Guillaume Montard

API Maniac at Bearer.sh

[Insights for CEOs] Starting and Managing A Remote-first and Multicultural-first Company

I"m Guillaume, co-founder of Bearer.sh, a Startup we launched 18 months ago as a remote-first company.
Not only are we remote-first, we are, in fact, a multi-regional, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, remote-first company, something even more unique!
Since we’ve been running the company this way for more than a year now, we took this as a good opportunity to reflect on the culture and process we've built, hopefully answering some questions you may have about remote-first companies too.

Why a remote-first company?

To be honest, it was mostly a necessity before becoming an opportunity, then the company’s core value!
In the beginning, my co-founder, Cédric, was based in Scotland and myself in France; effectively, we were a remote-first company before we were even a company. 
We were remote-first founders.
Our ambition, with Bearer, was to build a company and we had a certain path in mind: To be able to cross the Atlantic, sooner rather than later, and become a multi-cultural company as a result. We've seen some of our friends’ amazing companies, like Algolia or Sqreen, follow this path. 
We realized we had an opportunity to learn and lay the foundations for a company that could scale continents, cultures, languages, and time zones, so we doubled down on it!
When we officially kicked-off the company we were a team of 5, across 4 cities in 2 countries. Everything was done in English, as it was the only way to communicate together, despite none of us being native English-speakers.
Today, we are a team of 10, across 3 countries and located in 4 cities. To give an even broader view, one of our team members traveled around Asia for six months while still working with us. Finally, in the coming weeks, we have one member moving to South Africa; obviously, she will continue to be Bearer 🐻!

Running the company

In a remote-first company, communication is paramount. We often hear that engineering-focused companies are better candidates for remote working. I'm not sure; have you considered, for instance, if:
  • Communication is an engineer’s strongest suit?
  • Writing is an engineer’s best skill?
Communication, for us, meant setting up processes and tools, then finally, writing down and recording everything! Add to that the fact that 70% of our team has to do all of this in a foreign language and we have a serious challenge to tackle 💪.
We've set up some processes and rituals to help communication flow well between everyone and to make sure we can all give our best.
To give you a better understanding of how this works, some of our weekly rituals are:
  • Every Monday morning, at 9:30 am, the team receives a weekly note from me, some news etc. (thanks to Mathilde Collin for the trick)
  • Every Monday morning, at 10 am, team leaders meet with the founders, for 30 min, to talk about current projects
  • Every Wednesday, at 10 am, we have a 15 min remote-coffee break with whoever feels like it, to have casual chat about anything
  • Every Friday, at 11 am, we have a weekly demo (recorded) where everyone can demo their progress and share some knowledge
Then, once every Quarter, we all meet through an offsite for a week in a nice location; the last one was in Portugal 🏝. Outside those, team members can freely travel to meet each other when needed.
We also have some communication policies:
  • Every discussion is held using public channels (100% in English)
  • Every key technical decision is documented as an RFC and discussed
  • Every project is documented and can be commented on by anyone
  • Every day off is reported on a shared calendar sending Slack notification
We are careful not to create too many processesgiving the team freedom to explore. For instance, engineering team leaders’ only requirements are to have a public kanban-style board and a weekly discussion with founders; then they are free to manage their team and communicate however they want.

The office question

We have an office in Paris, a real one. This sounds a bit counter-intuitive for a remote-first company; however, this office can host about 10 people and is usually filled with 3, at best, including myself, and that's perfectly alright.
Our Scotland-based team members work entirely from home we happily provide them with a co-working space whenever they want one. They get together for pizzas on Fridays! In Poland, our teammate has his own office in the city of Gdansk. My cofounder works from his home, now in the north of France, in Dunkirk, and comes to the Paris office once or twice every month.
Working exclusively from home is not for everyone, and is certainly not for me, while it is for my-cofounder. 
Remote-first shouldn't be a synonym for working from home, it should mean having the liberty to decide and receiving the same support, whatever you choose.

Conclusion

Is remote-first working for us? I'd say yes!
We have an amazing team: highly skilled, passionate, and truly committed. In return we can offer them, probably the best perk, the option of working from anywhere.
To make it work, it all comes down to a simple value, trust. Without trust, I don't think it’s possible to make a remote-first company successful, even less so a multi-everything one.
Do not hesitate to share your experience and ask questions about remote-first company and remote-work below.
(Disclaimer: The Author is the CEO at Bearer.sh)

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Comments

October 6th, 2019

Every discussion public? Sounds like “remote worker” heaven!

October 7th, 2019

Thanks for your comment Arthur!

Clearly, without trust, it’s impossible to make such company work… but it should be a value of every company when you think about it.

We haven’t had many bad situations so far, I think the fact that most of the people in teamwork with others previously really helped. The worst that happened is when we dismissed our PM, but to be fair it wasn’t her fault, the product evolved quite a bit and the scorecard wasn’t working anymore.

I’m sure we’ll encounter quite more in the future, but that’s all great learnings to go even beyond.

Guillaume.

October 7th, 2019

Team that I have in my prev company was hyperlocal.
we all was located in one town, even our freelace teammates was able to connect with us with 1 hour of traveling.

But right now I realize that having everyone together is maybe harmful for setting up a nice working process. Because it teach you that you always can reach someone and have a quick chit chat. I’m ok with that conversations, but it better to keep everything “online”.

This is why I don’t like calls - because it’s hard to remember everything, especially in busy day or when you tired.

And now, when I have interns all around the globe - I see small difference between people. All of us have head, 2 hands and 2 legs :slight_smile:

So now I have less fear to work with other members remotely and definately will think hiring more people from other countries.

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