Can you build an early-stage start up with a team that's spread across the country--or all over the world? There is no shortage of opinions on the question, with responses as diverse as they are strong. An executive at local task marketplace Zaarly, for example, recently told VentureBeat that remote setups are bad for start-ups and recommends that "early-stage companies should start up in the same physical office space" in order to speed decisions, encourage serendipity, build a company culture and avoid miscommunications and coordination hassles.
But wait, shot back the founder of British start-up ProofHQ, saying his company has been successful and remote from the start. "The company has literally never had an office with employees in it," founder and CEO Mat Atkinson told GigaOM, saying the set-up worked just fine for them. FlexJobs founder Sara Sutton Fell has made a similar case for remote start-up teams here on Inc.com before.
But between these two unreservedly negative and positive views of combining remote work and early-stage companies, there is a middle ground. At least two entrepreneurs have pubicly argued that dispersed teams can work for start-up--if you handle the situation correctly. So what are the keys to making a geographically diverse team of founders and first employees gel? Allie Siarto, the co-founder of Loudpixel, recently offered five on the Young Entrepreneur Council blog. Among them:
Meet one-on-one--and often. I keep weekly status meetings on the calendar by meeting individually with my team members via Skype every week, at the same scheduled time slot, to walk through projects and progress.
Create an online water cooler. For our team members who work remotely, "stepping into the office" is logging into HipChat (we used to use Skype, but we found that it was unreliable, and messages were getting lost in the ether). We use HipChat to maintain camaraderie as a team, share ideas and interesting articles and ask questions.
"I've managed the company for almost two years from another country with up to an eight hour time difference. We're doing $3,000,000+ in revenue with over 11,000 paying customers and growing fast, so we must be doing something right," he writes before explaining how he manages this feat of virtual management.
Carson recommends Campfire over HipChat, but agrees with the underlying principle of the importance of a chat app, and also suggests outsourcing HR hassles, as well as offering a handful of other tech and procedural suggestions. Check out his complete advice here.
Do you think that it's possible for an early-stage company to thrive with a virtual team?