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Guillaume Montard
Guillaume Montard

Posted on • Originally published at blog.bearer.sh

Starting a remote-first and multicultural-first company!

This post was originally published on our blog, where we usually write about startups, remote and APIs!

I've started a remote-first company 18 months ago, called Bearer. Not only as a remote-first but, in fact, a multi-regional, multi-cultural, multi-lingual too!

Since we’ve been running the company this way for more than a year now, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the culture and process we've built, hopefully answering some questions anyone might have with what it's like to work in such companies.

Why a remote-first company?

To be honest, it all started mostly out of necessity before becoming an opportunity, and nowadays our company’s core value!

In the beginning, my co-founder was based in Scotland and myself in France; effectively, we were a remote-first company before we were even a company. We were remote-first founders.

Our ambition, with Bearer, was to build a company and we had a certain path in mind: To be able to cross the Atlantic, sooner rather than later, and become a multi-cultural company as a result. We've seen some of our friends’ amazing companies, like Algolia or Sqreen, follow this path. We realized we had an opportunity to learn and lay the foundations for a company that could scale continents, cultures, languages, and time zones, so we doubled down on it!

When we officially kicked-off the company we were a team of 5, across 4 cities in 2 countries. Everything was done in English, as it was the only way to communicate together, despite none of us being native English-speakers.

Today, we are a team of 10, across 3 countries and located in 4 cities. To give an even broader view, one of our team members traveled around Asia for six months while still working with us. Finally, in the coming weeks, we have one member moving to South Africa; obviously, she will continue to be Bearer 🐻!

Running the company

In a remote-first company, we quickly learned that communication is paramount.

We tend to often hear that engineering-focused companies are better candidates for remote working. I'm not sure; have you considered, for instance, if:

  • Communication is an engineer’s strongest suit?
  • Writing is an engineer’s best skill?

Communication, for us, meant setting up processes and tools, then finally, writing down and recording everything! Add to that the fact that 70% of our team has to do all of this in a foreign language and we have a serious challenge to tackle πŸ’ͺ.

We've set up some processes and rituals to help communication flow well between everyone and to make sure we can all give our best.

To give you a better understanding of how this works, some of our weekly rituals are:

  • Every Monday morning, at 9:30 am, the team receives a weekly note from me, some news etc. (thanks to Mathilde Collin for the trick)
  • Every Monday morning, at 10 am, team leaders meet with the founders, for 30 min, to talk about current projects
  • Every Wednesday, at 10 am, we have a 15 min remote-coffee break with whoever feels like it, to have casual chat about anything
  • Every Friday, at 11 am, we have a weekly demo (recorded) where everyone can demo their progress and share some knowledge

Then, once every Quarter, we all meet through an offsite for a week in a nice location; the next one is in Portugal 🏝. Outside those, team members can freely travel to meet each other when needed.

We also have some communication policies:

  • Every discussion is held using public channels (100% in English)
  • Every key technical decision is documented as an RFC and discussed
  • Every project is documented and can be commented on by anyone
  • Every day off is reported on a shared calendar sending Slack notification

We are careful not to create too many processes, giving the team freedom to explore. For instance, engineering team leaders’ only requirements are to have a public kanban-style board and a weekly discussion with founders; then they are free to manage their team and communicate however they want.

The office question

We have an office in Paris, a real one. This sounds a bit counter-intuitive for a remote-first company; however, this office can host about 10 people and is usually filled with 3, at best, including myself, and that's perfectly alright.

Our Scotland-based team members work entirely from home we happily provide them with a co-working space whenever they want one. They get together for pizzas on Fridays! In Poland, our teammate has his own office in the city of Gdansk. My cofounder works from his home, now in the north of France, in Dunkirk, and comes to the Paris office once or twice every month.

Working exclusively from home is not for everyone, and is certainly not for me, while it is for my-cofounder. Remote-first shouldn't be a synonym for working from home, it should mean having the liberty to decide and receiving the same support, whatever you choose.

Conclusion

Is remote-first working for us? I'd say yes!

We have an amazing team: highly-skilled, passionate, and truly committed. In return, we can offer them, probably the best perk, the option of working from anywhere.

To make it work, it all comes down to a simple value, trust. Without trust, I don't think it’s possible to make a remote-first company successful, even less so a multi-everything one.

Feel free to ask me anything in the comment section or share how you work in your remote-first company!

Top comments (3)

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phlash profile image
Phil Ashby

Interested to know how you have dealt with/would deal with large timezone differences, given your specific meeting schedules here (in UTC)?

My organisation is now across 40 offices right round the globe, and we struggle with keeping communication going once the shift hits 4+ hours - time shifting technology (store/forward messaging) and occasional aeroplane trips help a bit, but are not ideal. Our current thoughts are to try and localise more autonomous teams (AWS style 2 pizza teams), which is much the same as breaking up the business into smaller P&L units, within a parent incubator / governance structure.. it's hard to stay moving in a common direction whatever we do though!

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g_montard profile image
Guillaume Montard

Hello Phil,

Good question! Actually our team is all located in Europe for now, with less than 1-hour difference between everyone.

That said, in my previous venture I had a large team spread across multiple locations in the US, Europe and India, managing timezone was a nightmare. We did exactly what you mention, we basically applied the Spotify model with timezone co-located teams.

This is where chapter-leader are critical as well as organizing off-sites.

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johnhenryuz profile image
John Henry

Multicultural communication is a way of approaching communication that considers the participants' various cultural backgrounds and experiences. It goes beyond "engaging" people from different backgrounds and includes methods of creating and sharing meaning across those cultural divides.

While racial and ethnic diversity is common in Australia, our cultural diversity is often under-appreciated in organizations because it is difficult to define and measure. Yet, in today's global society, we are all exposed to various cultures as we interact with colleagues and customers worldwide.

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