How ManageFlitter’s CEO & Founder Kevin Garber Gets Success with his Global Virtual Team
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In this episode, Kevin Garber, CEO & Founder of ManageFlitter shares some great insights into his own personal journey with virtual teams, including the benefits of tapping into global talent pools vs local talent pools.
After developing ManageFlitter to satisfy a need of his own, Kevin has grown a highly successful company that has been built on the notion of ‘The quality of your team is everything!’.
Some of the areas covered include:
- The quality of your team determines so much about the success of your company
- Why communication is so important, both written and face-to-face, within a virtual team
- Don’t make assumptions when it comes to ‘thinking’ you know what someone else wants or needs
- Souring the right people for your team and ensuring they are a good fit, both for the job and the culture of your team
Let us know in the comments below what your key takeout has been from this episode or why not join the continuing conversation over in the Virtual Success Facebook Group.
Resources mentioned in this show:
In this episode:
01:50 – What is ManageFlitter?
05:48 – Building the team
07:36 – The quality of your team is everything
09:20 – How to keep your team connected
12:19 – Keeping the communication complete
13:32 – Be clear in your communications
15:08 – Eradicate assumptions
16:54 – Bringing new team members onboard
19:00 – Guidelines around communication
21:32 – Sourcing the right people
23:02 – Incentivizing your team
25:46 – Offering your team flexibility
27:20 – Wrapping things up
Matt: Good, Barb, and yourself?
Barbara: I’m well. I’m well. I’m really, really looking forward to today’s show, because I love when we have a guest on, so as all the listeners know, we tend to try and find guests that are running large virtual teams so that we can actually get that sort of inside scoop from them on how we actually can get more success with this and what the benefits of it actually are. Today’s guest, I’m really happy to welcome Kevin Garber, who is the CEO and co-founder of a fantastic tool called ManageFlitter, which I am currently trialling at the moment. We’ll get into what that is in just a second, and he’s also the host of the It’s a Monkey Podcast, which talks all things tech, entrepreneurship, scalable business. Kevin, welcome to the show.
Kevin: Thank you so much for inviting me on. I’m excited to be here.
Barbara: Yeah, and I know, we’ve talked before you’ve got some great insights to share, I guess, around the journey with virtual teams and the benefits, I guess, of global talent pools versus more local talent pools and all that sort of thing. Before we kick off into that, give us the ManageFlitter story. What is ManageFlitter, and why should we care?
What is ManageFlitter?
Kevin: ManageFlitter is a set of search filtering and sort tools that sits on top of your Twitter account, helps you work smarter and faster with Twitter. We have paid customers from over 100 countries, although the bulk, at the moment, in the United States, and the bulk of our users are people that use social a lot. They use Twitter a lot. They use our product to clean up their account. They use our product to grow their account with the right followers, to search for people tweeting about certain topics and to easily follow them in a compliant way that keeps Twitter happy and keeps your account in good shape. It’s a nice set of tools for people that use Twitter a lot. We’ve been around since 2010. The tool was actually built internally first for myself, so I discovered Twitter on a trip to San Francisco. I can’t remember, it was 2008 or 2009 and I started using Twitter quite a lot, and my account started getting cluttered with accounts that stopped tweeting or they were fake accounts, and I was struggling to clean up my account properly and find the right people to follow.
I asked, I had a small digital agency at the time. I was lucky enough to have an incredible engineer working with me who landed up being a co-founder of ManageFlitter, and this will lead into our chat about the importance of team, Barbara, but he developed a prototype of this product. I started using it. I loved it. We released it to the world. At that stage, it was all the rage to build products on top of the Twitter API. This was in 2010, a very different world to today, where the social media companies are clamping down and closing APIs and forcing strong limits. In those days, Twitter was saying, “We’ve got this great, open platform. We’ve got this great API. Come and build. Come and build. We’ll support you.” Famous products like TweetDeck, for example, came out of that phase, and was actually a private product that Twitter then bought, and, of course, TweetDeck is a very important part of Twitter these days.
We released it to the Twitter ecosystem. People started using ManageFlitter, using our product. They started using it in ways which we didn’t even predict, which was very, very interesting and a great lesson in trying to get it out there to your market so you can get feedback, because they’ll start using your product in ways that you didn’t even anticipate. In 2011, we launched a paid version of that product, and we kept on growing. We were very lucky that our customers did marketing on our behalf, which is an absolute—
Barbara: Oh, the holy grail.
Kevin: …gift. The holy grail, where people were tweeting about us, blogging about us, YouTubing about us. Even today, if you go to YouTube and you type in “ManageFlitter” or “grow your Twitter account,” we’ll pop up there. People would put together hour-long YouTube videos on that we didn’t even know who these people were, and we weren’t paying them, and they weren’t even affiliates a lot of the time. It was a wonderful, wonderful journey.
James, brought him on as co-founder. We subsequently sold the digital agency to focus on ManageFlitter, and we grew out the team. We haven’t taken funding to date, so we’re still a small team, we, only about 15, going slowly and surely. We’re still around in 2018, still trying to make the product better, still dealing with all the ups and downs of the tech world, of team challenges, of technical challenges, of industry moving, dealing with all the ups and downs, and here we are.
Barbara: Wow. I know, you and I have talked about the team challenges already, and obviously, that’s what we really want to dive into here. Talk to me about those early days. You had the digital agency, and then at what stage, when you made the switch over to ManageFlitter full-time and you stopped the agency, was it just you and the co-founder still, or what was the…
Building the team
Kevin: No, we had grown them… We had grown to a few developers, and some of the agency people had multiple roles, as in they would spend 50% of the time in an agency and 50% of the time in the product, so it wasn’t just myself and the co-founder at that stage. It was a few more, mainly developers. Mainly, there were another two, three developers working with him, and myself working on product and customer service and things like that, and we had a customer service person we’d brought on in the U.S., actually, to…
Barbara: Were they all virtual? Were you and the co-founder in the same place?
Kevin: Yeah. Myself and the co-founder, James, were in Sydney. The developers at that stage were in Sydney. We’d subsequently brought on one developer in South Africa. We brought on support in the United States. One advantage of a small business where you can be more creative about how you build your team, and I think a real quality that small business owners and start-up owners should develop, is an eye for finding a rough diamond that maybe other companies will not employ for a variety of reasons. Maybe they don’t have the right pedigree. Maybe their communication skills aren’t up to scratch, or English is their second language, or maybe they want to work from home, but they might be exceptional talent. As a start-up, that’s an advantage to look for those people that have slipped between the cracks, and we’ve been quite successful in finding these rough diamonds that have landed up being brilliant—
Barbara: Yeah. I like that—
Kevin: …and a lot of—
Barbara: …thinking, yeah. That’s interesting—
Kevin: A lot of—
Barbara: …that you’re not willing to take the risk on that, but actually, I think I’ve taken risks like that as well in my business, and it has really paid off.
The quality of your team is everything
Kevin: Yeah and I think a lot of people also don’t want to work for big corporates, and they don’t want to work for governments, and they do want to work for smaller companies as well, but I was thinking before I got on the show, I was just doing a bit of a sort of run-through in my head of thoughts to share, and the one thought that just keeps on popping in my head is, a lot of these concepts of building a remote team, and leading your team in the right way, and finding the right people, really comes down to one thing. It’s been said a million times, and it’s such a cliché, but it is just so important to remember the impact that team is everything. The quality of your team is everything, just like in your personal life, the quality of your own relationships is everything, quality of your friends, and your partner, and your relationships with your family, everything. It’s the same thing with your team. The quality of your team determines so much… In fact, it determines everything, and that’s why the big companies will land up paying all sorts of crazy numbers and doing all sorts of things to just hang on to the right people, and whatever you can do—
Barbara: Team dynamic, as well. I mean, the team dynamic is everything, actually, so if you’ve got a lot of people that don’t like each other on the team, it doesn’t matter what their skills are like. It’ll be a disaster.
Kevin: Absolutely, and that’s why if you’re a small business and you’re a start-up, and you can’t have the fancy office and you can’t… Don’t worry about it. Most people see through the gimmicks. The gimmicks are nice to have if everything else is there, but what people really want is to work with good people, and nice people, and people that…
…support each other in a collaborative way.
Barbara: …what they’re doing together, absolutely, yeah.
How to keep your team connected
Matt: Yeah. Sorry. Kevin, I’ve got a… With such a broad-spread team, how do you keep everyone connected and working as a team?
Kevin: Currently, our team’s about 15 at the moment. In Sydney, full-time permanent, we’ve only got three, including myself. We’ve got one person in the Northern Rivers. We’ve got then developers spread out all over the world, and it’s a question that we continually self-reflect on ourselves and try to get better on. Development team members tend, that type of work, we find, lends itself to remote work quite well. Other roles, we still, working hard at getting it right. We have weekly sort of all hands meetings, and we alternate the time every week so that people can actually join in all hands, because they are all in different time zones. People can at least join in all hands once every two weeks. We try, the sort of two to three sort of more senior people, we try to rotate through one on ones constantly with the team to make sure that… I never want someone to just feel like they’re just a resource, and they’re just delivering work, but it’s still a work in progress. We’re going to experiment with virtual water cooler type sessions.
We’ve got a Slack channel called Random, where we post all sorts of images and photos, and we have chats on there. I have micro catch-ups in different parts of the world with the team, and the aim is to do what a lot of full, remote teams have is, once a year or twice a year, have a full-team catch-up at a co-located venue. We’ve always seen—
Barbara: An actual live, a live catch-up, you mean like all connect live?
Kevin: Yes. Yes.
Kevin: Face to face, we’ll go to meet somewhere in Bali, or Thailand, or Singapore or something, and I think that’s really a good… To me, I think that’s a really good model when you can have a little bit of face-to-face time, even for a couple of weeks or a week, and then work remote. That really consolidates that working relationship in a huge amount, in a huge way. To me, that’s the sweet spot of the remote type of distributed team.
Barbara: Do you know what I’m noticing, though, as you’re speaking, I think a really key point I’m picking up from this, the level of commitment that you have as the business owner, the founder, to the team communication and making sure that it works, like you’re leading that, making sure that, like you’re bending over backwards, literally, to make sure that the team connects in the right way as much as possible, that suits people and doesn’t make people feel like they’re just a resource. Right?
Keeping the communication complete
Kevin: Well, part of, probably what my team would tell you is that one of the things that I’m always banging on about is to keep the communication complete, keep it thorough, keep it relevant, keep it timely, keep it organised. Make sure you’re threading chats in Slack and things aren’t just going on all over the place, keeping discussions out of email. If we are to make this distributed remote team situation work, we all have to be committed to getting this communication aspect right, because it’s all we’ve got. Right? You don’t have the bumping into each other and landing up going for a coffee and sorting out some issue. We have to be, have intent behind it, so yes, you have to be really committed to this journey. But to be honest, Barbara, in our industry, part of, a big part of the reason why we’ve gone for a distributed team is, we’ve actually been forced to. We’re based in Sydney, and the war for talent here is extreme, and I will not compromise on the quality of talent at all, and we need to open up to consider talent from everywhere, because Sydney is just, the supply’s just not there. It’s just not there.
Be clear in your communications
Barbara: Matt, I’m interested in your thoughts just on this communication thing and this commitment, like the level of commitment, Kevin, that, honestly, that you’re demonstrating to this. How do you… Matt, you will even see it in businesses that are brick-and-mortar businesses where all the team is together where there still isn’t that commitment to communication coming together, etc., and it just, it’s fundamental to the success of any of these things, whether it’s virtual or not.
Matt: Absolutely. I mean, I was only doing a presentation to a company yesterday, and they commonly will… They believe their communication is good, but it’s so vague that it opens up a can of worms every time someone’s asking something of somebody else. I think that what Kevin was saying there, ensuring that it’s really specific and almost over-communicating, in some ways, to ensure that the job can get done, I think, is really, really important, but I think too often, people aren’t thinking enough about their communication and take, almost take it for granted that people will just understand what I’m—
Barbara: But there’s assumptions.
Barbara: Yeah. There’s…
Barbara: I mean, Kevin, are you finding, do you ever find that assumptions creep in sometimes? Because you said like, about this concept of making sure the communication is complete. So I want to delve into that a bit further. Is that like the eradication of assumptions and actually being overly obvious to make sure everything’s closed out properly?
Kevin: Absolutely. Very important points, and I even say to the team, “If you feel that you’re making an assumption, if you think, ‘Oh, I’m not sure how this works, but it probably works that way,’ stop. Stop. Right? Just try and identify assumptions, because that’s when problems come in, and ask.” Even saying something that’s like… There was a case earlier this week where one of the team members said, “There’s this and this issue between the developers, and the customers are seeing it this way. I think they have it wrong,” and I said, “Who is ‘they’? The customers or the developers?” I just—
Barbara: Yeah, that’s… Yeah. Yeah, being clear in your communication.
Kevin: Being clear. It is critical, and it’s so easy when you’re in your head not to be clear, and simple techniques like always rereading your message and—
Barbara: Yeah, because somebody—
Barbara: Like if you hadn’t asked that question, you might have assumed “they” meant the customer, and he might have—
Kevin: Oh, it happens.
Barbara: …meant developers.
Kevin: It happens, and we’ve got another layer, by the way, Barbara and Matt. We’ve got another layer in that there’s time zones, so there’s asynchronous communication happening, and we’ve got another layer on top of that where actually our entire development team, even our tech lead, Marcela, who is in Sydney, are second language English. Now, they’re all very, very smart people, and their English levels vary from almost native to not as good, but these are all factors to really come into play, so it’s very important. We’re in an industry where one simple miscommunication can actually lead down a whole different path and, at the best, just wastes time, and, at the worst, cause a significant commercial problem.
Barbara: How do you—
Matt: Do you—
Bringing new team members onboard
Barbara: …train new …Sorry, Matt. Sorry. I just, this is an interesting one for me, because if you’ve got a new person joining that ecosystem, how do you train, and how long does it take you to train a new person into that thinking and how that process works?
Kevin: Again, a great question, because onboarding is crucial. I mean, it’s crucial to get the sweet spot right, so of onboarding them in a way that works for the business, but also onboarding them in a way that they start getting confidence about their own skills and are confident that they made the right choice. Remember, again, especially with the tech team, they’re dealing with multiple job offers.
Any decent tech person anywhere in the world, is dealing with multiple job offers. So you actually, if you actually get it wrong in the first week or two, they actually probably got a very warm offer that they can slip out to quite quickly, so you want to onboard in a way that they can see how organised you are, how smart the team is, give them projects that aren’t overwhelming but are already quite challenging. From the communication perspective, I mean, immediately as they hop into Slack, they can see our rigorous communication, our well-organized channels, the banter.
They can get on board it quite, you get the tone of the culture quite quickly, but I think onboarding a lot of not just providing a scope of a project and leaving them, a lot of chats, checking in, even, with the developers, even though I don’t work directly with them. The first couple of weeks, I’ll be pinging them regularly and asking them, “How is it going,” what are they working on, making them seen, heard and seen, and like they’ve joined a part of something. I mean, as you said, there’s got to be commitment, and I think most CEOs do have commitment and understanding around this, but I think to take the distributed approach at having a distributed team, you certainly do need the next level of commitment.
Barbara: Yeah. Matt, what were you going to say there?
Guidelines around communication
Matt: Yeah, no…are there rules around communication within the team, like when something should be written versus having a chat to somebody like audio or versus video? Do you have rules around communication?
Kevin: There’s a few. We’ve got a Slack channel called Daily Updates, and everyone has to post into their channel at least once a day, preferably twice a day, with anything from a big-picture view of what they’re working on and what they’re going to work on, or some detailed aspect of something that they’re working on, right, so that way, there’s an ambient type of communication, a sense of what everyone in the company is working on. That’s totally cross-functional. Developers, content marketers, support. That’s, in a way, the heartbeat of holding the team together, and it gives us a sense that we’re all working on the same thing.
Video-conferencing is a big part of what we do, any small catch-up or large stand-up, we include faces. Besides that, there aren’t really any hard and fast rules, so to speak, more so just guidelines. I think, I mean, back to the point of commitment as well, though, Barbara, I mean, a lot of the team members, they also committed to making a distributed team work, which is very important.
Some of them have, really want to work remote. They either want to be a digital nomad, or they want to not live in a big city, or not have a commute, or not deal with the office politics, so I’ve got commitment with that, but a lot of the team also has commitment in meeting it halfway. That’s also very much needed. I think there’d be certain team members where, really do want to be in an office and don’t want to be part of a distributed, remote team.
Barbara: A follow-on question, actually, for me, just… I just love what you shared, by the way, and I’m totally stealing that idea that it’s like a daily huddle, but it’s done in a Slack channel, because I often get asked by clients, I’m sure you do as well, Matt, that, “How do I run a daily huddle with a virtual team,” but you’ve just explained there how you can actually, it’s sort of a version of that by everyone sharing what they’re working on in this Slack channel. I’m totally stealing that. My other one, and the question’s slipped out of my head, but I was thinking… Yeah. It’s gone out of my head. I had a great question to ask you. Matt, have you anything to interject with?
Sourcing the right people
Matt: I guess one question I’ve got written down here, Kevin, is, how are you going about sourcing your people? Is there any particular channel or group and the like that you’re using in order to source your people?
Kevin: I’ve tried everything over the years. On the developer side of things, on the engineer side of things, there are websites that specialise in jobs for remote workers, people looking for remote work, and we’ve had some success with that. There are some recruiters popping up that specialise in technical remote teams. Connections, people that I’ve met at conferences and meetups and even just socially that have landed up working for you. I mean, I think as CEO, one of the top five tasks that you have is just to always be thinking about your team and building your team, and risk management around your team and when team members leave. There’s no one sort of solution. I get comforted when I hear people like Atlassian have the same challenges. Sometimes, as a small start-up, you think, “Oh, it’s just because we’re small and marginal,” but it’s the war for talent is that serious, so we have to… I leave nothing off the table in building the right team.
Incentivizing your team
Barbara: How do you, just with that building, the war for talent, how do you incentivize, without sort of overpaying and constantly getting into that merry-go-round of just financial upping the salaries and things like that? Is there any other things that you think retain people that we use?
Kevin: I think, I mean, I think when there’s a good fit and the basics are in place, i.e., market rate, I do think overpaying people actually causes more of a problem than—
Barbara: Yeah, it does on the VA side as well. We were just talking about this earlier. It’s kind of unintended consequences that cascade across an industry when you do that.
Kevin: Yeah, and not only that. You don’t… I mean, do you really want someone that’s only in the job for the money? You don’t. It’s not good for anyone, so obviously, the basics of paying market rate is important, but in terms of beyond that, I really think people… To me, I always like coming back to first principles with everything in mind, and what did people want? They all want to wake up and do work that makes them feel fulfilled and satisfied with people that they like and they like to learn and move a bit forward and be able to feed themselves and their family at the end of the day. I like to keep an eye on the fact that the team’s fulfilled, they’re learning and growing.
I think one of the challenges with a smaller business is that sometimes, people can grow very, very fast, and they can actually outgrow the business. It has frustrated me in the past that I don’t have the right role for the person. It’s not only about having the right people on the bus. It’s having the right seat for them on that bus. That can be a challenge where sometimes, there will be a developer that’s not as good on the technical side of things, but they’re great on the product side of things, and you just don’t quite have a product role for them. Just getting the basics right, talking with them, reading between the lines, but it’s difficult. When a good team member leaves or transitions out, it can really feel, you can sometimes take it personally and a lot of self-reflection on—
Kevin: …what you’ve done wrong.
Barbara: I know. It’s actually good for me to hear this, too, because I’m thinking, “Oh, wow, so it’s not just my business that suffers all the same stuff,” so I think any listeners as well, I think it’s just any industry, any… Doesn’t matter what you’re doing. Business requires people, and working with people is challenging in some ways, but very rewarding in others.
Offering your team flexibility
Kevin: Yeah, and it’s, and people do sometimes leave for different reasons, but I do think that one which would be interesting for you guys, and this is one, we recently had a new tech lead join, and one of the things he asked everyone in one of the Slack channels was, “I want you to list three things that you love about working here and three things that you’ve done.” The top element across the board of what people loved in working for us was the flexibility. Right! I think what you can offer in terms of having a distributed team in that flexibility is so valuable. I think the corporate nine to five, I can see why it evolves, and I can see why it’s needed and it’s there, but at the end of the day, who really wants less flexibility over more flexibility? Sometimes, just a little flexibility makes the whole difference.
Sometimes, being able to work from a café every morning for two hours just makes you feel a little bit more human than having to be that, have that rigidity. I think it’s an opportunity that a lot of businesses are not capitalising a lot is having the faith to give your team a little bit of flexibility to time-shift a little bit, to location-shift a little bit, to maybe choose their own projects, but that was easily number one in terms of what they were loving working with us was that they had flexibility to do their thing in their own way.
Wrapping things up
Matt: Kevin, I’m just going to say, a big thanks. Your insights today have been amazing, and I hope for our listeners that you really do take a lot from this. If nothing else, just Kevin’s emphasis around communication, and I really think that irrespective of whether you’re running a virtual team or a local team, the communication piece is vitally, vitally important.
Kevin: I’d just like to add quickly that around the communication, I’ve got this theory that we all are communicating a lot less than we think we are, whether it’s in business or in personal lives. We all think we might be communicating thoroughly, but it’s actually probably 30% less than we actually are in reality, so up it all the time.
Barbara: Yeah. Committing to it. Listen, Kevin, thank you so much, and for all the listeners, I like, we echo this stuff all the time, so I know there’s so many lessons and learnings in this interview with Kevin today. Make sure that you share the show, give us a rating and a review on iTunes if you can. It helps us to get the show out to way more people, and hopefully by the next show, my voice will be back. It’s starting to really fail me now. Thanks, Kevin.
Barbara: You’re very kind—
Kevin: …to reach out.
Barbara: …with your time. You’re very kind, I have to say, even from my perspective. You’ve been very kind with your time, and of course, try the ManageFlitter tool, because we’ve been testing it out the last week or so, and it’s really an awesome tool, so get on there at ManageFlitter and try it out. Kevin, thank you, Matt. Thank you, everyone.
Matt: Yes. Thank you, Kevin.
Kevin: Thanks. Appreciate your time and the invite, folks.
Barbara: Till next time. See you.
Barbara Turley is the Founder & CEO of The Virtual Hub, a company that specializes in recruiting, training and managing superstar ‘Virtual Assistants’ in the social media, digital marketing and systems automation space.
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