Document everything and know why is your work important. CEO of I Done This on leading a remote company

The productivity tool I Done This allows everyone to stay in sync so they can be wherever they need to be. Coming from an entirely different background, their CEO Teri Wilson came to lead I Done This after it was acquired. She agreed to have a chat and shared with us how the company has changed over time, which remote principles have remained and how the fact that the team is remote helps understand their customers.

Teri, how long have you been at I Done This and what is your link to remote work?

I’ve been here since November 2015 but I Done This has been a product for over 5 years now. It started as a side project of the original founders, Walter and Rodrigo. As the company grew they found that for recruiting and the team morale being remote worked well. Most of the customers have been remote as well, so feeling the pain of the customer as a team ourselves is helpful.

Walter and Rodrigo, being entrepreneurs themselves, had been running the project for over four years and some of that passion started to change a little bit. They were taking external funding and VC expectation is quite high. While the business itself was growing steadily it wasn’t going to have an exit like Facebook or others on that level. At the end of 2015 the original team was acquired by Xenon Ventures and that’s when I came in to operate it.

Xenon Ventures was able to take 100% ownership, acquire I Done This and bring on a whole new team who is currently passionate and enthusiastic about productivity, team communication and remote work.

I have been based out of Paris and London in the past and I’ve traveled and lived on four different continents. For me, being able to work from wherever you are is very important. But also keeping your team in sync and productive is necessary for a successful business. That is why I run I Done This and why I love doing it.

What was your background prior to joining I Done This?

My degree is actually in architecture and I never had any plans to get into technology or remote work. As I studied during my last year on university in Italy I realized how much I loved traveling. Architecture is a very regulated industry and I found that I wasn’t going to have the stability I desired within this industry.

I went volunteering in West Africa for two and a half years with American organization called Peace Corps, ending up in the least developed country of the world that is not currently in conflict. I had no running water and electricity for two years. Coming back to San Francisco and Bay Area and going into technology was pretty distinct. But learning adaptability, learning to work with tools you have at hand and being comfortable in uncomfortable positions all translate into startups as well as Peace Corps. Both are very different experiences but actually more clickable than outsiders would believe.

I started working on an architecture project with a VC who is now the chairman of Xenon Ventures. We worked so well together that I moved into the tech side later on. I was there on the first day when we acquired error tracking software Exceptional. It’s a pretty technical product and I was the only one on the team who was not a developer. That was a steep learning curve.

We also acquired Airbrake which was the largest in the market and ran it for two years. Later in 2013 Rackspace acquired us, they were looking for a more developer focused product so it was a good fit. I worked from both, San Francisco and London offices. I met a guy in London, ended up moving to Paris and taking a sabbatical for the better part of 2015. Then, at the end of 2015, the due diligence of I Done This came into place and I joined the team.

Is the present team of I Done This all located on the West Coast or are you at least partially remote?

We are still distributed. Our support, marketing and customer success reps are all on the West Coast, split between Las Vegas and the Bay Area.

Development and product are all over the world. Our customers are quite global and our team is as well. It helps us serve them in terms of both, within the time zone and what needs they have. For example, we have a product person and developer in Japan and we found that the Japanese market is a bit different with the content and length of their entries versus the shorter entries in the US. It’s great to have not only people in different time zones but also people who understand different cultures.

What are the challenges you face managing a distributed company?

All problems boil down to communication and sharing what is going on. We do have four of us together in the office and that can sometimes lead to miscommunication because everyone else is remote. So we’re making sure that even if we’re sitting next to each other we communicate at I Done This.

There’s one key thing that I learned recently. Whenever I share a problem with someone, I generally like to share the solution, not the original issue. A remote team member suggested to always share a problem with the team members because they want to know why they are developing that particular feature or why they have to work on that bug as a priority.

If you only share the solution they don’t get any of the insight because they didn’t hear that phone call or they might not have been at that meeting. Since then I always try to share the actual problem instead of the solution so that no one feels isolated from what the business or customers are feeling.

Any tips for great online tools that can be helpful for other distributed companies?

We do use Slack and Skype. One other tool I find helpful is Uncover which helps with remote employee company perks. It’s not easy for me to take everyone out to beer, or to treat the office to lunch. Uncover can take care of the whole employee, even the small things like paying for their Spotify monthly subscription so they can listen to whatever music they need to get into the work mode and focus. In reality, Spotify is 10 dollars a month. If I add 10 dollars a month to someone’s pay check they are not going to notice that. But being able to provide a perk like that, or even sending cleaners to someone’s house because they worked all weekend, is important for our team morale.

What is your approach to job perks related to being remote?

Uncover can be used on offer letters to entice people but in overall we want people who are passionate about the product itself. I don’t think perks or salary are going to make a difference.

People who have worked remotely and experienced those communication pains tend to be the best employees because they know what problem they are solving and why it’s important.

Working on something important is intrinsically what motivates the best people out there.

What about motivation through company retreats?

We haven’t had an opportunity to do a team retreat but one thing we try to do is to make sure we have at least a weekly call.

We actually changed the format of our weekly call after the first month because we found that we were just going through the nitty gritty. What the weekly call really needed was putting face time together and just sharing little things. For instance, one of our employees got engaged and sharing how that happened was a really big moment for him. We have little cameras so everyone can see each other on the weekly calls, which helps. Everyone recognizes everyone’s backgrounds now so if someone is in a new environment you can ask “Oh, where are you working from?” That sort of thing is nice to get people out of the work mode.

How are you dealing with day to day meetings?

My days tend to be very long, I’ve already had a call with our team in Ukraine this morning and last night I was on a call at 8pm with the team in Asia. We’re using the global spread out as best as we can to be as productive as possible. For example, the developers in Ukraine are often working on bugs and fixes and they can push that to stages which can be QA-ed by the US team. Then when our technical lead in New Zealand wakes up he is able to push that into production if it passes all the tests.

It means we’re able to have that global reach and use the time zones to our advantage. On the other hand, having a call with everyone is nearly impossible. That is a little bit of a downside, we can’t have everyone on a call at the same time.

In regards to the specific communication tools, we use whatever is working at the moment. I’m a tool agnostic for calls and videos so I’m happy to use whatever it is who I’m calling prefers. Be it Slack, Hangout, chat, phone… I have all that available.

Any other productivity tips you can mention?

We use a public readme to share the technical things to our customers and we have an internal wiki through Google for Work.

For me, documentation is key. I’ve been in a company before that said “Oh, that’s just a part of tribal knowledge, you’ll learn it over time.” But you don’t learn things like that over time when you don’t see each other. It also means that your teammates need access to everything to make them productive and make their day useful at their own time zone.

If you have to ask something someone who’s asleep for the next six hours that means you are going to be delayed in moving forward on your work.

We use Helpscout for sharing the documentation with our customers and readme.io for more technical documentation.

How would you describe company culture at I Done This?

I think company culture is reflected in our strategy. What we want to be is a seller, customer, partner. That means sharing the best practices we have after running the product for five years and being able to indicate when the team is on a successful track, based on data we see globally.

We’ve had customers like Airbnb for over 3 years and Uber for over 4 years, those are companies that we’ve seen accelerate and grow within our tool. To be able to share their best practices for our smaller startups is ideal. We have a consultancy which uses I Done This in a way I’ve never heard of before talking to them — they share projects with their clients so the end-basing clients can see what they’re working on every day.

Talking to our customers and being that partner means we can share how to use our tool with others when we didn’t even know our tool was benefitting companies like that. Talking to the customers, putting their use, thoughts and suggestions first is what we all strive for every day.

How is the fact that you are distributed reflected in your culture?

We definitely share swag. We have two books that we published and when you get onboarded we send you the t-shirts and lots of stickers. That way you have some for yourself and can also hand out some to any friends, even family members so you can represent us wherever you are.

What is the single most important piece of advice you could give about working in a remote company?

Documentation. Having anything from onboarding process to what everyone needs to how things work to documenting bugs internally. If someone experiences a bug and reports it during PST and someone tries to resolve it eight hours from then, sharing exactly what that instance was and how that happened through internal documentation is key.

And also reading it when you’re onboarded, generally people tend to just jump in. We had an experience recently where a developer finished one of his issues that went something like:

“Oh, do I push it to production now?”

“No, have you read readme? You have to send it to staging and then it has to be QA-ed and so on.”

“Oh no, I’ve tested it.”

“Well, we have a set process here just to ensure that nothing goes wrong with the live production.”

So reading it, creating it, sharing it and making it accessible in documentation is key. It’s basically a style of communication.