Struggling to work from home? Not sure how to adjust to a remote working lifestyle? Do you need some timely and helpful tips to stay positive and productive? Today’s guest is Timur Valishev, co-founder and CEO of JivoChat, a simple yet comprehensive messaging chat app. Timur’s company has talented staff all over the world, so he has extensive experience with remote working and managing remote teams. Bottom Line: It works. Manage to stay alive and grow.
The first question I've got for you, Tim, can you tell us what your team is building over at JivoChat and what kinds of problems are you solving?Timur: Jivo is a messenger that small medium size teams can use to communicate with their clients across all possible channels in online chat, via phone, via email, via social, via messenger. Our goal is to make those guys, our clients, effective so they can receive a lot of inquiries everyday, call the customers, reminders to fill up with customers, and do it in a way that's very very simple to implement.It's a very simple app. Easy to use, it looks quite like the messenger app with the list of clients having conversations with clients. But it integrates all business communication channels. Ben: Very cool, great stuff. I understand that your team has a lot of remote staff. It did some when we were chatting a little bit earlier. It did sound that you have a physical office in Moscow as well. Was there a reason why you chose, I mean for yourself, to be remote? I imagine you have a lot of remote staff, but you also have a physical office. Could you explain why you chose to structure your business that way, between the physical location and your remote staff?Timur: Sure. The reason is quite simple. We didn't have enough money to rent an office when we started. Me and my partner, we are both programmers so we started developing the first version of our product sitting at our homes with our code server being under my desk. We hired the first part time remote guy from Kazakhstan because we can only afford a part time guy.To be honest, at the beginning, I was thinking that it was only temporary. That we will grow, we will make money, we'll rent an office with a view, and stuff, but it turned out that we like it and quite a few perks emerged along the way.For example, the demand for good programmers is getting higher and higher every year and now it's quite tough to hire a programmer because we are competing with big guys for those brains. Providing an option to work remotely is now our main way of hunting those guys because a lot of them are coming to us looking specifically for remote options. That's how we manage to compete. Why do we have an office? The story was I hired a consultant to build our sales team back in 2013 and he said that he can't do it remotely. In order for the sales team to work, he needs open space with a big screen on the walls showing our sales numbers with applause when someone makes a sale. That's the potential kind of stuff. I said okay, we rented an office with a team of 10 people in the beginning and started working there. Then at some point, our accountant said that our books don't fit her room at her home anymore so we need to move our accounting to the office. That’s how the accounting and the sales team are in office, and the whole engineering and customer support team are remote.Ben: Got you. That's interesting stuff. I'm interested in knowing too, as far as for marketing purposes, for marketing teams, are there any specific advantages for those folks? For marketing teams to be working remote. Are you hunting for marketing talent that way the same as you are hunting for engineering talent as well?Timur: There is one nuance here. We run marketing in many local markets, for example we are working in America, Asia, Africa, India. In order to be successful there, you often need local folks because it not only needs to be translated properly, it also has to use the most efficient marketing channels. For example, in Latin America the most efficient channel for us is affiliate marketing. In India, it's mostly on Google Ads and Facebook. In Russia, for example, it's integration with local systems like CRM systems. It's very, very hard to understand those nuances about markets when you're not local. Working remotely helps us combine a team of people from all those markets. We have a team in Latin America, Brazil, Spanish speaking countries. In South East Asia, India, Turkey, Russia, Europe. That helps us to be successful in those local markets. While we are self funded, we don't have millions to burn on advertising in the United States, so working on those local markets is very effective for us. ROI is always positive in those campaigns. For example, the cost of lead from Brazil is seven times cheaper for us than in the United States. Ben: Wow. With your global distributed marketing operation where you're really narrowly focused on these different specific countries and regions, has getting into the US market in general been a challenge?Timur: The United States is still the primary source of our revenue internationally, but it turns out when we try to invest money to make it faster, it always fails because we need to burn much more cash than I'm comfortable with. We grew linearly for the past eight years, now we make about seven million per year. I'm not ready to burn three or four million just for experiments in the US market while I have a lot of opportunities to invest in other countries that are growing fast. For example, the growth of ecommerce in Latin America or South East Asia is astonishing. It's very fast, and while our clients are mostly small medium online businesses, we are most successful in those markets where the speed of growth is the fastest.Ben: Got you. That makes tons of sense. In your experience, managing all these different remote marketing personnel, what are some of the biggest lessons you've learned? Maybe beyond just managing your ad spends and your cost in different markets? Just truly a management perspective, what are some things you've learned from that experience?Timur: The most important thing is to make as many experiments per unit of time as possible because it's very often ultra intuitive, what works and what doesn't. When we were combining a plan for a month, for some marketing [...]. When we started in Brazil, we decided that we would invest in Facebook Ads, Google Ads, and try to reach certain big partners there. Invest some time on that strategy, but it didn’t work. At the same time, by integrating with the three or four local partners and introducing us at a couple of events, we got much more leads than before. We got there with only trying new hypotheses and seeing what works and what doesn't. Marketing for me, at least is all about trial and error. Ben: I would definitely agree with that advice for sure. I think that just applies to so many things with marketing. To continue along that thought a little bit, are there any common pieces of advice that you've heard about managing remote teams that you don't agree with? And if so, why?Timur: The thing I hear the most probably is how do you check [...]? Do you use a special software that records the [...]? It's very funny because to me, working with the remote team is not much different than working with the office team. If the guy is not motivated enough to do a good job, he will not do anything no matter if he was in the office or he's working from his own room.The most common fear about working with remote teams is that guys will watch Netflix all the time, go to their refrigerator every 15 minutes. The truth is it's actually much simpler to see the results of working remotely because if your guys are in the office, they're always going to say, “You got to understand I'm sitting in the office handling my work,” so everything's fine. When you have a Zoom call with someone from your team, they cannot say that. You don't know where they've been or what they have been doing. The only thing they can show you is the result of the work. Either it's there or it's not there. These conversations become much and much more specific.I think the fear is completely ungrounded, but it's true that not all people are fitted for working remotely because it takes a great deal of [...] to work remotely. You need to have the [...]. One time I’m interviewing a guy with the Zoom interviews and it turned out he wasn't wearing any pants when he stood up and went to pick up his phone. You need to prepare a room. You need to put yourself in working mode because when you're at home, it's always a struggle between work and life. You need to distinguish your workplace from your life place. There are some nuances about that, but to me it's obvious that you can be effective while working from home. You just need to find the right mode for you.Ben: Something worth touching on here is the importance of self motivation for a remote team to be successful. If you're a manager or if you have any sort of supervisor duties, you're not going to be able to just look over someone's shoulder and make sure that your people are getting the work done. But you can still make sure that you're monitoring your team's output, and their results, and using that as your real guide for whether or not they're doing what they should be doing which even under normal circumstances is probably what you should be doing. What are the outcomes of your team's work rather than just maintaining maybe an illusion of keeping busy. But I think that in addition to that, something that is also important especially right now to keep in mind is just remember to take time to just check in with where people are at right now. I think it's understandable, especially for people who are maybe new to working remotely, or they are just having a hard time adjusting to working from home. It might be completely understandable that their productivity is going to dip a little bit. I think that's probably true for all of us, we are all trying to figure this out. If that's the case, sometimes the best thing that you can even do for yourself is try to find a way to make yourself useful for someone else in need. If you yourself are maybe even feeling like you don't feel you even quite have things figured out. If your team is feeling the same way, just take the time to try to come up with some game plan with them. That can put you in a better mindset, in a more productive mindset. Maybe by helping your team get things figured out, you can figure out some things for yourself too so that everybody can stay productive. You can stay on task and you can be just well prepared to ride out the situation with as little disruption in your workflow as possible. Let's go back to Tim.Let's say I'm listening to this show and let's just say I'm a marketing manager at some company and I'm considering bringing in some remote talent. Let's say I've determined that may be the best way for me to get the skills that I need on my team. How would you recommend that listeners start going about that process of scouting talent, and onboarding, and adjusting your processes to accommodate remote staff if that's something you've never done before?Timur: The most important thing is that you should bring on a [...] person on your team. The whole team has to switch to the remote mode, even the most part of them are in the office. We had that problem with a couple of guys, especially with those who joined our sales team. While most of the sales team were working from the office, they kind of feel left out when the team talks in the cooler, they have meetings, and you're not there.If you have at least one person who walks remotely, everything should be on Slack, Zoom, Asana. That would require some alterations probably because I definitely don’t recommend to use Slack as primary source of communication on our team because it’s getting messy very quickly. It's probably better to use something more structured like Asana, but I believe in either for office, this team's people are starting to get to this conclusion. That's the first idea.The second idea is that there are a lot of freelancers who have experience working remotely for many different customers. The thing about freelancers is that they are very self organized. In order to be a successful freelancer, you have to manage your time very carefully, and you cannot afford to be disorganized because otherwise you won't have any customers. From my experience, the guys who used to be successful freelancers almost always turn out to be successful remote workers. All freelancers, the thing that freelancers do not like about the job is it's unstable. Today you have customers, tomorrow you can sit without any job. They all agree to join a full time remote job. This is probably the easiest way to start looking for remote employees, at the freelancer sites.Ben: That totally makes sense, and I can vouch for that too with our team in CoSchedule. We've recently begun working with more freelancers and they've been fantastic. We weren't sure how that arrangement was going to work. I have found from personal experience, what you say is very true. They're very proactive, very organized. I don't have to feel like I'm looking over their virtual shoulder a whole lot so it's very cool.That does it for all the questions that I had prepared. Is there anything else that you'd like to add on the topic of remote work and managing remote teams?Timur: A lot of interesting stuff I've learned over the years. I think I can talk for hours about working remotely. Probably one thing that people always have a misconception about remote work, people think that you'll save money by sending your team to work from home. It turns out to be untrue because the money you save on office, you will spend on other things like team retreats.Annual team retreats, for example, for us are quite expensive because gathering 130 people in one place from many different countries even for a week is quite costly. Also, it takes time and energy to organize sharing of experience. In the office, it happens naturally. People talk, they see how each other do their job, share knowledge. It doesn't happen when you're working remotely. You need to have specific motivation for people to share their experience. We have that for programmers, we have them presents and bonuses when they share their knowledge about new technologies and some other organizational stuff, it almost compensates for saving office space. It's not cheaper, the remote team, but there are other perks. For example, you can hire from all over the world. You are not confined to a single city when hiring and you can find talented guys all over the world in many different countries.Another thing is you can actually save money by paying less to those guys, but it's also not always true because nowadays those guys understand that they can find a job anywhere. For example, talented guys from Latin America already worked for Americans, for the United States, and they have salaries that are competitive on the US market, not on Brazil market. A lot of stuff about remote work. The bottom line is that it works, so we manage to stay alive right here and we're growing. Ben: Absolutely. I think that's great advice and that’s an awesome insight to be able to get from somebody who's in your position who has so much experience building a company and working remotely as what you have. That's all I got, so I'll thank you for coming on the show, and congrats, and best of luck with everything you’re building over at JivoChat.Timur: Thanks for having me, Ben. Nice talking to you.Ben: Yes, to you as well.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.