Here at Powderkeg, we believe the rising remote work movement goes hand-in-hand with our mission to connect the amazing tech communities growing and thriving across the country. In a previous episode of the Igniting Startups podcast, the CEO and COO of Indianapolis-based Formstack shared how they built an exceptional remote culture spanning seven countries. Today, serial entrepreneur Liam Martin joins us to share some remote work secrets of his own.
Liam is no stranger to managing a remote team. As co-founder of employee time-tracking software Time Doctor and Staff.com, Liam oversees a team of over 80 people living in 27 countries around the world. He and his team were also behind Running Remote, the first global conference on building and scaling remote teams, back in June.
In this second episode on remote work, Liam shares tactical tips and strategies that will change how you think about going remote. We discuss the huge benefits and noteworthy obstacles of managing a distributed team, dive into the critical importance of clear processes and documentation, and even touch on the pros and cons of synchronous vs. asynchronous communication.
In this episode of Igniting Startups with Liam Martin, you’ll learn:
- His remote work experience that inspired the creation of Time Doctor and Staff.com.
- Why data analysis plays a key role in developing remote work best practices.
- Strategies for leveraging remote work to drive employee satisfaction at your company.
- The importance of clear processes and documentation within a remote business.
- Why asynchronous communication tools may be the right choice for your remote team.
- How Running Remote aims to educate and empower remote-first companies.
Please enjoy this conversation with Liam Martin!
- Listen to it on iTunes.
- Stream by clicking here.
- Download as an MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing “save as.”
If you like this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. You can also follow us on Soundcloud or Stitcher. We have an incredible lineup of interviews we’ll be releasing every Tuesday here on the Powderkeg Podcast.
Liam Martin quotes from this episode of Igniting Startups:
“We want to facilitate workers to work wherever they want, whenever they want.” — @vtamethodman on @PowderkegHQ
“Give people more freedom in their work. It makes them happier.” — @vtamethodman on @PowderkegHQ
“Instructions should not be easy to understand; they should be impossible to misunderstand.” — @vtamethodman on @PowderkegHQ
“It’s very difficult to keep a work life and a social life when you work from home. On Friday night at 6:00 PM, close the laptop and go into another room.” — @vtamethodman on @PowderkegHQ
Links and resources mentioned in this episode:
Companies and Software:
Liam Martin (@vtamethodman)
Michael Litt (@michaellitt)
Danielle McDowell (@danielle4q)
Tony Hsieh (@tonyhs)
George Ritzer (personal website)
Amir Salihefendic (@amix3k)
Joel Gascoigne (@joelgascoigne)
Did you enjoy this conversation? Thank Liam on Twitter!
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What stood out most to you about what Liam shares in this podcast?
For me, it’s the strategies for leveraging remote work to drive employee satisfaction at your company.
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Related Articles: Growing a Remote-First Team
We’re remote first company. I have a small office here up in Canada. There’s about five people in it. Maybe two or three of them are there on a daily basis, so they kind of float in and float out. And then we also have offices in. We’ve got a place in a booth, which is where we’re running our conference. Yeah, place in cat. We’ve got a place in Sydney. We’ve got a place in Manila.
That’s Liam Martin and today’s gig economy barns a pioneer showing companies the right way to build and manage remote teams. For tech startups and scale ups. This interview is incredibly valuable. Martin co founded Time Doctor a time tracking software that helps maximize the productivity of remote workers. But he also co founded staff.com an inc 5000 company. And guess what, it doesn’t stop there. He also founded the running remote Conference, which is a crazy cool conference that’s literally in a jungle. All of these accomplishments stemmed from Liam’s experience of building a software company with more than 80 employees spread out across 27 countries. I’m your host, Matt Hunckler. And you’re listening to Episode 52 of powder keg igniting startups, a show for entrepreneurs, leaders and innovators for building remarkable tech companies outside of Silicon Valley. Today’s episode is an in between a sowed as we gear up to launch Season Two with an exciting new format. But for now, let’s hear from my good friend Liam Martin. Hello, and welcome to another episode of powderkeg igniting startups. We’re doing this live on Facebook. So please make sure you drop a comment if you’re watching this live. Or even if you’re watching the replay, we can still jump into the comments reply to them. And I’ll be sharing that link with our guest today too, so that he can join in into the conversation as well. Appreciate you being here today. I’m your host, Matt Hunckler, the founder and CEO of powderkeg. You can find all the show notes for this email@example.com. It’ll usually be about a week or two after the live show airs. If you’re watching here live, I’m really excited today because I have an old friend who has just done amazing things with his businesses. And he’s a guest here on the podcast today tuning in all the way from Canada. He’s the co founder of Time Doctor and staff.com, which is an Ink Magazine top 5000 company, which means it is a fast growing company doing really interesting work. You know, he’s a speaker, he’s a writer. He is a very practical and pragmatic operator as an entrepreneur. And he is now also the founder of a conference called running remote, which is a conference based in Bali. So we’ll get to talk about that as well. But please help me welcome to the show. Mr. Liam Martin. Lamb thanks for being here, man.
Hey, Matt. Thanks for having me. Man. i It’s kind of crazy how things come together. I know back in 2012. I attended the very first I believe powder keg. And that was a great conference. I love that conference. But the thing I love the most about that conference was how amazing your T shirts were they are the softest, best merch I’ve ever had in my entire life. Whoever made your merch needs to be given a gold medal because it was absolutely fantastic. It is the only conference t shirt that has lasted five plus years of use.
Dude, your shirt is looking pretty good right there. And you definitely have like OG credit right there for being an original powderkeg I remember you flew in for that conference. You You knocked that speech out of the park. And it was good to have you there. I remember we got up to some shenanigans there. I think there was a limo involved at one point. And we were definitely partying around Indianapolis where that conference was so I love that you’re rocking the powderkeg T today?
Yeah, no, I I love the Indy very much. It’s it’s very much Canadian ask I think we have a lot of connections in terms of our tech history where it is a there’s amazing things happening in Indy. There’s amazing things happening in Canada. But people don’t really pay attention to that they pay attention to New York and SF. And there’s a lot more in between that I think is needs to be acknowledged and needs to be invested in. So I definitely saw that same kind of history between those two areas.
I 100%. Agree. And we’ve had some amazing Canadian entrepreneurs on the show here before in the past, Michael Litt from Vidyard is one of them growing just an amazing company up there. Tell me a little bit about the startup tech scene in Canada where you are.
So the tech scene is in Canada anyways is really located around Toronto. And they say you’ve got the Toronto Waterloo Valley. Waterloo is a great university that really pumps out a lot of fantastic talent and then they kind of trickle down into Toronto. Okay, so that’s where the that’s where the nucleus is. And then you’ve got a lot of talent in Montreal, you’ve got a lot of talent in Ottawa, Ottawa has Shopify, a lot of people don’t know that is that their corporate headquarters is located here. And that’s, I believe, top five SAS companies of all time. Wow. Right now. So it’s a, it’s a behemoth, and it has 1000s of 1000s of employees. And they are doing amazing things in Ottawa, and then you’ve got Vancouver. That’s really great in terms of just the general text. Well, Slack is from there. Yeah, as an example. And then you’ve got Edmonton and Calgary that does some gaming. And the other thing that’s really great about Montreal going back to that is, they have fantastic tax credits. So a lot of the huge video game companies are located out of Montreal. So most of the probably half of the triple A titles are coming out of Montreal, because they just have so many dem houses there because of the tax credits that exist in that city. So it creates a really interesting ecosystem. So as an example, let’s say you spent $100,000, on dev in Montreal, you’re going to get 86 of those cents back as a tax credit. Wow. So it turns $100,000 Dev into a $14,000 Dev, that’s easy. Yeah. And that’s why a lot of that talent just sucks itself in there. And then I think in Toronto, it’s 65 cents on the dollar. So it’s a really great place to be able to build tech companies in there is a lot of talent, you’ll you’ll see, I was just speaking to one of the A friend of mine, who runs all of HR for GitHub, and GitHub is now deploying a major part of their dev budget inside of Canada, because of those tax credits that they’re able to, to kind of pull back in. So Canada is kind of putting the thumb on the scale, but it is it’s good for me, because I’m Canadian.
Absolutely, man. Well, and and, you know, as a Canadian, I’m curious, kind of like what that culture was like for you when you were younger? Like, when did you kind of like get that entrepreneurial bug? And how did that happen?
Well, I was, I was always an entrepreneur, and I came to a kind of came out of the closet, in the middle of grad school. Okay, so studying. So I had run a business before University, and I ran it through university, and I was selling sporting goods equipment. So this was before like, Amazon, and really even the internet existed, but it existed in a in not the same state that it exists today. So I would, I had a really crappy website, never made a single sale to the website. But what I did was I would smile and dial my way through a whole bunch of retailers and try to sell my products into those retail stores. So that was my entire business model. And I was doing, I think one summer I did about 100 grand, which was awesome. Who’s like 19. And it’s just like, Okay, you can sell $100,000 worth of skate guards and in skating pants, and that business ended up getting to the point where I sold it, to go to graduate school, because my parents really wanted a doctor in the family. I was doing quite well in school. I liked school, or at least I thought I liked school. So I said, Okay, how can I go to graduate school, I’m kind of out of money. Well, if I sell this business, I can sold the business went to graduate school. And I remember, I had been a teaching assistant for about five years. But then I was given my first actual class. So this is the first like, you’re not, you’re not just a teaching assistant, you’re a lecturer. So you’re not quite a professor yet. But you’re the person that actually gives the lectures. And I was so excited. I remember thinking, Oh, this is going to be great. I’m going to teach these guys and I’m going to be such a better teacher than everybody else. Long story short, I started with 300 students. It was a first year sociology class and ended up with about 150. At the end, oh, I had a, I had a teacher review of 2.5 out of five, that’s brutal. That was bad. That was really bad. I was not very good at it at all.
What was the what was the lesson you learned there?
Don’t do that anymore. What was the lesson I walked into my supervisors office? And I said, I don’t think I’m very good at this. And he said, No, you’re not. And I said, Well, what do I do? And he’s like, Well, if you want to teach, which was my goal, my degrees were in sociology. So I wanted to teach. And he said, You’re Gonna have to spend the next 10 to 20 years doing this until you can get tenure, in which case you don’t really have to teach anymore. So you’re either going to have to get quite a bit better at doing this, or figure out something else to do. And I said, Well, you know, what else should I do? And he said, Well, you know, I don’t know about that. But it looks like you’ve got a long road to go with regards to teaching. So I decided to stop pursuing my PhD, I decided to get a master’s degree instead, literally wrote a 200 page on 200 pages on, I don’t even know what it was about, through an under my supervisors desk, and I got an A minus. And I then was kind of out in the wild, and started an online tutoring company. Because I really liked to actually educate people one on one, I got a lot of engagement with individual students, but it was really bad at lecturing.
What do you what did you learn in that, like getting engagement one on one? Like, what were the things that made you good at that? And was that like, an inherent skill that you had? Or was it something that you learned?
I’m slightly on the introverted scale. So I’m like a slight introvert on the scale. And I think that that really helps me with interacting with individuals. So I would pick out individuals in lectures and have individual conversations with people in lectures. That’s really stupid when you’re supposed to be lecturing to 300 people. So I realized, and I was able to engage with a small group of students in a very deep way, but then realized that I couldn’t scale that out in a bigger way. So I like having individual conversations, I can usually talk to people for about 15 minutes. But when people start to talk to me, this is one of the dangers that I always have with people that are doing podcasts with me, I can go off on tangents. So I need to be pulled back in to line. So for me and tutoring. getting pulled off on tangents is great, because you can go down deeper into a particular subjects. So that was what I was I was good at. And I also was getting paid about $2,500 a semester to be able to lecture. And I could get $2,500 out of a single student over a semester. So I realized that there was an interesting skill point where I could say, well, you know, if I have 10 students, I’m making you know, 25 grand a semester. That’s pretty sweet, right? Like, that’s, at least I’m not gonna go hungry. Yeah. And so that long story short, turned into about 200 tutors throughout Europe, in North America. And one of the big problems that I had inside of that business, was being able to properly identify how much work was being done. So we were doing everything through Skype. And that was we it was a virtual tutoring company. That was a relatively new concept. And I had a big problem inside of the business, which was, Jimmy says, we build Jimmy for 10 hours. Jimmy says, I only worked with my tutor for five hours, I go to the tutor, and I say, Did you work with Jimmy for 10 hours? He says, Of course I did. So what I’m having to do is refund Jimmy for five hours, and pay the tutor for 10 hours. And that would mean that I would lose money on the deal. And that was a continuous problem inside of the business. So that so when I did, I was speaking at South by Southwest years and years ago, and ended up connecting through a mutual friend of ours, Esprit, and esprit had this mentor, this weird Australian guy. And he had this crappy beta product Alpha product, actually, that was able to not only measure how long someone worked, but it was able to measure all of the websites, applications, mouse movements, and keyboard movements connected to those actions. So there was a complete and incredibly clear documentation of what was being done inside of the business. And that to me was like, wow, that would totally solve the problem that I have inside of my current business. So we ended up working together. And it’s been, it’s been, well, it’s been like, five, it’s been like 667 years that we’ve been running time doctor and now staff.com, which is an enterprise product, and now running remote, which is which is our conference, so can you really been Go ahead.
I was gonna say, Can you kind of give me like the 32nd pitch on Time Doctor, we do a lot of pitches here at powder k. So, you know, don’t be afraid to like sell yourself or sell your business. But I’m just curious to give us some context. I mean, you’re talking about screen tracking, screen monitoring. You’re talking about virtual employees. Give me kind of the To the 32nd, we just stepped into an elevator. Sure,
it’s accounting software for your time.
And that was pretty good. That was like three seconds.
I’ve done this before, I love it. Ya know, it’s accounting software for your time. So you wouldn’t not measure how much money you make inside of your business, you wouldn’t measure what your assets versus liabilities are, right. But you don’t seem to do that with your time. So as an example, right now, I’m working on podcast, I’ve been working on it for 26 minutes and 32 seconds, I’ve been using zoom for the vast majority of that particular task. And then I can drop that against all the other metrics that we have inside of the business, or sorry, all the other podcasts that I’ve done. And I can see how efficiently I’m getting this podcast done in comparison to the other 6070 podcasts that I’ve done over the last couple of months. So it allows me to not just figure out how long I’ve worked, but how efficiently I’m working. That’s the real key. And that’s the difference.
So let’s say you have this data, right, you’re you know how many minutes you were working on this task? It kind of gives you a report at the end of it. And then what do you do with that report?
So you can build insights from it. So as an example, I can tell you with about an 89% accuracy rate, whether you’re going to quit your job six months before you do, wow, how do you do that? So machine learning, that’s what we’ve been working on the last two years is we have the largest second by second work database on the planet. And we can very easily implement those types of machine learning endpoints inside of our model. So for anyone that’s interested in getting into artificial intelligence, and everyone talks about how machine learning is an artificial intelligence, but it is like it’s, it’s just so complicated to kind of define what that truly is. So it’s AI. The big key for AI is the data. If you don’t have the data, you can’t do anything, because the AI needs to learn off the data. So we just had a lot of data, we have six years of millions of users tracking every single second of their workday. Yeah. And from that you can gain you can throw even a very crappy AI onto it, and it can gain insights pretty quickly. So that’s how we’ve been able to do it.
What are the things that you found that are correlated to disengaged employee, you know, an employee that’s going to quit six months from now? You know, is it highly correlated with a couple of things? Or is it just like?
So it’s very difficult to do that, because of the way that AI works? Okay, so AI looks at like, 10s of 1000s of different variables. So we might look at like, how long is a lunch break? How often do you use Twitter? Do you use Twitter in the morning? Do you use it in the evening? Do you you know, and they’ll look at all these different variables, and they’ll just test the use, in essence, what’s called like, Bayesian algorithms versus versus regression algorithms. And regression is here, the human being thinks of the different variables that are going to affect the outcome. So I believe that wearing what color t shirt you wear defines what you’re going to eat for lunch. I’ve decided that that is a variable that’s important. That’s regression. And then Bayesian says, No, let’s not have a human decide which variables are important. Let’s look at all variables. And then, and then the AI will actually tell you which ones have a positive correlation. Okay. So, so as an example, the first example of that being used was Palantir. And Palantir, very famously, was Viet was able to say that there was a one in 11 chance that 911 was happening on 911, before it happened, whereas everyone else was like, Oh, they’re not even seeing it on the radar. But yet, Palantir is like Red Alert, there’s going to be a terrorist attack. Yeah, because it was looking at all of these different variables that a human could never even perceive of. So we’ll do something like that. Do people click the mouse in the bottom left hand corner of their screen more, but we didn’t look at that. But the computer found that and was like, whoa, okay, that’s interesting. Now, there might be something connected to clicking in the bottom left hand corner of the screen that the computer is not seeing, but it is seeing a correlation for that. So it’s difficult to say it but I can give you some cool little neat ones that we’ve found that are that are kind of interesting. That’d be great. porn, people go on porn, on their computers at work at work. I didn’t think that that happened as much as it did, but it does. The if people use porn, their chance of quitting goes down. Not crazy. And I think it’s because they’re really secure in their jobs. Like if you were super secure in your job, and you’re like, I got this, I’m coasting through. Yeah. Maybe you crack open a little bit of porn from time to time.
That’s crazy, right? Like,
maybe I’m theorizing, right? This is the sociologist in me, which is like, wow, I found this really interesting insight. How can I unpack it? How can I unpack that quantitative data set and turn it into something qualitative? I can only infer, unfortunately, since everything is encrypted, on our side, right, no idea who those people are. But we do know, on an aggregate side what data is being used? We know that there’s poor usage, right? So that’s, that’s an interesting insight.
Well, and it’s interesting, too, because I think this goes back to sort of like, what you what you need to do with machine learning and AI, right? Like, you can’t just say, oh, there’s a correlation between porn use and retention or employee happiness, and say, well, therefore, I need to make sure my employees watch more porn, right, which is what a
computer would say, everybody, yeah, five minutes, a Pornhub. A day, right? Here’s,
here’s your scheduled time, make sure this happens. You have to have the human sociology, you know, like, you need to interpret that data. What does that mean? I think it’s an important point to call out because it’s, it doesn’t have to do with just this particular instance of machine learning and drawing correlations with data. It’s sort of like, what’s the what’s the message behind the data? And you do that really? Well?
Yeah, I mean, and that’s something that we’ve had a lot of conversations with clients about, which is what is the definition of productivity. And it’s really insightful that almost every major company that we speak to has a different definition,
what’s the most common one?
It’s, it honestly changes from day to day. So as an example, I was speaking to a client last week, they have about 22,000 employees. And they, they run call centers. So they do like calling for, for sales, on on call sales outbound. And their definition of productivity was obviously the amount of money that people make, right. And they have this group that they call Platnumz. And Platnumz, were like their top 5% of their sales pool. And what they wanted us to do was to discover why Platnumz are better than the other 95%. Okay, is there a signal inside of the Platnumz that the other people don’t have? And the thing that we found, which was really insightful, is they worked a lot less than everyone else. The one the most important signal that we found is their average workday was about four hours, versus everyone else was about six and a half to seven hours of on phone time, and on computer time. Wow. So I was like, Okay, interesting. So I can’t go back to them and say everybody should just work set, you know, 25% Less, that’s probably not they’re not the answer that they want, not going to fly, not going to fly. So then we, you know, we were tunneling down a little bit deeper into this data. And the the algorithm, they’re chewing on it right now. But it’s been a very interesting, those types of all those types of clients are very interesting, because they don’t have the same definition of productivity, if I were to go back to them. And truly, and honestly, I would tell them, it seems to me like they are communicating clear, let’s say on the phone, the ratio, actually, another insight that we had is the ratio of on phone time, was higher inside of that four hours. Oh, so they worked on average for four hours, but they spent more of their time on the phone. So in their phone calls were, I believe a little bit longer. But that’s not really statistically highly corollary to the outcome variable that we were looking at. So we try to do that type of work all the time. That’s more of our enterprise product than our than our SMB product. But I just love tunneling into this data, because you’ll find these insights and you just think to yourself, Okay, if I can only figure out why these guys are selling, and I’m talking these Platinums sell on average, twice as much as everyone else. So what if I could give you exactly what that person looks like? And they’re, we’ve built that for them. At this point. We’re in the process of right where they can now hire someone else. And we can tell them within a month whether or not they’re going to have a chance at being a platinum. What’s the chance of them being a platinum after the first one. Want to work? That’s great. Yeah, that’s what we’re really excited about. Because we’re using it primarily as an HR tool to be able to communicate to those guys and say, Yeah, okay, well, I think that this guy has a 60% chance of becoming a platinum, you should probably invest in that person more, or there’s a 10% chance of them becoming a platinum, maybe you should just cut, you know, cut this off right now, let that person go and find somebody new to put your resources into.
So I have to ask, you’ve seen all these insights, you’ve talked to all of these companies, you’ve seen these different definitions of productivity, what is your definition of productivity?
We just produced overtime. Okay. Yeah, so talk to me more about units produced over time. So let’s say that I want to sell tickets to running remote.com, which is the best and most amazing conference ever, in a group Bali, about how to build amazing remote teams. Not plugging at all. Say that that was the variable that I wanted to measure. My KPI would be how many tickets I’ve sold. So then I could correlate that to my work use. So doing these podcasts, as an example could apply to that. Where does it? How many podcasts did I make? How much time did I spend? How many tickets did I move? And then I connect that to the actual dollar amount that it costs this employee, which just I also happen to be the founder and the owner of the business has. So that’s to me is just the singular definition that I think everybody should be looking for is, how can you figure out widgets production over time, because if you can get that number below your costs, then you then you have escape velocity as a business.
That makes sense. So I think I looked off camera over here wasn’t that I wasn’t paying attention to you. Or maybe it was for a moment not paying attention to you, because I saw a question come in. But I think it’s actually relevant to this conversation from Daniel McDowell, who’s an active member here at powderkeg, amazing serial entrepreneur and investor as well. Her question was, what about their habits outside of work hours? I know that that’s not what your software does. But I’m wondering, you know, what are? How are they using those other hours? How does that affect their, their work hours, you know, what they’re doing outside of the night measure
any of that? Sure. With GDPR coming, we’ve always been on the side of history, which is, we don’t want to secretly track people. So if you, you know, if you pause our software, there’s a little task bar on Time Doctor, and if you click Stop, you’re not tracking any data. We’ve made that commitment. So we are GDPR compliant. And there’s a lot of other apps that are not and but that also doesn’t give us this advantage of being able to track what people kind of do in their off hours. Sure. Right. But with that said, we’ve been doing a lot of experiments with like Fitbit, as an example. Can we correlate our Fitbit data, if you get 15,000 plus steps per day? Is are you a more productive employee? I’d love to be able to set that up. The problem is, is that these these API’s don’t talk to each other as easily as they should. And they couldn’t speak to each other very easily. But they don’t because everyone wants to keep their proprietary dataset proprietary. Yep. Which is, which is quite frustrating. For for us, I would actually I would love to see a Zapier for API’s, that would be very cool. Where you could just say I can with one click, I’m going to opt in my Fitbit My Time Doctor data, my Salesforce data, you know, my YouTube data, everything into the system. And then that user, if I, if Time Doctor connects to that user, I get all of those different datasets that then I can then add inside of my model. That would be amazing. That doesn’t exist right now. I know it will exist in the next five years, and it will probably be at least $100 million business. Oh, absolutely. It’s listening. Like, please build that we’d be the first ones to sign up and and say, okay, yeah, let’s let’s work together to be able to make that work. So, but the big companies, they don’t want to share their data. So we can share an individual Fitbit units data with us, but we can’t get the amount of aggregation that we need to really start to build those correlations. So your to answer your question. I would love to know, we don’t have the data yet to be able to do it.
That makes sense. When you mentioned your team, and I think you were mentioning earlier, you have 80 Some employees, is
that right? Yes. In 27 different countries. 27 different countries. Yeah, we’re remote first company. I have a small office here up in Canada. There’s about five people in it. Maybe two or three of them are there on a daily basis. So they kind of float in And then float out. And then we also have offices in, we’ve got a place in Abood, which is where we’re running our conference place in Phuket, we’ve got a place in Sydney, we’ve got a place in Manila. So we allow everybody to be able to travel between those spaces. So if you’re a digital nomad as an example, you can work for us. And our mission statement as a business has always been, we want to facilitate workers to work wherever they want, whenever they want. That’s the mission statement of the company. So we should be eating our own dog food and facilitating that type of ease of movement across countries.
That’s really cool. And I love that approach of having kind of these these offices that people can dive into, as opposed to, you know, work. Well, you say, work wherever you want. Does that mean you can go to any one of these 27 offices and 27 countries? Or does that mean, you can be at a Starbucks and be at work?
Yes, you can be wherever you want. So as I said before, it’s widgets over time. So as long as you’re keeping that, that, that ratio, in line with everybody else, right, so every single employee has a personal KPI that they need to reach. I don’t care where you work, I don’t care when you work, as long as you get your work done. Now, there’s a couple of caveats. If you’re doing customer support, there’s a shift that you’ve got to run. Right? There’s a set time that you have to be on support to be able to answer questions. Sure. But outside of that, honestly, if you want to work at three o’clock in the morning, that’s cool, you have to show up to there’s another caveat, you have to show up to meetings. So if you know if I’m going to give you the freedom to go wherever you want on planet Earth, if I say we need to do a meeting, and it happens to be three o’clock in your timezone, you got to do that meeting at three o’clock and your timezone. Sorry, like, that’s, that’s just the reality of, of running a company that has all of these different time zones, you’ve got to be able to show up. But outside of that give people more freedom in their work, it makes them happier, guaranteed, I have, I could put what the people that work for us against any other company, and I’m pretty sure we would come out happier on top. And that just that is, I would say primarily to remote work. And there’s a lot of quantitative data to back this up. Where usually the primary reason for someone quitting is interoffice politics, they don’t like their manager, or they don’t like their co workers. And this can allow them to interact with those co workers. So we still have tension inside of our business. But it’s not the same level of tension that you would see inside of a brick and mortar business, because you’re just not seeing those people angry at each other, you know, face to face. And those those fights, they break out in person, it can get quite bad when they break out online, you can usually let both party cools down, and then we can bring them back together later to to kind of get everything fixed up. So how does
it feel? How does it affect collaboration? You know, it does feel
like feel slower. Sorry, guys. Definitely. Collaboration is lower. Okay. It’s like there’s, there’s pros and cons, I’m pro, you don’t have to have an office. So every employee is about 25% cheaper, even if you’re paying them the same salary. Another pro is I’m not looking for the best $5,000 developer in Indy. I’m looking for the best $5,000 developer on planet Earth. And usually your $5,000 will be better spent if you have a global stage as opposed to a local stage.
First of all, where do you find a $5,000? Developer?
I’m sorry, $5,000 a month like a 60k. Developer? Yeah. Give me a $5,000. Developer. I’m sure you’re right. But the probably would not be very good. No, you’d get Yeah, you’d get a pretty crappy one. So. So that so you want to be able to, to those are, those are some major pros, some major cons are you collaboration is slower. Human Communication is slower. gaining insights into how different people work is usually a little bit slower. So we still do huge team retreats. So the entire company comes together once a year. And then we have smaller team retreats in in different countries for different departments, because we’ve recognized that that does actually really help with just accelerating the team. Even just like I didn’t know that you were six foot two. Oh, wow. You’re really tall. Oh, you know, the here’s the way that you move or when I tell you something that you don’t like you do this nonverbal cue with your face. And now that I’ve seen you in person, I know that that’s what’s happening when we do a face to face, Skype Call on the future, these little things that you kind of pick up on. And you only have to have a little bit of face to face time to really kind of get the advantages out of that. It’s expensive, but it does still, it’s still much cheaper than doing it all under the same roof.
Can you tell me a little bit about what that one day? Looks like? Is it one day? You said once a year? Is it a day? Is it a multiple day thing?
It’s about a week? Okay? Yeah, so it’s we’ve kind of run around little mini conference. Cool. So each department figures out where they’re currently at. We talk about where we were last year, where we want to go this year, what new programs we’re going to implement, what new features we’re going to deploy. And then we talk a lot about just our personal lives, you know, kind of just get people all together in the same space, and then get them to chat. So outside of one, we have two days of full on presentations, kind of like a conference. And then we have another two days of just kind of relaxing and chilling out.
What the first time you hosted one of these, does everything go smoothly? Or were there some mistakes that were made? The first couple of times?
The first one was horrible, why was set up a whole bunch of we set up a whole bunch of games. So I think we also kind of even needed to figure out our own culture as it applied to us when we’re in person when we’re all in the same room. Which was interesting. Yeah, like, I’m not a, hey, let’s play games. Right? Like,
I can’t I could have fooled me at South by what you said you could have fooled me Southbay.
Yeah, well, I mean, so there, I’m going to social mode as opposed to like, I’m just so the other thing too, I think is I realized the first time we did one of these things, I’m like, Okay, this is like, this cost us 50 grand to get everybody in here for a couple days. That’s a pretty big company expenditure. I want to make my money off of this. And I’m rolling through my head. Okay, how many Facebook ads could I buy? And what what’s the ROI on that for 50 grand versus this one I’m spending on right now. And so we went from a very much it and it’s also weaving different cultures together. That’s the other thing that’s kind of nuts is some cultures say, well, we want to be able to, we’re going to bring you have a gift, because you’re coming to and I don’t care about that. Last time we did one, I got like 50 things like little little bottles, right? Little things, and I really appreciate it. But I have to buy another piece of luggage just to get back to Canada, right, because now I have 50 more little things, I don’t need that. I don’t need you to give me that what I need is for you to kind of be tuned in and focus. But there are other cultures that really like that. So other cultures want to be able to spend a day just kind of going around the area for me, I because I do traveling, I travel all the time, I don’t want to do that I really want to focus in on like what we’re currently doing and staying focused. So tying in all of those little problems were a big issue in the first year, I delegated it to somebody else. And then we kind of like slowly crafted it. And now we’re four to five years in when we’ve been doing these. And the fifth one we’re actually going to be doing before running remote. So we’re going to bring the entire team down to food. And we’re going to be doing our meetings there. And then we’re going to be doing the conference afterwards. And for us, now we’ve got a tight end where we have very specific presentations by department heads. And then we have team building exercises. So we’ll usually do about you started with about two days of team building. And now we’re down to like an afternoon. Okay, so it’s just kind of tweaking where you want to be. And it really depends on who you are as a business. I think that’s probably another big part. Like, if you’re a Tony Shea, you probably want to do a ton of team building, right? Like that’s really important to who you are as a business. But if you are introverted, Liam, you probably don’t want to do that. You want to be on the side of saying, Okay, we’ve spent all this money, I really want to be able to make sure that we get as much deep work done and deep thinking done as humanly possible over these next couple days.
Well, what are some of the things that remote working teams don’t do? Well, I mean, I heard the stories you know, of IBM went all remote. Now they’re kind of like reversing that. which I assume means that it didn’t go well for them. What do you see are some of the like the biggest mistakes in working remotely?
So for small businesses, and I’m sure we’ve got a mix here for the powderkeg community, but for small businesses, it is the importance of documentation. So putting all your processes down, making sure that you can communicate Those processes virtually, and then communicate them over time and space. So just because you’ve hired John, let’s say, John is right next to you, and he’s a new employee, you see John doing something, you can very quickly jump in and say, John, that’s not how you do it, you do it this way. But when John is 10,000 miles away, you have to be able to create documentation. And let’s say also, John is 12 hours difference from you, you need to be able to make sure that you can talk to John and you can interact with him on a day to day basis. And the only way that you can do that is through virtual documentation. So put it inside of a Google Doc, I’m sure that pretty much everybody that’s in tech right now has, has Google Apps. That’s great. Put them into Google Doc, throw them up, and then have a folder of all of your different operational procedures. And then if somebody has any questions, they can always query that database, as opposed to kind of being frozen for 10 hours, and not really knowing what to do next. Yep, that’s a really good thing for facilitating things. Couple other ones is just general communication, obviously, which we’ve touched on, which are slower.
Can I actually ask a follow up question to that documentation? Because I’ve kind of struggled with this myself, right, in terms of wanting to, in that documentation, get really specific about everything, right. Like, I think about it as almost like the McDonaldization of whatever that task is. So
that’s Ritzer. Yeah, analyzation of society. That’s the and he specifically, if you if you want to kind of look at a great book on specifically process design, it’s called McDonaldization. Yeah.
So you, it is great, that is your approach, that is to get very specific, as opposed to some quick bullet points, that sort of like, it’s going to look generally like this, you should make sure you don’t skip this, this and this, and make it simple and
approachable. So here’s here’s a big difference. And this is something else that I kind of turned into a bit of a company idiom. instructions should not be easy to understand, they should be impossible to miss understand.
That’s a good maximum, click,
it’s a little it’s a little shift in your thinking. But then it is, instead of writing in the instructions, please open up WordPress. Instead, I would hyperlink that and send it to another process on how to open up WordPress. So that everything is super clear, super focused. I have a process that’s called the Four DS, which is basically just discover, design, deploy and debug, on how to build a process. So you discover why the process exists, you discover why it was done that way, maybe it was done that way for very stupid reasons. And then you need to kind of reorient that, that process, then you need to design it, I have the rule of three, which is do it once yourself. The second time you do it, think about the process that you’re going to write and then the third time you do it write down the process of that so that it’s just documented. And the reason why you do it the third time and not the hundreds time is because on the 100th time, you forget all the little details inside of the process because you’ve done it 100 times so you don’t know all the steps. So if you have a coach as it let’s say you have like a workout coach, I don’t want the guy that’s been 6% body fat since he was two. And is 220 pounds. I don’t know if you know, Steve cam from Nerd fitness.com. Yeah. Steve is a horrible coach. When I go and workout with him, he’s just like, oh, yeah, just do these backflips and do these handstand push ups? Don’t worry about it. You’re good. Okay, how do I do that? I’m not used Steve, right. I’m not. I’m not like a ninja warrior. God, I’m just a regular dude, that yes, party in Vegas, right? Like, that was that was my experience with Steve last year. Instead, what I want is the guy who was 250 pounds, and you know, couldn’t lift 100 pounds above his head. And now the guy is 180 pounds of steel, a year later, that’s who you want to learn from? That person is going to be way better for you than the guy that’s never been in that place before. So you want to be able to figure out where you are. And then figure out people that have accelerated out of where you are to where you want to be as quickly as possible. And that’s who you should hire. And those people are actually really cheap. Because no one pays attention to them anywhere near as well as the people that have always been amazing. So like as an example, let’s say you’ve got someone let’s say you’re in a business right now, where let’s say you’re doing 5 million a year and you know you’re growing 10% per year as an example. And for tech, that’s probably not very good. Yeah. Don’t talk to a guy that’s been growing 120% year over year in the last three businesses that he’s done and built $300 million businesses talk to the guy who was at 10 million a year and the business was, was falling apart. And now it’s $100 million business four years later, that’s the person you want to talk to, because that’s the person that’s going to be able to get you out of your problem. Even though that person may not sound as sexy as the one that’s always succeeded.
That’s really good. That’s really helpful advice in terms of I mean, one in terms of documentation, but two in terms of like, learning at a company and thinking about how, how to train. What are some of the other like, bigger mistakes? I know, you probably see a lot of them with remote. remote working.
Yeah. So communication is a big one. not respecting the different cultural conditions of, of different societies. That’s another one. That’s pretty big. So as an example, if I’m talking to our team from the Philippines, Filipinos are very agreeable, their their agreeableness rate is higher than Ukrainians as an example, there’s a polar opposite. Okay, if you want to talk we have we have a dev house and key of you can’t if if you’re nice to Ukrainian at the very beginning of a relationship, that Ukrainian will proceed to walk over you forever. Because that’s just the way and I’m, I’m very, I’m being very politically incorrect here, but I’m just talking about. And if you go and check out some anthropological data on this and some sociological data on this, they’ll I mean, it’ll backup my perspectives on it. And I’m trying to teach as opposed to be politically correct. Sure. But so with Ukrainians, you need to say, Hey, this is the way we’re doing things. And the Ukrainian will push back saying, No, we’re not doing it that way. We’re doing it this way. I’m like, Nope, I’m the boss, you can choose to do it the way that I want to do it, or you can choose to leave the company, make a decision. And then after that kind of tension, which probably Americans and North Americans are a little, that’s a little bit of a tense interaction. Yep. Then they’re like, Oh, that guy’s cool. I guess I’m not going to screw around with him anymore. Yeah, right. It’s a very, it’s so interesting. Whereas if you did that in the Philippines, you would, they would feel very uncomfortable. Because they’re very agreeable. And they’re very nice people. They’re very loyal people, but they will not tell you when they disagree with you. So in the Philippines, as an example, I don’t tell people, what do you like about this process? As an example? I tell you, I tell them, give me your top three reasons why this process will not work. Because I restructure the question. Because if you just say like, what do you like about it? What do you not like about this? They’ll say, oh, everything’s great. No problem. Yeah. Okay, cool. But like, Tell me your top, if you have the top three of things that you didn’t like about this, what would they be, I don’t really want to tell you, you need to tell me, that’s your job, you need to tell me why this is not going to work. Tell me now. And then they’ll come up with it. And you need to have them more comfortable with that. And they also need to adjust to my culture, which is like, particularly in the United States, the ability to be able to debate with a manager, as an example, is something that’s a lot more acceptable here than it is in Southeast Asia, in general. And that’s something that you need to kind of end for us, it’s really great, because then we we get a better product out the other end. But in the Philippines as an example, or the rest of Southeast Asia, it’s just not done. So you need to adjust to those things. So I think, yeah, culture is another one. That’s really important, too.
If you’re adopting a work culture, you know, beyond going to do your conference, which I do want to get to in just a second. If you’re adopting a remote work culture, which we’re doing here at powderkeg, right, like we’re, most employees are here in our Indianapolis office, but we’re traveling all the time, right? Like we’re launching conferences all over the country this year. We have a remote worker based in the Philippines, Derek, who’s been with the company for two or three years. But we want to have more people across the country here and maybe even around the world as we scale. What are some of the things that companies need to do? To grow and scale remote work culture?
They need to outside of documentation, which is like in my opinion, first, second, and third priority? Yeah, to be honest with you. Okay. The issue with regards to documentation is most fortune 500 companies already have documentation because they can afford to do it. Small businesses don’t see see that as something that’s really important for them, and they can get by for a really long time without documentation, because they’re a small business, and there are more important things in front of them, right. But for a remote business, just think that you’re now you have to document like a fortune 500. Right, basically, right? Because those humans are now distributed all over the planet, you can’t really measure what they’re doing. On a you’re not seeing them face to face. So you need that documentation so that they very clearly have those instructions. So once that’s done, you need to understand culture, you understand how those different communities facilitate. The culture facilitates communication, basically. And then the third one would be actually building out the toolset that you would need your technology stack. So
what are the best tools? Other than Time Doctor, obviously, right? So
like, I would say, there’s a big debate now going around synchronous versus asynchronous communication. And there’s a lot of good data coming out saying that synchronous communication is maybe not the best idea in the world.
Because send me an example of that.
I got a phone call last night at three o’clock in the morning, saying that there was a, we have a red alert text button. I think we call it the red alert button. We have like really nerdy names for everything.
Which sounds like it would culturally fit with you.
Yeah, totally. There’s a there’s an attack happening. Someone’s trying to attack our servers. So I get that phone number, or I get that text if Rob is unreachable on his timezone. So Rob, my co founder is in Australia, I’m in North America. And we’re usually on either side of the planet. So anyone can make that type of decision to say, Okay, we need to take some serious action, maybe we need to shut down servers, as an example, to stop this from happening. So that’s an example getting messages, we’ve really tried to get everybody to outside of Mondays, which is kind of our meeting days, every other day of the week, shut off your phone, shut off your work phone, once you’re past 5pm, like just try to have a block hours of a block set of hours for work, and don’t have those messages, infect your life outside of that environment. It’s really important, I think, to be able to keep a work life and a social life. And it’s very difficult when you work from home. Yeah, because you’re just, you know, they kind of bleed into each other. But it’s very important to just close the laptop, go out into another room and have a social life. At Friday night, you know, at 6pm don’t constantly be getting more messages about closing a deal. It’s just I’ve I think it is creating a lot of stress in work. And it’s creating a lot of stress in brick and mortar businesses as well. It’s the same problem. But because everyone’s remote, they feel like they have more of an opportunity to be able to abuse that worker and be able to say, Yeah, well, I know it’s Saturday night, but can you do this for me right now? No, I’m not doing that. I’m gonna go to I’m on a walk. I’m at a waterpark right now. To do with you. I’m going to go and do what I want to do. Which is go and hang out at this waterpark. So like two weeks ago, so tools like Slack are good. Slack is good. However, it’s synchronous. Yeah. So like, don’t have slack on your phone, right? Get it off your phone, put it on your desktop, have it on, have it there, have it be able to shut down or use If This Then That to be able to disable notifications, you know, after a certain time. Another app, you might want to check out his twist. Twist is pretty good. It’s by the founder. It’s by duelist. Amir from Todoist, who is actually going to be running remote as well. Oh, cool. He’s really big about. So twist is like Slack, but it’s asynchronous. Yep. Instead of synchronous. So it’s very much designed to be able to allow people to engage in deep work. Yep, removing all of the distractions, removing all the beeps and bops. I personally believe that we live in what I’ll call like the distraction economy. I agree. So it the companies that are the best at the companies that make the most money are the best at distracting you. Like there’s a perfect correlation between those two groups. I’ve been studying mobile apps just recently for another project that we’re working on. And there is a massive amount, like people are making billions of dollars a month selling games like Clash of Clans, and I’ve installed these games and I got addicted to them over a three month period, because I was interested in studying how they work. But they sucked me in even though I knew mindfully I was like, Oh, I’m studying this to just figure out how these distractions work. If they sucked me in, and I ended up having to delete all of these games from my phone, they’re amazing at getting your attention and your attention is really valuable. Do you want to spend your time building your business? Or do you want to spend your time playing Clash of Clans? I’d rather habit doing the business. I know that my conscious mind wants to do that. But my unconscious mind is like, Oh, I just got a cute little beat sound on my phone. And it looks like my elephant is getting attacked or or whatever it might be. And I have to go on the phone right now to solve that problem, and pull myself out of productivity. Yeah, massive distraction, and you need to get rid of it in your workflow.
It’s hard to stay present if you’re constantly being absolutely guarded. Well, so shifting gears a little bit. Liam, I want to make sure you can talk to me a little bit about running remote, because one I might want to attend to. It sounds amazing. It’s in Bali, in treehouses. Yeah. Can you kind of give me the the over overview here? Like, what are you doing? This sounds crazy.
So we, I’ve been wanting to do this for about five years, as I said, Our mission statement is we want to empower workers to work wherever they want, whenever they want. And we are at 80 ish people, right now we want to get up to 200 people within the next year and a half. How do you do that? How do you hire all these people remotely? What’s the playbook? And so we started asking people that were pretty good at hiring remotely. And it was interesting, because we started getting different opinions. We’d have one very successful company. And they would say, doing, doing meetings with video is the only way that you should do things. You shouldn’t do it any other way other than that way. Then the very next company that we spoke to says, Oh, you shouldn’t do that at all. That’s a horrible, horrible idea. So I was like, Okay, I’m pretty confused here. There’s no playbook. There’s no best practices yet. Because it’s so new. Yeah. Let’s there’s no conference about this either. There’s no conference that exists about building this, these best practices kind of crazy that we said, okay, let’s just do it. It was a ready, fire aim. mindset. We just got the space. And we we said okay, let’s try to put people in the space. We’re about 70% sold out right now. We’ve got about two and a half months before it goes live. So I think we’re, we’re pretty darn close to selling out completely. It’s going to be in Abood network of tree houses made out of bamboo. And we’re able to hold a couple 100 People in the main tree house, and it’s going to be Joel from buffer. The founder of buffer is going to be doing a talk. Amir from newest, the Todoist app is going to be doing a talk GitHub, Git lab. Bunch of other fantastic companies. And it’s all about how are we going to build that playbook for the future. So if you want to hire people more efficiently, and you’re a remote business, this is the conference that you want to go to who it’s not for is if you don’t manage any remote employees, this is not the conference for you. There are a lot of digital nomad conferences that you should totally check out. There’s dozens of them, and they’re all amazing. And that movement has just been exploding. We’re not that we’re the conference for the employers, not the employees. So that’s what we want to kind of communicate to everybody because we’ve had a lot of people that have signed up that don’t manage anybody. And we’ve we’ve been refunding their tickets. Because we just don’t want we want the right type of people in the room. Because for me, what I want to do is just I have a, there’s a woman who’s coming, who she’s attending, and she could be speaking at the conference, she manages 13,000 remote employees. Wow. And I want to just crack your head open and and figure out what’s inside. Because her breadth of experience in facilitating that is is amazing. Yeah. So that’s the type of people that we want to have at the conference. And not to say that, you know, you don’t have to have 13,000 people, you can manage one person, it’s just if you want to, if you’re a one person, you want to go to two or three. This is the conference to go to.
Okay. That’s awesome. And so it’s gonna be talks, workshops. Lots of networking opportunities for people to learn from each other.
We have the, we just actually booked the ambassador to Estonia. And he’s going to be speaking about how the Estonian e residency can facilitate not only remote workers, but also remote businesses. So now you can have an East an Estonian corporate structure setup, and it will be 10% corporate tax. So all of your assets can go into that Estonian new kind of digital and they’re running their entire system runs through blockchain. really innovative Wow. So all your banking, all your taxes, everything is facilitated through this single number that you have. That’s, that’s reinforced by by the blockchain. And I think it’s just an amazing model that I think a lot of people will be able to, to go after. So I’m very excited about that. We have a bunch of different people from you just gotta go to running remote.com to check it out, because we’re always adding more speakers in more experiences, but it’s something as I said, I’ve been working on for the past five years. And for us, it wasn’t necessarily about the money, it was just can we actually make something that can help us get from where we are now to where we want to go?
Well, and I definitely recommend people check out running remote.com if for nothing else to watch the video of like these awesome tree houses. So definitely check that out. Liam, if people want to find you and engage with you on social media asynchronously. Of course, yeah. Where was it? Where should they go?
You know what, I’ve been really loving Instagram lately. Cool. So like, you can hit me up on Instagram. I’m, I’m just Lea Martin, you know, Google, Liam Martin on Instagram, and you’ll find me okay. And I love that. I don’t know about you. But like, just the last kind of year or so. With Instagram stories. I feel like it’s just becoming the place and I’m I know that I’m too old to kind of interact with the Instagram space. Like that’s the younger generation in no way. Man. We’re on Facebook. Man, Instagram is killing it right now. So I’d love to be able to have more conversations on there. So if anyone wants to kind of chat, let’s do it through their
cool, we’ll link it up in the show notes. And we’ll link it up here. If you’re watching on Facebook Live as well. That way you can connect with Liam. Liam, thanks so much for being here. Well, not here. But being in Canada and taking time to dial in with his with his Facebook Live Stream. Of course, you can find all the show notes here. If you’re watching live in a couple of weeks. If you’re listening to the firstname.lastname@example.org Please make sure you check out running remote. Sounds like they’re doing it pretty regularly. So if you missed this year, there’s always next year. And check out Liam Martin hit him up on Instagram and connect with him and some of his companies. Thanks again and we’ll talk to you next time. That’s it for today’s episode of powderkeg igniting startups. Huge thanks to Liam Martin, who you can follow on Twitter at VTA Method Man that’s V as in Victor T as in tango, a as an alpha plus Method Man, as in the member of the Wu Tang Clan. For those of you that follow old school hip hop, all in one word VTA Method Man on Twitter, and you can always head to the shownotes on powderkeg.com. For that and more information about Martin and his ventures to get links to the resources and people mentioned in this episode, as well as more stories on entrepreneurs, leaders and professionals outside of Silicon Valley. Please subscribe to us on iTunes at powderkeg.com/itunes Drop us a review while you’re there. We have some great guests coming up in season two. So more stories on entrepreneurs, leaders and professionals building high growth businesses outside of Silicon Valley. Subscribe to us on email@example.com forward slash iTunes. Thanks again for listening to this special in between us ODE you’ll be hearing from us again soon on powderkeg igniting startups