Secrets from Silicon Valley

Lesson 12/14 - Toni Schneider - Managing a Distributed Workforce


Secrets from Silicon Valley


Lesson Info

Toni Schneider - Managing a Distributed Workforce

Thank you I'd like to start by telling you something that I've heard dozens maybe hundreds of times from the employees that automatic um usually about six to nine months into the job somebody will come up to me and go I can't imagine going back to a regular job and when I like to do in the next hour is talk to you about the kind of work environment we've created that the list is that kind of response where people feel like the way we work at automatic is so engaging and so new that going back to a traditional job is kind of unthinkable but first I'd like to do it introduction talk a little bit about our company and what we do so I'm ceo of automatic and we are software company and we're the company behind wordpress dot com and I guess I'll ask you guys has anybody here know where presti that he was wordpress origen wow great so you know that it's a it's a publishing platform it's used by lots and lots of people all over the internet to create blocks and web sites and to run those sites...

and what president become very, very popular over the years? Actually we just had our ten year anniversary as a software platform and where president powers eighteen percent of all the web sites on the internet which is a number of are really excited about the next closest platform behind us is at four percent so we're we're well ahead we're press dot com as a network is top fifteen set in the world has over half a billion unique visitors every month thinks culture about seven hundred million now and that makes us very very large network but unlike other sites that are in that kind of category that yahoo's in the face cols off the world where everybody goes to one side to facebook dot com with us it's a network of millions of sites that we happen to run but it consists of lots and lots of small sides together they have a huge audience um we're press started as an open source project and I'll come back to that later because it's kind of important to the way we formed ourselves as a company but it actually started ten years ago as an open source project and then eight years ago we started the company on top to create a commercial part before press and our team has been one hundred percent distributed from they want meaning that we all work from home and once a year we all get together this is a picture from last fall last september in san diego is the last time we got together as a whole company we'll do it again this september here in san francisco will be about fifty percent bigger than that so that's what we looked like last september but usually it looks more like this is a map of just where all the autumn a titian's who call ourselves people are could automatic all the autumn, a titian's work at every day. So were one hundred eighty, people spread across twenty eight countries in one hundred thirty eight cities. So we, uh, and it's just been growing that way over the years, and when I talk to other people who run companies on describe what we do and how we do it, they usually ask me, how do you run this huge company, one of the biggest networks on the web with this very small and totally distributed team, like despite the fact that you guys are spread over the world, you can do this somehow, and I usually say it's actually, because were distributed it is one of the big reason is not this pipe. There are other reasons, too. I think some of the technology choices we've made, the fact that were based on an open source project that has hundreds or thousands of contributors, helps us. But because we're distributed, I think we've been able to do this with a relatively small team over the years, and so what I'd like to talk about. With you guys is how does this work this kind of distributed team? And I've broken it down into some sections I'd like to start by just talking about why would you even do this in the first place on dh? Then take you through what it's like to sort of join our company? How do we hire people? How do we bring them on board once you work there? What is it like day today? How do we communicate? What kinds of tools do we use? And just when you create this kind of environment, what does it end up looking like? Like how do people actually work? And what kinds of things do they do? And I'll focus on really just the things that we've learned over the years, mostly through trial and air, that I think are some of the key things that set us apart from the traditional is we do a lot of things that every other business, those too, but they know a few things we have found a really crucial to making distributed teamwork, and so those are the ones that I would like to pass on and in the spirit of this syria's the secrets of silicon valley, so these air sort of the secrets that we've learned that really make a stupid company work. And so to start I'd like to sort of go through the highlights of why would you do this in the first place and I was goingto ask I ask you guys maybe some of you have experience in distributed teams or what comes to mind when you think of yourself like what if you worked at a distributor company why do you think so what are the pros and cons of doing that you want to throw out some ideas um I actually think you work for your team work remotely from philadelphia for a new york company called ten square media actually do a lot with word press on a platform business and the reason why for me it made sense was that I had done freelancing and work remotely in my own photographer six years prior and for me it made sense because it it let me keep my kind of routine and I've gotten used to prior um but I think really it just makes you more accountable because you a lot of times you see someone every day there in the door and they're in there officer cubicle and you figure they're working and you just go on that assumption and when you don't you go all of a can't be doing what they're supposed to doing well I know for a fact I am because I counted before I'm showing you the work every day we're having daily meetings weekly meetings going through the different communications and making sure that everyone's out when they're supposed to be and to me that makes it so much more important when you work remotely to tease that awkward tension and that people might have and say all right, I do my job and I do it well and he worked the hours I want on because that I'm happier employee and I have a time that I can take him and I'd break in my day and go for a bike ride I spent time my you know, my my loved ones and then go back to my job later at night and still get the job worked on and it's a lot of our company from the ceo to the vp they all kind of the office in manhattan maybe through this week and they're able to spend time with her kids spend time with their families and do things, but it just makes the whole company's me run a lot a lot more efficient that's excellent point because I get a lot of times one of first things people say is what sounds great but how to make sure people aren't goofing off and but I've learned over the years it's the opposite we actually have almost a problem with people working too much because you don't have to add rhythm of an office where everybody goes home and we have we almost have to enforce people to actually go out and not not work so much and be online so much so, but it's, the first thing that people think psycho everybody's goofing off because they're at home, and I totally agree, it's the opposite, I feel like when I worked in offices, especially big ones, there was more goofing off going on. It just looks like everybody's busy. So that's a big one, any any other thoughts? Yeah, yeah, I was paying for a team in russia, on the team, in ukraine, and also, I'm pre funding him an entrepreneur and trying to start up a company, and essentially I've been working with five other friends who were in four different countries, and so we've all been contributing on business plans and presentations, and how are we going to be doing these things? So I guess my point was that money savings was theory journal motivation for the developers overseas, and we never would have gotten as far as we've gotten, you know, unless we had that, um, but other than that, the business insights that we were getting, or at least I was getting of of the different countries of trying to figure out, would the concept we're using here in the united states work in other countries, that's and excellently didn't actually, because saving money comes up a lot when people first talk about this and it thus saving some money to be distributed especially if your other choice is to be in a place like san francisco where let's face it it's twice as expensive as everybody else but in the end that's not really the main reason it does save some but you end up spending more travel and things like that evens out a little bit but that's kind of a starting point you're going to end it was just in the previous discussion there was there were some issues about whether you can trust external workers to be you know, with your important data and things like that one of the points that I didn't hear brought up is the way that we trusted these people was we essentially had very divided tasks so it isn't like nobody knew everything about everything so you could sort of say you're taking care of this piece of the problem on and on and you aren't risking your entire company by having this remoteness yeah it's an interesting point I think that's one of the areas where reid kind of depends what kind of business you're in like in our case its software but most of all people with your press is publicly facing website so it's not there's some private ones but it's not like we have the super deep secrets to protect plus it's open source so you're welcome to steal the software, somebody other just reasons of why you would want to go do this certainly from a company point of view, the ability to recruit anywhere a global talent pool is huge. I was a talk yesterday where somebody talked about recruiting and he had this picture of a funnel off the recruiting process, like, you know, sources to find resumes and the review, the resumes and the the phone screen, and so on, and he put numbers up of, like, you know, ideally for job you want to get, like, fifty resumes and the narrow it down and interviewing five people and hire somebody but these about the reality for most companies this they don't get that much because their scarcity and he asking the audience icu in this audience has scarcity like they can't get enough people to even apply all the hands went up, and the eagle is kind of as a throw away, like who has abundance? And I think with me and one other person kind of going actually don't feel like we have scarcity and it's a it's really is a huge reason to just say, look, they're telling to people everywhere in the world and not everybody wants to live in the bay area. New york or whether your company is and the ability to recruit anywhere so liberating and it also evens out the sort of local ups and downs and you know they're so crunches of hiring people um you touched on it earlier that flexibility is huge I mean this is the main reason to my earlier point of people saying I could never go back to a regular job just the flexibility you have when you can work where and how and when you want is super fun and it could be that you just like to travel a lot or it could be that you want to spend a lot of time you know family and not just leave in the morning and come back all of those things once you experience it day today and in an environment that supports not in an environment where you're telecommuting and every else in the office and you feel guilty about not being there everybody is doing this so it's totally fine is just it is great I mean that's just the main reason I think white thiss from just an employee point of view it's a great model and then there's some side benefits once you're working from home it's kind of hard to have a lot of meetings and it's hard to office politics and you know, people not getting along because spending too much time together so it just ends up being kind of a lower drama environment which a person I think is a great benefit and the other thing that happens that I really like is it tends to kind of flattened higher iq in your company because you touched on this as well. It's you're sort of downtown when you're at home working away you are working on something you're building something you're contributing mostly within a group but it's the individual contribution that you get measured by so you know when you're coding it's you know how many how much could you check in or you know when you're doing support, how many tickets you're answering and it's not that we're like paying super close attention to those metrics but that's what it comes down to like you can't really do what I think you can do in a big company where some people seem like really busy but nobody knows what they're really working on so it ends up really putting a lot more focus on individual contribution so I think that's that's another big positive so the next part then I'd like to talk about this high owned by the way, if you guys have any questions or your own stories to add any time, please raise your hand, go for it I guess the only thing that I would call out about a distributed environment is that when you're seeking someone to fill a role, to ask a lot of questions because there could be people who need the social context or the structure and they might not be a good fit even though they might be a good worker so it's important to find that out right excellent point in another perfectly didn't into, uh my next light. So what is it like to hire for a distributor company so again picture if one hundred eighty people were adding about one a week right now, how do you do that? And I have to say we we have to learn some of these things the hard way we definitely our model of hiring people has been refined over time and a big one wass would you just mentioned is very, very clear up front what this environments like it's not just what the role will be and what you'll be working on, but what is it really like to work in an environment like this? Because we've had people early on who thought he had it all sounds great than were like wonderful let's get started and then later they sit at home and don't they're like stuck there just and after a while it just come back and say, you know what? This doesn't work for me like I just don't know how to go about this and in a district environment you can't really you can't send somebody over to your house and teachers, so um so I think to the first point here, it's very important up front to be clear what your culture is like, what you're doing as a company, how you're working and also describing really the environment it's always important to have a mission as a company and get employees excited about really the overall mission, what their why there should be passionate about a company, not just their individual top, but for distributor companies even more important because you don't get that every day in the office, you don't sort of we're not going to get that feel, so you really have to work extra hard to to have to communicate that to people into the world when people come look at you and say, hey, what's, this company all about so for us, it's great that we have an open source background, we talk about that a lot. Her mission is to democratize publishing to bring online publishing to everybody in the world that attracts people. That idea is very powerful for people who wanted contribute to that. So we talk a lot about that. We have a whole page about what it's like to work at our company and kind of a description of really you know what, what this environment is like so it's very important, then go ahead by being very open and transparent and that's sort of a marketing tool for recruitment that this is who we are this is what it's like to work here this is the meaning behind what you're doing every day and presumably that attracts the like minded folks we're going to be successful in that environment and I I presume that you know I want overtime the more open and the more be put out there probably the more precise you've been on the people that air inbound exactly it it really helps sort of pre select and let people pre select themselves and in our case the other big piece I mentioned earlier that started as an open source project that's just where the open source piece in addition to all of us believing in it's the best way to develop software is that it helps people off a kind of a tribe kind of gather in our case a lot of people have already contributed toward press before they come work for us so they've already kind of know what it's like and the other point that's very important about that is the reason why we're even distributed at all it's because they're already was an open source project the company started with the first four people first for developers who worked together I had already worked together for two years wherever they were one of them was the texas one of most in ireland one of was in the area to live in fear so it was kind of naturally wasn't actually even a question and I joined was number five and one of the questions they had was well, like you're the business guy over yonder like make every region with two san francisco it's it's gonna work and we looked at we talked well let's just keep going and see what happens because it's worked really well for this community and if you talk to open source developers and contributors, this is not weird this is kind of how it works right everybody's all over the world and you just work together it's really companies who think it's weird because they don't do it that way another example off leading with the culture is so I want to show you is somewhere along the way we came up with this this is our creed I'm not going to read the whole thing, but it starts I will never stop learning I won't just work on things that are signed to me kind of goes on describing what it's what it's like to work for us and we added this to our offer letters a few years ago because we felt like offer letters or kind of weird they're all like stiff and legal and we thought, you know you're signing at the bottom that's kind of the beginning ofthe you're sort of legal relationship with this company we thought you should sign this create like this is what it's going to be like. This is what it's expected of you at this job and it's, just a small piece of how we do things, but it's, another example of, you know, just getting people used to our particular thing, the way we've set it up, and really it's kind of, you know, a lot of companies do this it's a little bit, maybe for some people over the were high enough, you know, this is just a job, but you're being so dramatic about it, but it's worked really well, people love it. People quoted all the time other companies have sort of adopted in and started using it. So it's another example of our process of how we've gotten better at this upfront? Um, I think that's a that's, a really great cultural artifact to be toyota it's amazing. This is a quote that that I really like, that, uh, sheep need to be hurted, you need to drive cattle, and people have to be led. You can't force people tio adopt your modes of behavior, but if you put a flag out in front of them and give them something tio aspire to and to to reach for that, they're more likely to have the extra emotional commitment that you just you know, you can't substitute that for anything else. The emotional commitment and dedication of the people that work for you is invaluable and that's, how you get those additional productivity games, people putting in extra time because they believe in what you're doing, and by putting that right up front, people are committing tio that mission and to striving for those goals and ideals. So I just not really a question here. I just think that's awesome and maybe that's something that we should consider doing creative life as well. Thank you, yeah, it's and if you notice in our creed, a lot of it is I will never stop learning it's not, you know, I will sell a lot of widgets, or we're going to be number one. Are we going to beat somebody else in the market? Because, you know, those are things that will happen if we do a good job, but those air external to us, what we want to talk about is what it's like inside the company. What is it internal about you as an employee, that you can do this in the new york control? And as long as you do these things, you're going to be awesome at this company because we want yes, when things when you're a point about hiring that something that was very different that I have noticed that we did it my job that again I came from a very um just not that kind of culture. And when I first started, one of things I noticed was that greetings from the points was that when we hire people and all the times you historically you think you meet with one person whether hr or something like that and you allow them and they like you and then they pass on the information somebody else and maybe you'll meet someone that day and shake some hands and say hello and then you leave and after that for the most part may come back and meet more people but it's usually kind of very just like that one person, you know, maybe two people and what I notice is that when they're interviewing people, they interview with tons of people in our company they were working with and they given tests and little projects and and when they were on calls, you know, our vp says, hey, look what you guys think about this guy and every single person who spoke with him has an opinion and it's like more of a democracy where it's like because he has to work with everyone like you mentioned, you know, yes, we go in office but it's not every day and this one who work remotely but you still have to work with that person every day, you have to make sure they're accountable for what they're going to do. One of the working, I'm willing, I'm like that, and I thought it was going to kind of refreshing to see that, you know, you put into it not just as a boss or as an hr person filling open wreck. It's can this person work with all of us? Do they think the same way we do? Do they? You know, following our creed or a vision, you know, it is not a good fit, they could be really good on paper, and just since ours, I could fit, you know? And and it was interesting to see that they put so much emphasis on the fit on the fact that you're meeting every single person, every product manager, every project manager, I beat every person that you might interact with along the way and your job and say, does anyone kind like you? They think they can work with you? Is it gonna work, you know, and that's the kind of put a maybe a bullet on your on your thinking there, the create inciting that is probably your offer letter is a kind of formal commitment to the culture and the kind of kind of fit. And, you know, I want to keep us moving along, and I have a lot of additional stuff to get to, so I think we'll let you continue on with your your presentation. Yeah, so to your point of kind of knowing what it's going to be like to work with the person? One other thing, if we do enough, I'll touch quickly on tools, tools based interviewing I didn't really know how to put this in a line, but what I mean by that is we started doing up for a while as we realized you you're hiring somebody remotely, you can meet them in person can't fly everybody in, so this sort of traditional way of bringing somebody in there talking to people doesn't work. So then what do you do it for a while? We would like to talk to them on the phone and do things, and then we realized, you know what? Most of the way we're going to communicate with each other is in text, nor sky so it's really important that we know what that's like, so we actually now do tech space interview, skyping back and forth, and also we look at people's writing because that's my main mode of communication, and then to the point of knowing what it's like to work with some money we started several years ago doing something that I think it's very unusual and it's worked really well for us is we ask everybody to do a trial project before they get hired so we select people based on the traditional screens like the resume in the interview and on dh when we think somebody could be a good fit we hire them on a contractor's basis basically and we come up with a project and we say ok, let's spend you know ifyou're one working full time three weeks if you're working on it on the side maybe it's going to take six weeks but here's go build something for us or go designed something or whatever their jobs going to be and it's a lot of work but it really helps figure out what it's going to be like for both sides and currently off the people we think are going to be a fit about half the people make it through the trial process and sometimes it's the person going both this is not what I expected and sometimes it's us going you know is this this is not what we're used to it's not working so it's ah it's kind of a big I think to ask of somebody because a lot of people think, well I'm ready to get a job and I need to inside right now but we since we've started doing this we've had virtually zero attrition mean, once people go through that and the fit is there it just works so that's a huge piece a couple more things added on him he's a much more tactical issues, but a lot of questions I get from from more like hr types and ops types is you know, this is never gonna work because of, like, taxes it's way too complicated or what do you do like somebody in france wants to take maternity leave hot on. So what we have done to addressing these issues this first of all, pios, these are professional employer employment organizations we've you spawn from day one there's hundreds of these. These are just cos who act as kind of an umbrella that we all work actually for that company and it just manage our benefits and our peirong and there's set up in every state and we now have one in canada that that's the same thing so we can bring somebody on, and it feels like just from a paperwork point of view and tax point of view, like working for a huge company that it's set up all over the world so and actually didn't do from the very beginning, like the first year we try doing this on our own, and at some point it was on the phone with like, somebody in texas who was talking about like the local changes in there like employment taxes that we had to the doctor like well, it's not the best use of my time so you sign up with one of these they just handle all of that so that's very helpful and internationally this is possible as well and then we decided a couple years ago to just do away completely with a vacation policy because he got complicated expectations are different in different countries and the holidays are different right way take off what's coming up fourth of july rest of the world doesn't care um so by making it open and just telling everybody you khun vacation policy is you take vacation whenever you want and you just let let us no let the team know um started doing this a couple years ago it works really well and we don't even we don't track you don't have to like keep tracked off, you know, days off and all those things nobody's abused it hasn't been a problem all again if anything we have to kind of remind people that hey you haven't taken any time off so it's a kind of a simple way to just get rid of all that hole mess and it's also a nice way to say look we trust our employees you know it's like you make decisions every day for this company and we trust you to make good decisions around your time off um so that's the hiring so at this point and I'll be hired somebody next part is on boarding so what is it like when you join this company and I always have this vision of joined a few bigger companies and I always felt like but the first day or two a really weird like you show up and there's like your desk and maybe your computer's ready usually it is and you can't wait for that you feel out tons of paperwork you meet these hr people that you'll meet once and then never again and any kind of sit there and you hope that like somebody comes by and goes, oh, hey, you know I come along sitting in on a meeting or something but it's just nothing to do with it every day elsa super busy and you're just kind of sitting there ain't nothing you have to wear funny thing like a weird company yes so take that all that weirdness and now picture being at home and you're sitting in front of your computer and yesterday you were sitting in front of your computer too. Now you have a job but didn't nothing's changed and you go and I even like working for this company this is weird, so you really have to think about this, right? What is that initial like how can you get someone to really feel like there's you know there's there's a company here on them so we started doing a few years ago that's worked incredibly well as we said you know what? Everybody from any job up you know, we just hired to see it for a while ago he did this anywhere from any developer anybody your first three weeks or customer support and in our case we call our customer support happiness our happiness engineers they're in charge of customer happiness and so what you do is you do customer support for three weeks when you start and you don't get to work on anything else and what this does is first of all you meet a bunch of people immediately because the customer support team who happened to be the most outgoing people in our company which helps they sort of take you under the wing help you figure things out you learn our product you interact with our customers who will get a real feel for what that's you know what they're going through and you learn our communication methods and sort of just all the tools naturally come into play and we have a lot of people who kind of going to be going our god I hate customs supporter this is going to be weird and everybody comes out of it loving it it just was a great experience they know really feel like now they're ready at that point to join their team and really get how all of this I love this and it plugs the court employees from every point of the company directly into the customers and they start to understand things from a customer point of view because they have to spend three weeks is a pretty large block of time solving problems for customers and let's face it that's primarily the job of any company is to provide a product or service that solves customer problems I think it's it's it's brilliant I think first it seems crazy yeah a little now so part of our think about it and people talk about their support rotation in this kind of a bombing thing that's been great um a couple of brief again tactical ones we started doing mentors so in addition to the team we're going to work with um there's a separate person somewhere else in the company who's your mentor they sort of checking with you you can ask any question like you don't have to feel stupid for not finding something so that's kind of the idea there. Um we've started doing intra videos because as you get to certain size and actually by the way many of these things used in any company doesn't have to be distributed so everybody who joins again because he might not meet that person for several months actually in person we ask everybody to do a quick intro video and uh here's just some screen shots of you know some that we throw out here is takashi his japanese lives in england car and listen albuquerque is thinking of moving to panama only shelters in oakland matt listen, houston so these air just like you just put up you know it's just the webcam you talk for two minutes. Where do you live? How do you pronounce my name here for my hobbies? Just a little bit. Some of them are really elaborate people get totally into it. Some of them are just basic, you know, I'm nervous I've never done this before super nice and then there's like an outpouring of comments afterwards of people welcoming you and like riffing off of little things you talk about god, I love this thing I don't know pac man two or something so that's been great andan finally we have this thing called to field guide which is it a lot of companies have this is just the kind of handbook for employees in our case it's completely open to all employees to edit and are too so it's more of a it's kind of grown to include all kinds of stuff not just the typical sort of here's how the health plane works stuff but sort of like a whole section on like company trivia like, you know, when somebody talks about, you know, blank in a blank that is because four years ago in a meet up handy who works in support like showed everyone that she could fit herself into an oven so like somebody in so iranian and oven is how it started and of course got blocked now it's there's a whole thing where people have to like put themselves into things so stuff like that kind of gets explained to you so that's that's a big part of theon boarding next part two now you've gone through your customer support rotation you should already too interact and of course were distributed so it's hugely important how the interaction happens most of it is written and over the years here's how we've evolved and the most important thing on this slide and if there's one thing for you to remember about this whole talk is peter so don't talk about pete um because we're a blogging company and we have war press we decided early on that instead of using email we should be using internal group logs to communicate with each other and here's what a couple of these look like it's a very simple concedes run on wordpress dot com anybody can start one they're private so if he's if you go there you know what the private you can't see them they're only for our company but what it is it's a very simple it's a theme for war press? Call p two that's and so it turns your regular wordpress blogging to kind of a group blawg where everybody can just log in and at the top it's kind of like it developed it years ago was modeled after twitter there's a box at the top we can just post and then it shows up and everybody else sees it. It just pops up, and then people can comment on it. And the way this has evolved for us is that every team has one. If you have a one hundred fifty of these now on the company, it's, basically, roughly as many employees listen to oprah about us in many peter's, but every team has ones, for example, core happiness is our the core support team, and this is their page, and you can see whatever they're working on and whatever they're discussing, and you can ask questions, or I can go in there, and usually, if I just post here, I know everybody on that team is going to see it because they read this block and they get notifications when there's a new post, if I want somebody else in the company to pay attention, I could say, hey, at jenny, check this out, and then she gets pain that comes in and takes a look, and then it's just the threat of comments below that until it get resolved and there's a few extra features like you could mark things has unresolved so they don't disappear things like that the rule we tell people in beginning is any time you think of e mailing somebody if it's not a private personal thing put it here instead so the advantages are it's totally transparent everybody in the company can see it you can read back so when you join into something where you going I wonder what the happiness team is up to even go back courts and see what they've been talking about everything's archived searchable and it's sort of minimizes the noise because I've noticed even was kind of easy to like should often email and I'll ccc easy like a bunch of people and you know and when I've worked a bigger companies this this is a huge problem like you going to meeting you come out you're like sixty messages they're all from the people you're working with here there's a little bit of a limit of like do I really want the whole company to see this right and do I really need everybody's attention so it kind of reduces the noise which really helps and any other thing that's great is because every team has won I'll talk about teams a little bit later and kind of customized to make your own becomes the more of an expression like so this is a uh peter we call thursday updates for everybody and we thirst every team just lists what they're working, what they worked on last week, what they've been working on next week and you can see some of the names of our teams here the kids mateen, the data team and so on and they all look a little different incident it's a way for a team to kind of decorate their presence and create their own brand within the company and people have a ton of fun with it and this actually is a new version we're working on internal calling it o to the next version of this I don't know what we'll call them and release it but it's been a huge part of off how we communicate as a company and just again this court for any company for distributed you kind of have to do it in my opinion but for any company like how awesome would it be the scattering of email I mean just solve so many problems so is a huge part of how we work and then these other things are fluid, more obvious thing kind of holly conversation you would get in a company for us moves to piracy which is online group shot there are lots of ways to do it, but so you could basically get go in and teams have different channels and you can see who's online right now you if I need something small that is just, you know, I need from you right now. An answer. I just go in there instead ofthe, you know, my look who's around from that team instead of doing a post about it. Um, so you don't have meetings, what ended up happening is for teams, they usually too most teams to, like a weekly check in, like a google hang up again, just video chat and could use anything, um, he's, like half a knauer, just a quick, like here's, you know, it's all spent some screen screen time together and then there's still a few things that need to be one on one, so for that, usually you skype or maybe maybe email when it really is something that doesn't need to be published to the whole company. Um, so that's, how we talk with each other, and then the next part I'd like to talk about is what, this the rest of it, the day to day, kind of like, how we organized as a company and like most companies, you know, we got to, like thirty people. We were just thirty people working together, and it wasn't much organization to it, and then there was today when a bunch of people raced ahead of me in, you know, I don't even know what some say was working on any more you need to get a little more organized and well, we decided to do is hold companies formed into teens six to eight people is, in our opinion, the ideal team size when the team gets bigger than that we split it so it's like cell division, so if you get to a people ten people, he turns into two five person teams and then they figure out how to subdivide their tasks. Most of these teams what they look like is two, three or developers designer maybe a support person may be a business person if it's a team that's revenue related and they're designed to be totally self sufficient, meaning that any of those teams can build something and launching and then only to go through another part of the company they don't need to go through, you know, the testing group but the marketing group of legal group with eu high group or whatever there are no such groups, every team has all the skills and resources that they need to get from writing a piece of code to actually launching it to thirty million users are more press dot com and if the whole system where that can happen actually are launches think about thirty seconds to launch code to production across everything when we've done that to make it easy for every team to really feel like I can go directly to the customer we didn't want as we get bigger to have the's hurdles where you write some code and then it takes like three months before it actually gets out before you go through all the check checks on the way out has been very important to us and then each team has a lead and that's the person who just keeps track of whatever he's working on that kind of usual stuff they're all it's not a full time job so the team lee could be a developer designer anybody it's kind of somewhat rotating position so um and some of these teams a lot of them are product teams working on specific pieces of war press so that's that's a big part of the experience of working at our company that team those are six to eight people you talk to every day you know really well and that's kind of makes it feel like you're not there by yourself just in your house coding away and you have no idea what's going on says that it's really important another big part of our model is we kind of go probably overboard on transparency and openness we publish everything internally anyway I mean other than like people's hr information our financials are anything like if I go meet with an investor and I come back and I published the notes internally, it goes to the whole company, just we really just put it all out there, anybody can see it, anybody can chime in and ask questions, we feel that's just important from a company culture point of view, and also again important that you feel connected and not sort of I have no idea what goes on out there. I'm just here working at my house, um then these last two points that come up a lot when we talk about this, is that the culture this all of this creates it's very much, and I mention this in the very beginning, it's around individual contributors had really values what you can do by yourself and contribute your team into the company and there's very little short of middle management or overhead, or so we don't have people you and everything is arranged this way, we don't do like big long schedules, we don't have launch dates, we don't pick a date when something launches and everything sort of coordinates just working in when it's ready, it goes out, so it really creates a day to day experience were your individual contribution is the main thing that matters, and for managers, what that means is your role as a manager really becomes much more of a support role in less of a sort of decision making and planning role and communicating all of that through the company it's much more what do you need as a team to succeed? Tell me like what? What can I take you remove for you? That would be hurdle or a headache and so for example one of the few centralized teams we have this systems, so a lot of the products you said you know, that is really kind of a specialized set of knowledge to like spin up servers and databases and do all of that and it's great to just have a team that takes care of that for us. So we have that so that team doesn't have to worry about every teams have to worry about maintaining that themselves so that's kind of how we end up kind of looking as an organization and personally again aside from it just working really effectively, I think it's a great way to run a company because it it brings some of the focus back to really building things and being in touch with your customer at all times and less about ok we're gonna have a thousand people and how they all going toe communicate with each other sort of like the image of its sort of managed the amoeba style of management the little team grows to a certain size and then it divides and it's too self sufficient organisms that still reinforce the larger community that it's happening there but you're very flat very transparent you can see through to what the other amoebas they're doing I think that that's really cool yeah I've heard it called there's like the traditional top down management and then actually this idea of bottoms up in grassroots which this actually isn't people called the sort of middle out like the sort of you know that's really these teams that that sit in the middle that that's what it's all about that kind of create the support around it coming in from the internet if you don't mind taking a stop in a break for those um from burb questions about what types of companies distributed teams work well was so specifically do distributed teams work for something like marketing or for non software company what have you seen out there it's a great question so and actually in my last slide I list four books that are coming out that air about this topic that I am to know about because they all use automatic as a case study and they talk about other companies as well but there's a real I think we've moved just in the lifetime of our company over eight years we've moved from well this is cute but it's never going to work too ha this is kind of interesting but will probably only work for software companies to now people thinking about like mild this could really be the way the workplace looks in the future and how do bigger companies deal with this because you know, somebody's going to leave our company and they're gonna expect you know, their next job to provide this and I don't know the answer at this point ice I would say it certainly works well for software companies and you know, there are other examples where you know that come up are coming like thirties having signals get up the company we modeled ourselves after very early on was my sequel they're now part of oracle's so I assume they're no longer distributed but they were an early open space on open source project at several hundred people headquarters in somewhere in europe but people all over the world um they're one of the pioneers in this I think it is I have a feeling that it applies to a lot more areas than we think because I feel like unless you really have to be one place like if you're building something and everybody has to be there like physically walking on it or you like a restaurant and you know that's just where the work is anything else you can kind of split up and it you have to change some things like marketing is a good question like we actually a lot of pushback from the marketing and pr people and I go this would never work in my company because we need to, like all plan these launches together and like, be ready like all these teams need to collaborate so we can hit like these big launches and these precedents and the way we've solved that is to say, well, you just you can still launch something when you don't know when it's going to launch, you have to be ready, you khun you know he won't block about you can have the tools in place that are instant and you just you know, he just arrange yourself too to do that, and so now they're pr agencies who are specializing, we're starting to really optimized themselves to work with companies like us to be you ready for our model. So I think it's it's broadly applicable, but you know, if you take this from a software company to another type of company, I think it's super interesting and it be very pioneering type of, I don't think that's really interesting how other industries might roll out our from the fact of how successful it's been for you so that's why it feels like it's spilling over. I think other companies are starting to take note, which I think is really great and it's sort of a reflection of the changing social dynamic that we're seeing in broader culture and society it's less of a top down hierarchical, one way messaging through media tio a interconnected network lateral communication style through social networks are the most obvious example but there's increasing not rejection but move away from kind of the old model that's been enabled by new communication styles and new desires of individuals be more engaged with what's happening in there daily lives through their workplaces and their communication tools and even interact directly with celebrities and, you know, creative live we're taking questions from the internet it's just technology has enabled us to be flattered to beam or engaged in whatever organization we have to be a part of whether it's formal or informal you guys have found a sort of a radical not I say radical a cutting edge way to really push the boundaries of that and I think it's so while you might be the bleeding edge, you're maybe showing the path for a lot of other organizations I think this is is really applicable for a lot of companies where it may not it may seem crazy, but this is this is coming has already happened in our day to day life, and I would encouraging you guys and anybody watching, like take a few of these ideas and start thinking about how that might fit you don't have to go like do it all at once go completely distributed just think about which pieces could fit and I feel like that to me, the reactions I've been getting from other companies have changed a lot over the years. In the beginning, it was a lot of, like, almost like I will go meet with somebody at a big company, and they almost got offended that were distributed like and actually started to kind of not talk about it because they were sick. This is really like how's this going to work, and I realized after a while it was threatening to them because they're all like managers at these companies that, like, this is we have this doesn't feel right, there's something wrong about this and that's, I don't get a lot of that anymore. I get more like, wow, you know, what have you learned? What could we maybe incorporate that said, there is a big a big part of why I believe this is working for us, it's, because we started that way, and because we're one hundred percent distributed and we we sort of go out of our way to stay distributed, we really want to avoid having the sense of, like, a hub or a few people work together, and then everybody else is distributed. Um what I compared to a lot is I'm sure all of you have had this experience where there's a meetings there's a bunch of people in a room and you're the person on the phone like dialing in it's, like, impossible to participate like you're always a step, you know, it's hard, right? I don't want that feeling for the remote worker, right where everybody else is in the office and you're sitting there going, I wonder if I'm missing something and, you know, are they all like, talking about it and I don't know about sir force everybody to be distributed, you remove that problem, but if you sort of half and half, I've seen a lot of companies struggle with that. I've also seen companies who've tried to start fully distributed and failed and just talking to another entrepreneur a couple days ago about this, and he said that biggest mistake they made is they go too fast, like they thought, like a traditional software companies where they felt like, well, at launch, we need one hundred people to support this huge thing let's get two hundred people, but we want to be distributed and just said it just was a huge mistake, and so far I haven't seen that distributed company be able to grow that fast for us having one person a week took us a long time to get that far like be able to do that and even that to us, that feels like really fast pace um, I think, to most cos that's actually not that bad at least fast growing internet company you're talking about two sides of the same coin one is embracing a philosophy and the other is operational izing the day today implementation of that philosophy everything we're talking about here are the tactical ways to build a culture and then bring people very deliberately into that culture the creed, the on boarding process, ways to create engagement that's, that's very delivered very systematic was this is all systems thinking for a new philosophy, and I think that if there's one thing that can be easily extrapolated for other businesses, it's, what is your imagine philosophy and what of the systems you're putting in place to make that philosophy successful? And do you have the right people for that system? The military works really well with the hierarchical top down system they've got the right people for it that's the culture, the systems are in place, you've gone the total opposite end of this us, the spectrum, both organizations air successful and you know, they do very different things but uh that's probably a good thing. So this is really have resonated a lot with me because I'm a recruit in the valley and I recommended distributed teams for a lot of mikes start clients because telemark ears you know, such a heavy demand really huge shortage um the flipside is and I think there's only one company in the valley that does distributed has a large team that would be brazil a um at the earliest asia from thinking about starting a new company the one thing that comes to mind is when you're going for fundraising and talking to the seas and for u s visa yourself it always comes up as a point of contention that if your team is not here not in the valley not working together it's more risk so how do you just those things yeah it's changed a little bit I mean it's I'd say there's been enough companies now around that are succeeding that are more distributed that it's it's less of a red flag but it definitely comes up I feel like it helps when when you're starting a company when you just you know, a couple of founders maybe a small team that either you worked together before and you just know each other really well or you are in a t least sort of the leadership of the company is in one place there needs to be that I think that tight relationship and that I think works and then somebody comes in and says look we're here we're going to move here but our engineering teams going somewhere else or distributed or doing this I think that's pretty much accepted at this point there's still questions what if you get huge right and I feel like hopefully companies like us or showing that it is possible we get one hundred eighty people I feel like the waiver organized today we can easily go to five hundred or thousand people and it works and you know we're going we're adding enough new people now that it's working like they're very happy very productive I think hopefully some of those fears can be overcome but you know there's certainly a lot of people who believe in the traditional knowledge a lot of investors who won't even invest in a team that's not here right there like you know you have to be in silicon valley I'm not interested so there's a spectrum so the next thing I like to go into is probably the biggest downside off this model and the one problem with working remotely the main problem is that it gets lonely um and there's just no way around that it is and it attracts people who like you have to work from home and you know they don't need a ton of social interaction but after a while you realize wow this is weird especially feeling if a family or other friends they're definitely people go wow I just miss going into an office I mean care what office I just need more people time and so what we've done is to address this is a number of things just bring people together but in ways that specifically address that problem specifically for three of six to a person teams I mentioned, we recommend highly that they meet up in person two to four times a year. And the way this typically happens is a team will go. Hey, you know it's, how about next quarter let's all go and we tell people who could be anywhere in the world, and so there's like popular spots, if multiple teams have been too now for some reason, lisbon is very possible, very popular in our company and some people scott's I'll go to hawaii for a week and rent house and just work together. And these I mean it's a really important and it's, mostly social time like it's, not about that's all need and build this one thing and launch it it's really get to know each other? There's a few new people we haven't met yet let's bring them along. And by the way, all of the background photos that have on the slides are all from t meet up. So it looks like the theme team, the team that makes where press schemes and launches that wordpress dot com somewhere on a beach. Um, these are very popular on be recommended highly. We sort of within reason pay for whatever people want to do, um, that idea came out ofthe the whole company need I'm in the beginning, you know, when you're eight people, we just don't hold company met every three or six months that way, and then we just got too big, so we broke it into quarterly t meet ups and then still, as a company, we get together once a year. So that was the picture. In the beginning, I showed you we'll do one again. This fault um, the company meet up is totally awesome is the most fun week, at least for me off the year because it feels like to me feels like a family reunion. It's this we should feel because you meet these people that, you know, you've been working with them, but you finally meet in person and we spent the whole week we sort of come up with a whole formula and I could do a whole hour unlike out to, like, run a company meet up but quickly what's working for us really well is we throw people into groups of people that don't typically work with. We give people very small assignments of building something for the week, and this usually comes out of suggestions from the company, so there's something to work on together, but we really try and scope it so it can be done in a few days of work. And then at the end of the week everybody launches so the goal is whatever you're building that week it launches live at the end of the week so there's like a party of them all launch party at the end and every team comes up and they do skits and a explainer thing and they launch it and it's super fun so that's kind of the the team work, then we do lots of things like, you know, we go off, you go karting together, we off course eat together things like that and then the other thing we do that is totally fun is will be called flash talks so every morning, first thing in the morning and then every evening before dinner everybody in the company has to get up and give a five minute talk we might do for minutes this year way have so many people on any topic doesn't matter just get up and talk and people do you know some people talk about where, you know here's like editor I use and I really like but a lot of people talk about their family or some people get up and recite a poem some people like bring their favorite recipe and they've cooked something and handed out I mean it's just anything you can think of are general counsel at the last meet up gave a talk on what to say and what to do if you get arrested mostly what not to say I'm just being pretty awesome party later and that togetherness absolutely just there's something about everybody's nervous, but the audience is super supportive. I mean, you could say anything and people are are okay with it, and then afterwards most people go in going god, I hate this and then they come out come can into another one it's really a positive experience I highly recommended. Can you put that in contrast to, you know, if you guys work for big companies, you've been to like offsides and things where he said in the big stuff, your room all day long around the big circle and people get up and give power point presentations and just, you know, just space out after, like, ten seconds, so we're trying to avoid that when that's what we're not trying to like talk strategy or make big decisions or anything like that it's just spent time together get to know each other catch up on all that together time because then we're going to go back home and you have to fill your tank for a while recently, we've started doing learn ups, which is kind of a variation of the meet up instead of the team meeting up, we pick a topic so today so many an engineer just suggested that soon a p I learned up so anybody interested in ap eyes both ours and those of our partners so I'll get together for three days and just talk about, you know, the latest greatest in ap eyes we just had another one about growth hacking was very popular like thirty people showed up, so um usually like three days somebody organizes it from the company to suggest the topic people sort of sign up based their hand um and get together and then finally we encourage people to go to conferences, any conference you want to go to and also to team up, let go to comment together so get spent some time together as as part of the company and one of things we've done for conferences. We actually have our own port or press conferences to call work camps. We did the first one like six or seven years ago here in san francisco as companies automatic and we sort of open source the concept and said anybody in the world was into our press can do one of these and probably the first two or three years and what he did anything, we just kept doing arson san francisco and it started taking hold and we then actually sort of transfer the concept to the war press foundation who now runs it but there's now wanted to every weekend you can see these all over the world, and we encourage our employees to go, like, maybe present, like proposed talk, or just go. And if there's one near you, and there's, like five of you who live near there, sort of go all together and it's an opportunity to represent the company, and spend time together as well. So that's. So as you can see this kind of threat, there is just together and it's, like creating opportunities for our employees to meet and spent time. I think without that, it would get really lonely. And again, I'd say most of the people who have left automatic a big part of it was and have a good time. Many, you know, maybe ten or so over the last eight years, but muslims said he's, just I just miss the office, I just feel like something's missing, and other times it was maybe people who this was their first job out of college and it's, not what they expected, or they are in a place where they feel like, wow, a lot of my friends have this different kind of experience, and I want to try that so it's a really important part, and then a final peace, I'd like to go through his I'm calling work stop. So what happens when you have a distributive team and you could work anywhere and there's sort of a few ways this place itself out, obviously, or home offices and as a company for sale buy you anything you need in your home office makes you have an awesome computer and awesome chair. Um, and, you know, people take pictures of the home office set up and shared and it's really cool to see how how people work, um, we've had a bunch of people who go, you know, what? I actually need to get out of the house so well, you know, paper desk, a co working space, or even like a small little local office and that's fine, we do that because some people just they can't get anything done at home, so we have a bunch of that we also have people who, of course, moved one of the coolest things to me is when somebody joins us and the first thing they do is they move somewhere because it's, the place, they've always wanted to live, but they're no tech jobs there so and maybe that's because of family or where they grew up or just some random place you have people like. Moved to delay for a month. Just kind of work from their way had a guy like drive a motorcycle on the country for oil and his laptop and work. And to get all kinds of cool things like that, we also have we called a lounge, which is our headquarters here in san francisco. This is a picture of it. It's set up really more is an event and co working space. So this becomes a big open space it's in selma, and everything is set up so it can kind of fold up and roll away. And we can have parties and events. And then during the day, it's just long tasks for people who want to come in and work. And so it's, really more designed not as an office you go into every day, but a space that's available to anybody who's in town. Teams who want to have a meet up in san francisco, they can come here. Um, we can have we have a few meeting rooms so partners can show up and feel like, ok, there is, like an office it's, a place where, like lawyers, consent, their subpoenas that come to my house anymore, which was really annoying after a while, so it's still good to have, like, some kind of headquarters, but again, it's a co working space nobody it's not like an office or if you don't go, they're going to miss out when I'm here and I'm having, like, a hang out with somebody, just like two of us here that are both in hang out. We're going to separate conference rooms and pretend we're not in the same space, so it doesn't feel again like that I'm not part of this off the center um and then way trying to have a cz many events here is possible both more presidents or so more press meet up every month and we opened up this is actually the true ventress annual meeting, so partners, investors, other companies, I want to do something, we're press related, we sort of open it up to them. So that's that's been a nice kind of feature to have so those are some of the the highlights of what we've learned over the years too, you know, in conclusion and then I'd love to hear more questions and stories from you guys, what I find we have to sort of sum roger wise, this is awesome all and people love it. Global talent pool is huge I think it's the future of how we're going to work I think I'd much rather work with ten people across the world who happen to love what I love and we all work on it together than ten people who happen to be in the bay area at the same time open communications just these new communication methods really getting rid of the silos, the meetings to things that actually it kind of happened and then disappear and have it all documented and open to the whole company and I think makes a huge difference um I think it's every company should do it not just distributed ones um the flexibility is just huge and the it is what the number one thing are in police tell us it's just I can never go back because the idea of commuting fixed work hours sitting in an office or cubicle is just so weird we feel do it for a while and I realize that well we do is we're to most of the company but once you do it it's just it's hard to imagine going back and finally it's just you know, this is really the cultural move with movement you've been talking about is this idea of being your own boss is just becoming more and more possible and used to be a world of like, you know, we have to be either at a big company or kind of struggling consultant that kind of trying to weed all yourself and this is a great in between model you have a company that takes care of making sure that we stay in business and, you know, as a group or really successful, but you still get a lot of what attracts people to consulting. I think you mentioned you are consulting before joining your distributed said if we get a lot of that, a lot of people saying god, I've been doing consulting for three years, I love it except gotta hate cell selling a hate like going up, finding customers or something about it just isn't quite right, so they love our model because it really feels very much the same, but you have to security of being with a larger group, you have a team, you can take time off and it doesn't matter, so I think that's that's a huge, huge part of why this this is a very powerful model, and then I promised the list of books that there's the the one that's most specifically about us it's the year without pants, scott burke and he's a writer, he worked for us for a year, and then brooke he's just wrote a book about what it's like um it's really fun it's coming out in a couple of months thirty seven signals guys, they're publishing a book about remote work and there's a couple of others that just happened to use us as case studies there coming up I think we'll see a lot more of this over the next a couple of years of applause for the's one of the things that I have found really inspiring about this entire conference in about what you've just talked about is a values driven organization and you've built that based around transparency, openness from from the ground up and figured out the mechanical ways to implement that on a daily basis and I think that's that's one of the secrets of silicon valley if I could take that away is like so many of the companies out here committed to a riel the value and the everyone involved is super passionate about that and there are different ways teo took about achieving those values and a movement in that but um you guys really are pushing the bleeding edge of that I just think that that's really incredible and inspiring I know also you not while about talking about yourself, but I wanted it you could talk a little bit about I mean there's some aspect of the success of of this thing that has to do with your leadership style and I wondered if you'd be willing to look inside and kind of tell us like you know what you think aboutyou contributor anything that you had to let go of as a ceo to make this happen wow you're right I don't love talking about that um maybe a couple of things actually when you were saying about the open culture I mean that's certainly something I just believe in because of my background and I feel like you know, a lot of people start out as engineers had this software developer initially I just really attracted to open systems open software then taking those ideas and applying it to a whole company and I think the job as a leader a lot of times you know, environment like that just becomes almost like protecting your company from when somebody tries to change that. So when somebody sort of threatens our openness whether it be something legal or somebody tries to make a product change and it's really important to kind of stand up and take a strong standing instant and sort of reinforce that for the group other than that I feel like my job a lot of times it's just kind of staying out of the way in a lot of ways and just really helping people just, you know, dance like a cliche but just really developing their potential and saying look but here's what we're working on it to an awesome job at this and the rest will kind of take care of itself and let me take care of filtering like, just, you know, the noise and distractions and trying to say, look, this over here might be, like super exciting and everybody's like chattering about it, but it will, you know, that important to us, you don't have to worry about it or, you know, here's, you know, a partner wants to do something with us. I'm not going to bug you with it until it's really important, and I actually know enough to, like, make sure it's not a huge distraction cos I feel like I'm sort of that buffer that absorbs a bunch of things so that teams come just really focus and keep it simple and, you know, write code and get it out, and now people like bothered by all the things that annoys me when I was a developer and I work for a big company and I was like, you know, it's really it's going to take six months for this thing to launch? I mean, this is not fun, so there may be a couple of things awesome, I think we're about out of time big round of applause and a huge thanks.

Class Description

Just as Hollywood implies celebrity, Silicon Valley is synonymous with innovation. Attracting the greatest business minds in the world, Silicon Valley is the world’s startup epicenter. Now, creativeLIVE offers you direct access to the pioneering minds behind this powerful community.

Whether your business employs one person or fifty, you’ll learn how to survive, grow, and thrive directly from entrepreneurs who have done just that. After two days of unprecedented access to the secrets of Silicon Valley, you will understand the strategies behind the greatest success stories of our time.