Founder in Five: Q&A with Qatalog CEO Tariq Rauf

Qatalog founder

Tariq Rauf is the founder and CEO of Qatalog, a company that provides collaboration software for distributed workforces.

Its platform, which integrates with popular enterprise software such as Slack and Zoom, is used by the likes of Nvidia, Twitter and Airbnb.

While Qatalog is headquartered in London, the company itself has a distributed workforce with its team of 48 hailing from 18 nationalities and staff located across the world.

Founded in 2019 by Rauf, a former global product lead at Amazon, Qatalog has raised £14.7m in funding, with nearly £12m of that coming from a Series A round in October 2020.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, the Qatalog founder explains why location-based hiring is a diversity barrier, reveals the flaws with open-plan offices and shares a tip for building employee connections among remote workforces.

1. What’s the best way to promote diversity in the workplace?

Tariq Rauf: Most businesses still hire people based on location, familiarity, and proximity to the office. This makes true diversity much more difficult, as people living in the same place are likely to have relatively similar experiences. Distributed teams help solve this problem and offer huge competitive advantages.

While we’re headquartered in London, we’ve got people working across four continents. The diversity of perspective this provides has been invaluable, allowing us to solve problems in new ways, empathise with a broader group of customers and ultimately build better products. If a company has global ambitions, a diverse workforce is table stakes.

2. What’s a fact about yourself that people might find surprising?

TR: I am a trained architect and specialised in large technical and transport buildings. I’ve worked on designs for an airport terminal used by 60 million people annually in Mumbai and a $400m large scale cancer research centre in Lisbon. I was fortunate to be mentored by Charles Correa, credited with the creation of modern architecture in post-independence India.

I later returned to my first passion of software, but the experience taught me how to design complex systems that function at scale and with empathy for the people that use them, the lessons of which I still apply to Qatalog almost every day.

3. What’s the most misunderstood technology?

TR: Open-plan offices. They were originally touted as a way to house the maximum number of employees, and to ensure efficient supervision and ‘paper movement’. But this doesn’t work for the creative, reflective and deep work that office workers do today.

History is repeating itself with technology like email, instant messaging, and task management apps, which aren’t designed for how we work now, or the scale of online collaboration. Most tools were first designed by small teams for other small teams, and so they start to break once thousands of users from a company start using them, just like open-plan offices.

4. How do you prevent burnout for yourself and your staff?

TR: We allow people to structure their time however they choose and communicate asynchronously. We care about output rather than clock-watching and trust people to get their work done. Another of our values is ‘family and friends first, work second’, which is about prioritising the most important people in your life when you need to.

And finally, our offsites, which happen twice a year, when we bring the whole team together from all over the world to have fun. As a remote-first company, these are crucial, giving everyone time to build meaningful connections and a sense of collective identity.

5. What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

TR: My brother and I took a couple of motorbikes and headed to the highest motorpass in the world in the Himalayas. Partly for the ride and partly to get some good drone shots. Oxygen levels dropped to 50% of what’s considered normal, meaning we had serious breathing issues.

The roads were also very slippery and covered in ice, often with no barriers to protect from a fall. It was breathtaking and one of the most surreal places I’ve ever visited. We got lucky with the drone footage, which just passed 100,000 views on YouTube.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative startups, scaleups, unicorns and public tech companies – is published every Friday.