What the Tech Industry Can Learn from Dave’s Virtual-First Approach
An engineer located “somewhere in Pennsylvania” is joining the LA-based fintech company Dave.
From his home in the Keystone state, he’ll earn the salary of a California engineer, and when it’s safe to do so, he’ll join all of his 170-plus colleagues out west, maybe in the Dave office, for one to two companywide gatherings per year. Should he pursue a role in senior management, he will have the same opportunity as anyone else at Dave.
This is all part of Dave’s new virtual-first work model that leadership conceptualized following Dave’s milestone year while all employees worked remotely. Under the new plan, individuals from anywhere in the U.S., including U.S. territories with the exclusion of Hawaii for the time being, can work remotely.
“Last year, we saw that Dave could still achieve its metrics, deliver results, build culture, maintain community connection and host people programs in a virtual setting,” said Chief People Officer Shannon Sullivan.
Dave’s key wins included virtually onboarding over 90 new hires, surpassing 8 million customers, helping customers generate more than $160 million in extra income through its flexible job marketplace Side Hustle, and setting up Dave’s upcoming, highly anticipated IPO.
The company will continue to grow rapidly in its pursuit to take on traditional banks, but now they’re doing so with an assist from people all over the country.
Built In LA connected with Sullivan and her two colleagues — Chien-Liang Chou, EVP of engineering, and Nina Liu, director of engineering — to learn more about their decision to go virtual-first.
Congrats on a big year! Aside from seeing that your team could succeed in a remote-only environment, what else went into Dave’s virtual-first work model?
Chien-Liang Chou, EVP of Engineering: At the end of 2020, we began planning for what happens post-pandemic. At the time, we still saw the value of the in-person experience and wanted to bring everyone back into the office on a flexible schedule. The problem was that we had people on our team who had moved entirely out of the area, and they didn’t want to come back. We wanted to fully support all of our team members. After collecting feedback and conducting research, we made the mindful decision to embrace a virtual-first approach. Plus, by going virtual, we’re able to scale the team more quickly. Every tech company is fighting for talent, and going virtual makes it easier to get access to as much talent as we can.
Shannon Sullivan, Chief People Officer: With Dave’s mission to create financial opportunity that advances America’s collective potential, it’s important to recognize that America isn’t just Los Angeles and San Francisco. Our virtual model gives us the ability to hire talent from all over the U.S., which I think will lead to greater innovation and connection to our actual customers who come from different walks of life and bring different experiences. I think it can help us more authentically deliver the products our customers want.
Diversity isn’t limited to ethnicity; it’s about meeting people’s different needs.”
How does a virtual-first model better Dave’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts?
Nina Liu, Director of Engineering: Diversity isn’t limited to ethnicity; it’s about meeting people’s different needs. I’m a working parent in a dual employment household. I have five-year-old twins, who stayed in our house with us for months last year. I joined Dave while we were fully remote and having this virtual-first model really helped working parents like me to manage childcare needs. Now that our children are back at school, there are limited windows of times when we can drop them off and pick them up. Being able to work from home allows us to accommodate these schedules. It’s a very attractive offer.
Dave’s decision to match California labor rates in its compensation model is pretty progressive. Why did the company choose this route?
Sullivan: I had it in my head that we needed a compensation plan like this to make virtual first work. By making this decision, we’re saying that when someone moves from L.A. to Milwaukee to care for a family member, or when we hire someone outside of California, that their talent and contributions are of the same value to us. We could’ve saved some money by offering people less because of the lower cost of areas they live in.
It comes down to what’s right. When employers do right by employees, it pays dividends well beyond what you can see. Our decision to do this was a win, and I’m proud to be a part of a company that was able to make it.
It comes down to what’s right. When employers do right by employees, it pays dividends well beyond what you can see.”
What practices put in place while fully remote will your team lean on as you continue to scale?
Sullivan: Within one week of going fully remote in 2020, our team pivoted our onboarding process to a virtual experience. Our first day begins with a 90-minute session led by a member of our people team to review the essentials of the company, such as our yearly goals and strategies, where we’re currently at against those goals and benefits information. Then they re-join their teams.
Over the next quarter, onboarding continues with highly interactive sessions led by Dave leaders. One session dives into our values, in which our new hires share where they see our values showing up, and also where they aren’t so that we can see if we need to make changes. Another session focuses on our business strategy and roadmap for the year and another involves a Jeopardy-inspired trivia game to help build community and connection. Our newest session that we’re rolling out this quarter is what it means to be a people leader at Dave.
We do our onboarding over time because we want our new hires to bring context and experience to these sessions. They’re highly interactive, and we’ve received a lot of great feedback.
Expanding Side Hustle
How did Dave maintain culture in a remote setting while scaling?
Liu: Our coffee chats feature a group of Daves — what we call our employees — including members from leadership, coming together to speak in an informal setting, offer feedback and get to know one another. On one, I met a teammate from content creation, who I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise, even in an office setting. We learned we’re both parents and that we share a background working in film and with creative agencies. Since then, we’ve worked on something together that originated from this coffee chat.
Chou: I put a lot of effort into sharing with our team exactly what we were going through — a transformation. We all wanted to push the company to the next level, and it was going to happen with or without a pandemic. That meant a lot of change and a lot of new people. We had to make sure our colleagues understood the reasoning behind the changes and encouraged them to listen to one another, identify pain points and find ways to help those who were struggling.
Lastly, what do you think Dave’s decisions say about the company?
Liu: The tech industry is about how quickly a company can adapt to changes. What we’ve done here at Dave speaks to that. No one could have predicted this pandemic and the shift in how we interact with one another, so how does an organization adapt to this new paradigm of working together? Dave has been very nimble during this time. I know some other tech giants are going back to the office, while Dave continues to change based on what we learned last year. If we need to make adjustments in the future, we will. I think that’s what companies in tech should embrace instead of just going back to what we knew before.