Why US-based unicorn HackerOne keeps their dev team in Groningen

In 2012, two former students from Hanze University of Applied Sciences in the Northern Dutch city of Groningen, took a major gamble. They made a list of 100 companies they’d like to work for — including Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, and Uber — and hacked them. As you can imagine, this little stunt certainly got their attention.

Now, $159.4M in investment later, their cybersecurity company, HackerOne, reached unicorn status in 2022 and counts big players like Nintendo, AT&T, Hyatt, GM, and even the Pentagon amongst its clients.

HackerOne is a bug bounty hunting platform that enables companies to enlist the help of ethical hackers across the globe to identify and mitigate security vulnerabilities and data breaches, which cost companies an average of $4.35 million.

While founders Jobert Abma and Michiel Prins now live in San Francisco, where HackerOne’s HQ is based, they surprisingly decided not to move their development team across the pond. In fact, over 50% of their engineering and product design team are still based in Groningen today.

The question is, does it actually make sense to keep half of your dev team in another time zone and is this a strategy other founders should actually consider? And why Groningen? With a global tech powerhouse like Amsterdam just a few hours away, why keep the team in this Northern Dutch city?

Follow-the-sun model

The story of HackerOne’s founders is the typical tech fairytale come true. Abma and Prins grew up across the street from each other in a small town in the North of the Netherlands and spent their time playing video games, building websites, and, of course, pulling the occasional prank hack.

They went to Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen together, where they identified a major data leak in the institution’s system. Realizing this could be a successful business venture, they started a consultancy firm and built a small team of like-minded ethical hackers.

After gaining the attention of Silicon Valley’s biggest names, they realized it was time to spread their wings abroad.