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Building A 100% Remote Startup

By News Creatives Authors , in Small Business , at August 11, 2021

CEO at Vivun, unlocking the power of PreSales through the industry’s first AI-powered Intel & Ops platform.

Prior to co-founding my current startup, I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area and going through the motions of work before Covid-19: two-hour commute times, offices at minimal capacity and a recruiting pool within a fifty-mile radius of our physical locations. 

I knew there was a better way. A way to more seamlessly balance work and life. A way to find the best team members — not only those in proximity. When it came time to launch my new venture, we set out to be distributed from the start — before Covid-19 made it “fashionable.” Post-Covid-19, I can’t imagine working any other way. 

Office Spaces Are The New Data Centers 

In 2010, the startup I worked for faced a tough choice when they had to make big investments into their software platform for scale: 1) Go the trusted route of investing in hardware to run our cloud service, hosted in a physical data center our tech ops team would manage; 2) Forget about traditional hosting and leverage cutting-edge services being offered by a growing division of Amazon — their web services (AWS). We chose route 1, booted up multiple data centers and spent the next ten years paying off the debt from that choice to ultimately end up running our services on AWS.

Today, entrepreneurs are faced with the same dilemma. Instead of data centers versus AWS, they are faced with office space versus remote work. Building a company today with office space is like booting up a data center in 2010 — it’s a decision with debt that will take you a very long time to pay down.

These are my lessons learned from starting a 100% remote company.

Take A Stand

When hiring, it’s critical that candidates know exactly what type of environment they will be walking into. Is the company planning to move everyone to Las Vegas to work under one roof, like Zappos famously did years ago? Or is it fully remote, or somewhere in between, like hybrid-remote-first or hybrid-office-first?

The permutations of modern work are confusing, and the last thing you want is an employee joining without complete clarity of how they will work and succeed. Every interview I conduct I make sure we address our working style and discuss any questions with transparency, before anyone ever becomes a full-time employee. 

Time Zones Matter

While being 100% remote means incredible access to talent and team members, there is a limit to how far you can reasonably push this as a startup. 

We made a concerted effort to stick to the United States and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) as our main hiring targets due to time zones. Our teams operate seamlessly from California to Ukraine and many places in between. Our employees “burst” — or do most of their cross-functional work — oriented around Eastern Standard Time, U.S. Not too early for the West Coast. Not too late for EMEA. 

We intentionally left Hawaii and Asia-Pacific (APAC) off the table. Once you begin hiring there, everything changes. Your all-hands meetings and team meetings are thrown off as there is no great time for the entire company to come together. Communication and work slows down as decision making is delayed by at least twelve hours. While the world may seem like your oyster as a remote company, I would limit your initial hiring zones.

Hire Early For People And Culture

Our co-founding chief operating officer luckily had a strong human resources (HR) background. Having this luxury is not the norm for most startups, which is why I would recommend finding and hiring a generalist to manage employee experience as soon as you have over fifteen team members. 

This role will not only handle the traditional “hire-to-retire” HR function, but will design engaging virtual and in-person programs that bring team members together for work and team bonding. Every detail matters for new hires when there is no physical location: from company-branded swag that arrives with their laptops, to their onboarding experience in their first two weeks, to the ways they connect with other employees outside their daily working group. 

There is an outdated perception that “water cooler” conversations are where the magic of a company happens — where real ideas are formed and decisions made. That is simply a recognition to find ways to bring people together. With an owner of employee experience from the beginning, you can become intentional around replicating the magic of a water cooler across the entire company.

Invest In Mental Health

Remote work can be fatiguing in new ways. Barking dogs, crying babies, noisy neighbors and too much screen time are all factors that can lead to poor mental health. Four simple yet effective programs we have invested in for mental health have helped team members get the most out of their new working arrangements:

• Fresh Air Friday: The first Friday of every month, employees take a half day to get away from their screens and do something that inspires them. We offer a quarterly stipend to reimburse purchases related to these endeavors.

• Quiet Periods: We completely shut down twice per year. Once in the winter, once in the summer. The expectation is to unplug, unwind and get your mojo back — all in addition to our unlimited paid time off policy.

• Virtual Events: Weekly and monthly, our company comes together for a rotating set of virtual team-building activities that are unrelated to work yet focused on bonding, collaboration and competition.

• Offsites: Without an expense for brick-and-mortar office space, the equivalent budget can be used to do incredibly special offsites, often taking team members to exotic locations that were previously out of reach of traditional financial plans while ensuring the entire company has the chance to participate.

Keep Experimenting

These are examples of strategies we have found effective to grow from 0 to 100 employees in a 100% remote setting in short order. Building a company from the ground up is hard — here’s to making it a little easier to increase your chances of success.

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