May 7, 2020 • 25M

“Things Have Been Accelerated”: How One Startup is Growing Remotely

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Stefan Palios
Interviews with thought leaders and practitioners about remote work and remote entrepreneurship.
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Welcome to Remotely Inclined, a newsletter about remote work and remote entrepreneurship. If you’d like to sign up, you can do so here. Or just read on…

Serge Popovic was a fitness blogger before joining fitness company Crossrope as its Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) in 2015. The company then launched an app to power at-home fitness memberships using Crossrope’s jump rope product. With more people than ever working from home, Crossrope has been growing. 

At the start, Serge worked in a distributed team but got together weekly at a coworking space so his team could brainstorm in-person. Now that the team is fully remote, he’s finding that the right processes help bolster creativity and help people stay on track - even when you can’t operate face to face.  

The process of remote collaboration

  • Serge used to believe you needed face to face communication for effective team meetings and building strong team relationships.  

  • While in-person is still his preference, he’s found that daily standups and team meetings planned for the same time each week are able to produce great results remotely. 

  • He also said a key to fostering relationships is to make sure non-work catch ups are embedded into every meeting, even if only for a couple of minutes. 

Remote growth channels and tools

  • Crossrope is looking to grow, and is leveraging a variety of remote growth channels including affiliate marketing, influencer marketing, and podcast advertising. 

  • Managing the process with a fully remote team requires a lot of tools. Serge said the company uses all the regular tools - Slack, Asana, and Zoom - but also uses Shift to help them coordinate across multiple Google Drive accounts (such as for support, marketing, and internal team communications). 

The final word

“[It was] difficult to believe that you can operate with such high efficiency in a remote setting. But I’ve found that’s exactly the case as long as you have the right systems, processes, and core values in place.”

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Remotely Inclined Chats with Serge Popovic

Transcript edited for brevity and clarity.

Stefan: Welcome, Serge! Can you share what you’re working on?

Serge: Yeah. I’m the CMO at Crossrope. We have a jump rope system where you can clip on different weights of ropes into your handles, so you can change up the resistance depending on what your fitness goals are. 

Over the past few years, we realized there was a need for the content side, so we started developing our own fitness app to go along with the ropes. It’s like a companion app that gives you workouts, challenges, and things you can actually do with the ropes. That’s where the digital piece comes in. 

And you’ve been at Crossrope for 5 years - and were one of their earliest employees?

Yeah - I started working with the CEO back in 2012, but joined full time in early 2015. 

The company was distributed from the start - how did that happen?

It’s a unique situation. I used to have a fitness blog and YouTube channel. I talked a lot about jump ropes when nobody talked about jump ropes. At the same time, my now CEO launched Crossropes’ interchangeable jump rope system. Because the space is small, we connected and started sharing ideas and working together. It became a bit of an affiliate partnership. 

In 2015, we’d been working together for 3 years and he said he needed someone to come in and take over the brand side, since the brand was still young. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me since it was all my passions bundled into one opportunity. 

Our CEO is a former navy pilot who settled in North Carolina. And I’ve always been up here in Toronto. So that’s how the dynamic started with a distributed international team. We’ve always had this remote setup and learned to operate digitally from day one. 

Up in Toronto we have a partially remote marketing team - I say partially because we used to work in a coworking space for a couple days a week on things that are better for in-person. 

Can you explain more about the kinds of work you think are more suited to in-person?

This has been largely challenged over the past six weeks, but we use offices for a few things. Face to face interactions and having fun, even in a small coworking space, creates opportunities for ad-hoc conversations and talking more about life. When you’re remote, you’re siloed in your own work, and a lot of communication is work related. I found that bringing people into the office really helped to develop and nurture the relationships between everyone and bringing everyone closer. 

I also try to schedule all of our team meetings during those days. We’ve all seen zoom parody videos as of late and we’ve all had the challenges with zoom and remote meetings. I still think those have their place, but I feel strongly that meetings are a great thing to be done in person where you can talk openly about something without interrupting someone or stepping on someone’s toes in a conversation. 

But now you’re 100% remote. What processes have you put in place to work fully remotely now?

One thing I’ve challenged and encouraged my team to do is over-communicate. We’re in Slack a lot, so we created a few channels for non-work related stuff. It’s often loaded with funny memes, jokes, and videos. 

We’ve always done standup meetings, so now I try to start those meetings with segues - I have a young daughter so I’ll bring her into the meeting, for example. We try to personalize it and use the first few minutes of the meeting to riff off on how the night was and what’s going on. 

So you found a digital equivalent to what you’d regularly do in person?

Exactly. If you’re not doing standup meetings in a remote situation, you’re missing out on a lot - not just from a work standpoint, but from a relationship standpoint as well. It gives you the opportunity to keep in touch with everybody in a structured way, even if it’s just 5-10 minutes. 

You mentioned you’re activating new marketing channels, too. How are you managing the increased complexity?

Yeah, we happened to be on the right side of the coin flip in this crisis. A lot of people are having a hard time so it feels a little odd, but we’re here to remind ourselves that we have a product that is serving people. People are looking for a way to stay fit and active, and there are only a handful of solutions that give you that opportunity at home. 

I feel like we’re doing a disservice if we don’t try to get out there as much as possible. So we will be experimenting with podcast advertising and will be on a few big shows. I’m excited to see how those work out. We’re also trying some influencer marketing opportunities and will be exploring affiliate partnerships. 

Things have been accelerated and this is a great opportunity to test new channels. It’s also great timing from a cost perspective.

What tools are you using to manage all of your new marketing channels?

So we’re big on Slack and email, and obviously we use Zoom. We also use Asana for project management, since Slack can be a mess. 

Then one that you probably won’t hear as often is Shift. If you work with multiple different Google accounts and Google tools, it allows you to check out all of them at once - you can check email if you have multiple inboxes. You can see everything from one vantage point. 

Did you work remotely before joining Crossrope?

No, this was my first entry into remote work. I have an engineering background and spent my first few years working in an office. 

But I’ve always thought about this because when you talk about remote work, the first thing you hear is how people don’t think they could work from home. Almost like you have to be a certain type of person to be able to work remotely. I’ve always tried to think through what characteristics made remote work easy and preferable for me - I love remote work. I hate commuting. 

I think having routines is important. Some people I’ve talked to are struggling, and I’ll ask them about their routine - when they have their meetings. They’ll say it’s whenever. But you have to have a structure in place you can rally around. 

What structure do you use to frame your days working remotely?

I’ve always been a morning person, so I wake up around 6:30 am. I’ll have some coffee and then go see my daughter - often, she’s up before me and waiting for me. 

So I’ll get the day started by getting her ready and hanging out with her. Then I’m usually at my computer working by about 7:15 am - from there it depends what I want to carve out before our daily huddle, which starts at 9 am. It gives me the opportunity to get things organized and take care of some important things.

The challenge with a lot of remote scenarios is that when you encourage people to over-communicate, you can get distracted very easily. It’s important to find the right balance, because it’s difficult to carve out focus time to work on your OKRs. We talk a lot about that and communicate around that - we encourage people to use do not disturb status updates, similar to how you would do in an in-person setup.

Then the team builds their own routine around those daily huddles, which are pretty much carved in stone. 

Awesome. Lightning round time: What’s your favorite movie?

The Count of Monte Cristo. 

Favourite book?

Traction by Gino Wickman. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced with remote work?

It’s very easy for remote work to blend into your life. Sometimes having an office so close to your bedroom makes it easy for the two to blend together. Sometimes that’s not the best thing from a family lifestyle, so it’s important to keep top of mind. 

What misconception did you have about remote work, or what part of remote work pleasantly surprised you?

If you told me six years ago, I’d probably find it difficult to believe that you can operate with such high efficiency in a remote setting. But I’ve found that’s exactly the case as long as you have the right systems, processes, and core values in place. 

Amazing, thank you for your insights!

You can get in touch with Serge on LinkedIn.