Is startup with remote founders possible?

The frequent complaint from startups is that remote work is too slow…
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The frequent complaint from startups is that remote work is too slow. Since it’s a startup, communication should be blazing fast and close. Too much is at stake. Too many questions should be answered, too many problems should be solved. Co-founders should work hand by hand, form as close bond as possible.

Nobody wants to be ghosted. I’ve heard a story of a team recruited a remote tech co-founder. He agreed to create a web application, then after some time stopped answering calls and messages. Nobody still knows why. The guy was somewhere there suppose to be working by himself, but he disappeared. The rest of the team realized that, only after some time until it became clear that he is not responding.

But, if someone stops coming to the office it immediately becomes clear that something is wrong. Moreover, it is quite rare that someone would just stop coming to the office without giving some explanation.

So, is a remote startup possible?

The remote startup is possible only if you have communication like the one when co-founders are sitting behind the same or nearby desks.

I mean, they should see and hear each other all the time. That allows them to immediately respond to each other, share ideas, discuss immediate issues, joke and have fun together.

Such continuous communication is the most efficient way to form a bond. Without such communication, it’s much harder if not impossible.

Co-founders need a bond. They need to become a team. They can’t have their own tasks and not to see each other in days. In this case, they will little by little go sideways. The focus will be getting weaker. There will be a lack of mutual reinforcement.

Continuous face-to-face communication allows founders to stay on the same track, to be a single unit.

Can such communication be arranged remotely?

Well, you could leave Skype video call running “forever”, right? It may seem like an option, but in fact, it will consume most of your bandwidth and overload your CPU. Moreover, the connection could be unstable.

Other similar tools may work better in details, but the core issue with bandwidth and CPU overload will remain.

We need a tool that allows to remain connected via live video and still feel good about that. Bandwidth and CPU consumption should be low. A user should feel good about being seen and heard by others.

Can that be achieved with Skype and similar tools?

No.

Using standard video conferencing software, you can view another user in full screen without him knowing that. It is the same as if someone looks at you straight in the face from breathing distance, with you actually not feeling and knowing that.

That’s, to say the least, weird.

A tool is needed that:

  • respects privacy
  • creates the same rules of visibility for every participant
  • notifies beforehand about changes of visibility
  • changes visibility not suddenly, but gradually allowing to make necessary preparations

Respecting privacy

Working remotely means working from home in most of the cases. That’s why the communication tool must preserve privacy by default and by design.

For example, in the experimental tool that I’ve developed, every user is blurred by default, as shown below:

A user is visible but not in detail. If the user is picking his nose or drinking coffee, etc. – others won’t recognize that.

Such blurring provides a balance between visibility and privacy.

Beforehand notification on visibility changes

You should be prepared for someone seeing you. In the office, everyone is ready to be seen. Everyone is dressed up, women are wearing makeup. Everybody is mentally ready for interaction with others.

Working from home is a totally different situation. Everyone is in his/her zone of comfort. Contact with others should be done in a way that allows preparing beforehand.

That is why my product gives a prior notification that says “A user will unblur you in a few seconds”, as shown in the image below:

Unblur Notification
Unblur notification

This gives the user a few seconds to prepare for the contact. 7 seconds by default with the ability to increase or decrease the interval. 3 seconds is the minimum. Combined with being blurred by default it gives the user enough time to prepare to be seen.

Gradual visibility change

A change of visibility shouldn’t occur instantly. Nobody likes suddenness/abruptness especially when it comes to privacy.

That is why a change of visibility should be gradual and smooth, as shown in the image below:

Ease of gaining additional awareness (in one click).
Gradual unblur

As you can see on the image above, unblurring happens gradually not instantly.

Same rules of visibility

Imagine the situation that within the same communication tool you are visible and your manager/boss is not. Wouldn’t it feel awkward and unfair in general?

A live video communication tool in which one participant is more visible than the other becomes a surveillance tool. It gives some people the power to invade other’s privacy.

The live video communication tool must be the opposite – it must provide the same rules of visibility for everyone.

After all, in the office you cannot wear an invisibility coat – you are present and visible the same as everyone else.

You should be able to see others only when your live video is up and vice versa.

Such reciprocity is implemented in my experimental product. In one type of video connection, you can see other users only when your video is running. In the other type of connection, you can see and hear other users only when your video is running, as shown in the image below:

Types of video connections

Conclusion

A remote startup is possible, but it is a difficult thing to do. A lack of communication tools that provide a continuous live video connection between founders is the main reason for that.

P.S.

I encourage you to try VideoWorkLink (VWL). This is an experimental tool for live video communication with remote employees. It provides an individual sense of privacy that makes it easy to remain connected via live video without feeling discomfort.

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