What I learned after running my startup while traveling for a year – TechCrunch
The life of a startup founder is usually not relaxing. Long hours are a given and days off are few. Your startup is your baby, and he needs 24/7 care and nutrition.
So what happens when a pandemic forces office closings and the shift to remote working for everyone? Big things, in the end.
For several years, my partner and I – normally based in Paris – discussed living a more nomadic life, spending a few months in one city and then moving to another. When we first started talking about it, we were both working in roles (customer support and software development respectively) that could in theory be done from anywhere. Then I co-founded my company, and we put our nomadic life projects on hold.
We already had a small number of employees working from home. But when we closed our Paris office and became completely distant in March 2020, some of our employees were a little panicked.
But a funny thing happened on the way to our home offices: Productivity hasn’t changed at all.
Inbound sales inquiries exploded – just weeks after the pandemic was declared, our leads were multiplied by 10. We were signing customers left and right. We even did dozens of new hires while we were completely remote, doubling the size of the company – we now have people working in 17 countries.
Once things stabilized, albeit at a new and faster pace, my partner brought up the topic again. If we’re far away anyway, what’s the difference between being far around the corner or in another country? She was right. Either way, we’re not in the office. It’s not like I’m the only person working remotely, we all are.
We worked together to define criteria. First of all, any location we chose had to be no more than one or two time zones outside of Paris, to facilitate communication with the office. Second, any apartment we rented had to have a reliable high-speed internet connection and two separate workspaces or a nearby space like a cafe or coworking space because we would both be working remotely. Third, I had to return to Paris every four to six weeks, mainly to reduce my anxiety about being away.
We started with a month-long trip to Iceland, where we worked from an Airbnb with a great view of the mountains. We kept the same hours as before and held videoconference meetings, as we did in Paris.
The only difference is that when we were able to take a break from work, we used our time to explore and have new experiences. I remember talking to one of our Icelandic investors, and he made a comment about my background perspective – he didn’t realize that I wasn’t in Paris and that didn’t didn’t bother me at all. He said as long as the business grew – and it did – he didn’t care where my office was.
The trip went so well that we decided to do it for a year. After a quick reset in Paris, we moved to Barcelona for two months and then to Greece. As I write these lines, I am in Paris for a week and then we leave for Amsterdam. Next on our itinerary are trips to Scotland, Sweden and Norway.
We don’t consider ourselves on vacation – my partner and I always work pretty intense hours. We make the most of our free time but mainly concentrate on work.
Here are my tips if you decide to do it yourself:
Consider staying in a time zone similar to your regular office to make your trip less disruptive for others. You don’t want everyone to have to reschedule regular calls and video meetings, for example.
Check and double check the internet quality of each destination. We mainly stayed at Airbnbs. I not only asked the hosts about the quality of the internet, but also asked them to send me screenshots of the speed tests. I also research local coworking spaces in advance if there is a problem with the Internet, so that I can relocate quickly if necessary.
Dress each morning as if you were going to work. It helps you not to fall into vacation mode and to stay in a work mindset.
Keep the same hours and the same routine as at home. Wake up at the same time, have your tea or coffee at the same time, and walk to your office.
Organize your remote work kit. Initially, I traveled with a lot more than I really needed. Now I only have a laptop, a foldable laptop stand, a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and a noise-canceling headset and mic. Have as few threads as possible. I initially had a mini router for an emergency, but learned that using my phone as a hotspot worked just as well, and even needed it sparingly.
Very few people (at least in tech) work 9 to 5 – we’re all connected, all the time. Often, we work with clients, colleagues and investors in different countries. Asynchronous communications have become the norm. Even before the pandemic, there were Livestorm employees and investors based in other countries that I had never met in person.
Over the past year, given that we are almost entirely remote, we have doubled our staff and almost doubled our revenue. We also closed a $ 30 million funding round, entirely via email and video conferencing.
Our Paris office has reopened, but in a different format, it is now organized as a co-working space, with a capacity of 30 (our total workforce is over 150). Staff who wish to come in can make reservations, and we have more meeting and meeting space than before, as most of the people who come are there to collaborate with others.
The weeks I’m in Paris I go to meetings almost every day, but I can still work from a Paris apartment, which can be anywhere.