The Pros of Starting A Business Without An Office

After almost 18 years in the startup world, I’ve worked with, invested in, or have seen many different founders with brilliant ideas succeed and even more fail. Over time, I found two main criteria to strongly determine the faith of their ambitious businesses: a team with complimentary skills and how efficient it works to achieve the best possible performance.

For me, remote work has proven itself to be a secret weapon for both criteria – so much, that it’s one of the reasons why we at Tomahawk.VC focus on investing in businesses with a “global-first” mindset.

In this video, I dive in why I believe that startups nowadays should aim for remote offices and how to build trust and culture in a team that is spread out across different locations.

Video transcript

Hey, everyone, I’m just finishing an article that I’m writing for a German blog and the topic on why you should start without an office, if you’re starting out as a founder now and you’re starting your startup, do not even think of having an office, a COVID, right now doesn’t really make it easy to have an office anyway. And even if COVID wasn’t here, there’s so many reasons not to have an office. I’ll mention just a few here.

Most important thing at the beginning

Number one, if you built your company remote first, that means you can hire from a much, much larger talent pool from the very beginning, instead of just being able to hire from Zurich, Berlin, London, or Warsaw, you can now hire from all these cities, plus about another hundred cities, which will 10 X or 100 x your talent pool from the beginning. And as we all know, team is the most important thing at the beginning. So this gives you have a competitive advantage over anyone that still has an office and is only able to hire from one specific place. Number two growing costs.

Unnecessary space and workspaces

If you have an office, there’s always going to be one of two problems, either your office is going to be too big, or it’s going to be too small. If it’s too big, it means you’re paying for unnecessary space and workspaces. And you’re spending money on something that doesn’t give you anything in return. And if you’ve outgrown your current office, you’re probably stressed about finding a new office and figuring out how big it should be for the next step of growth plus your employees, you’re probably not going to like working from an office that is hot that it’s too cramped. And so most of them are probably going to ask to work from home or a co-working space anyway. So why not go with that by default? And then number three, the biggest criticism that I hear about not having an office is how do you build a team culture? If you don’t see one another every single day? And how do you build trust in your team? If you don’t see one another frequently? Well, for me, trust and culture are not things that are strictly tied to seeing one another in person. But I’ll tell you what, I think helps you build a culture. Often this comes as kind of a package deal when you have an office. And I think building trust and culture comes from seeing the person behind the employee.

Important to build space and time

What do I mean by that? Well, if you’re remote, it’s very easy to only talk about work on slack on zoom. It’s very easy to have work calls and say bye. And that’s it. Maybe at the beginning of a call, you’ll ask How are you? But that’s about it. For me, I think it’s very important to build space and time where you can get to know the person behind the employee. Well, for us, one thing that we do in our decentralized team at Tomahawk is, in our weekly call, what we do at the beginning is we ask for a one-word open to one word open is something very simple. It’s a one word that best describes your emotions in the moment, instead of just saying, hey, how is everyone and everyone says I’m fine and then we carry on, we actually do listen. And someone might say I’m feeling great, I’m feeling rested. I’m feeling exhilarated. But someone might also say I feel very busy, I feel stressed, I feel rushed, I feel tired. And then we take a moment to quickly clarify what’s caused that emotion.

Now, this is not about fixing every negative emotion and celebrating every positive emotion. We don’t need to make this a 1020 minute exercise every time. But it’s good to listen to one another and understand where the other person is coming from and what is happening around them in their life. So for example, it might be that one of my colleagues has recently had their parents stay over didn’t sleep well, because of that. And when they get to work and into our call in the morning, they still feel that they’ve been addressed enough now, it’s important for me to know that because if we’re going to have a discussion, sometimes our discussions get very heated, because we want that very direct feedback. And we get very direct feedback. But if I feel that it’s somehow more personal than it should be, I now have a bit of context. And I understand why a person might react a bit more agitated than normally. So that’s one thing that’s very simple to do.

It takes no more than five minutes for a small group. And I can only recommend you to introduce that at the beginning of your work meetings if you’re doing them online or in a decentralized setup. Another thing that we really like to do is trivia games, quizzes, riddles, and I’ll go into that a bit more in a future episode. But the reason why we like to do this is because we don’t talk about anything but work. We talk about what movies someone likes, we talk about what their weekend plans are, and so on so forth. And these are conversations that would typically happen in an in an office set-up when you’re having lunch together when you stand by a water cooler when you’re getting a coffee or when you go for a short walk together. And so it was important for us to recreate space for those moments of conversations. Even now, we’re not in an office together. So just to quickly summarize, I just finished this article talking about why I think you should start out without an office if you’re starting a startup now.

And, COVID aside, there’s a few good reasons number one, the talent pool that you have access to number two, the growing pains go away. And it doesn’t take your time as a founder to constantly find a new office that’s either understaffed or overstaffed. And then number three, trust and culture is not something that needs to happen in office.

Techniques that we use

You can also build it remotely, but you need to know how one of the techniques that we use is one word open where we consciously listen to one another and figure out how each and every one of us is feeling. And number two, riddles, quizzes, trivia, just something that doesn’t directly relate to work, make space for that and get to know the person behind the employee that you’re working with. Hopefully, this was helpful. And we’ve got Have a beautiful day stay curious and I’ll talk to you soon.