Can you build a startup with a remote team?

The short answer is probably not… but it’s possible under specific conditions.

There is a huge allure of building a remote team… you hear about companies like Invision, Zoom, WordPress, etc. More and more companies are moving towards remote work, but the question is–can your founding team be entirely remote?

After working on a project that has employed remote workers for the last 3 years, I have very mixed feelings about it. As much as I like the idea and want it to work, I believe that remote team dynamics slow down communication, distances people, and adds additional challenges on top of trying to find product market fit. When trying to get a product from 0 to 1, it takes insanely fast cycles, iterating with users, and innovation.

And innovation is not efficient. By definition, innovation is actually trying to find anti-patterns and approaching things differently. There is a lot of wasted energy in being innovative, discarding idea after idea, prototype after prototype. If your product is focusing on innovating in a space, you’ll need to allocate more time for it.

If you’re thinking of building a remote team, you’re probably allured by cost reduction, which buys you more time. Yes, a remote team can reduce cost in the short run, but it really slows down the creative cycles, and adds more process/meetings/alignment.

Imagine scheduling meetings to be “creative”. Let that sink in for a second.

And if you’re an early stage company, it’s an impossible contradiction to manage. Your remote team will be frustrated that you have more meetings in a so-called “fast paced startup”, and you will be frustrated that your team can’t keep up with the changes.

So, what conditions need to be true in order to make a successful remote team?

I strongly believe that remote workers can potentially thrive under two scenarios (when starting with an early stage company):

a) IF the founding team has worked together before and have tight chemistry. I’m talking about a team that knows the ins and out with each other and can read between the lines. This can help reduce people management, and they can work through any communication issues together with less friction. This doesn’t guarantee success, but communication is paramount at this stage.

b) IF the product has found traction, and the remote workers can load balance. When a product has traction, it’s easier to create a predictable roadmap and plan for a larger body of work. Predictability and a controlled schedule is typically a desired quality that remote workers are attracted to. This is a good feedback loop for both employer and employee. The challenge is that you have to somehow find market fit before you build your remote team.

And this leads me to why I think remote teams probably won’t work for early stage companies…

The challenge I’ve uncovered is that it remote roles attracts a certain kind of personality and lifestyle–people who work remote put their own lives first. And rightfully so. They are at the stage of their life where they’ve drawn the line between church and state. However, when building an early stage company, it takes a disproportional amount of time to get things off the ground, to compete against emerging competitors, changing market trends, etc. It is honestly an obsession that your team has to share.

For the employees who are searching for remote roles, I recommend that you avoid seed companies unless they’ve found traction. Ask them how much revenue they generate and how many users they have. If they have neither, you will have to have an uncanny appetite for change and rapid iteration. Be prepared for a roller coaster, going up, down, left, right, forwards and inevitably backwards.

For founders, I caution you to build a founding team with remote people. There’s a good chance that their definition of “work-life balance” is very different from yours. Nothing replaces looking someone eye to eye in person. If someone is willing to show up in person and bet on your company, make a fair deal with them based on the market and the value they can bring to your team. Once you’ve found product market fit, then you can bring on remote workers to help load balance and scale. You can also use remote workers to help “hack” prototypes, but seeding a culture around remote workers is risky business.

Just be honest with yourself as you consider a remote team and the skill set that is required to build an early stage company. Communication and people skills are paramount, especially as the first few hires will be the upcoming leaders of your organization.

Yes, the future of the work force will be remote, but this applies mostly to companies that have already found product market fit.

I’m still yet to be convinced that highly creative work can be done remotely. Innovative and early stage companies (pre-market fit) that are in the most hyper-competitive spaces will most likely always be in person, in the same room. Period.

The highs and lows of 2019

2019 has been one hell of a year, mixed with highs, lows and every emotion in between.

I’ve managed to build and move into a house in Maryland recently with Annie. We finally pulled the trigger earlier this year after trying to figure out the future in terms of relocation. The house took several months to build, and during that time, we had arguably the worst CEO that I’ve ever come across heading up my project. He was cut after 8 months, but that was probably the most stressful point in my career, given that I needed to have a stable job in order to ensure my loan went through for the house. There were several times where I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it, but that is a story in its own. In a nutshell, I was working for a “Tech Bro”—and we spend most of our energy running in place dealing with people problems. The good news is that our company is still moving forward, and my house is complete. For the first time in a long time, I feel that my life is a little better. The house is far from being fully furnished, but there’s something nice about having a place that you can call home.

The second event that was a huge loss and huge hit to me and my family was our family dog, Jack, died earlier. He was highly intelligent, extremely loving, and most of all, he was the anchor of happiness in our family. But, on the opposite side of the spectrum, Annie and I adopted two rescue kittens recently. These two are so adorable and radiate vitality. While it was really sad to see Jack go, we can now give that love to our two new kittens. I just hope that my parents can find a place to fill their hearts soon as well. Nothing will ever replace Jack, but I believe that we can give other animals a wonderful and loving home.

The third big change has happened with me recently—I have started working out again, using a Peloton. Yeh, I’m kind of jumping on the bandwagon, but it’s something that I need. I’m not sure exactly how I can maintain consistency since I have to travel back and forth from the east and west coast, but it’s something that I want to stick with. For the last 5 years of my bi-coastal life, I have put too much my work and building my career. My health has honestly gone to 💩, and I’m probably the heaviest I’ve ever been. I wrote blog posts before about my dieting and losing some weight, but I never managed to stick with it. This past year has been several attempts to start a better diet and exercise, but I’ve already failed. This time, my goal is to start exercising with a strong routine when I’m back on the east coast. In addition to exercise, my goal is to become vegan one day. I’ve never talked about it openly with people, but it’s something that I wanted to do… but didn’t know how. After doing a little research, I’ve learned a little more about it, and it seems possible. It’s going to be hard to give up meat, but I believe I can do it. I have had so many signs after the last couple months that have really pointing me towards changing my diet, and I have to stop making excuses.

As we enter a new year, I want to look at the goals for the next decade. I’m now in my 40’s—I’m middle-aged, overweight, and a workaholic. I need to adjust my priorities, focusing the upcoming year on my health, happiness, and giving back to those who have sacrificed so much for me to be here today. I’ve taken the chance to take an early start before the new year, so I’ve got a little momentum now. I’m hoping that I can stick with the new diet, exercise, and living healthier. That way I can give my best to my family, friends and work. I hope that the changes I can make are lifestyle changes, and not just another failed diet. It’s scary to think that I was around 170 in 2013, and now I’m well over 190 lbs.

I’m also hoping to make time to travel to see some old friends as well. If I haven’t talked to you in a while, let’s sync up. I’ll figure out a way where we can catch up.

Two New Additions

To the left is Pepper, and to the right is Taro. These two new kittens are an addition to our home and will be introduced to Noodle soon. And if you don’t know Noodle, she’s our other cat that’s 3 years old. 🙂

I wasn’t a huge fan of cats a long time ago—probably because I got clawed by one in the head, but I’ve grown to really appreciate them. Over the years, I started to understand cats a little better, through Annie’s family cats (Noodle, Ellie, Sophie and Mango). And by understanding their behavior, I’m able to empathize with them more.

These two little critters really spoke to us when we first saw them a few weeks ago. Most people would try to adopt the kittens separately, but these two had already bonded as siblings. They pretty much do everything together—eat, sleep, play, and even poop together.

After having them in the house for the last week, I’ve can tell that they’re going to be great little members to the family. We’re currently getting them prepared to integrate with Noodle—this process will probably take us a few weeks. As I research more about cats, I’ve learned that they are very territorial, and the most important thing to do is go slow and let them get used to one another’s scent. So far, the process is going very well (and slow).

As you can see, Taro (left) and Pepper (right) love to do everything together. They’re such sweethearts and we’re really lucky to have them now.

I think in this entire process, I’ve learned something special about people who foster rescue animals. They have to make the ultimate sacrifice—to give the animals up to other people. The foster mom had to say good bye to these two kittens, which we could tell she loved very much. She knew that they were going to be adopted by good people that would provide a forever home for them, but I could still tell that she had to give up some of herself when letting them go.

I hope that the foster mom can follow them on this blog and our instagram feeds. These two kittens are special, and we can tell that they have been given so much love already. I can see they growing a little more each day and they’re little bundles of cuteness and joy.

Oh yeh, they also love the laser. They’re little hunters and are like little heat seeking missiles when we play with the laser pen. To make sure they don’t get too frustrated, I always finish off their play time with the feather toy so they can catch it. Cats tend to get frustrated when they can’t actually catch their prey, so I make sure that they have a good healthy session that ends with a satisfying catch at the end.

The Truth of Who You Are

You don’t know who you really are until you’ve been tested. Not just a hard check, but a true test by an adversary that is stronger, more talented, and more ferocious than you. To fight against something or someone that won’t back down or be intimidated. They will put relentless pressure on you because they believe that you can be defeated. What kind of person will you be when you have no wind left? What kinds of decisions will you make? Who will you become? What will be seen as the truth and the real version of you?

These are the challenges that ask us to reach deep within to choose a path—to run and hide, or to become the fighter. The samurai. The viking. The warrior.

The truth is, there is no physical difference between the warrior and everyone else. They feel the same fear and the same pain. They have the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else does. The difference lies within the choices that each individual makes.

The warrior chooses to keep pushing forward, when the odds are dire, through exhaustion, and when the body is beginning to shut down. This is a mentality that cannot be bought, inherited, or taught. To keep pushing forward takes heart, and that in itself is a choice.

This is not to be mistaken with survival instinct. Survival instinct gives us the initial adrenaline for fight or flight, but it’s an autonomous reaction that we get for free. And just because someone is good at survival, it doesn’t make them a warrior.

What separates people is their choices. What choices need to be made in order to defeat an adversary that has unfair advantages? Yes, one will need a strategy, a plan, a team… but at the end of the day, it takes heart. It may be hard to believe, but you can choose to have more heart than your adversary, long after the adrenaline is gone.

And, the real test is when we inevitably have to lose. This is life—it is impossible (and futile) to win every fight and have a flawless record. Life is about learning how to handle the Kobayashi Maru (the no-win scenario). Eventually one day, we will have to lose… it may be losing a job, it may be losing a loved one, it might be losing to cancer… but in the end, will our spirit and heart be defeated?

One day, our legacy will be defined by how we inspire others to understand that they have choices as well—to stand up to the tyrants, to shield the ones that can’t defend themselves, to make sacrifices for others. Our choices will be truly measured in the darkest moments, where we are most vulnerable, and our integrity and true intentions will be revealed when others are not looking. In time, the sum of all your choices will become the truth of who you are.

Renewed for 7 more years

I was debating whether I should renew my domain. It’s been a while since I’ve shared anything on my blog. I’ve been spending most of my time posting on instagram instead.

My site domain was supposed to expire in another week or two, and I was very tempted to let it die. But for some reason, I decided to renew it for another 7 years. Maybe it’s because it’s a good platform for me to continue sharing. I’m not sure who’s watching anymore, but for those of of you who continue to check now-and-then, thanks for coming back.

My goal is not to generate a ton of traffic or go viral. I think this acts a personal journal for me to go back and review things from time to time of my journey. It gives me a chance to reflect on things, on myself, and about the people around me. Perhaps that’s enough purpose for now to justify keeping it around—to simply put some of my experiences and thoughts into words.

For now, I’ll use as a whiteboard to share my unabridged stream of thoughts.

Hiking at Mt. Tamalpais and using a GoPro 5

An amazing natural stairs, hiking up Steep Ravine Trail

Last weekend, my buddy Hugh swung by to visit and we went on part of the loop, going down hill. We tapped out and took a Taxi back to the Pantoll parking lot (where I originally parked). I decided at the last minute that I wanted to do the entire hike this this week.

Photo of a dried up flower, unfortunately out of focus.

This time, I wanted to snag some photos as well, and I decided to take the Go Pro because it was much lighter than my DSLR. I didn’t feel like lugging an extra 5lbs of weight, though I’m sure the photos probably would have come out better. Nonetheless, I’m pleased with the results. It was challenging to use the GoPro because the field of view is so wide. So where I could, I tried to take advantage of it.

A part of the trail that wrapped around a fold in the mountain side.

Quick story: Two older guys (in their 60’s) were hiking the opposite direction. I stopped and let them pass by, and then about 5 seconds later, I hear some dirt crumble and a guy yell. I turn around and run back immediately and saw one of the guys had nearly fallen down the side of the path. He had nothing to hold on was at the verge of tumbling down the side of the mountain, which was really steep. I managed to grab his arm and pulled him up with one giant thrust.

The poor guy was so flustered because it happened so quickly. I don’t think he knew how much danger he really was in because if he had tumbled to the bottom, we wouldn’t have been able to get him, nor call for help–I literally had no cell phone reception.

Anyway, he survived unscathed. Kind of crazy.

A trail on the side of the mountain, entering the woods.

The entire hike was about 9 or 10 miles, and by the end I was pretty tired… and my feet were spent. I was pretty relieved that I didn’t bring any heavy gear with me. As much as I love my DSLR, I think it would have sucked to carry the additional weight. I think from now on, my just carry the GoPro around on these hikes.

It’s unfortunate that I accidentally shot all the photos in JPG instead of Raw. I think that I could have gotten better results. Doh! Lesson learned.

Gorgeous afternoon weather, around 70 degrees with a tiny ocean breeze.

One of my buddies asked how I got these photos, and he was surprised that they came from the GoPro as well. he asked if I used an ND filter… but I shot everything from the hip. No filters.

More gorgeous mountain side trails with the pacific ocean as a backdrop.

I mean, I did a tiny bit of post processing to bring out some of the details, but that’s about it. My goal was to make the photos feel more like a natural photo, versus something that came out of the weird over-saturated fisheye GoPro lens.

Log stairs next to a small water runoff on Steep Ravine Trail.

This trail was a great work out, and it’s filled with different landscapes. I was able to see some giant redwoods as well, which is always a treat. I bet this place probably looks incredible after a little rain. I can imagine small streams becoming enormous, rushing down waterfalls and bending around all the rocks.

One of several small foot bridges along the trails.

I’ll be out here again in the future. There are miles of trails that I still need to explore. Hit me up if you wanna go.