How did the remote/distributed team come to life? Was it intentional, or did it just happen?
This is a great question @tomborvan! It was partially accidental and partially intentional. Here’s the story:
In the earliest days of Buffer, my co-founder Leo and I lived around 30 minutes apart, and so we were close enough to work together but just far enough that we often worked separate from each other. We’d use Skype chat to communicate and we would work together from the same place only once a week on Saturdays. We were also working part-time back then (I had client work, Leo was still in college) and that made it harder to work together.
Then we moved to San Francisco for 6 months, got into AngelPad and got the first round of funding ($450k). The funny thing is, right after that we had to leave the country because we didn’t manage to get visas. Rather than going back home to Europe, we were excited to keep the adventure going, since we felt we benefited so much from experiencing a new culture. It also just felt like somewhat of an anticlimax to go back. So we spun a globe (ok, we spun google maps) and the 3 of us at the time decided to go to Hong Kong for 6 months. After that we went to Tel Aviv, Israel for 3 months (and by that time there were 6 of us). We naturally grew as we traveled the world, and so we were a distributed team.
Then, a few months later we got our visas for San Francisco, and we’d grown to maybe 7 or 8. Interestingly although we were all spread out across the world, almost all of us had a desire to be in SF. So we had an option now, we could all move to SF and be located in one place, or we could keep growing as a distributed team. It was a time-sensitive decision because we were trying to grow the team fast, and we needed to decide whether to hire only in SF, or whether to hire from anywhere in the world. In some ways, if we chose to be distributed, we needed to especially hire outside of SF to offset the trend that had happened of having a concentration of people in SF.
I pondered this decision a lot. I chatted with everyone in the team. In the end we decided to fully embrace being a distributed team. We quickly hired outside of SF and ended up with people all over the world (now 27 across US, Canada, Argentina, UK, France, Spain, South Africa, Taiwan). It has been one of the most impactful decisions and one I’m happiest with about how we grew the company.
Some more useful links on this one: