Today I get to speak to Stephanie. We met in the beginning of 2014 as part of the same batch of Startup Chile participants and today she is sitting in this same office in Santiago again. My first impression and association with Steph was one of a travel writer – I had read her blog and been really in awe by her photography and vivid descriptions of places she had travelled in South America but most of all by her lifestyle, traveling and financing it through freelance work.
Nowadays Steph is still writing but in a different position: She is an account manager at themidgame, a technology startup connecting influencers online with brands who want to work with them.
What’s so special about themidgame is that it is almost a family-run startup, with couples, siblings and very close friends involved in a 6-person strong team. After an acceleration period at Mountain View’s Y Combinator, themidgame is back in Chile and currently working dispersed between Chile and the US. Steph explains that they are a remote team and that this brings them the freedom to be anywhere we want to be. A story that really exemplifies this happened just two weeks ago, when Diana, one of the team members, travelled from the US to Colombia to be with her family while Carlos, themidgame’s co-founder and her brother, travelled at the same time from Chile to Colombia for a wedding. They were able to reunite at their parent’s house and work together for a couple of days. During the team meeting on a Monday afternoon, the rest of the team called them up from their Santiago offices and for the first time actually saw them working together in the same room.
Let’s see what other anecdotes Steph will share:
Steph, how did you start to work together at themidgame?
I was originally working as a freelance travel writer. Early last year I had a blog and worked for different publications as a freelancer, writing. I started to help out at the themidgame every now and again, as I knew the co-founders very well. They knew I was good at writing so I initially helped them with the web content or the blog and then gradually, as we got into the acceleration program called Startup Chile in 2014, they had the funds to contract me on a part-time basis.
After the Startup Chile acceleration program I left Chile, travelled with a friend of mine for a while and then I went home to Ireland for Christmas, continuing to work as a freelancer. From January I started working with themidgame again on a part-time contract basis. When themidgame got into Y Combinator’s Winter batch of 2015, I then started working with them full time.
What is your role within the team now?
My role is like an Account Manager: I have direct contact with both the clients and the influencers. So if we have a campaign I’ll do the outreach to the influencers, I’ll negotiate with them, communicate with them, explain everything…I am like the point of contact between the client and the influencers. I manage the campaigns, make sure all publications are done and the payments are made.
Oh, that’s an interesting change.
Yes, I like it! I’ve been doing a wide range of things. I like learning new things, to work on a couple of different areas. Recently I also started to help Andrés with Sales, that’s a totally new area for me. We have to study, learn and give it a shot.
Has the Y Combinator acceleration changed anything about your business or role?
It was an amazing experience. The mentors in Y Combinator are really great: they never really told Andres and Carlos what to do but they ask a lot of questions, until you actually come to the conclusion yourself. They make you realize it in a very intelligent way. We didn’t change the business that much during YC, but we experimented a lot. With the money they invested we had a little room to do experiments, to see what worked and what didn’t.
We leveraged the network of startups and got clients doing influencer marketing campaigns. It was a very intense 3 months of work and then we tried to keep that momentum going after the program ended.
So now you are working in Chile, at the Startup Chile offices after you got into their Scale program last year. Would you say that there is any kind of routine that you keep up even though you are working in different places?
In some ways there is. For me most of my day is spent communicating by email with influencers or clients and then doing a lot of admin on those campaigns: checking in, sending updates…So for me there is an element of routine most days.
But then there are always things that come up randomly or unexpectedly. We are quite flexible as a team, and able to change our everyday tasks, so if something urgent comes up, we jump on it, or someone else jumps on it. We make sure that things gets done. My days can really consist of anything, from doing content or working on a video case study for marketing purposes…there are always little things to be done.
Do you use any tool to keep track of all those tasks and changes that arise?
Oh yes, definitely! I use Asana. I also read this book called “Getting things done”, that helped a lot. Usually, I am jumping from one thing to another all day. I have a million tabs open and I will go to a tab and see that I was writing an email and had completely forgotten about it. I get distracted easily. On Asana I just put every little task, like “Read this” or “Reply to that email”, so I don’t forget. There are always so many small tasks, and also so many distractions throughout the day, that I have to write all of them down. So it’s a really good tool.
Do you use it by yourself or share it with the team?
I think We all use it. We also use Slack as an internal communication tool, which is very useful. It’s less distracting than talking over facebook!
And is there any time in the week or day that you would all come together?
Yeah. We have meetings every Monday. We update the whole team, each person talks about what they did last week, the plans for the current week and any problems they may be having. It’s good to see what people have been working on, what they are going to be working on, and if they need any help from someone else in the team.
For us it has been very effective so far but I don’t see that the whole team needs to communicate, at least not yet, more than once a week. Our Monday meeting is sufficient.
Do you include the person working in the US as well?
Yes, it’s over skype. Sometimes me and Andrés could be in the office, here at Startup Chile, and the guys could be working from their house. So we could be in the same city, but not necessarily in the same place. Our Monday meetings have always been over Skype. There has never been a time in the history of themidgame where we were all in the same room.
What do you enjoy most about being a remote team?
It’s really the freedom to be anywhere we want to be. Compared to a traditional job, that is hugely attractive. For me, I can go home and visit my family at Christmas and I don’t need to worry about taking time off work because I just continue. I can just pick up where I left off on my computer. As long as we have wifi we can be anywhere.
It’s also more exciting. I think I would get bored by always being in the same office. You get used to routine quite quickly. I think change really stimulates the mind. So I really like change in that respect.
You seem to cope very well with being remotely. Do you think it also has any negative implications?
It’s something that requires a lot of discipline and communication. Sometimes, when you want something, somebody is offline or maybe you don’t know what they are working on or whether they are having lunch. When they are not physically besides you it can be difficult. But it’s not something that has stood in our way. It would be a nice plus to be able to turn around and say “Oh hey, could you help me with that?” but it has not stopped us. We try to do our best to make ‘remote’ work for us.
Do you plan to get together with the whole team in the near future?
It would be great but I don’t see that happening in the near future. Diana also has a young daughter, two years old, so for her it can be difficult to travel at the moment.
How does Diana feel part of the team?
It can be difficult to make someone feel included, but we do our best. When I am working from Ireland I know how it feels to work seperately from the rest of the team. You are in a room on your own and everyone else is together, so you do sometimes feel like you are missing out.
However, we have this saying that we try to put people before everything. This is ingrained in the company: People before anything. We have our Monday meetings and the whole week we are communicating on Slack and Andrés talks to Diana quite a lot over Skype with video. Video is a small tool but it really makes a difference to see the person’s face. We use the technology we have to make people feel closer. I think it works quite well at the minute.
You and Andres as a couple, Carlos and Diana as siblings, two engineers as close friends from college – Does it make it difficult?
The most important thing for us is that people on this team are incredibly dedicated and loyal. We all knew each other before themidgame, so we are all invested in it more than normal: Emotionally invested as well as professionally. We really want this to succeed because if one of us succeeds we all succeed.
We all want to see each other succeed.
We just make it very clear – for example when a new person joins the team – that we know each other on a personal level but that this is business. We have to keep these things separate. We are very close as friends and we share good times during work, but we do remember that this is business and we can have our personal life separate. When Monday morning comes we are back in professional mode.
Any last thoughts or comments to add? What sets themidgame apart?
We value our team a lot. That’s the number one thing. We really know the effort that each persons is putting in, how dedicated they are, how loyal they are. They have moved countries for this company. Everyone is doing a lot of sacrifices.
It doesn’t matter if we are the best at what we do; we know we don’t have to be, we just need to be dedicated. This is more important right now while we are still quite small and while we are still growing. We just know it is all about dedication. We don’t stress, because we know we can get better.
We also trust each other that the work will get done. I think we have created a culture of trust and loyalty. Everybody is responsible for their own things, tasks and times.