The Seattle unicorn employs 15 in Miami, all senior engineering talent, but expects to triple the team in the coming year. Unicorn, meet our Iguanacorns.

By Nancy Dahlberg

Look at a U.S. map and Miami is about as far away from Seattle as you can get. Despite that, OfferUp, the e-commerce unicorn based in Seattle, announced in August that it opened an engineering office in Miami, its first expansion outside the Seattle area.

And for naysayers who say Miami doesn’t have enough tech talent, OfferUp CTO Ameesh Paleja had this to say: He filled his first 15 positions much faster than expected with senior engineering talent. He hopes to triple that number by the end of 2020 with more senior talent, as well as junior engineering talent, product managers, operations and sales.

In a wide-ranging fireside chat with angel investor Mark Kingdon, Paleja talked about the company, the Miami expansion and his 20-year tech career. The talk was produced and hosted by Refresh Miami and TheVentureCity. Kingdon, a three-time CEO who has invested in startups for 15 years and relocated to Miami from New York about six years ago, made a bet on OfferUp when it was a 3-person team with some 3,000 users. 

Today, OfferUp, the largest mobile marketplace in the U.S. for local buyers and sellers, has 45 million active users on its shopping app. And by active we mean *very* active: The average active user visits OfferUp 35 times a month, said Paleja, who joined OfferUp in March. ”I’m incredibly impressed with what the team has built and I am excited to be a part of the team that puts some rocket fuel in the engine.”

Previously, Paleja worked at Amazon for 11 years, where he helped launch Amazon Video and built a big team in LA. He also founded and headed a ticketing platform called Atom Tickets, served as CTO of the cable network Starz, and early in his career worked at Microsoft, all roles that shaped him.

About OfferUp, Paleja said: “We want to help buyers and sellers connect and prosper. Nick [Huzar], our founder, has done a tremendous job of bootstrapping this marketplace. … Think about how back in the day it was incredibly painful to list something [on Craigslist or eBay] . … It will shock you how simple [OfferUp] is.”

Paleja said it was the company’s culture and the trillion-dollar addressable market opportunity that drew him to OfferUp. Priorities going forward are to continue hiring a world-class team while bringing an operational and engineering discipline to the company on its journey from scrappy startup toward an enterprise public company. But not at the expense of company culture.

Paleja expanded on that a bit: “We have leadership and operating principles and there is a section called DNA — Driven, Neighborly and Adaptable – and it is important part of being a startup. We want people to want to work with each other, to help each other. We win as a team and we lose as a team.”

Kingdon noticed the culture early on, when meeting with the founder a couple of times before he invested. “He came over to my house and met with my kids, this just doesn’t happen, not in New York,” Kingdon said. “Culture is built from the founder on, and one of the most important things is hiring people who help build the culture and scale the culture.”

So why Miami, about 3,000 miles from the mothership?

Quality of talent was one of the key reasons, Paleja said. “Looking at the companies here, looking at the innovation that was happening here, I was super excited about the quality of people we can find. …  The last few days with the new team has exceeded all my expectations.”

Miami wasn’t colonized by the Googles and Apples of the world, another checkmark for the Magic City. “They come into markets and vacuum up all the talent.”

And, he said: “People are friendly, hard-working, neighborly, loyal, exactly the cultural fit I was taking about before. That neighborliness, that drive and that agility (there’s that DNA again) I just find generally available in this market.”

Last but not least, the opportunity to be close to customers scored high. The Miami metro area is a top 5 market for the company. Indeed, 17% in Miami-Dade have downloaded the OfferUp app.

Of the 15 people hired so far for OfferUp’s Wynwood office, about 12 are local. Three of the employees were born in Miami but were working in San Francisco or Seattle and wanted to return.

Over time, with hiring that will include product managers and sales, “my expectation is we are going to grow this office into multi-disciplines,” Paleja said. “We will have different walks of life, different perspectives, different connections to our customers. I think this is important for building a remote site like this.”

The Miami team will play a strategic and valuable role in OfferUp’s roadmap with “pride of ownership,” They will be “focused on delivering a big puzzle piece for our continued growth and success.” That puzzle piece is centered on business consumers, Paleja said.

And he won’t be a stranger to Miami, and not just because the coffee is — dare we say it — better than Seattle.  “This is an amazing town, an amazing group of people, I feel so welcome already,” Paleja said in closing out the Refresh Miami event. “I hope to help all of you succeed as much as I can so we can help this city thrive and prosper.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter and email her at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

Nancy Dahlberg
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