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$20mn revenue, no VC funding & remote since 2010 - Scrapinghub is a stellar example of how to build a successful distributed tech company. When we got talking to Shane Evans, Co-founder & CEO of Scraphinghub, he took us through his entire entrepreneurial & remote work journey – challenges, mistakes & successes achieved.

For a quick read, you can just browse this Twitter thread:

A) Startup

1. Able to bootstrap as they started as service, then moved to a product

In 2010, Scraphinghub was a 100% services business. They built an open-source tool called Scrapy then. Over time, they realised the need to build reusable solutions and have slowly transitioned from a 100% service to a predominantly product company. As a result, they have been able to build the company to the current scale without any external funding!

Overall, it was a conscious decision to bootstrap, be remote and grow organically. This is a great lesson for every founder - it might be smart to start your product as a service so that you can immediately get some cashflows, understand customer problems, build an audience and then slowly introduce a product.

Listen to this section: Link

2. Stepping up as a CEO and the need to build a leadership team

2016 was an inflection point for Scrapinghub.Β They reached a standtill and stopped growing altogether. So they had to let a few people go & renegotiate contracts. There were also some minor differences between Shane & his co-founder.

Shane realised that there was need for better communication between the teams led by him & his co-founder. A single line of leadership was essential. There was also need to add more focus on aligning with the mission & vision. More structures were needed around processes & communication - which had to be aided by the leadership team.

All of these changes were executed & helped Scrapinghub rebound to have a very positive 2017.

Listen to this section: Link

B) Remote

1. Co-founders in different countries + hiring open-source contributors supported choice of Remote

While there were clearly personal reasons for Shane, the fact that he & his co-founder were in different countries already meant that there wasn't a single place to setup Scrapinghub. Then they also realised that the best way to hire developers for their company was to consider the open source contributors who were already experts in their tool, Scrapy, rather than hiring generic web developers & training them.

Listen to this section: Link

2. Ideation and planning is tough when working remotely

Ideation & whiteboarding in software development has been tough for them. He feels that such aspects are certainly easier in a co-located setting. He does appreciate that this could also be a cultural issue - where people view even ideation meetings as fixed 1-hour sessions rather than keeping it more open.

However, overall he is convinced that at the moment the "fuzzier, harder to define, more collaborative stuff" is tough while working remotely. They are trying to solve this with more number of team-specific meetups.

Listen to this section: Link

3. Sales as a function didn't work in a remote setup

Scrapinghub built a local sales office and he attributes the lack of success in a remote salesforce to a few reasons:

a. Not well-documented processes such as training programs, how to sell to customers, etc. As a result the training period was costly and they wanted to shorten it.

b. He felt that the people they hired for the role were more used to building co-located teams. So, he suggests that sometimes it isn't so much about the function being more or less amenable to remote working, but rather the availability of talent who are used to working remotely.

He mentions that remote working is a good philosophy but as a founder the one that supersedes all is the success of the company. So, there can't be hard-coded rules - they just need to cater to the core goal.

Listen to this section: Link


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    Great interview!

    Β 

    This question - can a remote team be remote - is very interesting and relevant.

    Some people say it cannot be good.

    Some people say that it is even better.

    Β 

    I think the work is measurable, and it doesn't have too much internal communication (nodes in the organizations) - so I think it should be possible, at least in theory.

    But it would need a very good process.

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    The bigger concern I have is - would the remote salespeople enjoy working remotely?

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    What do others think?

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      I have seen some salespersons work really work well in a remote framework. With a lot of tech sales being done over video calls anyone, being in the same place is anyway not a requirement.

      As you said, I think it is very measurable (in order of increasing impact):

      1. No of leads one has reached out

      2. No. of calls made

      3. No. of positive conversations

      4. No. of leads converted

      And so on.

      About the question around whether salespeople will enjoy working remotely, I think it all depends on the person. While I do believe that salespeople are likely to be more extroverted than others, I think with inside sales growing that's not a necessity anymore. A lot more sales is done over mails vs. actually talking to people.Β 

      So, I do believe remote salespersons should be as happy/sad about working remotely.

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        Hey Boris,

        I feel working remotely becomes tough for salespeople for 2 reasons -

        1. They spend all their time on video calls (not only clients but even teammates now).

        2. They are unable to celebrate success/ ride on the adrenaline of a colleague’s successful sales.

        While sales now moving to more emails than calls actually help reduce Zoom fatigue, the adrenaline rush has to be replicated by internal structures. That’s where I think the role of a Remote Culture Manager becomes important at larger teams.

        Otherwise, sales as a profession is as conducive to remote work as any other function.

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        Hey Boris,

        I think Mark has already made some great points.

        My wife is actually in sales and she has told me multiple times that she would like to go to the office more often (hope that's not to get some temporary respite from me πŸ˜‚). Of course, in her case, she has F2F interactions with clients and most people in such roles are extroverted (as is she).

        But I do know of many of my friends who are doing a good job in sales roles too. Even in this interview, Shane accepted that the lack of success in the sales function was mostly because the person they hired to lead the function was not comfortable working remotely.

        So, I think it starts by hiring the right people for the role who can then lead by example, place proper structures around output, etc. I think onboarding in sales is surely possible remotely too. @suvansh does a brilliant job at Flexiple and I have seen his methodical nature in setting up processes that have helped quite a bit.