ValiPeople | Maria Peres

Andy Richards


Maria & Andy catching up over (decaf) coffee

Welcome to ValiPeople, a series that explores the thoughts and views of Valispacers and takes a deeper look at the people behind the product. We’ll post regular conversations based around a standard set of questions that asks different team members about work life and about, well, life in general.

This month, Andy from the marketing team spoke to Maria Peres, the much loved Head of Operations at Valispace.

Tell me a bit about yourself

So I’m Maria, I come from Lisbon and I love the place where I grew up and I identify myself a lot with the culture here. I think Portuguese people are open minded, even if they’re a little bit conservative and I think I’m a good mix of both.

When I grew up I was a little bit uptight, but over time I became a little bit more adventurous. I enjoy travelling a lot, and especially alone which I’ve done a few times and really enjoyed it. I think it’s because I don’t have to compromise for anyone when travelling alone. I eat what I want, I turn left when others would turn right, and it’s a moment where I can decide anything I’d like to do.

Where did you study?

I went to a German school for about eight years. It was fun, but also very challenging. Because it’s hard, of course, to learn a whole new language, especially German which is very complex with a lot of rules. But luckily, I like rules so that made it easy.

For university, I did a law degree here in Lisbon and it was very interesting and mentally stimulating. I studied law because I really like human rights in general (I guess I was always a people person) and I thought I would probably pursue a diplomatic career because I liked the idea of travelling, experiencing new cultures, and learning new languages.

So why and how did you join Valispace?

After the law degree I did a master’s in business. So that’s where I learned about startups and I felt I could relate to their culture. It was hard working people with good ideas, working hard to bring something from the ground up. And I love the feeling of building something, I really find it very rewarding to start from nothing and actually see something grow.

When I talked with [Valispace founders] Marco and Louise during the recruitment process, Valispace sounded like a cool project with people who had a vision that they wanted to put into place. I thought, okay, maybe I can contribute with whatever I know and try to help them, but I don’t think at the time I realised how much it would grow and what type of growth it would entail.

The idea of working in an industry that I knew nothing about and with really smart people excited me. At the start, I had a little bit of imposter syndrome (even if I was the only one in the company with a law degree and business background) because I had to think through the best processes without prior knowledge of how they are done properly. I think even now, that feeling is still there because even though we are a bigger company, there is still so much space to grow and always something new coming up.

What was your experience of working remotely like? 

At the start, I think I actually dealt with it pretty well. I like routines and I had my own, which was: I would wake up in the morning, get dressed as if I was about to leave the house, at lunchtimes I would go for a walk to get some fresh air and I would exercise almost every day. I became very self disciplined.

Although, in December I started to feel a little bit burnt out. I think it was the frustration of the days always looking the same, we were expanding the team rapidly and hiring new people, and during the wintertime you don’t get much sun. I love the sun and I really don’t like cold dark nights. I dealt with it independently and I think I only really realised I was a bit burnt out once the high pressure was over. That’s when I thought “Oh, actually, this was too much.” 

Quickfire Quarantine Quiz

Do you wake up in plenty of time or 5 mins before work?
Plenty of time.

Pyjamas all day or shower and dressed?
At the start of lockdown I always showered and dressed but that only lasted for three months.

How many coffees a day?
I actually stopped drinking coffee in quarantine. I ran out of coffee one day and realised I was having withdrawal systems and thought okay, I’m addicted to coffee. Sometimes I like to break habits (even though I still drink decaf – I like the taste!)

Cook more or takeaway more?
I cooked a lot more. Not just simple dishes but more complex recipes. I remember trying to make homemade dumplings and spending time baking lots of cakes and desserts.

Work with music or silence?
Always music and a mix of different types depending on what mood I’m in. Sometimes I listen to lots of Spanish reggaeton, sometimes Brazilian stuff and other times I feel like only listening to Adele.

Has it been hard to connect with the team because of COVID?

I don’t think so because I talk with a lot of people throughout the day. Everyone has a question almost every single day so I more or less always kept in touch with everyone. But it’s a different type of connection.

When COVID ended, the connections deepened. Especially through lunches, the retreat, and even just grabbing a coffee. Sometimes, having an in person conversation is very different from communicating online. 

Maria representing Valispace whilst hiking

Many (if not all) of the people that work at Valispace would have been interviewed by you at some point in their interview process. What do you look for in people? 

Hmm, good question. So, I look for very different things. I have to keep in mind that there are specific roles that mean different personalities will apply for. For example, sales people are usually way more extroverted. They know how to sell themselves so you have to filter what they say. Whereas for a software developer role, I look for someone who can collaborate very easily with the rest of the team.

If a developer tells me they prefer to be in their room programming alone all day long without communicating then, for me, that’s a no go. I know that here in the Valispace team we need to share ideas all the time. 

More broadly, I look for someone who I would like to work with. I like people who look for solutions and that are kind of light. If someone is very serious and heavy, then that’s probably not the right type of person we want on the team. I look for someone that has good values and you can tell what values the person holds by the conversation in general and their attitude on camera. For example, if someone doesn’t have good posture in an interview, for me that’s an indication that someone probably doesn’t care about what they are applying for. 

A lot of the time though it’s just a feeling. I can’t explain it but I think I have a good intuition for these things and for people who will drive the team and culture forward.

What do you think are the key things for making new employees feel comfortable when starting a role at a company?

I think it’s about providing the tools and resources that they need so that they don’t feel lost in the beginning. That’s why we created a whole onboarding process for new hires so that they can get in touch with the people they will be working closest with right at the beginning of their new role. 

It’s also about making sure that they are involved in meetings early, even as an observer, so that they can see how these meetings are already done and how they are run by the leadership team. This allows them to understand which meetings are formal, which are informal and gives them a sense of what they can and cannot say.

It’s kind of about providing some elements of structure so they get a feel for the company but also give them some freedom so that eventually they can be a self starter. 

Tell me about some of your most memorable experiences with Valispace.

Well, I think that the first events that I went to were very memorable because everything was new. It was with industries that I didn’t know anything about at the time and there was this very specific moment at the beginning that I’ll always remember.

So, I was in the company for around two months and Louise told me that we need to try and find another developer to look for ways on how we can do this. We went to this career fair and we were like the new kids in town with a super simple booth and not much branding. Because the other companies seemed to have stuff figured out way more than us, we had to captivate them through other ways and my strategy was to be extra friendly and approach every single developer that was there. The problem is, I didn’t know that much about software development, I didn’t even know what a bug was!

What happened is that this very stereotypical looking developer came to see me at our booth and I immediately tried to make a good impression and was really friendly with him. He didn’t ask me much, but at a certain point he just said “What language do you use?” I looked at him very seriously and said “oh, we speak English at the company”.

He just looked at me as if I was the dumbest person on the earth. Louise and Nelson were right next to me and they both started laughing because they knew he was talking about programming languages! I then realised what he actually meant but it was so embarrassing. Luckily, I can laugh at myself and looking back, an embarrassing moment like that actually helped me connect with the team.

Recently, you’ve had someone else come to join the team to help you with people & operations for the first time. How has this been for you?

Since Mariana came on to the team I feel like a whole weight has been lifted off my shoulders. In the past, I had all these ideas and initiatives but never had the time to actually implement them. Now, because it’s a shared responsibility I know that someone is taking care of them.

We have similar interests but most importantly I think we see people in the same way and have a very similar mindset. For example, when it comes to hiring she is now responsible for the first interviews and I know that I can trust her 100% with which candidate she decides to progress. In the beginning, when I was doing her onboarding, she would join me for interviews and when we debriefed about them, she would have almost the same impression of the person that I had. It made me feel very comfortable to give her autonomy very quickly because I knew that whatever she thought of the candidate, it was probably something that I would think too. I knew I could trust her to preserve the company culture.

Do you have any advice for startups that are looking to grow their team quickly, but also want to keep an intimate, friendly and approachable company culture?

I think it all comes from the leadership. The people inside the team also matter, but the leadership team are the ones that set the example. So if you have a leadership team that are very stressed, then the team will be stressed. If you have leadership that is very laid back and nothing really happens, then the team will copy that behaviour.

I think a leadership team that has good values, a good vision, and the openness to kind of manage people in different ways helps a lot with growing fast but still managing to preserve the right values.

Finally, how do you switch off?

I just close my computer and go for a run. I listen to my body and my mind and if I feel like I’m not focused then I’ll finish a little earlier and come back after dinner and do a few of the extra tasks that I still want to complete. 


Did Maria’s account of life at Valispace give you an urge to work here too? Visit and send a spontaneous application today 

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