4 years of building, scaling and selling a remote company

Key learnings from my remote experience

4 years of building, scaling and selling a remote company

I have been building Indiez for the last 4 years. Indiez is a fully remote company and we help top tech talent find great opportunities. In the last 4 years, I have learned a lot.

In Jan 2020, we sold Indiez to amazing folks at the Goscale group. We scaled Indiez well… 10,000+ community of remote tech talent and hundreds of clients. 

Now I can proudly say that I have built, scaled, and sold a remote work company.

BIG UPDATE: I’m starting a new company that helps remote teams build a better culture. You can check it out here -> www.letsdive.io

Looking back life events look obvious and connecting the dots is easy. But when I was living it, it was a roller-coaster ride.

I’ve done a lot of mistakes while building a remote company. But those mistakes taught me a lot. Here are some of my learnings:

Mission or your why is very important.

My mission is the only thing that kept me going. Remote work is so important to me that I persisted through some crazy times. My persistence was commended by folks who I truly respect. The mission to build a company is the single most driving factor. There will be bad times and during those times the only thing that will matter is your why. Like any other CEO, I have seen a lot of ups and downs.

The worst time was bad. Very bad for me. There was a time during my Indiez tenure when I was the only one working on Indiez. We had to let go of all the employees and my co-founders quit. At that time we had a debt of $50K. No one was there to help. But this time taught me a lot.

In fact, some of my close friends advised that I should quit too, and move on. And here I was saying “Oh boy! quitting is so hard”.

After drawing a simple mind map, I knew that I should continue.

It was so fulfilling to know that I’m working on something I WANT. The biggest learning for me was to love your mission.

It took me a while to get back. I did consulting projects, made money to clear debts, and restart Indiez. The only thing that mattered during that time was my passion and love for remote work.

Remote led to unforeseen challenges

As of today, we’ve made a great impact on remote work. Our writings get 100K+ reads. We’ve also helped many organizations adapt to remote work. We pioneered several remote working norms that are obvious to everyone now. It was really exciting to innovate on something so basic — the way we work together. But it took some time to be here.

Imagine a complex project that you have executed. Imagined? Now multiply the pain while managing that project by a factor of 100. That’s a normal project in a remote setup.

We were a very early player in the remote work domain. There was no place to learn. We being remote led to an insane amount of challenges. We were missing deadlines. The product managers were very frustrated because of the non-responsiveness of teams. And we saw a huge churn.

Initially, we couldn’t crack working together effectively which harmed everyone’s experience. But over the course of time, we improved the way we work.

If you are building a remote company, make sure you are improving the way your team works every day. My biggest learning was to not shy away from innovation on basic things like work.

Hiring in a remote setup is difficult

Over the last 4 years, we have become amazingly efficient and good with hiring talent. Some of the biggest organizations (McKinsey, Domino’s etc)in the world trust our hiring process and work with us to hire engineers.

Every CEO would agree that hiring is very challenging. Remote or in-office doesn’t matter. But hiring remote talent is insanely difficult and time-consuming.

Back in the time, the best people were not working remotely. That’s why every position at Indiez took a lot of extra time to fill.

This is against the obvious belief that being remote gives you more options to choose from as it opens up a global talent pool. But it is wrong. When you are looking at a global talent pool filtering good candidates is difficult. You don’t know all the good colleges and companies in other countries. Hence it becomes difficult to assess the quality by glancing at a resume.

Also, remote led us to believe that we could hire cheap which was a big mistake.

Looking back, we screwed up our hiring several times. But we improved it dramatically as well.

After taking 4000+ interviews I’ve learned a lot about hiring. We overhauled every process from making a JD to onboarding. This led to awesome people like Raj and Benjamin joining our team.

The biggest learning here was — Hiring is the most important thing and you should hire with care. Improve the process frequently.

Onboarding new hires

Today, Indiez onboarding is amongst the best onboarding in remote companies. People really enjoy the process and our engineers start shipping cool stuff within a week of joining.

A lot of organizations I know take onboarding for granted. Maybe because of the Office setup. But in a remote setup onboarding new hires well is very important and has to be right.

We did this mistake with our first few hires. We didn’t onboard them well. This mistake resulted in the loss of almost a month’s productivity. We discovered a lot of onboarding issues during one-on-ones.

Over the course of time, we improved the onboarding experience. We built a detailed notion doc helping everyone to navigate their new company. Also, we did a fun intro for every team member.

This resulted in faster ramp-up times and better happiness of employees. Onboarding can be deceived as a very small step, but it is very important for overall company health.

Snapshot of Indiez Notion Page

Management of employees

One-on-ones literally changed the way we worked at Indiez. We are a people-first organization and one-on-ones helped us to be very people-centric and improve their happiness at Indiez.

While being remote I became a productivity freak. Unknowingly I started pushing my productivity obsession to employees. This led to micro-management which is a curse for remote setup.

Management in a remote setup is very different from an office setup. There are no beer outings to build relationships. You have to make an extra effort to connect with your peers.

If you’re a CEO reading this, you should know that one-on-ones are going to be like Oxygen to your company.

Never miss focus from culture

One thing I know for sure at Indiez is that we should have built a great culture. In a remote setup, rather than waiting for the culture to take shape by itself, you’ll have to design a great culture. It deserves a significant amount of a CEO’s attention. This thought hit me when our start employee, Chris resigned.

In the exit interview, Chris mentioned that he learned a lot and the work was awesome. But he didn’t have fun like his previous company. #culturefailure.

I was working round the clock and because of this employees assumed that they have to work round the clock as well. This led to all work and no fun.

We improved our culture by taking thoughtful steps to shape it. Every Friday we organized team chatter where everyone could join for off-work talks. It was fun to see people drinking beer, smoking Js during this session. We also introduced several fun channels like #weekendtrips, #pets #books #workstation.

We defined our cultural values which helped us to behave in a certain way.

But looking back I know that we did less. We should have done more to build an awesome culture. Few things that I learned are:

  • Firing — Letting go is hard but it is an incredible step to establish and mold the culture.

  • Bottom-Up — Culture should always shape bottom-up. Founders forcing what they think is right will backfire.

Avoid Personal Burn Out

I meditate for 30 mins every day followed by 40–60 min work out. This helps me keep stress under control. I feel healthy and happy. But this wasn’t the case a few years back.

That’s me meditating in Arequipa, Peru.

When you are working from home, there’s no line between work and life. As I was working from home most of the time, I used to work for 14–15 hours every day. Even on weekends. I did this for months.

I started losing connection with friends which affected my social life. Even though I was chasing my dream, I was not feeling fulfilled. It harmed my health and relationship with my family.

Looking back I know that this was not required. There’s no point in building a company when you can’t be healthy or when you can’t spend time with family.

You should enjoy every day of life and live it to the fullest. No meeting, no task is important than your personal happiness.

Happiness <> $$

While building Indiez, I was chasing to build a BIG company with billions of market cap. This dream was delusional and never made me happy. I didn’t celebrate any wins as everything felt small against that dream.

But happiness is not $ Billions. Happiness is here. It is now. I should have been chasing happiness and nothing else. What will you do with that money if you are not happy?

For happiness, relationships are key. Hence, it is important to take out time for your loved ones because they are going to matter the most. Now I feel grateful for everything around me.

Looking back

I absolutely loved building Indiez. Honestly, I have seen some bad moments while building Indiez. But, I will not trade the experience, the thrill for anything. The joy, the fulfillment it gave to me is matchless.

Building a remote company when remote was looked down upon turned out to be great for me. I have learned a lot and continue to learn every day. Additionally, I’m grateful for the global relationships I’ve built over the course of time.

The one thing that is clear to me is that I want to enable remote work for every human and I’ll do my bit for it.

My new purpose is to make remote work human. I’m working on Dive which helps remote teams socialize. 

If you learned a thing or two and want to discuss it with me, feel free to reach out to me on @heynitesh on twitter.

Check out Dive!