into the office after the lockdown period, and the way I was greeted and treated by my potential future colleagues just made me feel I was in the right place. All of the little things, the stuff that came up in interviews, just made me feel that there was something intangible - it even annoyed me that I couldn’t sum it up in a single word.
Added to this, the connection with my potential future manager, who I hadn’t actually met previously (which is rare for Estonia given we’re in the same field!), and how we view life both personally and professionally really clicked well. After the first interview it felt like I’d known her for years.
I’m piecing this puzzle together right now - Veriff has already been through a lot in it’s short existence, and gone through different phases, including some more challenging ones. This definitely helps direct my own attention, and I’m trying to learn in initial conversations what brought Veriff to where it is today, and what informed certain choices and decisions.
This will help define my team’s future steps, where we want to change certain things or keep what’s already working really well.
It is definitely a challenge - I think it would be easier to either run a company which is 100% remote, or one which is physically together 100% of the time, but I think the healthy option is to have the combination and the balance. We’re not all the same. I enjoy the flexibility, but I’ve learned now that I’m not the 100% remote type of person, I need to see people and have those spontaneous moments and conversations which awesome things can grow out of.
We now have to find the way of working which caters to both needs. For the people who’d prefer to work alone, this can depend on your role, but often it can help you to focus, find your flow and do deep work. At the same time, when you consider team cohesion, and finding those spontaneous moments - I really do hope the pandemic will come to an end sooner rather than later so we can start to plan, and map our future way of working as a team. Until then, we’ll find ways to make it happen virtually, in the best way we can.
Veriff’s values also become really important at a time like this, and if there is a problem, then it’s great that everyone is encouraged to consider what the solution could be and give their input. It’s not only management who should dictate things - it would be boring, and honestly, very annoying to work somewhere with a top-down approach!
Everyone in Veriff has a voice, and that’s vital. Impactful work, and a say in decisions, are major factors in job satisfaction, no matter what role you’re in. And I think this brings me back to why I enjoy working in agile, fast-moving companies - you’re expected to take a wider view, and when you’re a cultural match you’ll feel totally at home.