and What It’s Like to Run a Fully Remote Company, by our CEO
People are always shocked when I tell them that SureSwift Capital is a completely remote workplace with 75 people working across 14 timezones. That means we have no office, no set working hours, and no location requirements. Everyone always has a lot of questions about how we got here and how the whole remote work thing… works. It’s a topic I’m very passionate about, so I’m dedicating this post to answering the questions I get asked most.
How the heck did you get here?
Well, 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 31 businesses over the last three and a half years that’s meant bringing on a lot of people, wherever they happen to be.
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.
In my previous jobs, I found that 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 the thing I love about it is that it’s very easy for people to opt in or out. If I have a crazy week meeting with potential investors and business founders, I can be totally focused on that. If I’m having a more mellow day, I can hop on and join in on our “Photo Friday” thread and let people know what’s been going on in my life and catch up.
How do you know people are doing what they’re supposed to
I know 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.
In fact, I look at a lot of people who spend 30-60 minutes a day commuting (the American commute has gotten longer every year since 2010, by the way) and feel sorry for all the time that takes away from doing something more valuable — whether it’s working, exercising, spending time with friends and family, whatever. I know a lot of people say, “that’s when I listen to podcasts, it’s not wasted time.” But wouldn’t you rather listen to podcasts from a hammock than from your car in gridlock?
Okay…so tell me about the systems that make a remote company work.
The technology stack that powers SureSwift and our portfolio companies deserves its own dedicated post, but some of the apps and tools we use to keep things running are:
- Slack for in-the-moment communication on projects and socializing
- Trello for project management and task tracking
- Jell to run daily standups for our fully-remote dev team
- Google Docs/Sheets for project collaboration
- Databox for tracking trends
- Proprietary “Deep Dive” documents to make sure we’re making progress against our 30-60 day goals
- Zoom for calls
- Zenefits for payroll
- HelpScout for customer service
Ultimately all of this technology is just a tool that makes our work processes easier, but without the right people to do the work, we wouldn’t get far. So let’s get back to our great people and how we find them.
How do you hire for a remote company?
As I mentioned briefly above, 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 Minneapolis/St. Paul, where I’m located and where SureSwift is “based”? The answer to that one is super simple — we follow talent. I love MSP, and if I can hire an amazing person who lives here, that’s wonderful. But (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 I want to hire a Ruby on Rails developer (which we may be doing this winter, so be sure to check out our current job openings). There are probably hundreds of Ruby developers in my city, 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?
Is remote work really better?
If you’ve read this far, you already know that I’m a big champion of remote work. If I haven’t convinced you yet, here are 4 more reasons it’s been the right choice for SureSwift.
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 I personally believe makes a team and a company smarter and stronger.
Remember our 75 people in 14 different time zones? They grew up with different backgrounds, goals, ideals, and beliefs. And we didn’t need a ‘diversity and inclusion’ hiring program to find them because we weren’t limited by a single location and its existing demographics.
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 small-ish, but growing company, it also means we’re not held back by outgrowing a space. If we needed to double our team, we could do it without worrying about where to put those extra desks, or having to move to a new space.
I recognize that some people like their offices, and this style of work isn’t for everybody. But me and SureSwift? We’re all in. So if you like to (or need to) drop your kids off at school at 9am? Cool. Want to hit a yoga class at 1pm? Awesome. Always been more productive after 3pm? Great.
If this sounds like something you want to be a part of, hit our Careers page to see our current job openings and tell us why you’d be an awesome coworker.