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How to Build a Startup Team With an Entrepreneurial Mindset – ReadWrite

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Nate Nead


Much of your startup’s success will depend on the quality and integrity of the team you put together. With talented, committed, hardworking people, even a merely decent idea can turn into something groundbreaking. Conversely, even a great idea can struggle to survive if it doesn’t have a solid team in place to support it. 

Obviously, you’ll need to work hard to choose the right people for your team – individuals with a solid experiential background, proof of ample talent, and genuine passion for the business. But beyond that, you’ll need to work actively to equip your team with the right mindsets and philosophies to guide them to productive, innovative work. 

While there are conflicting opinions for what type of company culture works “best,” there’s no denying that your company can (and likely will) benefit from building a team with an “entrepreneurial mindset.” But what is this mentality, and how can you construct it from scratch? 

What Is an “Entrepreneurial Mindset?” 

Let’s start with a description of the “entrepreneurial mindset.” This is an internalized mentality, philosophy, and approach to working within the members of your team that mimics what the most ambitious entrepreneurs tend to feel. 

The mindset includes: 

  • Creativity. Entrepreneurs are creative types. They want to create new ideas, modify existing ones, and come up with inventive new ways to deal with problems. They’re not afraid to think outside the box and try out new concepts – even if they don’t work out. They also like to encourage and promote creative ideas from other people, providing feedback, direction, and motivation to their teammates. 
  • Autonomy and independence. The entrepreneurial mindset also prioritizes autonomy and independence. Entrepreneurs in a business environment don’t wait for someone else to tell them what to do, and they generally don’t have to run their ideas through a bureaucratic chain of command to take action. Instead, they trust themselves, they operate decisively, and they remain agile. In an entrepreneurial environment, your employees will function autonomously in most cases as well. 
  • Change and growth. To be an entrepreneur is to accept the importance of change and growth. The only way for your business to reach more people and make more money is to evolve; that means adding new products and services, changing internal processes, and sometimes, pivoting the entire brand. 
  • Experimentation and adaptation. You probably already know how important it is to remain flexible and adaptable when growing your business. It’s also important for your workforce. With an entrepreneurial mindset, your team of employees will be much more likely to experiment with different approaches and adapt to new scenarios. 
  • Ambitious problem solving. Successful business owners are primarily ambitious problem solvers; they understand there’s some weakness or challenge in the world and are driven to “fix it.” With this mentality, your employees will be more likely to show enthusiasm when solving problems and rising to meet challenges. 

The Value of an Entrepreneurial Team 

So what’s the real value of an entrepreneurial team? 

For starters, you can cut back on direct management and oversight. When all members of your team feel like they have a direct impact on their work environment, and when they’re empowered to do their best, they don’t need as much direction or supervision. Instead of looking over their shoulder, giving them project details, or micromanaging your employees, you can set priorities for them, trust that they’re going to work toward them, and shift your attention to more important matters. This lends itself to a less stressed, more inviting workplace – and allows you to be more productive while tackling the most important projects for your startup

An entrepreneurial mindset also leads to a diversity of thought. When individuals are encouraged to have their own ideas, thoughts, and opinions, they tend to speak more openly in a collaborative environment. They’re more willing to volunteer ideas, offer constructive criticism, and provide meaningful feedback to each other. Such an environment makes it much easier to identify and get rid of bad ideas (before it’s too late), while simultaneously establishing the groundwork for the presentation of highly ingenious concepts. 

Additionally, startups need to keep adapting if they’re going to stay alive. Over time, your target market might change, you might face new competition, and new challenges will threaten your previous approaches. The only way forward is to adapt, incorporating new systems and processes and changing your infrastructure. Ordinarily, teams of employees are reluctant to adapt – after all, most of us don’t particularly like change. However, when the team accepts the importance and value of ongoing adaptability, they’ll be much more likely to be onboard with your latest changes and experiments. 

How to Build a Startup Team With an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Now for the big question – how can you build an entire startup team with a baked-in entrepreneurial mindset? 

  • Create the culture. Everything stems from your company culture. Before you employ any of the following strategies, make sure you have a solid idea for what you want your company culture to be. What are your core values? What is the “ideal” employee mindset? How should this mindset be fostered? What rules exist, if any, to enforce this? Document your company culture guidelines first. 
  • Choose the right candidates. With a culture document in place, you’ll find it much easier to interview candidates – and find out whether they’re a good fit for this environment. Even if they have a lot of talent and experience, they may not thrive in an entrepreneurial workplace; figure this out early, before you hire someone. 
  • Lead by example. You’re the leader, so set the tone. People will follow your example. Whatever habits you want your employees to practice, incorporate them into your own daily work. 
  • Nurture from the top down. You’re not the only leader within your organization, so make sure you select and support strong leaders who can embody and spread your desired entrepreneurial culture from the top down. 
  • Encourage independent management and decision making. Sometimes, employees will have to run their idea “up the ladder” before taking action. But as much as possible, it’s important to encourage autonomy and independent decision making. Empower your employees to make their own decisions, set their own goals, and devise their own approaches to work.  
  • Stimulate creativity. Creativity is vital for an entrepreneurial mindset to thrive. Use creative brainstorming sessions, music, art, and other exercises to encourage your team to think in novel ways. 
  • Get everyone to contribute in meetings. Encourage every member of your team to contribute in your meetings. More contributors will foster an environment of openness and collaborative sharing; it will also help you ferret out the best ideas, which otherwise might be held back by nervous participants. 
  • Reward good ideas. When a member of your team comes up with a good idea or solves a complex problem, reward them and publicly praise them. It will encourage further idea generation in the future and motivate other team members to volunteer their own ideas. 
  • Respect bad ideas. It’s not just about good ideas; it’s also important to tolerate and even respect bad ideas. When someone volunteers a questionable idea or makes a poor decision, show your support. Feel free to offer feedback and criticism, but don’t make the person feel bad for trying to do something inventive or helpful. You don’t want to punish people for trying something new. 
  • Remain adaptive. The most innovative, disruptive businesses are the ones that can adapt. Encourage your team members to remain similarly adaptable, keeping an open mind for new ideas and being willing to change when necessary. 

Once your team is full of people thinking and acting like entrepreneurs, your company will be much more flexible, innovative, and productive. And best of all, this entrepreneurial culture tends to be self-sustaining; your employees will naturally spread it to new recruits and continue to foster this creative, efficient environment. 

Nate Nead

Nate Nead is the CEO & Managing Member of Nead, LLC, a consulting company that provides strategic advisory services across multiple disciplines including finance, marketing and software development. For over a decade Nate had provided strategic guidance on M&A, capital procurement, technology and marketing solutions for some of the most well-known online brands. He and his team advise Fortune 500 and SMB clients alike. The team is based in Seattle, Washington; El Paso, Texas and West Palm Beach, Florida.

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10 Strategies to Retain Employees in a Workplace – ReadWrite

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Sajjad Ahmad


A top performer just resigned out of nowhere, and you are now at a loss. What might be the reason for it? And how will this impact the rest of the employees?

With that happening, you will have to lean on your other employees, making them take on more responsibility. In the meantime, you will look for a replacement for the employee that left. It’s a big ask, specifically if they are already stretched thin. Such actions will stoke stress and uncertainty in your employees.

Given the likelihood of cascading fallout, it’s natural to think that the departure of one employee could be the tipping point of other employees feeling to leave as well. At the very least, it can affect the morale of the employees, which can undermine their work performance.

So, this is the time to make sure that your business is taking the proper steps to drive job satisfaction and retain employees.

What Prompts Employees to Leave?

To find out the reason behind your top performer’s sudden departure, do an exit interview. Exit interviews will tell you whether your employee retention tactics need improvement or not. And what needs to be done to retain employees and employee productivity.

You most likely will hear one or more of the following reasons from the departing employee:

  • Inadequate benefits and salary
  • Feeling overburdened with work or lack of support from the team
  • Limited career advancement opportunities
  • Need to maintain a balance between work and life
  • Lack of appreciation and recognition
  • Boredom
  • Unhappy with the management team
  • Concerned about the company’s financial health and direction
  • Dissatisfied with the company culture
  • The desire to make changes

Strategies that will help you Retain Employees

If you feel that your company is at risk of losing talented employees, you need to develop strategies to retain employees. Here is how you can boost employees’ job satisfaction and increase your chances of holding on to top talent in your company.

1. Orientation and Onboarding

You need to help each new hire to settle in so they can find success from the beginning of their job. Your onboarding session should include what the job entails and inform your employees about the company culture. And how they can contribute and thrive in the new atmosphere, office and culture. Don’t skim through this initial step.

The support and training you give from Day 1, whether virtually or in-person, can set the tone of their entire tenure at your company.

For instance, you are a cellphone repair shop. Your onboarding session should not only include giving training on your cellphone repair store software. Instead, it should consist of a session on your repair store’s culture and how normally the day goes about while repairing devices.

2. Mentoring Programs

Pairing a new employee with a work buddy is an essential component of the onboarding process and helps retain employees. In addition, these work buddies can welcome new employees into the company and guide them.

New employees learn the ropes from experienced employees. In return, they give the experienced ones fresh viewpoints.

Consequently, mentorship should not be limited to new employees only. You can have mentorship opportunities for existing employees as well. It will give them a sense of understanding of where they stand and what they need to improve to succeed.

3. Compensation for Employees

Companies need to give their employees competitive compensation. However, it means that the company has to evaluate and adjust salaries frequently.

Even if you are unable to increase the pay, try to provide other compensation. Such compensations can be in the form of paid time off or bonuses.

In addition to this, retirement plans and health benefits are also necessary. These valued offerings can help increase job satisfaction and ultimately will help retain employees.

4. Perks

Offering perks to your employees can make your work stand out to new hires and re-engage current staff. All this will also boost the morale of your employees. Remote work options, parental leave, and flexible schedules are perks that many employees value the most.

To evaluate your business and see what you offer your employees.

5. Wellness Offerings

Keeping employees healthy – physically, financially, and mentally is just good business. Even the current pandemic has urged many companies to improve and expand their wellness offerings so that their employees’ well-being feels prioritized and supported.

They have stress management programs, reimbursement for virtual fitness classes, and retirement planning services. Taking their example, start implementing these strategies to show that your employees are essential to you.

6. Communication

The pandemic has also enabled us to underscore the need for good workplace communication. Employees reporting to you should feel that they can come to you if they have an idea, concern, or questions at any time.

Similarly, you should promote constructive, timely, and positive communication across all departments, including remote and onsite employees. Please make sure you actively connect with every staff member daily to get a sense of their job satisfaction and workload.

7. Constant Feedback on Performance

Most company owners are abandoning annual performance reviews in support of frequent meetings with every team member. In such one-on-one sessions, discuss the short and long-term career goals of your employees.

Such activities can help them visualize their future in your company. The key takeaway here is not to make promises that you can’t keep. Instead, take them through their potential career advancement journey together. And lay down a realistic plan that can help them achieve their goals.

8. Development and Training

You can retain employees by helping them figure out their key areas for professional growth as part of your continuous feedback on performance. It can include needing to learn new skills. Getting new skills is extremely important in the current era as technology alters our work.

Substantially, when people learn new skills, they learn new tricks to keep up with the evolving business requirements. So, make sure you invest in the professional development of your employees. Make them attend virtual conferences, pay for continuing education, and provide tuition reimbursement.

In addition to this, don’t forget succession planning. It can be highly effective for advancing professional development and can help in building leadership skills.

9. Rewards and Recognition

Each employee feels the need to be appreciated for the work they do. And in the current circumstances, if you understand your employees, it’s bound to leave a considerable impact.

So, make sure you thank your employees who have gone the extra mile. And do mention how their hard work has helped the employees. Some companies even have reward systems that they use to incentivize great innovation and ideas.

Also, having a small company doesn’t mean that you can’t have an effective recognition program. You can do it even if you have a small team and a limited budget. You’ll want to arrange your recognition program in such a way that you and your employees can benefit from it.

10. Work-life balance

What kind of message is your time management giving to your employees? Do you expect your employees to be available 24/7?

You need to realize that a healthy work-life balance is essential for job satisfaction. Employees need to know that their managers understand the fact that they have lives outside of their office. Encourage your employees to set boundaries and give them vacation time. And if late sit-ins are required to end tasks, give them extra time off to compensate for that.

The ten strategies to retain employees given above are just some ways you can increase your employees’ job satisfaction. For that, you need to stay updated with market standards of benefits and salaries. And try to use the best practices to develop an attractive workplace culture.

Sajjad Ahmad

Sajjad Ahmad is an enthusiast professional who loves to serve community with his amazing pieces of writing. His expertise lie in technology, SaaS businesses, growth hacking, and marketing.

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Jotform Rebrands to Focus on the Power of its Forms – ReadWrite

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Jotform Rebrands to Focus on the Power of its Forms - ReadWrite


When companies rebrand, they often do it with a renewed or revised focus. Sometimes the company pivots entirely, heading in a new direction to keep up with changing trends and demands from its audience.

In the case of Jotform, the company recently rebranded to better focus on what it’s done so well for 15 years: provide its audience with versatile, easy-to-create, powerful forms.

Since its launch, Jotform has undergone tremendous growth. More than 10 million users have shaped the form builder and its complementary services. The platform has grown to include payment processor integrations, state-of-the-art security measures, conditional logic, and more. It supports small businesses, large corporations, nonprofits, and everything in between.

And now, Jotform is focusing on further improving its powerful forms to continue to support its broad audience of users.

Here’s what you can expect from the newly rebranded Jotform.

A new logo and tagline

Jotform boasts a streamlined, simplified logo that honors the original. The “f” in “Jotform” is now lowercase for easier readability, and the logo features a new and refreshing color scheme.

The logo’s pencil has been updated with multiple colors to represent the multiple products and features the business has created. The colors represent form fields, table cells, graph bars, and even the lines on a document.

Similarly, Jotform’s new tagline honors the company’s vision: “Powerful forms get it done.” This tagline demonstrates that, even as the company has grown and evolved, it has always remained true to the powerful forms at the core of its business.

A revised website

The Jotform website has some aesthetic updates, but it remains easy to use and navigate. The homepage reflects the new tagline, color scheme, and logo, and the My Forms dashboard has been rebranded with a cleaner, clearer look.

The form builder navigation has also undergone a color change. The revised colors are high contrast, and the page was designed to keep your attention on what really matters — the form.

The same pricing

Jotform may have been rebranded, but its pricing plans have remained the same. Jotform offers five plan tiers, and those tiers make it a suitable option for nonprofits as well as the largest corporations.

The Starter tier is available for free, and it includes many essential features. It supports up to five forms and 100 monthly submissions. This plan also generously includes 100 MB of space and 1,000 form views.

The Bronze plan is just $24 per month when billed annually, while the Silver plan is $29 per month and includes up to 100 forms. For $79 per month, the Gold plan includes unlimited forms to support operations with significant form creation and management demands. 

The Enterprise plan is for the largest organizations, and it supports multiple users, SSO login integrations, and more.

Jotform may be changing, but its pricing hasn’t budged.

Easy online form builder

Jotform’s form builder is clean, concise, and user-friendly. It’s easy to build a form from scratch with the drag-and-drop interface or edit an existing form template. The builder features a wide variety of form field types, including signature, date picker, address, and fill-in-the-blank fields. In addition, you can make any form your own.

Jotform also offers more than 10,000 professional form templates to help you get started and save time. Choose from registration, feedback, request, membership, application, event registration forms, and more. These forms cover a wide variety of industries and needs.

When using the online form builder, you can create a form in just minutes. You can then share a link to that form, embed it on your website, include it in an email, and more.

Essential integrations

As Jotform has evolved, the company has continued to add form integrations for enhanced performance and convenience. Jotform has established integrations with some of the most essential and popular apps:

  • PayPal
  • Google Sheets
  • Zoom
  • Adobe Sign
  • HubSpot
  • Slack
  • Mailchimp
  • Dropbox
  • Google Calendar

These integrations enhance your form’s performance and save you and your respondents time.

An array of features for even more powerful forms

As the demand for powerful, versatile forms has increased, Jotform has developed new features that give you more control and flexibility:

  • HIPAA-compliant forms meet the healthcare industry’s need for forms that protect patient data.
  • Smart PDF Forms can convert a PDF into a fillable online form.
  • Jotform protects your privacy and security with encrypted forms, 256-bit SSL, and more.
  • You can collect payments and donations, and set up recurring subscriptions with your choice of more than 30 trusted payment gateway integrations.

Jotform Tables

Jotform may have started out as a form builder, but the company expanded to encompass Jotform Tables, which allows users to collect, organize, and manage the data that’s generated by its forms. It’s also possible to import CSV or Excel files into Jotform Tables, so you can use your existing data.

These tables require no coding and work as a centralized database. There are more than 300 table templates available to help you get started. As with its other products, Jotform has kept Jotform Tables accessible and affordable, making it a practical choice for all Jotform users.

Jotform: Powerful forms for the future

Jotform’s rebranding reflects the company’s evolution but also its dedication to its root cause: to provide users with quality, powerful forms. Jotform may have changed its logo and branding, but this is evidence of the company’s growth and success.

Rather than pivoting, Jotform continues to focus on the features and developments that will take its forms to the next level. From payment processing to enhanced security, its services and features are evidence of what business owners, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, teachers, bloggers, and more need as technology evolves and those users find new and unique ways to put forms to use.

In 15 years of growth, Jotform has stayed true to its roots but continues to make its forms even more powerful. Whatever your form and data needs, powerful forms get it done.

Image Credit: Photo by Mikhail Nilov; Pexels; Thank you!

John Boitnott

CEO, Boitnott Consulting LLC

A journalist and digital consultant, John Boitnott has worked at TV, print, radio and Internet companies for 25 years. He’s an advisor at StartupGrind and has written for BusinessInsider, Fortune, NBC, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur and Venturebeat. You can see his latest work on his blog,
jboitnott.com

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Turing Distinguished Leader Series: Vishal Punwani

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Turing Distinguished Leader Series: Vishal Punwani


Hello, everyone! Thank you for the fantastic response to the Turing Distinguished Leader Series. For this episode, we have Vishal Punwani, CEO and co-founder of Sophya, the Harvard-founded startup where companies of all sizes go to establish their virtual HQs. Sophya was part of Harvard iLab’s inaugural Launch Lab X program in 2018-19. Now, Fortune 50 companies and startups alike enter Sophya’s metaverse to work, socialize, form communities, and throw incredible events.

Today’s Topic: Engineering leaders discuss employee engagement in virtual teams and share tips for engineering managers to enhance remote team management.

Jonathan Siddharth: 

Welcome to Turing Distinguished Leader Series. I’m Jonathan Siddharth, founder and CEO of Turing. Today I have a very special guest, Vishal Punwani, who shares a similar love for distributed teams and building the office of the future. Hi, Vishal, welcome! Could you tell us a little bit about your journey?

Vishal Punwani: 

Hey, Jon! Great to be here. So brief introduction: I’ve always been a technology lover since I was three years old. I started my first company when I was ten, and my brother was 11. I’ve always been a longtime gamer, so all of this has a through-line of video gaming underneath, which kind of leads into why we founded Sophya. I went to medical school, did part of my emergency medicine training, put that on hold to focus entirely on Sophya. And that is what is occupying all of my time and attention right now. But I make a little time to play video games, ideally every day, for about 20 minutes. 

Jonathan Siddharth: 

That’s awesome. You have such an interesting background. And for people listening, could you tell us a little bit about Sophya, what problem it solves, and why you should use it?

Vishal Punwani:

Sure, yeah. The funny thing is that there’s a lot of really fantastic examples of great collaboration in gaming. So you think about any of the big MMOs, whether it’s World of Warcraft or Everquest or Elder Scrolls Online, any of these big ones: one thing that is common among all of them is that you have to get into groups and guilds. You have to execute missions together. You have to form leadership layers. You also have to communicate context and information to your teammates. There’s a lot that you have to figure out, for example, the bylaws of your guild. And so, it may sound silly, but there’s a lot of analogous company pieces there. 

During the pandemic, we were like: “Oh my gosh. This is our team, and we feel like our culture is slipping. Our bonds with our teammates are getting frayed,” and that was scary to my co-founders and me because we’re such a culture-heavy team. 

We believe the best business strategies are people-first. So if you look after your people and have wonderful relationships with your teammates, that will transcend the social aspect and return those business results. And so we were like: “There’s a much better way to do this than Zoom and Slack.” And the reason we felt so strongly about that was that a bunch of my teammates—we met playing World Warcraft, and that was 17 years ago, and we became best friends, even though we lived on three different continents at the time. 

So we said: “What if we took a stab at transforming our work environment into something more like an MMO?” And so, we built this hacky MVP that completely transformed our team. And we’ve never felt closer as a distributed team; we’ve never felt more collaborative and more productive. It has changed the fabric of what our team is. 

And so, I don’t know if that specifically answered your question, but to get a little specific, Sophya is a world, a community, where you can get a private office inside that world. And you get all your video chat, text chat, DMS, file sharing, screen sharing, and all the different collaborative tools you might need for your team to be productive. 

Along with this, you also get all of those middle moments covered. So, you can see where all your teammates are if they’re in your office or maybe somewhere in the world. You can teleport to them and vice-versa, whatever the case may be. So you can have all the moments that you would miss if you didn’t have the physical office. You get to do that with people distributed all over the world.

Jonathan Siddharth: 

Sounds great. What have you learned from customers using Sophya, like anything interesting in terms of the way they use the product?

Vishal Punwani:

People need the ability to feel connected and engaged and belonging at all times of the day. That’s how you build and give humans the tools they need to be healthy, internally and externally. So if you don’t feel like you can’t build great relationships at work, then, first of all, you’re going to have not a great time. 

Wherever it is that you work, you’re always going to be looking for the next thing. From a business perspective, if you don’t focus on making sure that your team can form profound relationships with each other, guess who’s not going to be able to do their greatest work? Guess what organization will not be able to benefit from having aligned people who trust and care about each other? 

All of that is part of what we’re building. An environment that is 100x than what the physical office can give you. The physical office can provide you with space, but it cannot give you best practices built into the walls. And, a lot of what’s coming out of publications like HBR and a few others that we like to talk about is ‘best ways to build organizational health into your office walls in the virtual world in Sophya.’ So, we want to make that available to everybody so that their teams keep getting healthier.

Jonathan Siddharth:

Absolutely. Speaking of distributed teams, which is one of the things that Sophya makes possible and easy? What would be your number one piece of advice for founders, product leaders, and engineering leaders who are building and managing distributed teams?

Vishal Punwani:

That’s a great question. I’ve boiled this down to three things. 

One is relationships between your teammates. That’s something that you have to have figured out, right? If you want them to do their best work, you have to do that right. We do that through Sophya, obviously, but there’s a couple of other ways you can do that.

The second thing is context. You have to get good at providing fantastic context for your team to understand what problems they’re solving, the organization’s overarching goal, and the organizational mission and vision. All of that information has to be front and center. 

And then the third thing is accountability tools. I don’t mean accountability tools in a punitive sense or anything like that. What I mean is that people like the clarity of knowing what they’re driving, who they’re working with, what is the context around it, and when the task or activity is supposed to be completed. So that sounds very operational, and it kind of is. We use Asana, which I think is helpful for that because you can sketch out your quarter, your whole year, and then make sure that everybody’s in charge of a different piece of it. So all the communication happens there. 

Jonathan Siddharth:

That’s super interesting. So on the relationships front, how do you use Sophya and other tools to ensure you’re building the right relationships? And what is your advice for people to solve for relationships in a fully distributed or a hybrid team?

Vishal Punwani:

That is a great question. If you read the news nowadays, one of the biggest things you’ll notice is that company leaders embrace work from home and work from anywhere forever but are worried about the watercooler chats and the spontaneous interactions between teammates. And there’s a research paper that showed that the way you get true innovation is contrary to what one might think. It’s the mixing of very disparate verticals that’s important. Like, you’ve got someone with one skill set, and then someone with a completely other skill set comes along, and then they blend their two worlds and then come out with something. 

So, for example, if you’re using calendar links and one form of video chat that doesn’t give you that spontaneous ability where you can see where your teammates are, you risk losing a lot of those serendipitous bump-ins. I call them the middle moments that happen in any working day. And to go back to make sure everybody’s following the through-line here: I was saying that there are two schools of people right now. One is the people thinking about going remote but saying: “Oh, we need to solve this problem to make sure that we’re retaining the creativity and the innovation that we feel we have in the office.” And then the second group is the people who are like: “We are going back to the office because we don’t have tools, and we want that social interaction to make sure that we engineer innovation in that way.”

And so for us, one of the great things is we feel that we have something where both needs can be met. If all you know is Zoom and Slack, then, of course, you’re going to want to go back to the office. But if you know that we’re entering the golden age of remote work and companies are building wonderful tools to solve that exact problem, then you’re going to think twice. That’s why we’re passionate about what we’re building. We love being close to our teammates.

The second part of your question was about how we use Sophya to build relationships. So we use a mix of calendaring inside the application, so for example, if we have team games a couple of times a week, people who are inside the world will get a notification that says: “Hey, games are starting, teleport to them!” and then you teleport to the games and all your teammates are there and they’re running around, and you see emojis flying around, and you can see who’s talking and all that stuff, even if you’re not in a conversation with them, you can see the liveliness of conversations happening outside of your video tiles which is interesting. And so there’s a bunch of different ways that we actively build relationships using Sophya, but there’s a bunch of ways that you passively build relationships in there as well. 

So one of those ways is just by seeing the activity around you. One of the drawbacks of using video only is that you can’t show that much personality. Let’s say there’s 20 of us on the screen, and there’s like a Brady Bunch-ish style of chat happening. The remaining 18 people who aren’t having a conversation are just going to be sitting there with their red lights on, and you can’t tell anything about them or attempt to build a relationship with them.

In Sophya, we’ve used an utterly gamified approach, and so everybody gets their avatar. You can customize it to look however you want. So we have like 24 million combinations of what you can look like, which is a lot of fun. And so, just by seeing what people are wearing and how people are presenting themselves, you kind of get to know them more. And so you can constantly be doing these little things that add up in terms of building a foundation of trust and relationship, and that’s just a small example. 

Jonathan Siddharth:

Sounds great! Do you have any advice for product engineering leaders building distributed teams in terms of things to do to make sure that people have the right relationships with each other?

Vishal Punwani: 

Totally, yeah. So we take culture very, very seriously, and we think good relationships are at the foundation of a great culture. I love that quote: “Your culture is what happens when the founder isn’t around.”

What that means is that not only do you have to have excellent standards, but you have to have clearly articulated principles or virtues. And so it starts from the selection and hiring process. We make sure that we’re upfront with all of our candidates and tell them this is who we are and what it will be like to work here. There are particular traits that we seek. Humility is one of the biggest ones. Being people-smart is another one. And the next hunger to succeed. We focus a lot on discipline in our company. And so we made sure that people that we bring in are very disciplined because if they’re very disciplined in their work, they’ll probably be disciplined in their approach to their friendships and relationships. So it starts in the selection.

We also do a series of these personality tests to get a sense of where a person may be best placed on the team. So we do three, which is probably overkill, but we think each of them serves a very different purpose. 

And so one helps us to understand it’s like the typical personality. So I’m an ENTJ (MBTI), right, and that allows me to know that I need to soften my edges, much of the time. 

We also do something called the Working Genius, which is Patrick Lencioni’s group’s test.

And then, we do another test called Predictive Index to understand how much flexibility people prefer. So there’s an intentional process of bringing people in and building and constructing the team. And then every other week, we have something called the Growth Club where we take a reading, and we break it down into lessons. Every teammate writes how the article made them reflect on problems that they’ve faced in their life. We always aim to have things be more personal because we think that if you break down communication barriers between people in a healthy way, they’re going to do their best work together because they’re developing this baseline of trust.

Jonathan Siddharth:

That’s super interesting. Do you conduct these tests to figure out how to best communicate with this person and put them in a position where they will be successful and happy?

Vishal Punwani:

Exactly. We don’t do this in a vacuum. All of these other considerations are thought about and discussed with the candidate. All the results are shared, all the thinking is open. We try not to be prescriptive and say: “Oh, you are super high detail-oriented. Therefore, you can only be our company counsel or like a data scientist.” But they’re like: “I’m an artist.” So we want to put people in their sweet spot. And generally, if you get people to sort of vibe on the same wavelength like that, people will feel understood. And that works well. 

And that changed my whole thinking about these things because it’s not really about forcing people into positions. It’s about saying: “How do we make sure that different types of people can succeed together when they don’t know each other?”

Jonathan Siddharth: 

Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. So, switching topics a little bit. I know one thing that’s on top of everyone’s mind: fully remote vs. hybrid. How do you think about fully remote vs. hybrid? What is your advice to people thinking through that decision for their companies?

Vishal Punwani: 

Yeah, I think my company used to believe a lot more in what hybrid could be, but I think our thinking has evolved a little bit. This view might sound contentious, but we think that hybrid is a delay tactic. It’s like: “I haven’t made up my mind yet.” I’m going to take the example to the extreme. You think about Facebook or Google, or Apple. They initially were like: “Oh, we’re going to be returning to the office. That’s what we’re gonna do.” But then their employees were like: “Well, I moved to the other side of the country, and I bought a house with my husband, and I have a kid and a dog. So, no thanks. You know what, I’m gonna work from here because by the way, over the last year and a half, we’ve launched some of the best things that our company has ever done. We had our most profitable quarter since we began as a company. So, no, thanks.”

And so, it’s a tough argument for companies to be making. Companies might even think of doing three days a week in the office or three days remotely. 

Well, that doesn’t work for the person who lives on the other side of the country. Meanwhile, all the people in the office are like: “Okay, so which teams go in on what days?” So there still has to be coordination. And then, given that the office will be 30 percent capacity on any given day do you need that much real estate in Palo Alto? What about the huge campus that costs millions of dollars a year? 

And while all that’s happening, you have other companies who have engaged fully remote, and what they’re doing is they’re saying: “Hey, come work with us, we’ll pay you a great salary, and you can live life on your terms,” and that’s going to be a competitive edge in hiring.

One of my friends said the other day: “Off-site is the new on-site.” So I think hybrid will not last for very long; instead, it will turn into companies that allow people to work from anywhere forever. And then the hybrid model will morph into just hangout spots. I think Basecamp has something like this, where they have a couple of little base camps in different parts of the US, and you could go in and co-work together for a day, but that’s not the norm by any means. And I think hybrid will not be a norm, either.

Jonathan Siddharth:

It’s super interesting. Why is it that you think we can sort of sense some top-down management push to get people in the office, at least some percentage of the time? Why do you think that is?

Vishal Punwani: 

Yeah, so, you know, I don’t think it’s all that complicated. If people who are accountable for really excellent teamwork and results don’t have systems, then they’re going to be worried, and they’re going to want to swim back to shore and grab the pier. But that’s all I think it is. If a team doesn’t know that they have options that will speak directly to their concerns, then they’re going to be worried, and they’re going to want to go back to in-person.

The managers and the upper sort of executive and leadership, they’re humans too. They want to spend time with their families. They don’t want to miss their kids’ first steps. They want to be able to walk their dogs. And so, I think any leadership person will derive the same benefits as the employees. It’s just a different set of pressures that are on each group. And they just don’t yet know that it doesn’t have to be Zoom and Slack, no offense, again, to those companies, but I’m just saying.

Jonathan Siddharth: 

I’ve genuinely enjoyed this chat, and I want to close with one question for you. Besides Sophya, what are some tools that you found to be supremely helpful in running a fully remote-first company that you would recommend for people, building the offices of the future?

Vishal Punwani:

Well, you know, I’m biased because I know you, but I do have to give Turing a nod here. We’ve found it to be super helpful. It’s easy. We can find precisely the skill sets we’re seeking. We can book consultations, and we get a breakdown of the Google-level staff equivalent of this person. So, it just makes it very easy for us and, it’s taken engineering recruitment to a different level. 

The other one that I think has been super helpful is Asana. And I say this because we’ve been trying to move the company entirely off of Slack because I think Slack does a lot of unhealthy things for people in some emotional state. Everything seems urgent, and things get lost and all that stuff. And I know that was probably the intent behind creating it, but for us, that’s not quite working, so we think we can manage communication through Sophya and Asana. 

And then we do a lot of our recruiting and searching through Turing. Our engineering team has their whole suite of tools.  But, from a perspective of a team-wide set of tools? That’s mostly Sophya and Asana. 

Jonathan Siddharth:

That sounds great. Thank you for joining me on Turing Distinguished Leader Series, Vishal. 

For more of Jonathan’s conversations with other Distinguished Engineering Leaders, go here.

Image Credit: Provided by the author; from www.freepik.com

Jonathan Siddharth

Jonathan is the CEO and Co-Founder of Turing.com. Turing is an automated platform that lets companies “push a button” to hire and manage remote developers. Turing uses data science to automatically source, vet, match, and manage remote developers from all over the world.
Turing has 160K developers on the platform from almost every country in the world. Turing’s mission is to help every remote-first tech company build boundaryless teams.
Turing is backed by Foundation Capital, Adam D’Angelo who was Facebook’s first CTO & CEO of Quora, Gokul Rajaram, Cyan Banister, Jeff Morris, and executives from Google and Facebook. The Information, Entrepreneur, and other major publications have profiled Turing.
Before starting Turing, Jonathan was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Foundation Capital. Following the successful sale of his first AI company, Rover, that he co-founded while still at Stanford. In his spare time, Jonathan likes helping early-stage entrepreneurs build and scale companies.
You can find him Jonathan @jonsidd on Twitter and [email protected] His LinkedIn is https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonsid/

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