The Power of “In Person” – Why Distributed Teams are Less Effective

Posted on Jul 5, 2010 | 86 comments


In the era of Skype, web conferencing tools and collaboration software conventional wisdom says that distributed startup teams can be just as effective as those that are in person.

Conventional wisdom is wrong.  Or more precisely the people espousing the benefits of distributed startups teams are often distributed and therefore self rationalizing it.  Been there.

The reality is that a certain magic that happens when you’re in person is critical in a startup.  You attend five customer meetings together over a two-week period and after each meeting you replay the results in the office about what it meant.  The CEO weighs in with his perspectives, the head of product management disputes his conclusions and the marketing VP has a different take.

We spend hours of seemingly “wasted” time just in these informal chats simply shooting the shit.  With all the recent obsessions about “pivots” most people don’t realize that the more powerful pivots are the unnoticeable ones we make every day through these exchanges.  The conversations bleed into the sales messages the next time, they wend their way into software designs and form the plan of attach against competition.

These incremental adjustments are made between people who see each other daily and are so below the surface of even our consciousness that distributed teams can’t see what they’re missing.  In a world where 90% of communications is non-verbal imagine what is lost on conference calls.

And from all the office chatter come norms and beliefs.  The sales rep that brings back news from the front line that is shared with the office adds to our collective knowledge about customer needs, product design flaws or partnership opportunities.  And that rep doesn’t just send an email to his boss – he has coffee with the head of customer service.  He downs cold ones with the head of biz dev.  He gossips with the office manager who tells 3 software developers.

And it doesn’t stop there.  The best companies are built on common beliefs and culture – a common sense of purpose.  Those cultural normals are established through human connections: the night we all stayed late to get that release out the door, the day we celebrated our funding round or the day we landed our first big account.  The culture is forged through office parties, poker, paintball or film nights.  And slowly, over the years, those crazy stories about Danny passed out in the company bathroom after the Summer party get replaced by weddings, births and family picnics.  We become more than dispassionate colleagues – we’ve been in the trenches together and survived.

I’ve seen it go full cycle.  There is a core that exists in human connectedness that no amount of technology can replace.  Just watch companies that grow rapidly in even a single physical address and start to span multiple floors and you’ll know what I mean. The culture starts to change and companies need to work harder to keep up the physical connections – even within the same building.

I’m not arguing that 100% of a team need to be in a single location although that would be ideal.  Here are my personal biases:

1. CEO, VP Products and CTO must all be in the physical location. If they’re not I won’t fund.  Because the formation of a business is so dependent on “product / market fit” these are the critical roles for me.  Also, founders who pitch me when they themselves live in separate locations don’t get very far with me.  I’ve heard the line a million times, “one of us will move after we’re funded.”  I know, I know.  But if your business is super important to you then have the hard discussion up front and one of you should consider moving.

2. I don’t like distributed development teams in early stage businesses. This is a topic that comes up often in Los Angeles because many CEOs are tempted to hire their tech teams in the Bay Area.  I think this splits up critical resources and builds separate cultures in two locations.  I often advise these CEOs to make the tough choices early in the company’s history – either move up North or build your tech team in LA.  There are pluses and minus for both cases.  Yes, I know some Herculean CEO’s that commute every week and make everything alright.  But I still believe that they would be better off whole.

3. I prefer the first sales hires to be in the home office. I understand the need to have geographic coverage.  If you’re a West Coast company you need people on the East Coast.  If you’re a UK company you’ll eventually need some local sales talent in Germany and France.  When your first few sales reps are in your home office there is a clear tradeoff that you’ll spend more on travel and your sales team will feel like ping-pong balls but I feel this is a better trade off than a sales team that is out of the loop.  As your company develops you’ll obviously need to hire sales talent in multiple locations.

4. I’m fine with key developers being in a remote location. If you have the core of your team together but a few key developers live in Oregon, Ohio or New Mexico and don’t want to move to a big, expensive city I’m fine with that but make it a small minority.  In a perfect world they’d be in your home office but this is one area where I feel remote tools can help bridge gaps.  As long as you have a great product management function and the remote people have established norms of being good independent workers these situations usually work well.  Make sure that you spend the money to have them work in the home office for a few days each quarter.  Even if they feel it gives them some less productive time it will pay huge dividends down the line in human connectedness.

5. What about call centers? It’s true that call centers often employ tons of employees who are often lower cost per person than your development team or other staff members and therefore it’s often effective to have call centers in lower-cost cities away from your home office.  But in the early phases of your company you’re not likely to scale up the call center so until that time comes I’d have them at the home office.

6. What about outsourcing? For me outsourcing in a pure startup is the kiss of death.  I’m against it in almost all situations.  I believe that startup tech companies need to develop a technical DNA and this doesn’t happen when you outsource.  Outsourcing early often happens when you have non-technical founders who don’t know how to get code out the door.  For me one of the tell tale signs of a real entrepreneur is that they know how to network well enough to find technical talent to join them.  If they can’t, I doubt it will become a big, important technical company.

7. What about offshoring? First, many people confuse outsourcing and offshoring.  Outsourcing is when somebody else builds your software.  Offshoring is when you have your own team build it but your own team is located a separate location where wages are significantly cheaper.  This is sometimes done in a cheaper part of your country but is more often done in a developing country rich with technical talent and smart people such as the Ukraine, China, India, Bulgaria and the like.

I prefer that early stage companies not offshore development.  In the world of agile development I believe that rapid output of code and the ability to constantly make changes trumps having a few extra bodies at a cheaper rate.  I’ve lived this directly through both outsourcing and later offshoring parts of our development at my first company and was proven wrong by our chief architect, Ryan Lissack, who argued that at our stage of development we were better off with a smaller, locally-based team.   When you’ve got offshore people you end up needing longer specs and less changes so it begins to feel like waterfall development.

Will I make exceptions?  Yeah, in some cases.  But where I make exceptions I expect the VP Engineering and the Chief Architect to all be located in the home office.  I expect the VP Engineering to be from the same culture and speak the same native tongue as the offshore location.

I have another exception.  There are times where you’re building a non-core piece of software in which you don’t have the in-house skills and likely don’t need them in the short-to-mid-term.  My example is that at my second company we build an exclusively SaaS platform except that we needed to build hooks into some Microsoft Office applications.  We put the spec out on RFP on a contracting site and received bids from skilled people all over the world.  So I’m not opposed to using oDesk in the early stages of your company (to the contrary – I’m a big fan of oDesk).  Just don’t use them early in your startup phase for your core development or for the majority of your coding.

In summary: I know that it’s trendy to espouse the virtues of distributed teams.  I also know that many of you reading this will work for such an organization and may be remote yourself.  I’m not saying your companies can’t / won’t succeed.  I’m just saying that I believe distributed teams for the key management members are suboptimal and less productive in the long run.  If that’s you – acknowledge it and pay attention to what you can do to lessen the inefficiencies and culture drift.

Or better yet – where possible – do something about it.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/rajatsuri rajatsuri

    Mark when I first read this article I thought it made a lot of sense, but on reflection I realize it conflicts drastically with my own experience.

    Your advice holds true, but only for startups with a significant amount of funding. Early stage startups should do whatever it takes to get to product-market fit for the lowest cost, and then raise money to pursue the opportunity aggressively.

    I've done 2 startups now, and both had a significant remote component. In my first startup I didn't even meet my co-founders in person till several months after launch. Yet we shared a good relationship that ended up getting us 300,000 users in a few months and getting funded by Facebook. Even though I left the company to pursue grad school at MIT, this funding helped them big time and they are profitable today.

    In my current startup we've had several remote coders to help keep the cost-structure low. Of course all of the founders are MIT engineers too, so that helps. But we don't have an office at all and communicate mostly by email or phone. The result is a low cost-structure that has impressed many investors and a lot of cheap progress that ended up paying major dividends with both investors and customers. Analogous companies to ours have spent as much as 100x our funds to get to the same place.

    So although even I was convinced by your words, the data seems to be different.

  • Justyn

    Thanks as always for sharing Mark.

    As you know, we're fairly new at this, but we recently went through the change from a team of 4 working semi-distributed (same city) to 9 working side-by-side. I thought a few related thoughts might be useful for others;

    - Whoever owns the product needs to be available to the software engineers. Unless you're the worlds best spec writer, there's too much room for improvisation and the biggest time-sink is having your small team of coders going in the wrong direction for any amount of cycles.

    - Want to get your CTO on board with a significant pivot? Have them sit in on the client meetings where they are shouting for it. No matter how strong of a leader you are, hearing outside validation to unproven hypotheses will help the whole team stay unified in direction.

    - Let there be headphones. Minimize interruptions and let people do their thing except when you need to shoot the shit or discuss something. Camaraderie can be built between bursts of productivity.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Neither company has yet scaled so I think it's fair to say the data is inclusive. I hope you'll prove me wrong on your current opportunity, which could be big if you guys hit it right.

    But while there are always exceptions I stand by my words. And even when companies manage to get funded or initial traction it's hard to deny that similar people would achieve even more greatness around the water cooler.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Justyn, thank you for the valuable contributions. The first two are absolutely key. The third – I've always struggled to work to music but I know that others do this effectively.

  • Justyn

    I can't do it either, seems about half the team works great with music.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/rajatsuri rajatsuri

    I don't think whether companies have scaled is part of your argument? Your argument is about 'effectiveness'. I define effectiveness for a super early stage startup as showing product-market fit enough to get the next round of funding or profitability. Apart from my startups, I know several other startups that have too.

    Now I totally agree that 'in-person' is important. It's hard to build a culture, make small adjustments and really motivate each other without a lot of in-person contact.

    Where I disagree is that pre-seed funded startups require 'in-person' teams to be 'effective'. I say do what it takes to succeed for the lowest cost. Understand that 'in-person' is important, but not critical. The critical thing is proving your customers love your stuff.

  • http://www.geekypeek.com Dan

    I tweeted that I whole-heartedly agreed and disagreed, so here's my explanation.

    In the formative stage at Peek we ran two offices and outsourced/offshored key development of the Peek itself. Both were mistakes for the exact reasons you mentioned above. Specifically our VP Marketing/Product were in the Bay Area and I was in NYC. We never really, truly got aligned on what to do next, and developed two distinct cultures in each office. On top of that, the outsourced/offshored guys just simply don't care enough to iterate and solve really hard problems quickly.

    So we changed all that. Swung our weight to in-house dev't and New York. Eventually shutdown Bay Area and China. We worked really hard on culture, iterating faster and customer development. It worked… really well. We then started distributing, we added a rockstar in Bangalore, another in China, I moved to Toronto. We have been even more successful since both in terms of development output, revenue and subs.

    Ultimately I think you have to be together to lay the foundation. Once laid you can think about being adventurous.

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com JohnExley

    Mark, another nice one. However, I presume you are familiar with 37Signals? Their developer and partner David Heinemeier Hansson was in Denmark mostly while Jason Fried was leading the startup in Chi-town. That company is Strong, highly profitable. From what you know of the situation, is that an exception or would you argue that 37Signals didn't reach it's tipping point until David made the commitment to move to Chicago?

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com JohnExley

    Mark, another nice one. However, I presume you are familiar with 37Signals? Their developer and partner David Heinemeier Hansson was in Denmark mostly while Jason Fried was leading the startup in Chi-town. That company is Strong, highly profitable. From what you know of the situation, is that an exception or would you argue that 37Signals didn't reach it's tipping point until David made the commitment to move to Chicago?

  • http://twitter.com/jm3 John Manoogian III

    s/attach/attack/

  • http://twitter.com/starttowonder S Jain

    Mark, I think in this case, I would kind of disagree with you. My company has not yet taken off the start up stage though its been 4 year of existence.
    Yes, our CTO, VP Product and CEO are based in Los Angeles, but we have key employees(mainly core tech and a key product guy) working remotely across North America and Asia, and we don't seem to have a problem because of not being in the same office. We do fly them to LA once in a while though.

    But, in the age of agile development and the kind of opportunities across US, If you don't allow the telecommuting, you will burn out the employees far more often and make them leave instead of building a culture. Again, I am saying this with the assumption that a startup following agile development, they will have too many product updates constantly, too many releases and too many late nights. I had actually blogged on a similar topic of online tools some time back because i think it works very well for my company http://bit.ly/bC5Urt

    Besides, keeping the employees happy, i have experienced that even if you do not have a physical presence, you still become buddies ..atleast skype buddies.

    Though, one key component the company has done is pretty much all the employees at least the remote ones have a good proven track record and are generally from MIT, Cornell.. etc and those guys are very senior. Since, we allow working remote those guys, the company was able to recruit those brilliant guys instead of spending more time on finding ones with same genius in LA.

  • http://twitter.com/williampietri William Pietri

    I think you're using the term “agile development” differently than is common. Agile teams (e.g., Extreme Programming or Scrum teams) are most often collocated and work at a sustainable pace. That's precisely so you can support maximum agility. If you're at risk of burning out your people, you're not working at a sustainable pace.

    One of the limits on your team's agility (that is, the ability to respond to new information by changing the software) is communication bandwidth, and another is communication latency. Those can't get any better than having everybody in the same room. When I've examined teams that don't notice any problems from being spread out across time zones, the people just didn't have much experience of a fully meshed, fully collocated team. Not noticing the problems didn't mean they weren't having problems.

    That's not to say you're doing it wrong; maybe this was the right choice for your company. But unless a team is aware of the problems caused by distributed development, they probably won't mitigate them as much as they could.

  • http://twitter.com/williampietri William Pietri

    I agree with the first two points, but to me, headphones are a sign of a poor work environment.

    Some of the power of collocation comes from ambient information. Rather than forcing people to retreat, I think it's better to keep conversation focused in the development area, and have off-topic conversations elsewhere. I've written more about that in 9 Signs of Bad Team Spaces and 10 Rules For Great Development Spaces.

  • http://twitter.com/Justyn Justyn Howard

    Interesting, I'll check it out. Certainly no science to what we do. When you have a room full of smartasses who are used to working from home for the last 4-5 years, it can tend to get a little distracting. Always fun, but distracting :)

  • http://twitter.com/dannyroa dannyroa

    Have you actually thought what your company could have achieved if all or most of you guys are in the same location?

  • http://twitter.com/starttowonder S Jain

    William, The problem for us not the information flow that i can assure you. The problem we have is too much work and too less of a time. Without any new information change, the company has so much work that next one year we are on very tight schedule. With the constant information changes the schedule just gets worse. The problem is company doesn't want to raise more money and thus doesn't have the deep pockets. But thats not the point here.

    Coming back to having information flow without loosing any, with all the problems, the company has been actually very successful at using online collaboration tools. Actually, these tools have been one of the big reason for the success of the company.

    Maybe I think, one of the big reason for successful information flow is vertical nature of information flow. All tech information flows thru the architect and he being an excellent ninja and juggler, he is able to remove all the obstacles we encounter in terms of information flow.
    Also, the choice of online tools like task tracking, scrum,… have been very very appropriate and help the information flow.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/rajatsuri rajatsuri

    could be more, or could be less. We're the types who work well alone. The few times we tried working in the same space, we found we were less productive. Sure we were bonding and talking about ideas, but we weren't executing and iterating on them.

    Coding is one of those things where you need crazy focus to be productive. Personally for me, my best coding/creative hours have always been 12-4 am when totally alone and undistracted.

    I'm not the only one – Mint.com was created by Aaron Patzer locking himself up and coding like a madman without distractions. I've heard similar stories about Steve Wozniak when he was designing the Apple I.

    In the earliest stages of the company, creativity and fast iteration is the most important thing. Regular communication is important but not so regular that you necessarily have to be in the same room for every hour of the day.

  • http://twitter.com/dannyroa dannyroa

    A lot of people say that a startup is like marriage. I don't think it's a good sign that a team achieves less if all its members are in the same physical location. It's like a husband and wife discovering that their marriage works much better if they are apart.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/rajatsuri rajatsuri

    Who says a startup is a marriage? Taking on investors is a marriage because you can't divorce them. However, people leave startups all the time. From my previous example, even Steve Wozniak eventually left Apple!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    maybe. I still assert that a lot of company trajectory is determined in the early days and as an investor I'm leery of long-term team dynamics in a company where the founders haven't stormed, normed and performed together as a group.

    we'll have to agree to disagree and hopefully enough investors out there are with you that many more companies will get funded.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I'm with you, Danny.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks for adding the story here, Dan. It's true that as time passes it gets easier to work in multiple locations and certainly for people who have worked together before.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes, I know 37 Signals. And I find myself disagreeing with them a lot.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks for the input. At a minimum it sounds like the key players are in LA. And other people have brought up the idea that sometimes you can hire rock stars in remote locations easier than in a big city where they're expensive and hard to bag.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/rajatsuri rajatsuri

    last thing I'll add is that just because a team is remote, it doesn't mean strong relationships can't be built and people can't 'storm' together. As you know Mark, tools like IM can be pretty strong in building relationships. Sometimes people are more open on IM than in person.

  • http://www.jasonwolfe.co.uk/ Jason Wolfe

    I'd add (although I think it's implicit in Mark's original article) that I know a good number of people that would be described as “externalised thinkers”, i.e. they actually do their thinking as they're talking. You'd be surprised how many people that encompasses (I'm one of them).

    Being physically proximate gives you more chances to have those kinds of conversation, and therefore more chance to advance your thinking.

    One of my biggest gripes about the early stage tech companies I've worked with is that they mistake work for progress. Work is usually done at a keyboard, progress is usually done inside your skull.

  • http://twitter.com/mikepuchol Mike Puchol

    A few years ago when I would have been totally against this thinking, but I now agree on most points, after having been through this with my startup.

    I fully agree that personal contact is key between the main components of he startup, such as founders, CEO, CTO and those handling the product and marketing. However, it is hard to bring onboard rockstar developers if you are a first time entrepreneur, or have not been a huge success on your previous ones. No matter how hard you network. Martin Varsavsky could post “I need devs” on Twitter and get the best coders on Earth, and willing to move to Madrid. If I did the same, I doubt the results would be the same.

    For me, the choice would then be to hire mediocre developers at local costs, and have them take more or less equity as a factor of their risk aversion, or outsource the initial development, while keeping a permanent watch on things. To outsource development to Romania doesn't mean your CTO cannot fly there on a regular basis and spend a couple of days with developers. You also need to be very aware of what outsourcing entails – the most common error is to think you can outsource using the same methods as if the team was local. There is a lot of 'brute' code that can be written by an outsourced team, which can then be taken over by a local team.

    Our biggest mistake wasn't to outsource the initial PoC – it was not to transition it to a local dev team which should have been built in parallel with the outsourced development. Having he developers right next to you gives you the ability to make changes much more rapidly, brainstorm solutions on an ad-hoc basis, and as you mention, build a team that has been through thick and thin and is equally passionate about the company as you are.

    As a CEO I once knew said, everyone in the company, from the CEO all the way down to the receptionist, should be able to answer the phone and explain what the company does, and be just as passionate in doing it. This cannot be achieved with outsourced teams or people working remotely.

  • S_cronin

    This is not completely thought out. In science, you collaborate with dozens people across the globe on ideas far more complex then 99% of anything an enterprise will see. I can assure you through direct experience that the LHC which dwarfs any business problem in complexity, has massive outsourced collaboration that works optimally.

  • S_cronin

    hmm I sound snippy here. Sorry Mark, I would be neat to see you to add on something or link to a post on quality of people and juxtapose it against proximity of operations.

  • http://giffconstable.com giffc

    I pretty much agree with you across the board, including your exceptions. My last employer grew to 75 people, with most working remotely, and even with quarterly all-hands retreats, it was very challenging. It was much easier building a remotely-staffed services business than having a distributed product team. For my current startup, my co-founder and I started in different cities out of pure necessity, but we're now both in New York and there is no question that things are better. I have to give up more time each day to commuting, but it's a definite net-positive.

  • http://market.io Vivek Sharma

    I have to agree with most of this. I did a previous startup where much of the team was distributed. In the early stages, the geographical distribution of the team really added friction to our communication and more importantly made it hard to create a cultural momentum. Hard to celebrate the wins when people were thousands of miles apart and keep the morale up during the lows.

    I see this as even more important with the focus on customer development today. My current team is moving at an incredible pace because everything we learn about our customers, product, or market are constantly and rapidly being churned back into the team. I would personally never start a company with a distributed team again.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    As a distributed cofounder that's one helluva sales pitch Mark. Will review my decision and plans for moving.
    My wife and I are strongly considering SF area, cofounder and his wife are settling in Portland.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Appreciate the counter opinion. I believe the necessity of cooler talk is not what it once was.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Landing 300k active users pre funding is a substantial early phase signal. How many early stage businesses have you funded with less social proof?

    We're talking early phase startups, not IPOs

  • James

    What about 37signals? Its team members were spread out all across the world in the formative stage, and they still are. Tens of millions in revenue with 85%+ margins. Bootstrapped.

  • navarrowwright

    Mark
    Great post! My only question is what are you thoughts about when you are a the very early stages ( bootstrapped and trying to get to your initial product built) and the only people you can get to partner with you are in remote locations. At some point as the business grows you can come together and get office space but not at this moment. Are you saying that a company just shouldn't start this way?
    Thanks

  • http://dokdok.com Bruno Morency

    Fully agree about the value of working in same physical location. We (dokdok.com) have developers working in the same office 3-days per week and from home the rest of the time. The days at home with little interruption are good for taking on tasks that require more concentration while 3 days together is enough to get the value mentioned in your article.

    We're sharing our office space with 5 other startups in Montreal. Being surrounded by people close enough to your team (you see them many times per week) yet not directly involved (they're working in their own startup)has given feedback, ideas, opportunities and connections that just wouldn't have happened if we all worked from home or in a tiny office just for our small team.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    well said.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I'm OK with your original comment – it brings up an interesting point of why global research collaboration tends to work in science. I'm not a scientist so I can't comment. But in software companies I'll stick with my original point of view.

    Regarding quality of people, Jim Lanzone said it best in a Tweet – “I'd rather hire A+ players remotely than B players locally.” That's true. And there are certain people that can be remote. But in general I believe that a team the works together performs better.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Same with WordPress. There are always some people who can defy a rule. But we'll never know whether they could have been even bigger had they been together.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Some people believe it's OK to be remote in company formation (see comments from Rajat above). I'm not one of them.

  • 1000xZero

    And now you know why outsourcing to Foreign locales fails most of the time.

  • Edna Ray

    Who has the best pizza in NYC?

  • http://twitter.com/Shrabasti Shrabasti Ghatak

    Informative and interesting article

  • davehendricks

    I worked once as the remote VP of Sales for a startup. It was such an unsatisfactory experience for all the reasons here (and more) that whenever anyone I know is considering working in a remote capacity for a startup (or even small) company, I advise them to move there or move on to a different opportunity. It's too hard to move the needle, or even be poked by the needle, if you aren't in the room.

    Our company LiveIntent lives mainly in one big room with no walls other than for conference space. And that means knowledge and learning travels faster.

    Spot on Mark.

  • http://sheynkman.tumblr.com Kirill Sheynkman

    Amen, I completely agree. It pains me to hear startups, 3-4 person big, talk about distributed teams. Even more painful is the “business guys” who waste money thinking that the technology can be outsource (either off shore of to another place in the country). It doesn't work in the early phases. The distance between teams is not only physical but psychological. I have built three software startups and always insisted on being physically located in the same office as every member of the technical staff. Eventually, sales needs to be remote. The key word here is EVENTUALLY.

  • http://twitter.com/williampietri William Pietri

    That's a typical plan-driven perspective, which is definitely not an Agile perspective.

    The notion that you have too much work is a problem of perception; anybody could say that. The reality is that you have limited resources, and so the question is how to create the most value for the resources at hand, hopefully increasing your resources in the process. Optimization goes best with high information flow and short feedback loops. Resisting change, avoiding new information, command-and-control organizational structures, and centralized decision-making all work against that. So does distribution across time zones.

    That's not to say you can't be successful doing what you're doing. Many have been. But you should be aware that it's an approach that the Agile and Lean Startup communities have intentionally moved away from.

  • Matthew

    For the last 5 years, I have worked for a startup. I spent 2 years with the founding team, then moved to the Valley to help with customer support and sales. The last year I've been working abroad from Guadalajara, Mexico (due to my wife studying for a degree).

    While I don't think it's impossible for a team to work well apart, I do agree that it adds additional risk. For the first 4 years of our startup, every person we hired that was not co-located with the founding team didn't perform at the level we needed. I feel reasonably convinced that part of the reason they didn't deliver the value was due to distance.

    A bigger challenge that I've faced, even though I have very good relationships with all the members of the teams, is one of relational context. Every startup faces very difficult challenges that must be resolved and if you lack enough understanding of your colleagues whole life, it can put extra tension on the relationships. I wrote a blog about this problem:
    http://blog.brinkofchaos.com/2009/10/attention/

    Lately, I've been doing Video Skype with one of my colleague and have found it an excellent way to start bridging the gap of being distant. The other way I manage the distance is to travel on-site to continue to refresh the relationships that I have.

    Thanks for the article Mark and the conversation. Very interesting.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Dave. Like you mention I prefer to even have the VP of Sales in the home office. I think the right time for distributed sales teams is when you already know the sales process really well and already have a few home office reps. Then you can start building a distributed team.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Matthew. Yes, Skype adds an important dimension and I whole heartedly recommend it.