Heavybit Industries Video: Kevin Henrikson leads engineering for Acompli in San Francisco. Previously, he was Senior Director of Engineering at Zimbra (acquired by Yahoo! for $350M).
Kevin: [00:10] Cool. So first of all, thanks to Tom and Tim for inviting me to come talk, and I’m going to kind of go through outsourcing. So I figured the first thing I was going to do, let’s figure out the first I was going to was just outsource the talk. So my daughter, when she comes in, she always likes to sing on this stage and so she’s actually been up here more times than I have and so I was gonna have her kind of do this presentation. So, but instead of doing that, I just outsourced actually building the presentation. So I had a guy do this for me. I wrote like the high level kind of bullet points that needed to be built out, but all the fancy graphics and stuff was somebody else. And so there’s about 500 minutes of editing time.
[00:44] I was looking at the PowerPoint file and I did about 60 of those and so it was pretty cool. So then, so this talk’s going to kind of walk through outsourcing from like how do you learn to outsource kind of from your personal life and things you can do individually, and then kind of that road into how to build an outsourced team, whether it’s starting with a small one or potentially a large one, right? And then as we go through that talking through, how do you manage remote workers and what’s the best way to handle delegation. And then a bunch of kind of tools with kind of practical tips and tricks that I’ve learned. And some of them we use today at Acompli, and some that I kind of manically use in my personal life to kind of try not to do anything.
[01:22] So, my background. Spent a bunch of time, kind of the last 15 years basically doing email at a variety of companies starting with open wave for carriers and then Zimbra which got bought by Yahoo and then VMware. And then now more recently Acompli we’re working on the cool team upstairs doing kind of mobile email. And kind of along the way in college I worked at this company called FedEx. And what I learned there was that kind of optimization and process is really important. And it was by far the most exciting job I’ve ever had. You know, you would, these trucks would all show up, you’d grab all the boxes out of them and you’d load these planes and it happened in a matter of three or four hours you’d move thousands or millions of packages. And the interesting thing about that is they are always trying to find ways to do it better and faster and more efficiently, cause that was kind of their game.
[02:07] And so they had some cool things where like at night they would just launch airplanes and fly them around empty, just hoping one would break down or kind of expecting one to break down or expecting the amount of freight to overload. So they, so their version of a hot spare rather than like a server or hard drives was actually an empty airplane flying around just waiting for something to break or go down. But the ultimate kind of sides. And so that’s where I kind of got started to get hooked early in college on how do you optimize things and how do you kind of make things better. And so I had a little team there that started literally unloading trucks and then moved and into the world of loading the airplanes and kind of getting to work with the bigger toys.
[02:40] And so in the process of kind of doing 15 years of email I’ve seen literally millions of people and how they use email, right? Not directly, but kind of in aggregate or how the, how they complain about how things work and how they do work. And the amazing thing about that is everybody’s different, right? The way you work and the way that you manage work is very different. So there’s inbox zero people, there’s inbox gazillion thousand people with hundreds unread like my wife where I’m like, how can you manage your life cause you have all these unread mails or people that don’t even read their mail, they just periodically look in their inbox once a week and pick out some of the interesting ones. And so everybody has a different way of doing it and they all kind of work.
[03:16] So, as part of that, those are kind of all kind of fed into the way that I’ve kind of learned to manage people and most importantly manage kind of remote teams and outsource teams, cause you have to kind of understand the individuality of the people that you’re dealing with and how they work through. And so today at Acompli, we have 15 or 16 people upstairs and then we have a small team in Poona in India, which is four guys that we’ve started. And so that kind of sets the context. In the past, as Tom mentioned, I manage a pretty large team at VMware, kind of after the acquisitions of Zimbra and Yahoo where we had over a hundred people, many contractors and remote workers and many different offices in India, China and several across the US.
[03:53] And so tonight kind of what’s the plan? Like how are we going to walk through this? And so you know, first of all just talk about why outsourcing, like why would you go and outsource anything? why wouldn’t you just do everything yourself? And hopefully that starts to become obvious as we work through the path. But start with just some of the high level points around that and then maybe explore into what’s the ROI. Like what’s your return on your investment? Not only your time but the money you spent to outsource something or have it done, right? Like what was it worth for me to pay somebody to go build this PowerPoint rather than me spend the time to do it myself for 500 minutes that he edited it. And then kind of working the road from kind of individual personal productivity and how you can do small things to make yourself more productive and then kind of moving that into your team or broadly more broadly, your company and how you can make your company more productive.
[04:38] And then finally, kind of how that leads into the path of actually building a full outsource team that works for you or your company in terms of you know, scaling that out. So late in 2007, I read this book called the four hour work week. Have anybody heard of that? This Tim Ferriss guy? Yeah. It’s like basically only work four hours and your whole company works like that. And so clearly I think that’s mythical for most people these days. You know, nobody’s literally gonna work four hours, maybe just Tim. But there’s a lot of kind of things that came out of that that were pretty, they were pretty insightful. And so the first is your time has value, right? And it’s not just the hourly rate that you make, but also the time that you’re spending doing something.
[05:20] And if you take your hourly rate, that’s one way to look at it and say, Hey, am I doing a job that somebody else can do for a lower hourly rate? That’s a very practical way to look at it. But there’s also, you have limited time in a day. And so being able to find ways to use that time most wisely and most strategically going forward is important. And so a lot of people kind of the first thing they think is “well, I’m the only one that can do this task. Like, only I can do this.” And I think at first that’s true, but once you start to kind of dissect things, you would say, “well, I’m going to go do a presentation that I didn’t build.” Well, I mean, if you read through it a couple of times, you’ll start to learn it and you can start to extract yourself from the mechanics of doing something and then the process actually executing upon it.
[05:59] Some people have this kind of loss of control, right? When you think about, “Well, if I outsource, I’m no longer going to have control of the situation or control of the outcome.” And to some point that’s true, right? As you start to manage teams and work with people, you don’t have direct control over the work that’s being done, but you can influence that. And learning how to influence that and kind of set up success metrics around that is important. And then it’s kind of start small and expand. And so you want to focus on what you understand and what is simple, and then work into larger problems, right? So clearly you’re not going to start on day one and say, “I’m going to go hire 20 people in some foreign place” and try to figure it out, or even in another office around here. And as you’ll see as we go through this, it’s very cheap to fail and kind of cheap to test this and start some of these things. You can literally do it for a couple of dollars an hour, just find small little tasks where you can start to learn and see how this kind of process works.
[06:49] So how did I get into it? So after Zimbra got acquired, my wife was like, “Well, I hate my job.” And I was like, “well, what do you want to do?” And she’s like, “I like to buy shoes.” And I’m like, “That’s awesome.” And so we bought a website that sold shoes. And so that’s kind of the first inclination of a company that we started together called Alpha Brand Media. She runs that company, she’s the CEO of that company now and it’s a large portfolio of web properties that we’ve acquired and built over the years. But it literally started from one website.
[07:12] But as part of that, building this company was kind of like my night job and her day job during the time kind of after Zimbra got acquired. We spent a ton of time on low value tasks, like literally writing blog articles and writing, doing research about shoes and looking up like, well, what colors do all the shoes come in, what sizes they come in, and building out product pages for all these shoes and retail clothing and urban clothing and all these different sites that we owned. And so then we started hiring people to do that, but the cost of that started to escalate. And so literally, like the labor costs were insane. It was like 82% of the company’s spend was on people like writing blog articles and something that was relatively, pretty easy.
[07:52] And it couldn’t scale because a lot of that we were doing ourselves, and there was many single points of failure. There’s like the one guy that worked on the website, there was the one guy that wrote blog articles for this particular site and things like that. And so we applied outsourcing to it and a bunch of things that I’ll talk about in these tools and kind of tips. And basically after about six or eight months just before our daughter was born, which was kind of the trigger for that cause we said, “well, look, my wife can’t spend 50 or 60 hours a week and I can’t spend 20 hours at nights and weekends kind of doing this. How do we make it so we can extract ourselves from the process?” And so we ended up hiring over 50 remote workers all over the world that we’ve never met and made it easier for us to travel and get away and basically cut the cost of actually doing this work by over half, which was pretty cool.
[08:36] So, now I’m gonna walk through just some of the sites and some of the kinds of tools that we’ve used to kind of do this. And many of these we still use today at Acompli, and I use in my personal life just to kind of optimize things. And so the first kind of category of these, and we’ll walk through several kinds of categories, is just remote workers. And so you guys have anybody heard of oDesk or freelancer? Like there’s lots, Fiverr, there’s lots of sites out there where you can just kind of hire somebody to do something. And so oDesk is my favorite. it’s been around for a while and there’s a couple of reasons for it. So one is that you can kind of see this very clean work history of them and you can build up an employer history.
[09:11] But the awesome thing is they run this little toolbar on people’s computers that take snapshots randomly every 10 minutes, and so you can see exactly what’s on the person’s screen. If their working, and how many keystrokes and how many times they moved the mouse. And so it literally tracks their activity. So you know, if they’re just not like listening to the radio or chatting or doing something random. And then oDesk handles all the tax paperwork cause these people are many times in different countries where it’s not easy to report taxes and handle that.
[09:38] And so what are some costs? And so it’s insane, right? We’ve actually hired people for less than a dollar an hour in some of these countries and they’re super loyal and they love it because in their country nobody makes a dollar an hour US, but you know, see there’s some other kind of high level things. So web researchers for a couple of bucks, writers for six or eight bucks, designers for $15, developers. And again, these are just rough ones of what you can do. I’d say manager in quotes at the bottom. When we got up to 50 employees, a lot of the work was just going back in reviewing the lower paid employees’ work to make sure they were doing things right. And so we started hiring kind of second level managers to go and look and just say, “well, anytime you see somebody chatting or on Facebook, just send them a message and say, ‘Hey, you need to revert that time and we can’t pay you for it.’” And that person basically paid for themselves just finding people that were basically billing for time that they didn’t do, which was great. And you know, and if after a while they break the rule a few times, then you just let them go. But in higher paid workers generally require less supervision. So I think clearly when you’re hiring somebody for 60 cents an hour or $2 an hour, the type of tasks they can do and the type of supervision and kind of framework that you put around them needs to be a little more rigid.
[10:47] So some tips, right? So we’ve used it for a variety of things. I think more popularly I use it for hiring writers. So I have my ghost writers, all my blog articles, that if you ever read my blog, most people don’t, but are written by ghost writers, or you know, highly edited by ghost writers. This PowerPoint was built by somebody who helped me write it. Tech roles, so just general programmers. So at Zimbra we have some guys that just do Perl scripts for us for testing and load testing and things like this, or generating data. We need to fill up lots of email accounts with email. So we have somebody that just bangs out some quick Perl scripts. Research, which I’ll talk about in a second. We do a lot of research. And so when you say research, what does that mean? It’s really just web research. Go search the web for ads and present it to me in some organized fashion.
[11:28] Generally you want to hire individuals cause there’s lots of agencies on these sites where they try to roll up workers and they’ll give you one good worker and then after time they’ll switch it up for one that’s not as good. But if you hire individuals, you kind of bias against that cause you know the individual you’re working with. if you’re doing technical projects and you’re not technical, don’t pay by the hour, pay fixed price just so you can kind of judge what you’re doing. And I have this kind of process I call the audition, so whenever I go to hire somebody, we are trying to look for pro programmers, I hired five and I give them all a one hour task and said go write a script to do X. And then the ones that do the best after the first hour, you’d keep them and then rotate through that. And then after a week or so you find the one or two guys you want to keep for the long term.
[12:06] So the ROI here is pretty simple, right? You can hire people to do relatively complex, relatively simple tasks, a whole mix of that for a pretty good discount over what you’re probably getting paid or what your employees are getting paid. And the success here is really you needed to define that and set the bounds up for what you’re looking for and make it very clear that you have checkpoints to kind of focus on these people and make sure that they’re getting the work that you want out of them.
[12:30] So this is a research project that we did. It’s really hard to read, but basically it’s a list of like 150 different mobile apps. I said, go find every mobile email app that exists. And so they searched iTunes, Android, windows mobile, Blackberry, etc. All the different mobile email apps that exist and build a spreadsheet of them with their names and their price, and where they are, and the URLs, and whether they’re funded or not, and what their Twitter handles were. And so we use this for a lot of reasons, right? And so one of the obvious ones is we go and grab all the Twitter accounts and we retarget all their Twitter accounts and make them follow ours, or use in advertise. We’ve used it just to go and do due diligence on these people and track them in blogs, and I have all of their blogs and so we subscribed to their blogs and watch when they’re saying things or they’re doing things.
[13:15] And basically also kind of, you can see there’s a bunch of tabs, I didn’t bring them all up. But basically we went and after we found all the apps then go and find people that are influential in this space, that write about email, go and find blogs that write about mobile email, go and find people that are kind of influencers in the space that talk a lot about mobile productivity. Go and find sites that just review mobile apps, we found hundreds of sites that review mobile apps. And again, just load these in a database. And I think this whole thing probably cost like 150 bucks to build out. It was five to 10 bucks an hour. There’s a couple of different researchers, one kind of low end, one that would do the basic one, and then a higher end one that would kind of synthesize the data and make sure that it’s correct.
[13:52] And then the next thing is we took that same data and said, now go back a year and find all the articles that were written about those apps and generate a list of all the articles and what the sites are, and the authors of those. And so this came up with about, I don’t know, 200 or 300 articles about basically all of our competitors in any news article that’s written about them. So press release, news article, their blog, whatever. And we categorized those by news source, but then also by reporter and author. So we can see what are the sites that are writing about mobile email? And then more importantly, on those sites then you look at some of the big sites have huge numbers of authors, which ones are the ones that do the best mobile review apps or which ones have reviewed our competitors so that we can start to kind of track them and watch what they’re doing? And so this thing probably costs about 200 bucks. Again, about 10 bucks an hour, and the guy spent about 20 hours on it to build it out.
[14:37] And so in a later section I’ll talk about some other stuff we do with this data, which was pretty interesting. So our PR team would have went and you know, build us a ton of money to go do this kind of basic research to go find all the competitive information, find all the data. Here we said, here’s the information. You go do this.” And clearly they have relationships with a lot of these people and they can go and help accelerate the process. But we were able to kind of give them the data for a fraction of what we would have to pay them to go and do this research for us.
[15:03] So kind of the next category is local workers. So a lot of times the remote kind of web connected person doesn’t get it done and you need somebody who’s a little more local. You need somebody to come into your office to do something. And so in this case you kind of go on Craigslist or TaskRabbit. And so for my wife’s company, one of the things we do a lot is cover local events. So we get tickets to some concert or some clothing release in New York or Atlanta, or some city that we obviously don’t live in. But we can go hire somebody off Craigslist for 20 bucks, and a lot of times they’ll do it for free cause they want to have access to the event. So we’ll give them free tickets to go to a concert, they have to just write a blog article about it. And so we’ve also used them for conferences. So we’ll go and hire a video crew and then send in a spokesperson and have them go and do interviews. Great way to create a bunch of blog content, to just go and interview people. And again, the video interviewers work for almost nothing because they want the screen time and the practice. The camera crew, if you can negotiate a deal generally for credit, they’ll do it relatively cheaply.
[15:57] You can use them for deliveries, lots of stuff. I mean, these ones are pretty straight forward. If you had somebody to do something. I’ve used them at home, I’ve had somebody come over and just help me scan all the documents, right? So everything’s digital. How do you go and scan all this stuff in my file cabinet and get it onto a USB stick? Somebody can just sit there and feed my scanner all day for six or eight hours. So the ROI here is again, simple, right? You can get tasks done quicker because somebody’s there to work with you. And then again, you could, you’d be doing something else while they’re doing something for you. Success here is pretty simple. I mean, you’re generally watching them cause you’re local. We generally don’t work with people on a remote site unless we’ve worked with them before. So we wouldn’t hire somebody to do something and you know, go to a conference in Las Vegas unless somebody is kind of representing or being with them to kind of make sure that the things are getting done right.
[16:39] Kind of the next one is kind of graphic design, I think you know, best and awesome designer she does all our kind of in house kind of production work for the app, obviously. But there’s certain things like you want to just go bang out ads or my wife’s company, we had some logos designed for a bunch of sites where we didn’t really care. You can go and pay a design firm thousand bucks for a nice logo or a hundreds of thousands if you use one of these really expensive ones. 99 designs gives you hundreds of them for a hundred bucks, right? You’re buying logos for 50 cents on the pop. And you know, kind of the tips there is quickly go through and give feedback, right? Cause a lot of these contests sites, you get an immense amount of submissions. Most of the first ones are very crappy, right? And so you want to basically have a quick filter to say “This one’s terrible. Get rid of those.” So people start to focus on what you like and give you stuff that works, right?
[17:25] You know, give the visual examples. Say I like these kinds of sites or I like logos that look like this so that you kind of coached people to do things that you want, right? It’s not really stealing, it’s just kind of helping them understand your needs. And then a lot of times we’ve ended up hiring. So, two of the designers that worked for my wife’s company, now we’ve hired them off 99 designs and said, Hey, just come work for us full time or half time or whatever. You can kind of use it as a recruiting tool.
[17:48] So the next one’s just kind of crowdsourcing. So I think most people have heard of Mechanical Turk. So we use that to create lots of consumer email accounts. And so some of the consumer email companies don’t like you to create lots of accounts in an automated fashion, so you have to do it manually, use a phone number or something like that to verify it, or you want accounts in different locales. And so again, for us to do that, we would have to set up proxies or something, but it’s easier to do that on mechanical Turk. So I think we were paying about 25 cents to create an email account with a phone number verification. And that would usually take a couple of days to get through a 50 batch of accounts. And if we doubled the price to 50 cents, we could get it done in a few hours, and so that was pretty nice.
[18:27] And then CrowdFlower is kind of a layer around mechanical Turk. They actually have their own workers now. They don’t use mechanical Turk anymore. But the cool thing about the software that they’ve built is they have this notion of gold. And so basically you provide a similar task, and so you say, “Hey, here’s a Twitter feed and I want you to go and tell me which tweets positive and which ones are negative.” Very simple question. Read this tweet and tell me it’s positive or negative. You give them four or five examples to kind of coach them with the gold, and then you can upload a large feed and then they go to work. And what you do is you run the test three times, you have three different people read that tweet and say positive or negative and it comes back with a score and says it’s more positive or more negative based on that. And so kind of sentiment analysis. They can also do things like scraping the web for things like that.
[19:09] So what we use them for is we fed that spreadsheet of all of the articles written about our competitors into that, and this is kind of the results. It was like 290 articles. I think it costs like 40 bucks for the article to be read three times, and they basically make a simple vote, positive, negative or neutral. And then what we do is you come back and you get a score, one to five, or one to three, or whatever numbers we picked to say, was this author generally writing positive articles or was this author generally writing negative articles? or was this particular app getting lots of positive or negative articles? And so again, a good way to kind of quickly run through a bunch of data without having to read all these articles and kind of bounce back and say, “Hey, here’s the four or five reporters we want to go after to do PR with because we know they’re writing positive articles.” Or we know they’re writing negative articles and we don’t want to work with them. We’d rather pick somebody else.
[19:59] So, kind of the last category in the kind of personal productivity hacks type of approach is what I would call the virtual assistant. And so Fancy Hands is my favorite. Zirtual is kind of a higher end one where it’s pretty expensive. It’s kind of like hiring or renting an assistant, it’s a little more personal but it’s a little more expensive. And then we’ll jump into fancy hands first. So fancy hands is basically, I’ve been using it for like the last eight or nine months and it’s really simple. It’s really simple. They have a PC and a phone and they’re US-based workers, and they can do anything that you can do with a PC and a phone, so they can jump on the web and look something up, make a reservation, go do research for you. So I’m like, “Hey, I’m going to Napa this weekend and I need a car and a hotel. Go and research what’s the best deal and give me five options.” Or “I want to take my wife to a bed and breakfast in XYZ city. Go and find three recommendations and tell me what the prices are, and then go and make the reservation for me.”
[20:51] They can also buy things up to 100 bucks. So, you can say like “I left my jacket at a restaurant last night. Can you go into task rabbit and file a job and pay them the 12 bucks to go pick my jacket up and bring it back here?” I mean, you can make these crazy meta tasks. So, I think I use it for the most is phone calls. And so I hate sitting on hold, and so you just say go call this number and you know, call HBO or go and call the Comcast and get HBO added. And so normally in Comcast you work through all the system and you get to HBO and you find the right guy and you sit on hold, and then you get to the point— So they run through the entire kind of script, get to the point where they’ve told them your account number, told them what you want, and all you have to do is they’ll patch you in at the last minute and say, “yes, that’s what I want, approved.” And then it’s done in like 30 seconds.
[21:36] And so, a while ago my credit card got stolen and I had to go and change my credit card for a bunch of stuff. And same thing, you have to call a lot of these companies, they wouldn’t let you do it online. You had to call them to change your credit card. I just gave the list to fancy hands. I said, “call all these people, go through as far as you can through the security questions. The point when they actually want to give the credit card number, just patch me in and I’ll read the 16 digits off and say, yes, that’s me.” And it’s done. So rather than sitting on hold for all of these, most of them were like my daughter’s school and like my daughter’s swim lessons, people that just didn’t even have a website so you had to call and wait for the lady to call you back. And then finally when they got on the line, I would just get a quick call. I’d say, “yup, here’s the number. I’m Kevin. Yes, change the credit card number.” Makes it super easy.
[22:14] Another one is when we hire executives, or like when JJ and Javier were starting the company, I was like “go onto the web and search the first three pages of Google and Bing, and find all the links and references to us as individuals, and then come back with all the lists of profiles, make sure that they’re current and they say that we work at Acompi and not two companies back, and make sure all the head shots look nice and it’s not like a picture of JJ on the beach or Javier driving his fast car. It’s like let’s go and put professional pictures to kind of give a nice image for all the people that work at the company, or the executives.” So just another simple thing.
[22:44] So you can see like some of the totals. I think it’s like I’ve made 130 requests. They’ve placed 219 phone calls, they’ve sent a bunch of emails and things like that. They’ve scheduled a lot events. They’ve saved me money. So one time I got out of a Hertz car and the satellite radio wasn’t working. And the guy’s like, “Oh, we’ll take it off your bill. Just go wait in line. And you know, we’ll take off the whatever week of satellite radio.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s annoying.” So I just took a picture of the receipt, clicked fancy hands and said, “Hey, go call them and take this off.” They called Hertz, figured out the confirmation number from the receipt and said, “yeah, no problem. It’s taken off. You got your 40 bucks back.” So I think that’s why I saved my 129, so I must’ve done it one other time as well.
[23:17] The costs, I think it starts at like $5 a task. And then if you buy more, it gets down to like two bucks a task, and they’ll basically spend up to 15 minutes on it. And so sometimes you want them to do something for an hour so you just say, “use four tasks and go do something for an hour” and they’ll knock it out. And then this one’s a slightly different one, but rescue time, anybody heard of rescue time? it’s like this thing that tracks like what you do. It’s a little creepy, but it kind of tells you what apps you’re using online. And so it’ll basically email the most thing I do, cause I’m testing, so I think it’s probably not good that I do email all the time, but it basically gives you a quick view into what are you doing. And so I use this periodically to go in and just look at like, what am I spending time on and is there that app or that site that I could go have somebody outsource.
[23:58] So that kind of was a quick run through of like all the kind of personal hacks and productivity stuff. Now I’m gonna switch gears a little bit and talk about kind of remote teams and offshore teams and how we think about that or how I’ve thought about that over the last few years. So kind of the first piece you do when you want to think about building an offshore team is, are you at a point where you can go and afford that, and is it the right stage of the company to go do that? And so for Zimbra, we didn’t start our team in India until our B round. And so it was 18 months into the company and then we decided to go and create an entity and start a team in India. With Acompli, because I was more familiar with it and we had done it before, we started it right when we kind of raised our series A, so much earlier in the company
[24:42] In the past at VMware we had a really big team in China, which was awesome. And JJ speaks Chinese, so that’s nice. And so we looked at China, but the problem with China is that financially they require a quarter of a million dollar investment just to start like an entity there, kind of hire your first person. So it doesn’t really make sense for a startup to go and hire a small team in China, at least at this point. But in India, you’re able to do it for dramatically less, like 10,000 or 15,000 bucks. You can go and start up an office with a few people and build an entity. And the other kind of thing that you want to check with your lawyers and financial people on when you go and start this is, is this appropriate for you to do for your type of company? And so one thing that we had problems with Zimbra when we got acquired was we had created an Indian entity.
[25:22] And when you create a corporation in India, it’s basically impossible to shut it down. There’s like only certain times of years when they allow you to shut down companies. And so these entities exist for essentially forever. And so the Zimbra entity after it’s been acquired three times, still exist in India and we’ve never shut it down. And it’s like a shell with a few bucks in it. They’re waiting for the next opportunity to close it. And so for example, when Accompi company went and took this route, we started with doing contractors until you reach kind of the point of scale where you want to go and take on that, the risk and the kind of legal ramifications of dealing with an entity there that you’ll have to deal with. So the other option is to go and use a third party vendor that already has an entity and you hire contractors, and I’ll talk about that in a minute cause we are doing some of that now.
[26:05] And so when you start to grow a team, like you have to figure out like who’s that first person you’re going to hire. And generally you don’t want to just hire one person cause that’s going to be hard for them, they’re on an Island unless you know them or you’ve worked with them before. But you really want to focus on finding somebody I call like the player coach. Like, they can do the work but also can kind of grow a team around them. And so in our case, we found a guy that had managed teams in India before, but also was a relatively competent iOS developer. And so we had the mix of knowing iOS, knowing mobile, building QA teams. And so from that we were able to build around him, a set of mobile developers and some QA people. And now we’ve got a pretty solid kind of mobile team that we’ve started, you know several times zones away.
[26:45] And so you know, how do you kind of build the right culture? And so one of the things that I think I’ve seen done wrong at previous companies is that the remote teams or the offshore teams end up being treated as kind of second class citizens or they’re not kind of treated and blessed with having fun stuff to do. It’s like, “Oh, you guys just do support, or just do QA, or just do our manual tasks.” And I think what was successful for us at Zimbra is we really focused on making each team kind of centers of excellence, right? So we hired great people, smart people that wanted to work for a product company, that weren’t kind of tied to being this services kind of like architecture. They were really focused on building a great product and being part of our team. So they got t-shirts when we got t-shirts, they had their own office with a sign on it that said the name of the company, and that was something that to them means a lot, and it helped them have a strong culture and then also have that kind of great relationship with the US team.
[27:37] And the little things matter, right? So you have to kind of have this travel interaction, right? And so with our India team, I go there twice a year, kind of as the team grows basically 25% of them will visit every quarter. And so over the course of a year you’ll be able to get the entire team to come over and visit, and kind of have that face to face time that help builds that out. And people laugh when I say like 360 reviews. It sounds like a big company thing, but it really just is really simple, right? for as much that you want to give feedback to people you’re working with, you want them to basically give feedback to you. What’s working? Is the time of the call at 10 o’clock appropriate for you? is the time that we’re spending with you to coach your issues or review your code, is that working? Like having your code sit in a review state for two days really doesn’t make you effective. And so how do you work through some of these issues? And having that kind of constant communication back and forth really helped us kind of integrate the team into Acompli. But also in the past at Zimbra we had that same type of approach.
[28:30] And so one of the tricks to kind of doing this if you don’t want to kind of commit to say, “Hey, I’m starting an office” and building a team straight away, is to kind of work wwith some kind of offshore vendor. So Kyle [inaudible] introduced us to a company called Testlio, which is an Astonian based company, a super small company that’s really focused on mobile QA. And then in addition to that, we’ve worked with two other kind of what I would call traditional services companies in India. And so the cool thing about the traditional services companies is they’re super hungry for work and so we haven’t paid them for like the first three or four months, like of the project they were testing through this. And so they were doing the work for free just to kind of earn the work and kind of show us that they know what they’re doing. And so that’s something that, if you’re doing a project that they’re interested in going after or a market they’re interested in getting in, you can get up kind of a lot of free samples to kind of work through the process and really find the right one. It doesn’t cost you a lot to interview these people. Testlio was a smaller company, but the commitment for us was very simple. It was hundreds of dollars a month kind of thing to get started and try it out.
[29:29] And so for us, we never wanted to kind of do a whole “build our own manual team.” Cause at Zimbra we had built a huge team of kind of manual testers and it was just, they were never happy being manual testers cause they’d see people next to them doing automation or doing kind of more advanced, they always wanted to get off that team, and it was the hardest position to keep full. And so when we started to build this team out at Acompli we thought through this and said, “Well, look, let’s not hire that team. Let’s only hire automation engineers and use some kind of offshore type approach or a vendor approach to kind of fill the manual testing goal.” So, the nice thing about this is we don’t have to go buy all the devices, which are very expensive in foreign countries because you don’t have the contracts that we have in the US, and so the devices are sometimes $1,000 to go buy an unlocked device. And so these mobile companies already have all those devices, and more importantly, they already have a team of people that are trained in QA for mobile testing and that are familiar with it, they’re smartphone users. And so they’re not like they’re grabbing random people off the street to go test with. And in many cases they either work right in our bug database or in Testlio’s they have a great integration where all the testing they do dumps into our [inaudible] database. And so we get all the bugs locally on our site.
[30:34]] So here the, this is just a screenshot of what Testlio does, and they have like this test matrix they go through and they do “pass” “fail”, and so it’s awesome. So every day on every Friday we release a new build to our staging environment, they pick it up, they test with eight or nine people all weekend, and then on Monday morning we show up and they give us a report and told us what was working, what didn’t work and whether or not, you know, we should ship the build to our customers. And so the kind of the ROI here is that they’ve already got the pre-screened people for you. You don’t have to go through the practice of hiring them. They do build the team, and in this case it works really well. And they already have great QA practices, right? So they understand when they find a bug, if it’s not straight forward, they take a video of it, they upload all the log files and they make it really easy for us to reproduce things.
[31:14] But even with this, we still have to find ways to make sure that they’re successful and that they’re providing good value to us. And so some of the metrics we look at is, what is the dollars per bug? Like how much are we paying for every bug that they find? So on a weekly or monthly basis, we total up all the bugs they found, divide by what we paid them and see if that rate still make sense for us to keep doing that. And we also look at the quality of the work they’ve done, right? Are they finding like complaining about little UI lint or are they actually complaining about like, “Hey we crashed the app cause we loaded up 500 folders and the app crashed.”? And so that is something that is important to us. And then just flexibility. So like, I want to be able to call them and say, “Hey this week don’t test this area, go test calendar because we made a bunch of changes in calendar.” And so that is something that’s been super helpful for us.
[32:00] So in closing, this is my last slide. You know, so starting from the high level, right? Always thinks in terms of what your cost benefit is, and kind of what’s the ROI that you’re imploding, right? It’s gonna take time to set this up. It’s gonna take time for you to break tasks into smaller pieces and work with people that you haven’t worked with before. Make sure that you’re getting a return on that, right? That you’re not spending a lot of time doing things that you could have done quicker yourself. But if you do it small and work through it slowly, you’ll be able to provide a way to get a better ROI.
[32:28] And then just start personally, right? The reason I walked through all of the kind of personal productivity hacks first is that kind of my adventure into this process is I learned how to break things into small pieces and always thinking like, when somebody asked me to do something, I say, “how can I have somebody else do it?” Right? And not in the sense that I’m fully lazy. I’m a little bit lazy, but also in the sense that a lot of times other people are better at doing this than I am. And if you always kind of hit it with that filter, you can constantly look for areas to kind of increase your own personal productivity. And then once you kind of get good at that and delegating small pieces of your life to other people or to having small tasks that are on your plate done by a remote worker or an outsource person, then you can start to integrate some of those practices into your company. And so to me at this point, it comes very naturally to start up a team in a remote country and just how you would manage them and how you would work through that, or go and negotiate with vendors to have a vendor relationship to do testing or something like that. It’s pretty straight forward.
[33:19] And then the final thing is use this as stepping stones to get yourself not only individually highly productive, but also kind of your broader team and work like that. So with that, I’m done. Cool. Thank you.
Mark: [33:41] Yeah, that’s a good question. So I think, I mean, generally every day, I think even today we talk to our India team, at least somebody in the team talks to one person on our team almost every day. So we usually use Skype or HipChat for that. You know, HipChat’s great cause you just work with your phone. But I think we talk to them every day and I think that it’s like you would talk to all your coworkers every day. So, we don’t talk to every one of them every day, we have weekly calls, but the main process is being able to find a way to communicate effectively. And what process works for you kind of depends on how you’ve set up your communication, and clearly through like bug databases and all the tools being online, you end up seeing a lot of code checkings coming through code reviews and things like that. So some of the communication’s not chat, it’s more of like a, “here’s a code review, review it, send it back type of thing.”
[34:29] It’s random. Yeah. So you see the same people periodically. But I mean, generally you assume it’s no context, and so you have to get good at kind of packaging. You can’t just assume they know what they did yesterday, or in fact you can’t even assume they know what they did with the other task that you submitted five minutes ago.
[34:46] I think it’s less about the— I think they’re all about the same in terms of what they execute. I think the variability comes to how they present themselves. I think the one thing I always like, I like them to pretend like they’re really my assistant. Like, “Hey, I’m Jim calling on behalf of Kevin” rather than saying, “Hey, this is fancy hands” and it kind of like blows my cover. They’re like, I’m just too lazy to do it myself. And so I think that’s the one thing that I put in my profile and I coach them, and some of them fail in that sense. So I think from the quality point of view— Cause it’s great, I have a Gmail Alias set up for my assistant and I can CC them on emails and say, “Hey Jim or Jack is going to go set this up” and it looks like I’m sending it to another person on Gmail, they have a Google plus profile, it looks like a normal person, but behind the scenes it’s all routing into fancy hands. Same thing with a [inaudible]. Like I have all my tasks in [inaudible], I assign one to fancy hands, they pick it up and execute that task as if I did it and they represent me and send from that email address that I gave them.
[35:44] Yeah. So, they’re not great on technical stuff unless— if they need knowledge of like, “Hey go write about why Google analytics sucks and Mixpanel does this or Keen’s better than both of those.” Like that’s a hard thing. It takes too much context. But even something is like, “how would you set up a very complex cluster”, if they can’t find it on the web, if it’s not a Google-able answer or a Google-able topic, I would say that they generally aren’t great at it. Now, there’s a couple people that I’ve had for ghostwriters in the past where they’re very expensive, they’re $70, $80 an hour, and those people can write— I basically pick up the phone and I just talked to them for 10 minutes and just tell them what I want to write, and then they go and draft it. And so that I’ve been more successful with writing kind of more complex pieces, but like the $10 or $12 an hour people that are writing about shoes or writing about urban clothing or the latest hip hop album, it’s a Google-able answer so it’s easy for them to go write about it. But really technical stuff, you really want to find a higher-level writer, and they’re out there. They’re expensive. Right now you’re paying $40, $50 an hour for that kind of a writer. And even then, you need a lot of coaching to kind of get them to go.
[36:51] Yeah, for sure. I mean, so I would say 60% of the people that work for my wife’s company, we found them on oDesk, like the CTO of my wife’s company I hired him for $5 an hour seven years ago as a PHP programmer. And so now he’s the CTO of the company. He took kind of my role when I left the company two years ago. So yeah. So I think we’ve definitely recruited a good number of people. It’s a great place. And you think of most of the people on oDesk come there because they don’t have a permanent job and they want to find a great remote working relationship. And if they see you as a good employer, then they’ll kind of continue to work for you. And he was really young, in this kid’s case, he was really young when I found him. He was five bucks an hour, he was in Serbia. Now he moved to Sweden, he’s married, got a kid and you know, he’s basically full time for my wife’s company as the CTO. And so kind of went through the process of $5 an hour, $7.50, kept walking up the ladder and doing more and more complex tasks. And similar with some of the writers, and actually the designer that did this presentation works for my wife’s company too. And he was a guy we found an oDesk for $10 an hour building ad images for retargeting. And now he does most of the graphic design for my wife’s company
[38:08] They can be. So, oDesk has a service where they call like the W2 service or the 1099 service, they have either one depending on what you want, and they’ll take their 10% cut. But generally we have the discussion that says, “look, do you want to move off oDesk?” Cause that’s a trust thing for them, because then they have to— A lot of times they can’t move off oDesk because they don’t have a way to get the money. Cause oDesk has like a multitude of ways of paying people in very complex situations. And some of these countries, PayPal doesn’t work. And so that’s— Or you can’t make a wire transfer because they don’t have a bank account. So in those cases we leave them on oDesk and they’re kind of full time but still on oDesk. But in the case where they’re like, Hey, I’ll split the fee, let’s cover the 10%. And they make more, we pay less. And it’s in a country or in a way that they can get the money. But yeah.
[38:52] Yeah. So I’m kind of [inaudible]. So, I have like 50 or 60 Google docs that explain like every task I’ve ever hired somebody to do. So like how to be a PHP programmer, how to do Perl code, and what I want you to write, and how I want you to check the code in this very kind of way. And so it’s literally that, it’s all of the things that you’ve seen somebody do wrong over the years, I just keep adding a rule like, “okay when you check coding make sure you strip the white spaces, when you do this, run it through this lint checker for this kind of code” or for writers, “make sure you spellcheck, run it through a grammar checker, use this tool to verify that you’ve done things right.” And so I think those documents, kind of for designers, for PHP, it’s the same thing with job descriptions, right? Like when you hire on these sites, like one of my tricks is just at the bottom, just put like a code, like start the title of your application with “I’m a super star”, “I’m the coolest person ever.” Like, just give them some thing that force them to actually read it to. That way you can delete all the spam applications like in two seconds, right?
[39:47] And so, for the same thing, for like how do you maintain control, and then always use like, I use Google docs or some kind of source control, whatever it happens to be. Always used something where they have to commit that and they have to do it every day. So, the managers that watch all these people in oDesk, they don’t get paid unless they’ve committed whatever work they did. So, if like if I wrote all day and for my four hours, if there’s not a document that was saved from all your writing from that four hours, you don’t get paid for that day. So you have to— cause I don’t want you to go to sleep and then— I’ve heard every excuse, right? “My computer died”, “I moved”, I mean, it’s like every third grade answer you can imagine, these people have come up with over the years of hiring lots and lots of remote workers. And a lot of them are probably true, but it’s just, assume they’re going to be gone the next day. And so kind of if you think with that in mind and give them very specific instructions it works really well. And I think— I don’t know, it sounds like it’s a lot of work, but it’s really not. It’s just like when you have a new employee or even a coworker and you say, “Hey, I need you to do something.” If you aren’t specific enough and they don’t have all the context, it may not get done right. And so it’s just building up that context and understanding the parameters to work with them, and it makes it more successful, right?
[41:02] And that works. I was talking to JJ before [inaudible]. When you start to manage like small teams, like when you’re like a manager of like five people at a company, you can talk to them everyday and you see them, and then you start managing people that are in a different office, and now what you have to do to be successful is different. And then you think of managing a team of a hundred where you start to not know everybody’s name and you’ve never even hired people and you’ve never met them because they’re in a remote office. The way you manage those teams is different. And you start to use more data to manage them. And I think it’s like you bubble this up and say, well, rather than saying, “Hey, did you, this bug today or this task today”, you start saying like, “did this team hit their metrics”, right? And so, Oh, there’s a dev team and they have a thousand bugs, but 10 engineers, are they going to finish the product by this week? Probably not, right? And so you can start to build up high level metrics around that.
[41:49] And so every chunk of work is different for how do you measure success. But having some metric that you can use just like you would deal with an individual and saying, “Hey, you’re four bugs for the day [inaudible] closed, you only got through three quarters of your work”, those same kind of rules apply to remote workers when you think about what did you assign them and how did you do it. And the other trick is hire multiple people for every job, right? So audition more than you need. Always have a backup. So like, for the pro guy, if he disappears one day, I have another pro guy that’s also writing half the code. And so, never let one person do everything. But it’s the same as the company, right? You don’t want one server ops guy, which is what we have at Acomplice, so if Mike ever gets hit by a bus, we’re in trouble, right? Because somebody better know how to run all the scripts to spin up servers at Amazon. Exactly. Be careful on your walkout.
[42:39] It’s a depends. So the financial stuff I’m pretty trusting like in the sense that these days you can go put your credit card out and run up a bunch of payments or lose your credit card and it’s not too hard to get that unwound these days. And so at some level, like when I give the credit card information to the people that have it, so fancy hands refuses to take that information, they’ll only bill a hundred bucks on their credit card and they just back bill it to you. So they won’t actually, they won’t do certain things of that nature. But I have another VA in the Philippines that does have my credit card, but she has a special credit card with $1,000 limit, so she can’t go crazy and build that stuff up.
[43:14] The other thing is like with passwords and stuff, everything’s unique passwords, kind of controlling what data they have access to. So I have a separate Google apps account with a different email address where I keep docs that the VA’s work on and the remote workers work on, so that they don’t have access to my entire, my main Gmail account. They have access to another one. When I want them to do email, I forward the email. I have an email rule that says, “Hey, this chunk of email—” Like if I’m getting, I don’t know, when I was interviewing a lot of people on oDesk, I get all these applications coming in, I just set up a rule to forward them to the VA and say you go do the first pass through them, rather than me looking at those emails. And so I’ve never given full kind of root access to my systems, I guess is one way to do it. But you know, I guess when you hire like a full time person that you trust and you see everyday, then you can kind of loosen that. But with a virtual person, I’d never got fully comfortable letting everything go. And change your passwords every time you lose one, right? I mean, that’s kind of the one password rule.
[44:05] Cool. Thanks guys.