Interview: Josh Steimle

Josh SteimleJosh Steimle is the Founder and CEO of MWI, a distributed online marketing agency.

He’s also a speaker, writer, entrepreneur. Author of Chief Marketing Officers at Work and 200+ articles on Forbes, Mashable, TechCrunch, among many others. You can find him in TwitterLinkedIn & Snapchat

1. How did you started working remotely? How did you do the switch?

In 2007 I hit rock bottom with my business. I had a nice office, 10 full time employees, and a mountain of debt I couldn’t seem to pay off. I knew something was wrong but wasn’t sure how to fix it.

I had read blog posts by the guys at Basecamp and the book Why Work Sucks about results only work environments and working remotely and wanted to try it out with my business, but I was too scared. But when it got to the point where I could either try it out or go broke, I didn’t have much of a choice– I got rid of the office.

Today we’re at 15 team members and growing quickly (and profitably, unlike before) and we still don’t have a real office, and I’m not sure we ever will. It has worked out so well.

2. Which are the main advantages that you find by working remotely?

Saving money was the first advantage, because we didn’t have the overhead of the office space and everything that comes with it, which isn’t just financial overhead, but time and attention overhead as well. When someone drops a 2-liter bottle of Coke on the office carpeting and it explodes and you have to hire a cleaning company to come in, you only see the $200 charge on your financials, but of course the time and attention it takes away from real work are the larger cost. Yes, that really did happen, by the way.

But there’s another benefit outside of the obvious cost-of-office-space factor, which is that everyone is forced to produce results. People can’t get away with showing up early and leaving late and assuming that’s all that’s needed, because nobody notices anymore. What co-workers notice is how helpful people are, how much work they’re getting done, the results they’re delivering–you know, real work!

I also see that people don’t waste time with chit-chat. Not that all chit-chat is a waste of time–it’s important for team members to bond and learn more about each other, but when we had an office it was easy for me to have a 4-5 hour chat with someone about religion or politics. Important stuff, to be sure, but if you’re having 2-3 conversations every week then you’re losing a full day of work, and yet you think you’re working because you’re at work. That stuff doesn’t happen anymore. At least I’m not doing it anymore, and I was the worst offender. Now I just post all that stuff to Facebook and waste time there 🙂

3. Do you think you have disadvantages or that you’re missing something by working remotely?

Yes, there is something missing when you don’t see people in person. We’ve had some incidents with people getting on each others’ nerves that I don’t believe would have happened were we in the same space, or they would have worked it out sooner and in better ways.

I also miss being able to get help quickly and easily. I can be a bit slow when it comes to new technology and it would be nice to be able to lean over and say “Hey, can you help me with this?” On the other hand, my team members probably appreciate that I can’t ask for help so quickly and easily.

4. From which cities or countries have you worked since you have become remote?

I was working from Utah, but in 2013 I moved to Hong Kong. Utah is great, but Hong Kong has been a huge adventure in so many ways.

And of course I work remotely while traveling for speaking gigs, conference, client meetings, etc. I will say this–out of all the countries and cities I’ve been to, Thailand is the one where it has been the quickest, easiest, and cheapest to get a SIM card and get online. Tokyo has been the worst so far. Worse than Nepal, which is saying something. That’s what it really comes down to, isn’t it?

If I can get fast internet quickly and easily, then I love the place I’m visiting. If I can’t get data, everything about that country becomes a nightmare.

5. From which type of place do you prefer to work from? Coworking spaces, coffee shops or others? Do you have any specific place?

In Hong Kong there are a lot of Starbucks, as there are everywhere else in the world, but perhaps unlike many other places in the world, Starbucks is the only place in Hong Kong you can rely on to have clean restrooms, working Wi-Fi, and power outlets by every seat. I don’t know why other cafes can’t get this right–power to the people! The problem with Starbucks, however, is that it makes you fat (I’m Mormon so don’t drink coffee but I got addicted to steamed milk with a shot of hazelnut syrup).

Nowadays I work primarily from home, but sometimes from The Garage Society which is a co-work space in Hong Kong that is tied into the startup community and has the best location in the city, right smack dab in the middle of Central. Someone there keeps trying to kill me off with free croissants left in the breakroom, but at least it’s not all-day, every day temptation.

6. Which places would you like to travel to -from where you would enjoy and work from- as a remote worker?

Anywhere the data flows like Niagara Falls and there are power outlets everywhere. Air conditioning is also good (it’s kind of hot and humid in Hong Kong right now).

7. What would you say to the companies that don’t believe on hiring employees who work remotely?

Why not? Maybe you have a good reason, but if it’s based on “We just don’t do things that way,” then you might be shooting yourself in the foot. A lot of our team members work for MWI specifically because it’s a remote position where they feel treated like an adult and their work is based on their results, not whether they’re filling a chair and look busy. They enjoy the flexibility and freedom.

You might also be saying “But how will I know if they’re working?” If you find yourself asking that question you’ve got problems, because if the only way you can measure someone’s results is whether they’re visible to you or not, eventually you’ll fall prey to a competitor who has better analytics.

It’s true that remote working is terrible for an employee who needs constant supervision, but is that the kind of person you want working for you?

8. Which tools do you use to work remotely?

I covered some of them in 8 apps that will make it easier for you to work between countries and time zones over at Mashable, but also Gmail, Google Docs, Slack, Jira, Basecamp, UberConference (thanks Wil Reynolds for recommending this!), DialPad (use a US number anywhere in the world–easier than Skype), Skype, Gotomeeting, Skitch, FaceTime, Buffer!!!, Edgar, WhatsApp, Xero, Google Translate, Pleko.

9. How do you manage your business and taxes?

Ugh. I have five separate accountants/accounting firms I’m dealing with right now, which I’m consolidating into four, and then hopefully three. It’s just a major pain as a US citizen, especially with FATCA. But at least I have good people helping me to stay out of prison.

10. What advice would you give to people looking to work remotely?

It’s certainly never been easier. Despite my answers to the last two questions, I love living and working outside my home country and having this adventure. Some reading I would recommend that also helped:

  • Remote – By the Basecamp guys, consolidating their wisdom on remote working.
  • The Year Without Pants – By a guy who worked for WordPress and wrote about his experience there.
  • Virtual Freedom by Chris Ducker – I haven’t read this yet, but I’ve heard good things and it’s next on my list.
  • 4-Hour Workweek – The book that started it all, at least for me.

Buffer blog – The link is to just one post, but there are a bunch of other good ones about how they manage a virtual office/remote team.

Comments (4)

  1. Interesting article, particularly as I’ve also got some experience of running a remote employee marketing company. What would be interesting would be to find out more about the challenges of finding and recruiting remote workers – most of the people I’ve worked with are those I’ve met in real life at some point, and expanding the talent pool is a time-consuming challenge at the moment!

    Dan Thornton
    25 April, 2016 Reply
    • Hi Dan, check out 90 Digital sharing about their hiring experience: https://remoters.net/interview-90-digital/ – we have more interviews done to remote companies sharing a few insights about it too: https://remoters.net/interviews/. Also if you like to answer one, you just need to let me know, you know where to find me… and I’ll share the questions 😉

      aleyda
      25 April, 2016 Reply
    • Hi Dan, recruiting is definitely a challenge for us, although I don’t know if it’s any more challenging as a remote company than any other type. One benefit is that we can recruit anyone, anywhere, without geographic restrictions. We have people working for us all over the world. We have one team member moving from Florida to Denmark soon, and it’s nice that this doesn’t impact her ability to contribute in any way. We probably won’t even notice much of a difference other than needing to coordinate a bit more due to timezone issues.

      One thing that helps is that we almost always hire freelancers on contract first, and then make them a full time offer. This means our talent pool is naturally those people who are proactive self-starters who are already used to working remotely. We don’t have to train them out of a 9 to 5, office environment mindset, because they’re already used to working the way we work. When they transition from contractor to full time it’s more a formality than a functional or logistical change in how they work.

      To get specific, we find most of our talent through word of mouth, but we also use websites like https://www.upwork.com, https://www.authenticjobs.com, and http://stackoverflow.com/jobs to find good people.

      Josh Steimle
      25 April, 2016 Reply
  2. I really like and appreciate your forum.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on… Jeronimo

    WilliamNali
    10 May, 2016 Reply

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