Building the future of remote work with founder Job van der Voort

The below is a full (unedited), machine-generated transcript of a Youtube session / podcasting episode I recorded with Job van der Voort of in March of 2021. You can view the video/listen to the podcast on YoutubeApple PodcastStitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

Erasmus Elsner 0:06 
Let’s, let’s roll. What’s good everyone, welcome to another episode of Sandhill Road. I’m here with my guest Yope fund airport, who’s a Dutch native. And he’s actually the second Dutch guest I have on this show, the first guest being sits a brand new his former boss. So you’re ready to take us from the top.

Job van der Voort 0:25 
Yeah, thanks for having me on, reopen the co founder and CEO of remote, which is a company that allows other companies to hire anybody from anywhere. When we take care of payroll, compliance, Texas Benefits, everything that comes with it.

Erasmus Elsner 0:39 
For people who are not familiar with First of all, great domain name. I know there’s a big backstory to it, you do a lot of things, but you haven’t been around for that long you just started two years ago, maybe give us the highlights of your personal transition over the last two years?

Job van der Voort 0:57 
Well, I started to remote together with one of my best friends, Marcelo. And we were always planning to start a business together. And when we started out, our mission was always the same, which is we want to create more remote jobs. And early on, we figured out that the way to do this was to go after this model that that we have today and to build our own infrastructure. And our assumption was that it was going to be very expensive and take a very long time to build. And then it you know, the market would grow slowly, who would relatively calm the build a company and then right when we are about to lounge for the public, because it took us a while to build the infrastructure about 15 months, COVID happens in the whole world went into lockdown, and every company in the world started working remotely and then hiring remotely, and then suddenly needing our help. Now, it was a perfect storm, in a way for us. So the company grew really, really fast. You know, in in 2018, when we started the company, I think we ended the year with nine employees in total. And in early 2020, we had 15 employees. Today, we have 140 employees, and we’re growing really, really fast. So the number will be outdated. Probably by the time this this podcast is live. So yeah, it’s been really crazy. Storm put it

Erasmus Elsner 2:15 
but you didn’t come unprepared. You really got your vessel in place for this perfect COVID Storm, you started out at GitLab with a series of branching when I had him on the show, I think I titled the episode, the remote unicorn because I was already back then really fascinated about all the different processes that GitLab put in place. And you were there as a VP of Product scaling the company from five employees already to foreign and 50 employees, I think and you were really pioneering along with CIT, this remote work setup where you had this Bible, I think CIT called it where everything was written down. How does HR work? How does customer acquisition work? How does product management work, I really took away from this, that this could be the next frontier and said, I remember he said at one point, the VCs wanted him to be based in San Francisco. But he decided even though it was at a discount, he decided to have it as a fully remote company without any offices ever. And I think he didn’t meet his co founder for the first two years of the operation of GitLab. And so you really learned from the best there and you were prepared for this perfect storm, but maybe give us some personal colour on how GitLab prepared you for it. Yeah, it’s

Job van der Voort 3:25 
funny, I joined GitLab when the company was essentially founded. So Susan and I were working together with another company together, when he left there to focus on just building GitLab I joined the team, I think the interesting thing is, is that because Git lab started as an open source projects, that’s basically how we modelled our company at first and not necessarily like super intentionally so but it was just that the people working for GitLab at git lab, on the open source project or at the company itself, they came directly from the community and the community is of course global, because you know, so on the internet, it’s open source software. And so we just sort of did the same thing as an as you do in an open source project. We spoke with each other online, and we work together online. And that’s, you know, that’s understood to be a normal thing. It just grew naturally from there naturally in a sense that we made explicit decision to not open an office and we made explicit decision to just hire the best person for any given job and then just figure out how to pay them which why eventually led me to starting remote and doing it naturally you encounter as the company grew, you know, fairly rapid pace you encounter the problems that now everybody struggles with, which is how do you communicate? How do you decide to do that. And at the gala, we advantage that a lot of the problems that we face we can solve with our own product. So you don’t handbook for example, it’s very obvious to just have a place to write things down. This is how we run the companies that if you’re our leader is asleep, you could still access and understand exactly how our companies ran. And those kind of things we just developed as we were running the company and so we’ve learned a lot about that we did all sorts of things really well. And I think many things that we did early on are still happening and good luck. But there were also regularly things that stopped working once we hit a particular scale. Early on, for example, every single day at GitLab, we had a, I think we there was not a time limit, we had a daily meeting at one particular time. And we often run into an hour and hour half. Let’s start working once you have people in team that don’t necessarily do the same thing, right. And I think the first six, seven people at GitLab, we were all engineers. So you know, it was fine to speak for an hour about engineering related problems. We know we hired someone to do sales for us. Yeah, you’re not going to have that person sitting in a meeting. And so it was a really natural progression, you know, I was for five years at GitLab. So we really had the time over those five years to learn how to do this. And essentially, the company doubled in size every year. And it gave us plenty of opportunity to, you know, take our time to learn how to do these kinds of things. I think one of the fundamental things about running a remote company is that you’re always iterating on the company itself, besides the fact that you’re iterating on your product. So that was very much our attitudes.

Erasmus Elsner 6:06 
If I go to your website, I read the mission statement of it says TLDR I’m leaving GitLab to help organisations and people work remotely, ultimately work better. I’ll do that as the CEO of remote COMM And then you go on saying July last year, my wife Carla was hospitalised she was pregnant with our daughter, but began early labour 32 weeks a week later, June was born healthy, but she would have to stay another three weeks in the hospital. And then you go on describing the benefits of remote companies. You say I’ve been working for GitLab for the last five years and to help to grow from five to 1450 people, we have a grand total offices of zero. Everyone works remotely in over 45 different countries. This time has shown me that remote organisations have a unique advantage, working remotely or distributed forces an organisation to do things differently when you started remote that come in 2019 there wasn’t this whole vertical of remote work that now exists this whole hype around it. There were quite some uncertainties and many doubters when it came to whether remote work is actually possible. What gave you that confidence at that point?

Job van der Voort 7:15 
Well, I don’t know if the timing was was good, like everything retrospect. erector? Exactly. It’s, it was probably a pretty good timing. But, you know, I wouldn’t necessarily encourage fathers to start new companies when they just have a newborn. For me, I had a, there’s a few aspects to it. One is I joined GitLab with the intention of saying only for a year. And actually, when I told said, I said I’m not going to stay for a year, and that was the agreement we had there was going to say for a year, and then that was going to start my own company. And you know, when a company goes really fast, it’s, it’s fun to stay along. And so I did and I say the bit longer than than I planned. So I always had this, this wheel to start my own thing. And I I think it took the time to one, like, start to crystallise what I wanted to do what direction I wants to get into. And of course, you know, a little bit before 2019, I started to build up the idea. And I started to prepare my life and everything else around that. But fundamentally, why I started the company and why anytime would have been a good time is because I very strongly believe and especially, you know, what is GitLab continue to grow. And it’s very well. I it just my belief, my faith in in companies being built this way became stronger and stronger. Right? I think it’s it’s very easy to say nowadays, but back then, we were one of the few remote companies, it was a weird thing. And people thought about a very strangely, but everybody that worked at a company was extremely happy. Because they got this massive amount of freedom. They got a lot of extra time. And some of them they would report back into work, but they wouldn’t be happy about it. And even the way we ran a company, it seems so obvious, right? Like, it’s, it seems so obvious that you’re just able to do your job. If you’re doing your job fully on the internet, why would you go to an office if I have a computer at home, maybe even a nicer computer? So it seems so incredibly obvious. And so it was a combination of factors, one, if I don’t do it now, when will I do it? If I think to myself, well, I’m going to do it when the kids are older, and I’m never going to do it, you know. And so that definitely played a really, really strong role. And what about your co founder is very interesting. So I have a background in neuroscience and I left neuroscience initially to get into tech. And the first thing I did is Marcella, my co founder, we start to do try to start a startup and we ran out of money within three months. So I had to find a job. And that’s actually how I ended up with GitLab. During the time that I was GitLab. We kept building things. So sometimes he was living in Portugal and I was living in the Netherlands at the time. He would fly over to the analysis for a weekend and we would build an app will it into existence in a weekend. So we did that a number of times never made any money with it. But we always knew that this was the goal. Right? We are going to build something together. That was the goal

Erasmus Elsner 9:56 
and personally always judge a good entrepreneur by the number of GoDaddy domains that he has registered and the number of side projects he has running while on being working for the man different startup.

Job van der Voort 10:07 
So we wanted to we both wanted it. We were already aligned about it, it was a matter of everything coming together with a lot of willpower, but nonetheless, everything coming together. And you know, I think I was in a happy place at my job at GitLab. And I think he was unhappy places job was unbearable. But we both knew we wanted something more than that.

Erasmus Elsner 10:24 
He also recently became a father at that point. Is that Is that correct? At least from the picture on the website?

Job van der Voort 10:30 
Yeah, no, it’s it’s, it’s worse. So while we were billing remote, he became a father there. And then last year, I became a father for a second time. So yeah, and there’s a lot of fairs that remote. So yeah, there’s a lot of between the two of us, we have three kids now. But let’s

Erasmus Elsner 10:46 
talk a little bit about the business model of remote, which is quite multi layered, I would say there, there are many angles. And when I looked into it, and tried to unpack it, there’s this full stack model in the sense that you’re acting as an employer of record for some companies, which I think means that you’ve set up legal entities in different countries basically ensured that there is compliance with respect to the local laws with respect to the payment processing, which is different from what what many others do, which is simply the PEO professional employment organisation arrangements. So it goes a step further, which which I would call it the full stack model. In that sense, then there’s the FinTech angle, if you like with a payment processing, where you sort of have to convert the currencies at the right point of disbursement, take into account the different FX rate and make sure that you have it in local currencies, that you have access to the local currencies. And last but not least, there’s the sauce layer software as a service layer with compensation benefits and employment, remuneration, SAS solutions, so there are these three different aspects, maybe take it one by one and start with this really, I think, quite unique and differentiating factor this employer of record aspect of it talk a little bit about what that means in the reality of billing remote.

Job van der Voort 12:00 
So why would you do this in first place, if you employ someone in a different country, you are required to meet the local labour laws to meet the local labour laws, you need to offer them statutory benefits, local contract, run local payroll, and everything that comes to that. And almost all situations, you can only really do this if you have a local entity, because you’re also required to pay taxes and local employer so works itself out the net way to open up an entity in a country, that’s going to be a significant amount of work. And it varies a lot. Every country is completely different. They think of their own rules. So what we had to do is we had to set up entities in all countries in the world. And it’s an ongoing process, because there’s a really long time and it’s really, really complex. And then we need to figure out how, what are the local labour laws? How do you create a local employment agreement that is valid? What is the model that we’re going to use? Because we are an acting employer, right, so your employer of record, meaning that we’re on paper, the employer, but in reality, we, you know, we just serve a bureaucratic function. So how do we resolve that and make sure that IP is protected, for example. So that’s a lot, it takes a really long time and a lot of work to figure that out. And we have to do that for every country in the world, really, because we want to enable opportunities everywhere. And so the only way to say everywhere is if you’re actually everywhere. And so we had to set up, and we’re continuing to do so which is a massive amount of effort. And you know, the moment you hit a certain amount of entities, you have to think about how to protect them, how to protect them from each other how to structure taxes, how to think about income transfer, price agreements, etc. It’s, it’s a lot. It’s a lot to take on. Ultimately, what you do get is that right now, if an employer comes to us, we can employ people directly for them. It’s really fast and just really simple. And it’s fully compliant for all parties involved us employee and employer. But yeah, there’s a lot of work. Yeah, let

Erasmus Elsner 13:53 
me double click a little bit on this last point. I remember talking to the General Counsel of Uber. At one point, she talked to me about raising the Series C, that she thought it was a lot of money. And she asked Travis why why do we need that much money? And Travis told her well, this round is actually for you. It’s just for legal expenses, you know, because obviously, Uber had to find all kinds of different regulatory battles in different countries. You’re not in that sense, a controversial business model as Uber was in the early days, but I can still imagine there’s a lot of legal costs involved with this. You had some experience, I guess, from from GitLab and making sure it’s compliant.

Job van der Voort 14:29 
Yeah, I mean, we learned about this challenge with GitLab. Right, which is one of the reasons that we felt confident that this was necessary. I don’t think you need a legal background or background in anything particularly to start a company as long as you’re ambitious and willing to read up and you know, there’s very few people on the planet that have experience doing labour law in 195 countries, but like for sure the people that are there will be working remote, so I didn’t really consider it. I just saw it as a challenge to address. It’s been very interesting. I think one of the things that we’ve learned is that we’re in Now it’s important that if we speak with the world’s experts on, you know, international expansion and labour law and whatnot, they fall short of the knowledge that we require to be able to do this. And so we just depend on internal resources that we build up over, you know, conversation with local attorneys.

Erasmus Elsner 15:15 
Moving on to the the second aspect, this FinTech angle, or does payment processing angle, let’s say, I’m a startup in London, and I want to, I don’t know, employ workforce in Kuala Lumpur and the Ukraine, and I decide to partner with remote and I want to make the local payments doesn’t mean I need to have a bank account in these countries, or is that as part of this offering all included, then I just have to pay basically remote as a local contractor in London.

Job van der Voort 15:43 
So the way it works is, if you’re an employee want to employ someone in another country, you tell us how you want to be invoiced, we can do it in all sorts of currencies. And we take care of everything, we have a global network of bank accounts or own payment network, and we can disburse locally in local currency. And actually, because we are local employer, we’re actually actually liable to do so. So we have to do so we have to do a local currency. And we have to do the exact and on a specific date, and many cases as well. Same goes with Texas and such. So yeah, it’s always us, we take care of everything, as long as you pay our invoice.

Erasmus Elsner 16:17 
And then maybe the last aspect, the SAS layer, it’s become quite a crowded space. And it’s, I would say, the space where it’s really hard to differentiate yourself on features. And so we’re really having this full stack and payment processor model on top of it, or as the core probably helps with this. I think

Job van der Voort 16:33 
fundamentally, we want to solve the problems that you face if you scale a modern organisation. And so that is what we are building for. We’re not building to build a global employer of record, we did that. That’s one of our products. What’s fundamentally what do we want to do is we just want to solve, helping you scale an organisation. And that is what we built for. And so, you know, if you think about like the software that we build, and how that works, that just solves the complexity and it solves the abstracts away everything that is complex would otherwise require a lot of back and forth. That’s fundamentally what it does. So, you know, when we started the remote, the goal we had was very simple onboarding an employee in another country should be as simple as signing up to Twitter. And so today, we’re at that point, but that was only possible through the fact that one, we have our own infrastructure through sign two, because you spend an immense amount of time of abstracting away all the complexities of hiring locally, taking in information, while also thinking about privacy concerns and being compliant with local privacy laws, for example. Yeah,

Erasmus Elsner 17:36 
I think that makes a lot of sense that in the first step, you would build these rails and now this whole software engine can can smoothly run on it, maybe now talking a little bit about pricing. If I go to your pricing page, I see the most popular pricing option, the global employment option, which comes as 299 per month per per seat, but you also offer other options like the pure SAS layer, the payments and benefits option, then there’s the contractors option.

Job van der Voort 18:02 
So traditionally, in industry of employer records, what they would do is they would charge a percentage fee over total cost of employment. And we actually started out with that. But what we quickly realised is one it’s kind of complex to explain and tool that’s not really fair, because we would make more money if you were to pay someone more, but like the cost for us doesn’t go up. So why would we it’s not, that’s not really fair pricing, and it does the opposite of what we want, we want to encourage you to pay people around the world a lot of money, we don’t want to encourage you to work with low sell salaries. So we moved away from that towards, you know, a fixed fee, which is exactly where we are today. So it really is that fee and nothing else. There’s no we don’t charge for transfers, we don’t there’s no surprises there. That is what we charge you. And then we varied a little bit, there’s a few regions in the world that are more affordable to run in and a few bit more expensive, which is why there’s a range. And then you know, there’s other products that we offer like the contractor platform, just running payroll for you. So without us being the liable employer. And then those things you know, they are lower value, there’s less liabilities involved, so we we can charge a little bit less for that. Primarily, our focus with pricing is it should be incredibly easy to understand. We modelled it after traditional SAS pricings. Everybody understands that. So if you have a monthly fee, and that’s it, you can guess what every month and it’s like, we went through immense struggles to make sure you can actually just cancel every single month, which is not a normal thing. Like we’re all of labour law.

Erasmus Elsner 19:29 
Yeah, I mean, it’s also quite risky in terms of cohort churn to have this monthly option, but I think it’s quite appealing and it does help you on the top of the funnel is getting people to try out the product and the more people you have using it, the better the product gets and really getting the flywheel going against with this. I would want to move on to competition. Unsurprisingly, you’ve been compared to some of the incumbents such as gusto and rippling in the payroll and HR software space. But there there are also more specialised players are popping up over the last couple of years think most notably deal, which is Andreessen Horowitz play in the segment, then papaya global is another one lattice factorial and turning have been mentioned as peers of yours. If you had to sort of map out the landscape, I’m sure you’ve done that as part of your fundraising, or we’ll get to that how your fundraising went, probably, it’s been hugely oversubscribed, and you never had to prepare a deck. But if you had to map out your competitive landscape, where would you put yourself in terms of feature sets, and also in terms of defensibility, the way

Job van der Voort 20:33 
we build the business, so if you’re in a really competitive landscape, there’s two ways to go about it. You can stress like crazy about what your competitors are doing, and you will forever be behind what they’re doing. Or you can try to build a really great product and serve your customers the best. And we try to lead second, if you remember, the landscape I think the incumbents in America has. I mean, I think they’re up for a tough time, it’s going to be really hard, they have a really strong distribution and plays with existing customers, which are mostly larger organisations, the contracts are very hard, it’s not multi cancellation, it’s multi year deals with high cancellation fees, and off boarding fees, and everything that comes with that. So you know, there’s a lot of inertia of customers also to move away from those. Now, of course, the reason that this market is so hard is because there’s a lot of momentum, momentum in the market itself. And Mark probably has grown 10x, just in 2020. And I think that’s a trend that will continue. And so if you look at the rest of the market, what you see is that basically everybody in the market, besides from us does the same thing, which is they build software on top of the infrastructure of others. So other people that might be other, or even incumbents in the market, or just local players have entities that they rely on and service providers that they rely on to provide the services and then these players build software on top of them. And you know that they can be relatively good at that. And they can really abstract away a lot of it, but ultimately, their experience, and also their pricing is determined by what is happening locally. And if the if the pricing is not determined by them, they’re probably, you know, not able to sustain this kind of model forever. And what we said from the beginning is, well, we experimented with the alternative. But we quickly realised that working with partners like that and not owning the infrastructure ourselves same way to payment infrastructure, for example, on the short term is going to be painful, because it’s going to hurt us and market capture that we can do. But that where what we do capture, we are much stronger, because we own everything, we are heavily incentivized ourselves to provide a great experience to be combined and to do things really, really well. So that’s fundamentally how we started out. As differentiating yourselves, I think today we’re at the point where we can say, well, it’s not just that it’s because we have all of that we’re able to build strong differentiating factors. So we’re not relying on a third party to say these are the benefits you can offer, we can we set stage we can say this is the benefits we can offer to all our customers and to all our employees, because we own everything. And it’s up to us. And that’s exactly what we do. So offering with as time goes on, and our presence around the world becomes larger, we have an incredibly strong benefits offering that is everywhere, we can offer the same feature sets the same payment options to everyone we own, we can directly disperse into local bank accounts, we don’t have to go through some payment provider, which then, you know, takes a cut of that which results in all sorts of problems. And then on top of that, because we are we own local entities, we can do much more. And of course, we’ve we’ve not been operating in public for a year yet. So we today we have one core product employee records, and then you know, we have to be apprised and the contractor platform, those are still very young. But you can imagine that with that we can we can do a lot more. So the coming months for us there in that sense are going to be very exciting.

Erasmus Elsner 23:53 
Now for sure. It makes a lot of sense that you have these high barriers of entry of building sort of this full vertical integration in the beginning. And then you can really benefit because you can set pricing and you’re not just a wholesaler of this infrastructure and makes a lot of sense to me. Let’s talk a little bit about your funding journey. You did the first seed round, which was an 11 million seed round close in early 2020. On the VC side, you you had two sigma ventures from New York leading the round, but also some participation of index already. And then you had some strategics in there as well. I mean GitLab but also hacker one which is company I quite like pioneers and remote work size wise. I think it was more of a Series A but talk to us a little bit how this first round came together.

Job van der Voort 24:38 
Yeah. You know, we started the company with some capital, I was not really raising, but I did start conversations in November to those 19 I was visiting San Francisco. I spoken to VT, who’s our board member now from two sigma. I was just going to catch up with him. I was just I reached out to him when I visited his new offices and it was like ah, this is a great idea to do it. It promotes our leisure routes. And that’s essentially how it came together. Like we had some conversations and we broken already within next gen catalyst. But that is essentially how we arrived together, that there were not that many conversations and I think I really wanted to work really, and, you know, same and a really strong relationship already within next. So it’s, it’s not a it’s not really a fairy tale. It’s like it came together very easily. And it it was the same period of time that sits at our that he wants to invest as well. It just wasn’t one week. And it came together really, really quickly. It came together, I think it was 19. And then we finished up documentation in early 2020. You’ve

Erasmus Elsner 25:41 
since closed a Series A, which again, is more size wise, a series B. So 35 million series A announced in October 2020, led by index this time, but also some participation from Sequoia Capital and general catalyst you mentioned and on the angel side, it was Kevin and Julia hearts from Eventbrite, Aaron Levine, Weinberg from flat iron. So really, some quite notable names on VC, Twitter, talk to us a little bit now this follow up round. So quickly after the first round, less than a year after the first seed round came together. Yeah,

Job van der Voort 26:15 
I mean, it was a Series A because the previous rounds, we were pre revenue, so we didn’t have any revenue whatsoever. So now, at the time of this route, we actually did have some revenue. And so we started conversations around this when my son was born. He was born in August, also prematurely. So my daughter, and around that time, we were already talking with index about this, it was essentially Well, the market is hot, it’s the right time, we could really use the capital, we have a very clear idea what we’re going to do, it looks like what we’re selling, there’s a real demand for us. And if we were to raise now we would, we would know what to do with the money. And that’s essentially how we approach that. So to get over the next we came together into terms really, really quickly. That was very easy. I know, I’ve really liked working with them. So I just that was very, very easy choice. It was it next year. I’m actually working with Hannah and Yan there. And then I had spoken previously with Sequoia already when I was in San Francisco in November 2019. As its I think officially has been crystallised, but now they were like, Oh, I really want to get in. And so we made it work that they could have decent delegations around as well and bring them in which which is great. And then you know, as you do once you have like the big check saying then you can see if you could find some angel investors. And yeah, I think it’s a little we have 30 or 40 Angel investors in the in that round. It’s mostly, you know, tech CEOs and people from the same

Erasmus Elsner 27:43 
ad. It’s really nice. If you to make some room for the angels. I think if it’s such a such a hot round, it can sometimes happen that the leading firm pushes out elbows out already the angels at Da, I think it’s a good decision to get some of these great names.

Job van der Voort 27:57 
Yeah, you know, I think it’s important to say that’s funds such as index and Sequoia I all the firms that we have right now on the cap table, they’re actually highly supportive and they put people forward. It’s not like they’re passively a non contributing units, they actually say no, you know, make some space for angels. These are great people, we like these people that we recommend. So actively happens really, really great

Erasmus Elsner 28:20 
now, at least from what’s publicly disclosed is this is really the who’s who tech Twitter, I would say in some, in some instances. But let’s talk a little bit about scaling remote. And this can lead us to a broader discussion, I think about how to organise remote work, and what are best practices for remote work, because is a remote company itself, obviously. So let’s talk a little bit on the first principles basis, what’s the difference for you between in office work and remote work,

Job van der Voort 28:49 
you walk into an office, you see people and you have interactions with them, even just seeing them. And that’s completely gone. Just as like having lunch together and bumping into each other and waiting for the meeting room to get started. That’s the first and most obvious thing that you lose with remote work. And you have to compensate for that. So you have to explicitly create moments where people interact with each other outside of the context of work or outside of the context of a specific subject or meeting, you can solve that by putting people longer in meetings, which is what you see is the opposite of what you should do is to have as little meetings as possible. So that’s the first thing and but you get a lot back from them, because how do you address that you have addressed that to first not rely on those kinds of meetings, we actually transmit information. So you, you know you create a single source of truth that for every piece of information, so for company, basic stuff, you have a handbook for you know, anything related to let’s say development or design, your development or your design tool should be the single source of truth, that information which means every decision is locked in there. That’s really, I think where you start the nice thing is is that the moment you realise a room Remote organisation, you start to fall into? Well, we’re going to have a flexible schedule. So having a flexible schedule completely changed the dynamic even further, right? If you have a flexible schedule, meaning I can work whenever I want, I’m in best mood to work or whenever I do my best work is when I work, which you know, further underlines the need to work asynchronously and having less reliance on meetings. But it also allows you to immediately you know, hire people all over the world and reap the benefits from that. So there’s cascading effects of like realising Well, if we’re not all in office together, we don’t have to be all in the same place or the same time together. And sometimes you should, because it’s nice, but that has an infinite amount of ripple effects, which ultimately, if done, well are beneficial to your company, but not without, you know, consciously, explicitly finding ways to replace the things that you get for free in the office, which is the social thing, which is the water cooler fan, which is the, you know, having lunch and together at work, you have to replace those because otherwise, you know, there’s no company culture, but you don’t have to replace them one on one, it doesn’t mean that every day, you have to have these kind of interactions, like that’s the beauty of it, we don’t need to be in an office all day to do good work. Like the kind of stuff that you get from the office, you could do with significantly less and still have the same kind of output. And I think that is really where you want to be. So that, you know, instead of having everyday lunch with your colleagues, maybe now you have one or two calls a week, just you know, to socialise. And then that’s it. And you leave it at that or other ways of socialising with your colleagues by hanging out in a gay video game or whatever else you can imagine or even just meeting up outside of a pandemic in real life once in a while, which is actually what I always encourage remote organisations to do.

Erasmus Elsner 31:46 
You mentioned this being able to bump in sort of randomly into into people that you don’t get if you work remotely, you don’t get this kind of micro interactions. And I remember a while back, I was working on a web RTC based video tool. And when I sort of mapped out the the competitive space at that time, we found this one startup that recorded every employee all the time latently. While there, they were at work to sort of get this water cooler moments, right. It didn’t work out the company folded eventually there was some incidents with work colleagues doing inappropriate things. At one point, they didn’t realise that they were recorded that they fell back into their natural state. So enabling these these random bump ins still remains to be solved.

Job van der Voort 32:28 
I don’t know if I agree with that. I think I think there’s great solutions for it. That’s basically replace it, I think you have to set your expectations accordingly, which is that in an office, the watercooler is only serves a select amount of people like it serves 30 people, and then there’s going to be another water cooler. So like if that is what you want. If you want to replace the water cooler effect, it’s kind of easy to do, because it’s just so people are in the same timezone. And you use a tool like, we use them at remote, which is like an audio presence kind of thing we hang out in an audio room. But there’s there’s hundreds of tools that do this, I think that what happens if you build a remote organisation and it grows larger is that people are going to have the expectations you have to bond with everybody in our organisation. But you don’t do that in an office either. Like it’s important that you meet people at the office and you form a bond with them. But you don’t need to form them on every single person at the company. And I think we have to be realistic about that. And we also have to be realistic about what it is that you get out of this. Because truth be told most water cooler conversations are just just that, like it’s there’s nothing to it, there’s no output of it. There’s no magic happening there. You know, if you talk about like those kind of things and serendipity at work, you can replicate that by just hanging out with colleagues now. And then And that’s fine, that suffices. And for the most part, you don’t get any magic.

Erasmus Elsner 33:47 
Yeah, most of those directors are I agree. And that’s not even talking about the whole distraction that you get from these watercooler talks that may be going on next to your desk, and you don’t get to do any deep work and sort of you only start deep work after everyone else has gone from the office or while we’re back at home. Right. Another aspect I wanted to drill in was just being very intent about what you write down and how you document things. And I really remember this from Syd telling me about the the GitLab bible where everything was written down in a 3000 Pages document, which I think it was like a self hosted website. Talk to us a little bit about best practices here and how you handle it at your company now.

Job van der Voort 34:30 
Yeah, I think there’s a few things that are important. One is to understand that documentation has to exist, everybody has to contribute to it, and it’s never done. And those are the things you have to keep in mind. And for those things to be true. Everybody has to have access to it has to be asked to read it, spend time reading it, and has to understand it as like the single source of truth of information. So what do you have to do is you have to foster a culture in which you answer questions with links to doctrine. integration. How do I do this? What is this? How does this work? The answer to that should be linked to documentation. If the documentation is unwritten, you write it and then link to it. That’s that’s how you build this kind of system. And luckily, nowadays, you have great applications, like a notion, for example, where you can do this quite easily. And

Erasmus Elsner 35:19 
if I can double click on this on having the right software solutions, you mentioned four different essentials, there’s, you have to have a tool that allows video conferencing, zoom, then one that sort of gives you a sense of presence. I think discord or tandem than a documentation tool and a collaboration tool slack as a best practice advice. What software tools would you recommend?

Job van der Voort 35:41 
Yeah, I mean, you went through the list. I wouldn’t necessarily recommendation today because the performance is really bad. There’s a great alternatives like CODA and Almanack and slides and a bunch of others. You mentioned slack, zoom, we use them now, which you can also use for video calls, by the way. So if your company is not too big, you could use just that the bigger companies still need zoom, because that’s the only one that scales up. Yeah. And that’s basically it. They don’t like beyond that. And in general, I try to avoid using too many tools, because it’s quickly becomes overwhelming beyond that, it just depends on your needs. Like everything, almost any software company needs a design tool. And I think there’s like a market leader now in figma, which is really, really great. I that’s

Erasmus Elsner 36:16 
that’s really, it’s as we were running against the clock, there’s maybe one last aspect, I wanted to highlight this notion of asynchronous and synchronous work, having this asynchronous ability to sort of allowing everyone to work in their best time when they’re the fittest, and an enabling deep work as a last point on best practices, maybe give us a few words on that. Yeah,

Job van der Voort 36:39 
I mean, I could talk about this for hours. And I think about it very, a lot a lot. It’s very hard to maintain an asynchronous culture. And the reason for that is that most people are not used to working asynchronously. How you can evaluate whether you have a company that can work asynchronously is to measure the amount of time which you can do by calendar. How much time do you spend on video calls? How much time does the average person spend on video calls? Right? Like salespeople are exceptions, leaders and managers are probably exceptions. But like, how do most people how much time do they spend on video on calls? That time should be very limited, they should be very, very few recurring meetings, like ad hoc meetings is fine. Like you should have ad hoc meetings when you need them. But there should be very few recurring meetings. And why is that because traditionally, meetings are used to share information. But asynchronous work essentially stays that sharing of information. And even making decisions on times, most of the times should happen without the need of you being together in the same place in the same time, looking at the same thing. That’s fundamentally what asynchronous work is about. And I think this is the best way to evaluate on whether you’re actually doing a good job with that or not. If you do it well, what you find is you can build a company that allows people to work when they really want to work. And with that, you immediately gain the ability to hire people in other time zones. I love to see this at remote, we have people all over the world in all time zones. And then in particular, we have people you know, in the same time zone as i But working very different hours, which also really enjoy, it’s very easy to lose this by people that schedule meetings to share information or to discuss simple things. It’s also very easy to go to go the wrong direction, which is we do everything asynchronously and decision making takes forever, you can prevent that by having clear guidelines and training people on this, which is are you expecting? Or are you seeing a lot of back and forth, set up a call? Is there a clear, you know, confusion, don’t dive into trying to go back and forth. Because I think a lot of time just remind people to use other kinds of means. So for instance, loom to record a video of yourself, you could still have the benefits of easily talking rather than writing, it’s much more comfortable. So for some people, but with the advantage that you don’t have to be at the same place at the same time. So sometimes when I’m like, I’m not sure what I’m what I’m going to say, I prefer to just record a video or it’s something more personal or whatever other reason, I want to share my screen, record a video with loom, send that off, and then people can review it in their own time whenever they’re ready. And the last thing here is that there has to be a cultural company wide. Understanding that asynchronous work means that you give people the opportunity to review things in their time as well, right? It’s not just about sending information. It’s also about when do you expect to reply? And so you have to learn to signal is this urgent? Do I need immediate help? And if this person doesn’t reply, go seek it somewhere else. But also there’s a general understanding that if you send me a Slack message, it’s up to me to respond to it. And so a lot of it is super urgent is unlikely don’t respond right away because I have blocked my day to do particular things. So that’s essentially

Erasmus Elsner 39:42 
how I love it. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, your neuroscience background also allows you to understand sort of the value of deep work and the perils of context switching, I think, and you’ve really figured it out. Now, there are some companies you mentioned that that have run full asynchronous weeks.

Job van der Voort 39:57 
Yeah, elminate noticed the one minute it’s the one you So call them out because they’re really, really product. So they did a full asynchronous weekend like they were writing in their own head book about it, which I thought was fascinating. I don’t know if I could replicate that. I think that’s pretty intense, but maybe partially so yeah,

Erasmus Elsner 40:13 
you have to wrap it up. Let me give you the floor for call to action. I think just launched a remote for startups programme, maybe you can describe to our listeners or mostly from the startup scene, what they can expect from this programme? Yeah.

Job van der Voort 40:28 
Well, if you want to employ someone in another country, it’s a whole hassle. don’t employ people as contractors, especially if they work for you full time, that’s literally illegal and you’re going to face that problem eventually work with us, we solve those problems. And with the startup programme, we make it also very cheap. So it’s essentially an unbeatable price to be able to do to do this. And then if you have people that are there are proper contractors, you can pay them through us. It’s completely free. So promoters comm slash startups.

Erasmus Elsner 40:57 
Perfect. Yope. Thank you so much for being with us today. really insightful, and thanks for taking the time. Thanks for having me.