We chat with Tom Moor, cofounder of Sqwiggle, a tool that helps companies with remote workers, and we talk about the pros and cons of working remotely.
Jacob Shriar: Hello everyone. I’m Jacob Shriar, Growth Manager at Officevibe, and today I’m honored to have my guest with me, Tom Moor, who is the cofounder of Sqwiggle. Tom thanks so much for being here with me.
Tom Moor: Hey, thank you for having me.
Jacob Shriar: Awesome. So really, honestly so excited to have you on here, excited to learn more about Sqwiggle. For those that don’t know, Sqwiggle is probably the greatest remote working software literally out there by far. We use it at Officevibe religiously. As many of you know, one of our cofounders at Officevibe, Jeff, works remotely, so we rely on Sqwiggle heavily, so honestly, Tom, a pleasure to be chatting with you. First thing before we start diving into the culture and the employee engagement at Sqwiggle, maybe if you could give us a little bit of background on who you are and maybe a little bit of background on Sqwiggle, and a bit of background on how you came to start Sqwiggle.
Tom Moor: Yeah, sure. Previously, what I was doing in the past I suppose, I was at a company called Buffer which makes social media software for queuing Facebook updates, tweets, and that type of thing, and we send them at the best times of the day. I joined Buffer a year after the first lines of code were started. I just got in as late cofounder, about as late as you could possible get. I came on just as it got initial traction and to build out the platform basically and do a lot of the technical ground work there. And I was a Buffer for nearly two years just as we were growing the team, so I came on when it was just us three co-founders and then we grew. I think we were about eight or nine when I left, and everybody was remote all of that time. So that’s where I saw the problem for the need to a tool here.
We were using TechSpace tools. We were using HipChat and that type of thing, having Skype calls several times a day with people, but still didn’t feel entirely connected for everyone on the team. There was always this barrier, and it’s partially created by time zones and partially created by just not being able to see the other person, not having the personal element is lost when you’re communicating through texter. The text could be a robot as proven the other day. You really don’t know what you’re kind of dealing with. We just felt like there was something better there. That’s why we started Sqwiggle to kind of solve that problem.
Jacob Shriar: Thanks for that background. That makes a ton of sense. I was watching another interview you did not long ago when you were telling the story of how you went to go work in Hong Kong, then you went to work in Tel Aviv, then you went to work in San Fran, and in a way that also kind of shaped the sort of distributed team and the need to kind of build a perfect product to be able to run a distribution team. I’d love to ask you, kind of high level really, what’s the culture like at Sqwiggle. First of all, do you even have an office? Is everyone distributed? How do you guys kind of maintain that company culture?
Tom Moor: Yes, it’s pretty interesting. We still don’t have an office. We’ve been told many times to get an office by advisors and things, but we’ve very purposefully kept it like that for a couple of reasons. One is that we don’t want to kind of create new niches within such a small company, like the San Francisco people are always together, and everyone else feels left out and that kind of environment. Granted you could do that and still have an office, but it becomes trickier. So everybody is remote, even the people in San Francisco. So we have four people here now, four people in San Francisco, and everyone is everyone else is distributed. So we have one of our cofounders who live in Missouri. We have an engineer in Ohio, an engineer in Baltimore; we just brought on a salesperson in Pennsylvania on the East coast. We have an engineer in the U. K. who’s currently traveling around the Southeast Asia.
And working from there as he goes which is always and exciting experience. It’s tricky with the time zones, but we love that we can allow for that, and we just have to adjust things slightly, so we’re setting expectations 24 hours before, what jobs are kind of the most important that that sort of thing. And then, other than that, it kind of works the same no matter where somebody is.
Jacob Shriar: Cool, yeah, that’s for that. Next I’d love to ask you a little bit about the hiring process and kind of how you hire people at Sqwiggle, and maybe any other tricks that you can maybe share for us. You know I’m assuming for developers it’s relatively easy, because you can give them coding tests, and you can kind of test their abilities there. But for other positions, maybe customer support or sales or something, especially if you’re hiring someone to distribute it, how do you do that? What are some kinds of tricks there that maybe you can share with our audience.
Tom Moor: Yeah. Well, we’re still very early, but our hiring process is somewhat scattered I would say. It’s definitely not the ideal process. We’re still very much refining it, and it largely consists of one of the co-founders taking the lead on a particular type of role. But if it’s a technical role, I’ll generally take the lead on it or like I marketing role, then I would take the lead on it, and then that will be the kind of person that sticks through angle list and email applications and that sort of thing. There is a first pass, has a first call on Sqwiggle. We always try and make sure it’s on Sqwiggle, bring them into the team room, show them how it works, make sure they understand what we’re building and why we’re building it, and kind of gage their enthusiasm for it I suppose.
I think one of the things which define our culture is a passion for the problem really. Like wanting to fix the issue, seeing how big it is and will be in the future, so we definitely try to gage that pretty quickly, their ability to work remote as well, their ability to be self-guided, self-driven, not the kind of person that’s not going to be able to work when there isn’t somebody next to them making sure that they’re not looking at their Facebook for example. And that comes with the passion as well. If you’re passionate about the problem and you really want to fix it, then you don’t need someone looking over your shoulder because it’s what you want to do. You also want to get on with it all the time. So we find that’s been very important.
And then once we’ve gone through that first pass, the other two pair of handles, I’ll talk to the person, and usually one or two members of the team as well will have like of the other engineers talk. We’ll look through their code. We don’t actually generally set code tests. Instead we prefer to bring the person on a little while, usually a month of contracting or something like that and have them work just in our code base with our team in the Sqwiggle environment. I think you can get a much more rounded view of the person by doing that. Sometimes it’s tricky. If they have a full-time job, they can’t leave until they get out of the full-time job or something like that, then we can kind of do it two hours in the evening a couple of nights a week or something like that to get around it. A lot of the time, people are able to come on for a little while freelancing and that’s how we find that’s the best way to really know if Sqwiggle is the right fit for them, and also the other way around.
Jacob Shriar: Cool, yeah, great. Thanks, that was a great answer. Next I’d love to ask you how you potential measure engagement at your company. I know it’s definitely not too in formal. I know you just said you’re still in kind of in the early stage. So I’m sure you don’t do things like annual surveys and things like this. But there must be some way you can kind of track and measure maybe the mood or the engagement level of your team. I was wondering if you could share how you do that.
Tom Moor: I guess if we did an annual survey, they we’d just have to survey us founders, because we only just rolled over a year. So yeah, like you say, it’s very informal but I think one interesting thing is having the kind of video platform that we’re using, there is some informal measurement there though, because you can see and you can actual measure from a metrics point of view, not that we do this, but it would be very interesting to see how many video conversations people are having with each other. You can quite easily tell in a day if somebody is very quiet, or kind of recluse. They are not joining in. They haven’t talked to anybody else and that kind of thing. So one of our teams was a little bit quiet yesterday so me and someone else kind of jumped in on them on video and said, hey, what’s going on, how has your day been, and that kind of thing. But that makes a difference I think. Just generally how many tickets people are closing? Are they jumping into support? Everybody on the team does support. So it’s also a level of measure of engagement.
Are they sort of getting stuck in helping the customer? Are they, like again, having this rounded view of what we do rather than being alone in a corner just typing away at code. I don’t think any of our teams like that, so that kind of thing. And maybe living the lifestyle I suppose, traveling a lot, that kind of thing. We like that.
Jacob Shriar: That’s cool. That’s really interesting. I like how you said everyone does support there. That’s super important. I guess it gets everyone on the team, not just the support guy, understanding maybe the pain point of the customer; the positive ideas that you’re customers are bringing to you. So just sort of immerses them deeper in the full experience, so I totally think that’s a really smart idea. You also have a really, really impressive list of investors and advisors on Sqwiggle. I’m wondering if they ever advise you on things like, for example, leadership tips, or how to build the company culture, or how to engage your employees. Do they ever give you advice on these types of things?
Tom Moor: Occasionally, particularly around the hiring aspect and they’re often, you know as founders it’s easy to, because we all have the things that we like to do. I kind of default to coding as it were if nothing is going on and it’s easy to kind of lose the high level. And you know one of our advisors, Justin, which we spoke to a lot about hiring, and how you need to very much satisfy time threat, because we don’t have a dedicated person for that, so it has to be us who does it. We have to set aside big chunks of your time to make sure it gets the focus that it deserves and that type of thing. And it’s also very easy to kind of forget that and focus on just short term of just getting the code out the door…
Jacob Shriar: Okay, perfect, thanks. My next question for you honestly is something we talk about a lot at Officevibe is working remotely and kind of understanding does it really work? Should companies allow employees to work remotely? What’s the story there? So really I figure you’re probably the best person to ask about this. What are the pros and cons to remote working honestly? Feel free to go into as much detail as you want. Take a few minutes on this. Really break down the pros and the cons of remote working?
Tom Moor: Sure. Shall we start with the pros or the cons?
Jacob Shriar: Whatever you think is best.
Tom Moor: I think we’ll start with the pros. I mean the obvious one, and the one that I guess 37 signals and these kinds of guys that do it as well, talk about disability is today. They also hire from anywhere, right? While you don’t want to be restricted to the talent pool that’s in your immediate geographic location. If you’re in San Francisco, New York, or London, or one of these kinds of cities, then you have a big bonus already. You probably can find fantastic engineers or fantastic sales people in those locations, but a lot of businesses aren’t in that situation. They might be based in a whole range of different locations or maybe the person that you need for a very specific problem just can’t be found in your area, by they’re on the other side of the country. You don’t want to limit yourself like that. You want your company to be as successful as it possible can be then you need to have the best people on board that’s what it all comes down to at the end of the day. It’s important to allow them to come from anywhere within reason.
So I would say that’s probably the most biggest pro about having your remote is that ability to hire. And then kind of coupled with that is that if you are in a location like San Francisco or London, obviously it’s expensive to hire people. So if you can hire outside of these areas, have the salary be lower, because the cost of living is lower than everybody benefits from that. You can probably still overpay for the area, so say you’re hiring someone in the Midwest, you can pay them well for the Midwest and still have the business be better for it. Everybody wins I think, so it’s a lot of those types of scenarios. I would also like to say that there has been a lot of surveys done on how remote working, flexible working, working from home is very beneficial for people. They tend to be happier if they have a flexible working environment, the ability to maybe stay at home with a child is an incredibly opportunity for most people, and it’s easy to forget, just being able to stay home for delivery and even stupid things like that.
I know Sarah on our team; she really likes to go to the gym in the middle of the afternoon, so you can be fitter. If she had a 9-to-5 job, then she might have to go late in the evening when it’s busy and then you wouldn’t go as much, just being able to have this flexibility has ended up in her being a healthier person, which is amazing. It’s amazing to be able to allow for that. We had a number of our customers move cities since they started using Sqwiggle, because they could move away from where the business is located to the town or the outskirts where they actually wanted to live, but they couldn’t before. So it really allows for these kinds of quality of life improvements. I think that’s a lot of benefits of it. I mean there are definitely downsides as well and those are the type of things that we’re focusing on trying to lower right. One that we can’t really help with is time zones obviously. Maybe that’s the company to tackle time zones.
All though I was saying hire from anywhere, we personally try to limit our hiring search to within an 8-hour stretch of time zone just for that reason to make sure that we have at least two to three hours of overlap. So if somebody is in the UK there, they have like from 4 to 6 p.m. where they can talk to people on the west coast America, for example without having to stay online until late in the evening. But that can definitely be a downside of it. You have to work around that. You have to synchronous working using, like I said Trello, get a hold to these types of tools, so that one could be overcome to a point. And team bonding I would say is the biggest drawback. It’s hard to create a bonded team that feels like they really don’t know each other if you never meet in person. There is a lot to be said for having the office environment and the Friday evening go for a drink after work situation a lot. You really get to know each other in those types of situations.
So we have to put a lot of effort into creating that. It just takes thought, and it has to be more purposeful. In a physical office, that kind of thing just happens. It just happens by accident. And some of them say, well, I’m going for a drink, who wants to come. There is not much planning around that type of thing generally. In the virtual environment, you have to plan these things out. Last night three of our guys had a games night where they had a game on Steam. Unfortunately I couldn’t download it in time. I was trying. It’s like a 5-gigabyte download, so I missed out on it this week. Yeah, so they downloaded a game on Steam, went online, and we’re just playing, battling each other over the internet. So you have to kind of make different bonding exercises that maybe you wouldn’t do in a physical office. So I thought that was a really good one.
We also do things like Trivia, where we’ll get everybody on video, like a trivia night. And on Fridays we have an hour where everyone just kind of comes online, and we talk about random stuff, whatever the theme of the week is. The people that are in the right time zone will have a drink at the same time, and we just do a lot of those things over video to overcome it. But it also just gives you the excuse to just meet up, to have like a big get together. So we had a big get together in Tahoe in February where everyone who was on the team at the time came. We rented a cabin. We went snowboarding. Funny enough everybody already knew snowboarding or wanted to learn snowboarding so that was a really good exercise. So, one of our members on our team, Michael, is actually a snowboarding instructor in his spare time, so he was able to teach the team. So that was a really good bonding exercise as well there.
So although it is a downside, with a bit of effort, there are lots of ways to get around it, and in a lot of ways it’s more interesting as well. You end up doing these exercises together that you probably wouldn’t do if you were in a physical location. I have one more downside which is that you have to be able to communicate incredibly well. But to be fair that is also a downside real in person communication. But I think that if you’re not a very good communicator, or you’re not a very clear communicator, then it’s going to be exacerbated by being remote.
Jacob Shriar: That’s great. I’m glad you added that last one for sure. And I love how you guys take that extra mile to really fix that sort of issue with team bonding, because obviously I guess that is the biggest one. That makes a ton of sense. But it sounds like you’re definitely putting an effort to make sure that that’s not the case. I guess we’ll end it here, but honestly, I just want to thank you again. Like I said at the beginning, it’s such an honor to be talking to you. We’re huge, huge fans here at Officevibe. And thank you for sharing all of these insights. They were great and hopefully we can do this again sometime soon.
Tom Moor: I’ll see. Thanks so much Jacob. Thanks for having me.
Jacob Shriar: Awesome. Take care.
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