[photo: Andy Schulkind and Shane Larrabee meeting in Costa Rica]
A Truly “Virtual” Company
I’m not sure if this is all that unique, but people are often very interested in how the FatLab team operates. The fact that we are so geographically diverse (Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States), is a point of interest that becomes point of fascination when I tell folks that we have people on our team that I have never even met before. However that’s not even the half of it when you consider I haven’t met most of our clients either.
A (Semi) Virtual Team
I Said United States, Not Mexico!
Ryan started working with me 7 years ago after I posted an advertisement for a developer in San Fransisco’s Craig’s List. My advertisement said specifically I was looking for someone within the United States. Ryan contacted me and told me right up front that he was living in Mexico and fully understood that he didn’t meet that point of criteria within my ad. However he met all other qualifications. After a conversation, Ryan was hired to a do a single job and we have been working closely ever since.
Seven years is a long time for any kind of employment and partnership, I know a lot about his family, his home and interests as he does me. Conversations are often like catching up with an old friend and we often joke that if we ever met in person, we might not actually like each other. I doubt it.
Video Chat Fails (at letting you know how tall someone is)
Niki has been working with me for a little over 2 years now and I just recently had the chance to meet her (in person) for the first time this summer as we did a series of client meetings together in the Washington, DC area. Hardly a day goes by that Niki and I don’t talk via video chat so I would say we knew each other pretty darn well before meeting in person. However there are certain things video chat does not convey. I think we were both wondering if we could stand being in the same room with each other. Would it be full of awkward silences or would we be able to hang out like old colleagues? I was very lucky in that the only real surprise I had was in how short she is.
The other thing we had never done together is client meetings. In every meeting there are roles: the decision maker, the ideas person, the serious one, the funny one etc. In past gigs I had the advantage of working closely in person with my business partners whereby we very much had defined roles that we expected each other to fall into.
From meeting someone for the first time in person, to sitting in a client meeting with them less them two hours later… I have to say I was a little nervous. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t worried that Niki was going to show up disheveled, smack gum, put her feet on the table and interrupt the client every chance she got. I was worried that we would seem out of sync, not on the same page so to speak… None of that happened.
Our proven ability to work together was very much present during our few days in DC, we even had some fun over dinner with our colleague, Ritz, who Niki had also never met in person. My only regret is that I didn’t get any photos during such a rare event.
Virtual Clients, That’s a Thing
My virtual world continued to merge into my real world when a long time client and partner, Andy Shulkind of Andigo Media (pictured above), visited Costa Rica with his family in July.
Andy and I were talking on the phone and he mentioned that Costa Rica was on the short list of vacation options for his family that summer. Well, I had a condo that was going to be sitting empty while I went on my own vacation, so I offered it to him and his family. The stars aligned and Andy and his family spent their vacation in Costa Rica.
They flew in the day before I left and we got to meet (for the first time) for dinner for in Tamarindo. I’ve seen Andy’s head-shot as a social media avatar and I think we spoke once via Skype, but beyond that I figured we would be the two people looking right past each other at the bar (not really). Well, we managed to connect and our families got to have dinner together.
Andy and Andigo Media are not alone on our client roster of folks that we have never met in person before. Today we have clients on both coasts and in-between where the entire relationship is managed through a support ticket system or email. I would actually say the majority of our clients are those that I have never met.
The funny thing is that the question “where are you located?” is usually one of the first questions asked in any sales call and the answer is “which one of us?”. I also can’t tell you how many sales calls start with the potential client saying that they are looking for someone local. Maybe I’m just good at sales (not really) but I don’t believe I have ever lost a gig because of virtual and geographically diverse nature of our team.