Nov 28, 2023

Tony Jamous: The Unicorn-Builder Crafting Tomorrow's Borderless Workplace

Beyond borders: How Tony Jamous is redefining work in a connected world

Tony Jamous: The Unicorn-Builder Crafting Tomorrow's Borderless Workplace

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If there’s one thing technology has done, it’s challenge our conception of borders.

And in this rapidly evolving landscape, Tony Jamous isn't merely keeping pace; he's rewriting the rules.

As the co-founder and CEO of Oyster, a global employment platform, he isn't just adapting to change — he's catalyzing it.

Tony's journey is as unconventional as the company he helms. Born in the throes of Lebanon's civil war, his path to prominence wasn't paved in gold but in resilience and a relentless pursuit of purpose. This quest took him from the turmoil of Beirut to the tech hubs of San Francisco and London, and eventually to founding Oyster in 2020.

"Oyster's story is very interlinked to my personal story," Tony reflects. His narrative is not just a chronicle of entrepreneurial triumph but a testament to the power of perseverance and vision. His first venture, an API business, was a resounding success, eventually acquired by Ericsson for over $6 billion. Yet, it was during a sabbatical, a period marked by introspection and grappling with the ghosts of his past, that the seeds for Oyster were sown.

The mission of Oyster is deeply personal to Tony. He recalls the challenges of leaving his homeland as a youth, the struggle of adapting to a new country, and the realization that one shouldn't have to leave their home to access growth opportunities. This insight is the cornerstone of Oyster's philosophy.

"You don't have to leave your home country to succeed," he asserts, a sentiment that resonates with millions worldwide. With Oyster, Tony is dismantling the traditional barriers of global employment, leveraging technology to create a platform that's not only a business but a movement towards a more equitable and accessible working world.

Under Tony's stewardship, Oyster has achieved remarkable feats. In just three years, the company has expanded to over 600 employees across 80 countries, raised significant funding, and earned the B Corp™ certification, a nod to its commitment to social and environmental performance.

But for Tony, Oyster is more than just a company. "We're building a movement that human-centric work is the future of work," he explains. This ethos is reflected in the company's approach to employment, focusing on diversity, distribution, and remote accessibility. It's a blueprint for a world where work is no longer confined by geographic boundaries, where opportunities are as boundless as the talent pool itself.

Tony's vision is particularly transformative for emerging economies. Oyster's mission has sent ripples of change across the globe, offering unprecedented access to job opportunities. It's a radical rethinking of the global workforce, driven by a man who has lived the very challenges he's striving to solve.

As Tony puts it, the success of Oyster isn't just in its impressive financial milestones or rapid growth. It's in demonstrating a new paradigm for work — one that's distributed, diverse, and deeply human. For Tony, it's not just about building a successful business; it's about redefining what success in business means in a globally connected, rapidly evolving world. And he practices what he preaches: 80% of people hired at Oyster are from emerging economies.

The Pandemic Pivot

As the world grappled with the unforeseen challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tony Jamous and his company Oyster found themselves at the epicenter of a seismic shift in the world of work. The pandemic, while a global crisis, inadvertently served as a catalyst for Oyster's growth and the broader acceptance of remote work.

Tony recalls the surreal alignment of the pandemic with Oyster's mission. "What the pandemic did was to change the chip in the mind of hiring managers," he says. The crisis dismantled long-held beliefs about the necessity of proximity in the workplace. This shift wasn't just a temporary response to a global emergency; it marked a systemic change in global employment trends.

Three megatrends, as Tony identifies, have emerged from this shift. Firstly, there's the stark reality of job shortages in the West — millions of positions unfilled, a glaring gap in the global workforce. Oyster, under Tony's guidance, is positioned to bridge this divide, connecting talented individuals from across the globe to these opportunities.

Secondly, Tony points to the increasing focus on cost efficiency. The cost disparities in hiring across different geographies are stark, and Oyster's model capitalizes on this, offering a win-win scenario for both employers and employees. This approach isn't just about cost-saving; it's about fuelling economies in emerging markets, raising living standards, and eventually moving towards a more equitable global salary equilibrium.

The third megatrend is the growing emphasis on diversity. Tony passionately argues that limiting hiring to a 20-mile radius of an office is not just impractical; it's myopic. Remote work opens doors to a wealth of diverse talent, enriching companies culturally and intellectually.

Yet, Tony doesn't shy away from addressing the challenges of remote work. "Remote work is challenging, the same way work is challenging," he admits. Building trust, setting clear goals and expectations, and collaborating effectively across time zones are hurdles that any company, remote or otherwise, must overcome.

Tony believes that remote work, done right, can actually strengthen these aspects. At Oyster, trust is built through transparency and emotional safety, goals are clarified using methods like OKR (Objectives and Key Results), and collaboration is enhanced through a blend of synchronous and asynchronous communication.

But perhaps the most compelling aspect of Tony's vision is the environmental impact. He highlights the hypocrisy in companies promoting sustainability while insisting on in-office work, which doubles an employee's carbon footprint. For Tony, remote work isn't just a business model; it's an environmental imperative.

A View of the Future

As our conversation turns towards the future of work, Tony paints a picture of a world where remote work isn't just a necessity born out of a pandemic but a choice that offers freedom, efficiency, and sustainability. Living in Cyprus, he exemplifies this new era of leadership — unbound by geography, yet more connected than ever to a global workforce.

Tony shows me the view from his office to drive home the point — a magnificent expanse of ocean and sunlight and blue sky. It speaks volumes about the world he's striving to create through Oyster – one where work and life are not just balanced, but harmoniously intertwined.

This vision, Tony suggests, transcends the conventional debate about remote work. It's not a binary choice between office and home, but a broader question about nurturing creativity and well-being. "It's about creating an environment that maximizes creativity and well-being," Tony asserts, emphasizing that the future of work is more about a philosophy than a physical location.

A Mission-Driven Life

As our conversation shifts towards his entrepreneurial journey, Tony opens up about the deeper motivations behind his ventures. His path to entrepreneurship was paved by personal experiences and family influences. He talks fondly of his grandfather, an entrepreneur who created jobs in his village and left a lasting impression on Tony.

Yet, it's not just familial inspiration that fueled Tony's entrepreneurial spirit. He speaks candidly about his 'belonging trauma' – a feeling of being a misfit, which paradoxically propelled him to leadership positions. This drive, born out of a need to carve out his own place in the world, played a critical role in his decision to found Nexmo and later Oyster.

But there's a deeper, more introspective layer to Tony's journey. He reflects on his past with a psychologist's acuity, recognizing how his personal narrative shaped his professional choices. This self-awareness is rare and refreshing. "I'm trying to turn it into purpose," he says, revealing a profound transformation from being driven by unconscious reactions to consciously crafting a mission-driven life.

Tony's entrepreneurial path is not just about building companies; it's about building a future. A future where work is not a place you go, but a purpose you fulfill; where success is measured not just in profits, but in impact and well-being. As he looks out onto the Mediterranean, it's clear that for Tony, Oyster is more than a company – it's the embodiment of his vision for a world where everyone has the freedom to find their place, without the constraints of geography or traditional work structures.

The Art of Remote Leadership

Tony's approach to overcoming personal trauma is as unconventional as his business strategies. He speaks of exposure therapy, where he confronts the emotions of fear head-on, a method that mirrors his approach to challenges in the business world. "I just sit with it and be with it," Tony explains, highlighting a philosophy of facing challenges directly, rather than avoiding them.

This philosophy extends into his leadership style, where empowerment and trust play pivotal roles. Tony believes in the untapped potential of talent from emerging economies, often stifled under traditional management styles. "For me, I believe in massive empowerment and elevating talent," he says. At Oyster, he has created an infrastructure that fosters this belief, enabling his team to grow and thrive under his guidance.

Delegation, for Tony, is not just a managerial task but a form of empowerment. It involves trusting people with responsibilities and being prepared for both successes and failures. This approach is reflective of a leader who understands the value of growth, learning, and resilience in a professional setting.

His experience as a serial entrepreneur has refined his leadership skills. Tony focuses on guiding rather than dictating, asking the right questions to lead his team to insights and solutions. He advocates for nonviolent communication and personally ensures that his team members feel valued and understood.

This collaborative and empathetic approach, Tony believes, is essential for remote work, where misunderstandings and disconnects are common. He understands the importance of keeping everyone on the same page, which requires a more nuanced and involved style of leadership.

Follow Your Purpose

As our conversation draws to a close, Tony offers a piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: "Follow your purpose." In a world cluttered with businesses chasing the next big thing, he urges entrepreneurs to seek out ventures that align with their passions and contribute positively to the world. It's a call to look for meaning and to find fulfillment in creating something that aligns with one's deeper values and visions.

But perhaps the most thought-provoking aspect of Tony's story is how it reframes our understanding of leadership. In a world increasingly driven by remote work and digital connections, the qualities of empathy, empowerment, and purpose-driven leadership that Tony exemplifies are not just desirable; they are essential. They represent a shift from a command-and-control paradigm to one that values collaboration, emotional intelligence, and a shared sense of purpose.

As we stand at the crossroads of a new era of work, Tony Jamous' journey invites us to ponder a critical question: What if the future of successful business is not about competing in a global market, but about collaborating in a global community? In this new world, success is not about conquering markets, but about connecting minds; not about scaling companies, but about broadening horizons.

Tony's story is a reminder that in a world without borders, the greatest asset we have is our shared humanity. It's a vision that challenges us to rethink not just how we work, but why we work – a call to build not just businesses, but legacies that transcend geography and generations.

Images courtesy of: Tony Jamous

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