By the time Braenden Beneschott graduated from Princeton, his startup for placing technical freelance workers with companies, Toptal, was already doing about $1 million a year in revenue.
Nearly six years later, the company is “flying way past” $100 million annually, has clients ranging from the Cleveland Cavaliers to Airbnb, has hundreds of employees — and not a single office space anywhere in the world.
Beneschott founded Toptal while he was still in school at Princeton University, where he paid his own way. In order to put himself through school, he taught himself to be a software developer and started to do freelance work. Very quickly, he realised the pain of navigating the freelance world, both as a freelancer and someone looking to hire freelancers.
The idea for Toptal was born out of this realisation. There were plenty of talented technical freelancers, and lots of companies who needed short-term help, but there wasn’t an efficient way to connect them.
As Toptal grew, Beneschott and his cofounder, Taso Du Val, had a decision to make: go the traditional Silicon Valley startup route or take a different path?
“I asked myself, are we going to do that assumed route of ‘I’m going to move to Silicon Valley and raise a $10 million Series A and get a big office and really go with this,’ and I didn’t really want to,” Beneschott told Business Insider.
The pair decided to move somewhere that was not only much cheaper than the Bay Area, but also had a wealth of smart people with fewer local job opportunities. They chose Budapest, Hungary. But that was only the beginning of the journey….
‘No matter where you are in the world…you’re behind’
Toptal’s employees live like the freelancers it serves. The company now has hundreds of employees in more than 30 locations around the world, but anybody can work from anywhere. The company also has an unlimited vacation policy an encourages its employees to travel as much as they want.
“If you’re cut from a certain cloth, you really avoid burn-out with a lifestyle like this,” Beneschott said. “Travelling constantly and going to new places and feeling refreshed daily — as opposed to sitting in an office and staring at a clock in a cubicle — your life kind of becomes your work and your work becomes your life.”
This might not sound ideal for people who crave a defined work-life balance, though, and for those new to the company, it can sometimes come as a surprise.
Toptal doesn’t schedule meetings. If you need to get ahold of someone, you ping them on Skype and talk right then and there.
“People can be watching a soccer game or standing in line at a movie theatre or even out on the town,” Beneschott said. “People are shocked when they first come to the company at just how available people are around the clock. It’s not because they’re chained to their desk, it’s because they have figured out how to be available while living a hell of a life.”
So how does Toptal keep track of hundreds of employees in multiple time zones?
“We use a lot of time-conversion tools,” Beneschott said with a laugh. “But no matter where you are in the world and what time you wake up, you’re behind. Which, for the right person, is a really exhilarating feeling. You wake up and drink a Bulletproof Coffee and you dive right in and it’s just non-stop. It’s constant change and constant problem solving.”
Taking a break from travel — for the moment
Beneschott himself has now lived in nearly 35 countries since his big move to Budapest. A self-described “summer chaser,” Beneschott stays in countries in Europe and South America for a couple months at a time. This type of lifestyle is ideal for the way he works, he says.
Beneschott travels for another reason: he’s an avid polo player, a sport he competes in worldwide. Friends in Budapest first got him into the sport in the early years of Toptal and he plays often, even recruiting fellow Toptal employees to join him.
“We probably have the highest concentration of computer scientist polo players in the world,” Beneschott said.
But Beneschott is taking a bit of a break from all the travelling at the moment, but for a very happy reason: he and his wife just welcomed a new baby girl. Right now, Beneschott is living in South Florida, which he described as a great place to raise a family, but not a place he seemed keen on staying for the long haul. For someone whose life is a constant series of new things and new places, he just experienced yet another “first,” albeit a more mundane one: signing a lease.
“I have a one-year lease for actually the first time in my whole life,” Beneschott said. “But once [my daughter] is able, actually in the next few months, we’ll start to travel a bit around the US and we’ll see how that goes and play it by ear, but the idea is that she will be with me and so will my wife.”
From the sound of it, that one-year lease might be Beneschott’s last for a while.
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