Startup Tips – Lessons Learned This Week: Distributed Teams

Hi there! I hope you’re doing great, and that there’s some helpful startup tips in this week’s post.

This week, the biggest lesson I’m learning, will continue to learn, and hopefully get right (!) is building a distributed team. After 2 startups and mostly employing people in San Francisco, I don’t want to default into that way of thinking this time around. At least not yet. It’s tough here – rents are insane, competition for great talent is enormous, and…hate to say it but many folks here really seem ‘entitled’. I don’t need it. I’m not saying I won’t hire folks from the Bay Area, but it is definitely not a prerequisite nor does it give anyone an advantage when we consider who to bring on to our team.

First, why I decided to build a distributed team:

  • I’m not convinced people get more done jammed into one office. There’s a lot of distractions! I’ve experienced it many, many painful and expensive times.
  • Like I said, San Francisco is ridiculously expensive to hire and rent. I know, I live here!
  • Aside from the fact it’s SF, why not hire for ‘talent over zip code’?
  • Mature people appreciate the flexibility, and that should show in loyalty and productivity. Plus, I like working with (fun) mature people!
  • I am convinced you get the opportunity to build a more diverse group of people, and I like that. I think it breeds innovation.

Some things I am learning:

  • First – if you don’t keep up with Buffer, you need to. A big tip o’ the hat to co-founders Joel and Leo, they rock it. They are building a very successful, distributed team and are so transparent about how they do it. Lots of stuff to learn from these guys, thanks for the tips on your blog. If you’re ever in SF let me buy you several beers.
  • Like I said, bring on ‘talent over geography’. It also helps if your newbie has worked in an environment like this before. We recently talked to a great product marketing person, but after we talked a bit more, he really wanted the social aspects of working with other folks in an office.
  • If you are gonna do this, do it from the get-go. Retrofitting a more traditional office/HQ-based company to a distributed team would pose a significant challenge!
  • Just because there’s ‘no rent’ doesn’t mean there’s ‘no cost’ to supporting this structure. You may need more tools, more apps, more management time to make this work. And for sure you need to get everyone together periodically for some f2f time and fun. Is it quarterly? semi-annually? I’m not sure yet, but 3-4 times a year smells about right. That’s not free! But make it count, don’t cheap out.
  • And speaking of structure, even though it may seem less structured in many ways (working from home, easier to break off and take care of personal business, etc.) in fact a distributed environment does demand a ton of structure – trust, clear communications, great tools.

    Team Dasheroo at their offsite!

    Team Dasheroo all together!

  • Trust. Even more that ever. Transparency & trust. Do you feel it? Do they earn it?

We just had an all-hands meeting here in San Francisco. Hey, we’re 8 people. It’s pretty manageable, but it was really full of great energy, awesome ideas and bonding. We had it at my house, then ate great Mexican food at Don Pistos in North Beach.

Are you building a distributed team? Successes, hard lessons learned? Let me know!