Running a Fully Remote Company
Opportunities for remote work have surged in recent years, with recent data suggesting that at many companies. While the war of opinions on this has yet to die down, SureSwift has been all-in on remote operations since we got our start in 2015. Years ago, people were shocked to learn that that SureSwift Capital is a completely remote workplace with people working across 14 timezones. That means no required days in an office, no set working hours, and no location preferences for new hires. Since 2015, we’ve learned a lot about how to make remote work, well, work — and we want to share some of those insights with you.
Why go Fully Remote?
The SureSwift model involves acquiring excellent SaaS businesses, no matter where they are in the world. And when you acquire other peoples’ businesses, the smart thing to do is to bring on the teams that helped create their success. So, as we’ve acquired businesses that’s meant bringing on a lot of people, wherever they happen to be.
As an owner and operator of SaaS businesses there’s no real reason for us not to be remote. We’d be looking at computer screens, whether in an office or at home. However, there are a lot of very good reasons to be remote.
In addition to having a bigger pool of candidates than a traditional company with employees who are required to work on site at the company’s office, another benefit of the remote office is that diversity can be wired in. There’s a lot of discussion here in the U.S. about the value of diversity in the workforce and it’s something we know makes a team and a company smarter and stronger.
Remember our team spread out across 14 different time zones? They grew up with different backgrounds, goals, ideals, and beliefs. By hiring remotely, we can avoid being limited by the demographics of a single location.
AROUND-THE-CLOCK CUSTOMER SUPPORT
Another remote work win for us is that around-the-clock support for our customers is attainable without having to ask people to work odd hours. A customer issue in Boston at 2:00 am isn’t a problem when it’s 3:00 pm in Malaysia.
A WORLDWIDE NETWORK
The best source for finding new hires is often the people who already work for us. With a team that’s spread across the globe, we have a worldwide network who’ve become evangelists for our company and can help us recruit.
NO OFFICE OVERHEAD
Renting or owning office space is a huge business cost, and one that we don’t have to incur, which means we can put those dollars to other uses that have more value for our business. As a growing company, it also means we’re not held back by outgrowing a space. If we need to double our team, we can do it without worrying about where to put those extra desks, or having to move to a new space.
Isn’t it hard to build an office culture without an office?
It’s true that a Friday happy hour would be pretty hard to pull off (not to mention cost prohibitive since we’d have to fly everyone in!). But we still manage to have fun and get to know one another on calls and online.
A lot of time spent in an office can be wasted time. Endless numbers of meetings with large groups of people take up a huge amount of time in most traditional companies, and when you add in water-cooler chats about fantasy sports or the latest celebrity gossip, your whole work day can easily disappear before you actually get anything done.
We use Slack to have those social moments instead, and a key benefit is that it’s very easy for people to opt in or out. Team members are able to work without distraction when needed, and then hop back on to catch up and share. Slack = socializing for the remote office. We use it to message each other about work projects too, but our general channel is where everyone can head when they need a quick break or just want to share what’s been going on in their lives.
How do you know people are doing what they’re supposed to?
It’s a bad habit to answer a question with a question, but how do you know the person in the cubicle next to you is actually working and doing what they’re supposed to? The true answer is that you don’t. You just have to trust that good people are going to take care of their business, whether you’re sitting near them or not.
Of course we have systems in place to track progress against goals. All well-run companies do that.
Our take on individual and team productivity is that systems are necessary, proximity isn’t — we don’t all have to be in the same building to be effective. Click to Tweet.
How do you hire for a remote company?
Our model of acquiring businesses has ended up being one tremendous way to find amazing people. We buy “bootstrapped” businesses — meaning that the founder/seller has built the business from the ground up with their own money and runs it on the profits generated from customers.
When the profits of a business are what pay your mortgage and feed your family, you are very selective about the people you bring on to work with you. You only bring people on when a position is truly necessary and will benefit the business, you vet them very closely before hiring, and you only keep them around if they’re pulling their weight. So when we buy a successful business that’s being run by a founder and 2-4 contractors, we assume those people are really good at what they do and important to the running of the business. It makes a lot of sense for us to keep them on and make room for them on our team, no matter where they happen to live. In addition to hiring people via the sale of the company they worked for (which sometimes even includes the founder), we’ve also hired a lot of people directly.
So when we have the choice, why don’t we hire in Victoria, where SureSwift is “based”? The answer to that one is simple — we follow talent. While we have a key group of leaders based in Victoria, and love when we have the opportunity to hire amazing people within the Victoria tech community, we don’t let geography limit our hiring. To paraphrase the late Steve Jobs, no matter how big your city is, most of the talented people in the world are outside of it.
Let’s say one of our portfolio companies needs to hire a Ruby on Rails developer. There are probably hundreds of Ruby developers in Victoria, but the employment rate here is very high right now, so the most talented ones are already going to be gainfully employed and harder to attract. The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of Ruby developers around the world. So why wouldn’t we want to look for the best talent in the biggest pool — i.e. everywhere?