Silicon Valley is a great place to build a tech company. But it’s not always a possibility, or as the pandemic has shown us, a requirement.
The resources needed to build and scale a tech company are available anywhere. If anything, it is actually pretty normal to start your company out of a garage (Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, to name a few).
A small city with limited resources is not a bad second to this. It may even be more appealing.
I’ve been part of the core team in two successful startups, one of which was eventually acquired for $200M. Neither of these companies came out of Silicon Valley, or even the USA.
So whether it’s in your garage, a home office, or the cafe next door, how do you build a tech company?
Hire a distributed workforce
Before the pandemic made it mandatory, remote work was already trending.
We recently hired our 25th employee, and now have team members in many provinces in Canada. What we’ve found is that hiring a remote team isn’t much different from hiring locally. Especially if you’re using the right tools.
During my time at SkipTheDishes, we successfully hired more than 125 developers through VanHack, a network of tech professionals ready to relocate or work remotely. VanHack now boasts a database of more than 130,000 candidates. Or, 17% of the Winnipeg population.
How to not micromanage a remote business
The second part of this process involves trust. When you’re in the early stages of a tech startup, it can be tempting to micromanage a team. Even more so when you’re not in the room with them.
Luckily, there’s a whole host of applications and platforms to facilitate communication, collaboration, and planning between countless people in countless locations.
For a remote team, the integration features are what matters most. Focus on platforms that facilitate things sharing notes, editing a presentation, or collaborating with employees, without being in a singular location.
Applications like Slack are a great way to communicate with employees or clients. It’s easy to share files, set reminders, and even message yourself as a ‘notes’ section. If you’ve got some budget to spend, an all-in-one platform like Scoro can handle every aspect of your business, from invoicing to project deadlines.
Redefine ‘company culture’
Don’t be afraid to build a new kind of company culture. A good place to start figuring that out? Yourself.
I’m a parent, and a husband. It’s not unusual for my son to climb into my lap while I’m on a Zoom call, or for me to take a 20-minute puzzle break with my kids. And I’m not alone in enjoying these benefits.
Less commuting and more flexible hours can mean less pollution, more time for fitness, and great productivity. In my experience, a happy employee is a hard-working employee. No one was ever motivated by a lack of sleep and hours in the car.
When we interview potential employees, we emphasize the true meaning of a distributed and flexible workforce — and we ask what it means to them.
We’ve had employees work from home, from a cabin, and typical of Canada, snowbirds that head south in the winter (pandemic permitting). If a lifestyle choice will empower and improve output, there’s no need to dictate what the input looks like.
Balance the ups and downs of remote work
There are downsides. Canada has six time zones, and while the majority of our team is in one time zone, meetings can be hard to schedule. On the other hand, our business is 24/7. A couple displaced employees can play to your advantage when it comes to customer service.
Isolation can be another downside to remote working. Employees may feel failures more sharply when they’re sat in a room alone. But it’s your job to cultivate an environment where staff can and should fail from time to time.
At VidDay, we like to test and fail fast. Instead of waiting till we have a final perfect product, we regularly push out updates and products to the limit. A failure offers a chance to learn, improve, and provide support to team members.
Harness the cloud to enable growth
In March 2020, lockdowns were implemented worldwide. At the same time, we saw 10x growth in the VidDay platform. The website crashed more than once.
That’s when we really started leveraging the benefits of cloud computing. We pushed to severless solutions, and embraced microservices where possible
The platform can now easily scale and handle large bursts of traffic. Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and other holidays where we see spikes in usage are a breeze.
Our cloud computing journey has largely been with Amazon Web Services. After establishing a presence in almost every country, we’ve been using their CloudFront tool to meet international needs in a timely manner.
If someone is making a video in Australia, America or Antarctica, CloudFront can host the content in these locations (maybe not Antarctica) and reduce the product latency.
AWS’s popularity can’t be denied, but there are a whole host of other platforms and services that can help scale up your business.
Hoping to bring in international customers? Stripe API is a plug and play solution that enables multi-currency deposit in different accounts — traditionally, a tough solution to implement.
Don’t need a full time Chief Financial Officer? Freelancing isn’t just limited to writers anymore. Hire a fractional CFO to access their time and services in a pro-rata fashion. Rinse and repeat for lawyers, HR, accountants, the list goes on.
Don’t discount local resources. They do exist.
You can build an entire business without leaving your house at this point, but working with two local startups has proved one thing: local talent does exist.
When I first started out my goal was to leave Manitoba. I looked beyond the flat horizon of the Canadian prairies for my dream job. Changing that perspective was what landed me my job at SkipTheDishes, and later, VidDay.
Winnipeg is a friendly and diverse place. It has a hometown feel that’s hard to recreate in Silicon Valley. I’m glad I stuck around. Where do you want to build your company?