My name is Kenzo Fong and I’m CEO of Rock, a productivity platform purpose-built for distributed teams. I dropped out of a PhD to do my first startup, after this didn’t end up working out, I joined Google in 2006. My journey at Google led me to lead the marketing for Google Maps in Europe, Middle East and Africa. After Google I joined Uber as part of the founding team for what is now Uber Eats and led product marketing, growth, and go-to-market. I founded Rock to solve a bunch of challenges I ran into managing global teams at Google and Uber.
I was born and raised in Suriname, a tiny country in South America, and as a result know that there is a lot of talent outside the tech hubs of San Francisco, New York, and London. As a result I set up Rock to be a distributed first company. Remote working not only unlocks economic opportunities but also allows for more flexibility and more work life balance.
Initially it was a bit weird to not have an office and as a distributed first company we needed to rethink a lot of processes that more old school companies usually do in person but so far it’s been great! Being able to work with a diverse group of people who all bring different perspectives to the table and the flexibility to work from anywhere make it difficult to imagine going back to the way things used to be.
As we’re not limited by geographic boundaries we can hire great people from pretty much anywhere and with people spread across 10 countries and 7 time zones we have definitely done this. Key characterics for anyone joining a remote team are that you need to be a self-starter, be proactive, and be able to communicate well. This is especially important as you can’t count on some of the more ad hoc conversations that you used to have in the office.
From a company perspective, remote working really unlocks more diversity within a company. This is especially great for a company like Rock as we now have people with such different backgrounds building a productivity tool that can be used by anyone, anywhere. For me personally, remote working has made it so much easier to spend time with my family and even though I have been doing the startup grind I don’t think I’ve missed a family dinner once.
The key thing you do need to work harder on is that you really need to make more of an effort to socialize and build relationships with everyone on the team as you can’t count on random micro kitchen conversations to happen. We tend to keep group meetings to a minimum and instead I prefer to do more 1:1s, which allow you to have more of a personal face-to-face conversation.
For obvious reasons, we use Rock to run everything from product development to marketing and HR. The main reason for this is that existing tools were never built for distributed teams and are instead focused on teams that used to work in the same office and time zone where the expectation is that people will respond in real-time. As a result, tools like Slack can be very distracting, and are a mess to make sense of if you didn’t follow along in real-time. With Rock, we’re combining real-time messaging and video calls with more asynchronous ways of collaborating (e.g. tasks, notes, comments) making it easier for anyone to switch to a more asynchronous way of working.
As a distributed first company with people in over 10 countries something as simple as ordering team swag is quite an operation as you need to find a company that can not only produce but also deliver globally. When we did a t-shirt to celebrate our launch, it took us so much time to get these t-shirts produced, but it was very cool to see people from Rotterdam to Mumbai and San Francisco sport the same shirt.
It’s important to really think about what the best way is to communicate. You can get a lot of things done through asynchronous communication (e.g. documents, tasks) and chat but we’re all still humans so jump on a (video) call when you really need to discuss more complex things. In a team which has people in multiple time zones, face to face meeting time is the most precious time you have as chances are there won’t be a lot of time overlap especially for bigger groups. Make sure you get rid of meetings that could be an email and really save this time to discuss things that are better discussed in person.
Ever since the pandemic hit, we’ve all been in this grand experiment trying to figure out how we can get work done remotely and we’re now at the point where it’s pretty clear that remote work is here to stay. It would be very cool if Rock could play even a tiny part in making it easier to enable anyone to work from anywhere.
I could talk about this for ages as this could cover anything from tools for distributed teams to distributed first companies, and opportunities remote working unlocks.
One of the things people don’t talk about as much is the opportunity remote work unlocks for different cities and regions. If you can work from anywhere, you don’t necessarily need to be in a big city and you can really prioritize other things that could be important to you (e.g. proximity to nature, good art & music scene, etc). You’re now seeing countries like Costa Rica really make an effort with things like expat visas that make it very attractive to spend a couple of months working from Costa Rica which is great for their local economy.
Of course, check out our product, Rock.