Accelerators · Remote teams

Tech co-founders - should I be concerned with geography?

Kate Hiscox

January 23rd, 2014

Briefly, I moved to Mexico from Vancouver last May for personal reasons. However, the rapidly developing tech landscape here in Mexico is very exciting with support from some very big players across the border. So with my current startup, while focused primarily on the US market, I decided to concentrate on building the team and the product in Mexico City. The project is a shoe in to one of the valley's leading accelerators here in Mexico City (they love the concept) and I am in discussions with tech co-founders.

However, I'd like to work with a US or Canadian based tech co-founder. Which would likely mean that he or she were remote from the team we build. Has anyone been through a similar situation? I would appreciate input from anyone who has worked with remote teams - specifically a technical co-founder.


Jeremy Stanton CTO / Co-Founder at Kali, LLC

January 23rd, 2014

In general, I don't agree.  I think having a team be remote doesn't create communication problems so much as it amplifies problems you already have.  Craft a culture that places importance on meta process and you'll be able to tackle communication problems handily.  That approach applies to any organization co-located or otherwise.  If you make hiring/culture choices that are incongruent with this goal it will get much harder as you grow.  If you want healthy communication or the ability to support remotes or to manage a team remotely you have to make specific/deliberate choices to that end very early in the life of the company.

But to your anecdote, I agree.  If you don't make those choices early, trying to work remotely or manage remotely can be a real pain.

Jeremy Stanton CTO / Co-Founder at Kali, LLC

January 23rd, 2014

I have built and run teams remotely on several occasions.  The most notable was for an advertising company (Fetchback) that ultimately sold to eBay 3 or 4 years ago.  It can absolutely be done but I would be wary about doing it with anyone that hasn't already done it and done it successfully.  Managing a team remotely is a very different animal than being co-located.  The essentials are the same but there are key differences in how you communicate.  I can provide you with lots of reference material but you can start by reading a post I wrote and was interviewed for here and here.  I love talking about this subject so feel free to email me if you want to do a call.

Eric Rogness Technical Product Manager

January 23rd, 2014

I replied to a similar question here:

Stephen G. Barr Inimitable Advisor with Wide experience.

February 16th, 2016

I drove 42,000 miles last year and spent weeks on skype, text, emails and on collaborative project management platforms. Happy to report with what I'd say was a solid B+ in success . It all depends on how cohesive the team is with remote collaboration. The game changer to the mix is now there are some excellent platforms and technologies available to facilitate remote collaboration that didn't exist back in the day when i had to stick the handset of a telephone in the rubber cups of a modem or race to the post office or run a package out to the last call pickup at the fedex terminal at the airport. Now I don't own a fax machine or a printer for that matter.

Matthew Maly

February 17th, 2016

Stephen G. Barr We have not talked for a long time... 

David Pariseau

February 18th, 2016

Well, I've been the remote co-founder in more than a handful of ventures and it's worked for me.  A few points in favor of this structure:

1) The most important is that you might be able to attract some candidates that would not otherwise consider your endeavor.  Not sure what your candidate pool looks like but if you're not seeing the types of co-founders you'd like to see this might broaden your appeal.

2) If you're a hands-on technical guy having some focused time where you can actually get stuff done, as opposed to sitting around the whiteboard with your beer ; ),  might actually accelerate things (not that beers and whiteboards don't have their place).  It just depends on whether you have a focused objective, or if you're still casting about defining things.  Certainly there are times when boots on the ground are critical (I spent 5 months in our factory last year launching our products).

3) There are numerous ways to cooperate, a ton of tools from communication to management.  The dreaded email thread is not relegated to remote operation, having worked onsite and remotely I don't find there to be significantly less emails working onsite, and the same issues arise. 

4) It's all about the people.  Hiring the right team is key.  My team issues throughout my career have mostly been with the team members themselves not being the right fit for the job than where they were located.

5) Business today is global.  Even if your team is local, you'll find that your supply chain, business partners, customers, etc... are not.  So, having a solid means of working with them remotely serves you in those relationships as well.  It's rare to find an endeavor these days that's truly local and can do business face-to-face.

Having said all that, in order to make that work I think you need to find the right people and put appropriate systems in place to make that relationship work successfully.

All the best.

Trey Stout CTO at Gracious Eloise Inc.

January 23rd, 2014

I'd be a little worried myself. I had some experience running a fully remote team for Adkeeper a few years back. While the product itself was technically sound (few bugs) it was chock-full of product misunderstandings. You gain a lot from the business and tech leaders being in close proximity. If every little decision takes an email thread, you will quickly turn into a semantic witch-hunter and either nitpick people's written communication to death, or just wing it. The just winging it approach works fairly well, but the product suffers from not having all those clarifying sessions in person.

Sometimes what you need is a beer and a whiteboard. There is no replacement for a remote team.

Kate Hiscox

January 23rd, 2014

I love that - a beer and a whiteboard. I fully agree. There will definitely need to be some time with 'boots on the ground' for the whole team to become cohesive. There was a great point made about moods and how people work - and that its important to know that with a remote team. I hadn't thought about that but of course, creating a founder team is exactly like starting a relationship. Even long distance, at some point, you have to be in the same place to insure the fit and how you can move forward together.

Brahm Singh Eng Head - Deep Search at Quixey

January 23rd, 2014

My 2 cents : there are some problems with remote locations. My experience was marred with time zone difference of about 12 hours too (yeah!) but in general I feel that the best coordination happens when the co-founders are co-located. Reason being that there will always be ideas coming to your mind that you want to discuss - with co-location, you can instantly have a group-discussion and bounce your ideas off of your co-founders. Remote locations - it kinda gets difficult with a little more barriers. ᐧ - Brahm

Alexander Ross Head of Business Development at Verifide

January 25th, 2014

I agree that it magnifies possible communications issues.

I'd say the toughest part is establishing trust and understanding remotely. Some initial face-to-face will be important.

Btw, I'm thinking about setting up a shop in Mexico down the round. Would love to ping you when I am more actively exploring it.