In 2019, Bob van Luijt (CEO) and Etienne Dilocker (CTO) founded SeMI Technologies with the mission to create an open-source, AI-first infrastructure. “We create AI-first database technology that people can use to scale their machine learning models, and we are democratizing that kind of technology. Our core database, Weaviate, is an open-source vector search engine, and we have seen complete horizontal adoption,” Bob said. “Everybody's using it - from banking and cybersecurity to tech companies. You name it.”
Now, the company has secured a $16 million Series A funding round, which it plans to allocate towards expanding its team in the U.S and Europe and continuing to grow its community of users. As SeMI Technologies scales, Bob wants to ensure that they continue hiring the right people and building a culture that will help the company grow in the right direction. One way that he does this is during the interview process. Inspired by the hiring process for software positions, Bob always assigns applicants a challenge to better understand how they solve problems.
“It is not about people giving the right answers, per se. It is more about seeing how people work in a short amount of time and how they explain what they were working on,” Bob said. Using this method, he is able to better determine if an applicant would be a good fit for the team. But even if a candidate is not right for SeMI Technologies, Bob still wants to be respectful of people’s time and efforts. Therefore, he gives all interviewees an Amazon gift card as a way of thanking them for their interest in the position.
When hiring, culture is something that Bob always keeps top of mind. He believes that a strong culture is a predicate to building a successful business and although SeMI Technologies is currently a lean team of only thirteen employees, he has already hired a dedicated Head of People and Culture. “There is so much that we could do with the people that I now have and the bonds that we are building together. Because I have an amazing team, I feel confident that we can build anything,” Bob said.
Since SeMI Technologies is a remote organization, Bob is a big believer in setting aside time to allow everyone to get to know their colleagues better. One way that he does this is by taking out all of his employees individually for a meal. “I'm aware that as the company keeps growing I can't do this with everyone, but for now, I sit down with everybody, just one on one, and have dinner. That way, you can just have a conversation and it's not only about the company, but also about life, and you start to understand people better.”
Additionally, employees at SeMI often want to work in the vicinity of each other, hang out after hours, or meet up for some group fun as a team and people are free to do this whenever they feel it's needed. Bob frequently empowers his team to organize social events without having to ask for permission. While in many cultures it's common to wait for a reason to celebrate with your team, Bob feels there doesn't need to be a reason to gather and enjoy each other's company. “In general, I want our people to wake up in the morning and be excited to get to work. And the keyword there for me is fun. So it needs to be fun to go to work and that is possible through culture and also through technology because it's exciting to work on.”
Finally, he is also a believer in not being bound to the traditional 9-to-5 work schedule but instead finding ways to integrate work and life in a way that feels balanced for each individual. Personally, when Bob is not focused on leading an organization he enjoys going to concerts, learning about modern art and language philosophy, and lifting weights at the gym.
Looking ahead, Bob is eager for all that is to come for SeMI Technologies and the strong community that they are cultivating. “One of the things that we really believe and are showing basic attraction for is that this type of technology is just a new way of organizing and working with data. In the coming year, we will be proving that. So that means increasing the community and having more integrations with partners and large tech companies where we show the added value of what SeMI brings to the table.”