Hola, the made-in-Israel free virtual private network (VPN) service, has so much business on its hands that it needs to hire new people – a lot of them. And in order to get the best programmers and engineers, the company is willing to pay money for references – a lot of it.
“At Hola, we believe that the Internet has to be limitless, and that everybody should be able to connect to anything,” said Ofer Vilenski, CEO of Hola. “This concept also applies to the recruitment of new employees. For that reason, we’re offering $7,000 for referrals for successful hires.”
While the idea of tech firms offering bonuses or rewards to employees or those outside the companies for referrals is an old one, most of those rewards are a lot more modest; the best offers generally involve a weekend in a hotel to employees who recruit friends to come work along with them.
Not at Hola, though; this is a company that thinks big, and $7,000 is a big enough sum to get the attention of people – and motivate them to action. The offer sounds like part of a PR blitz, and Vilenski agrees; “good people are hard to find,” he said, so in order to stand out from the crowd, the company felt that it needed to make an extraordinary offer.
But the company is dead serious about paying out. “If your recommended developer ultimately joins Hola permanently you will receive your $7,000 reward. “We are growing fast, and expect to reach 200 employees in 2016,” said Vilenski. “If your recommended developer ultimately joins Hola permanently you will receive your $7,000 reward.”
Hola is a the most popular free VPN service in the world, used by tens of millions of people daily to watch on-line content that they would otherwise be unable to access. With a VPN, a computer displays a phony IP address, “fooling” a content site into thinking that a connection was made from a specific location. The most popular use of VPNs is by viewers of Internet-broadcast sports matches and TV shows who want to see the content in a restricted area – such as Israeli viewers who want to watch American sporting events that, for legal reasons, cannot be viewed outside the US.
Usually, VPN services require a monthly subscription, but Hola broke that mold, offering free VPN to anyone who installed their code. But hosting the VPN servers and managing the IP numbers needed to run the service costs money – and to pay for it all, Hola runs its free service as a peer-to-peer (P2P) network, in which users shared their computers’ idle processing power with Hola, which in turn sells it to commercial customers. Members thus help build a strong network capable of crunching large amounts of data. Such networks are used for a plethora of purposes, from from analyzing scientific data to analyzing mathematical problems to finding a cure for cancer, to searching for alien life by analyzing radio signals from outer space.
Last May, it emerged that spammers and other undesirables – like hackers – were using bandwidth purchased from Hola to carry out their nefarious activities, leading to a mini-scandal, in which the company was accused of “forcing” customers to become part of a botnet, where the bandwidth of many users is access to carry out hack attacks.
To its credit, Hola faced the charges head-on, changing its terms of service and shoring up its customer list to prevent illicit use of the network. But the damage was done; after weeks of awful press, Hola saw its user base drop, as thousands of users uninstalled its software. Apparently, however, all is forgiven; the company now has so many customers that it needs to go out on a hiring spree.
‘They be blocking, We be publishing’
Now, Hola faces another challenge. With its expansion into new markets, American content service Netflix has been offering customers around the world an opportunity to join its network (Israel is included in that deal). But there’s a catch; because of various contract and business issues, Netflix’s library in many countries is severely limited; Israelis, for example, can access just barely 10% of Netflix’s library ot TV shows and movies.
As a VPN, Hola would generally offer a solution to that problem; just access Netflix on a Hola-equipped device, and the service will think your’e in the US. But as it announced that it was expanding to 130 countries around the world, Netflix said that it would also crack down on VPN access to American content. While the company is working towards allowing all content everywhere, Netflix said, for now “we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location” – and that means preventing access via VPNs, like Hola.’
Hola hasn’t commented on the Netflix announcement – indeed, using Hola in this manner could be illegal in some countries, and the company would certainly not recommend using its VPN in that way. But an interesting story from Brazil illustrates how Hola operates as a service in the wake of blockages – and why it may work fine in this situation, despite measures put in by Netflix.
In the wake of a criminal investigation in December, a Brazilian court shut down access to WhatsApp for 48 hours because of the company’s refusal to hand over information to a court (the order was overturned by a higher court after 12 hours). Immediately, hundreds of thousands of Whatsapp users turned to Hola to enable them to access Whatsapp – successfully. The company’s comment? On its Facebook page, Hola placed a link to the story on Yahoo Finance – with the headline “They be blocking, We be publishing” the success story.