Demystifying Remote Startups with Andy Smith of DailyBurn

While watching TWiST #43 with Andy Smith, Co-Founder of DailyBurn I realized their is a commonality between his company and many concerns of callers and fans of the show. That commonality is DailyBurn operates remotely and is not located in a major tech city. Andy is in Huntsville, AL, Stephen (a co-founder) is in Denver and they have developers in upstate New York and Victoria, Canada, that dynamic inspired me to reach out to Andy and ask how they accomplish this, what tools they use and any pros or cons.

DailyBurn started out with the Co-Founders (Andy and Stephen) in the same location, Stephen had worked for Andy at a prior company and they were very familiar with one another and their work habits. Circumstances moved Stephen to Denver which didn’t hold them back nor did it slow them down from hiring people located around the country, they both believe in hiring the right person not where they live, so they embraced the constraint and have made it work. One interesting story is he didn’t even know what one developer looked like for some time, they use chat a lot and the beauty is, it doesn’t matter. Andy does recommend that at the founder level it is important to know each other well and working remotely would be tough. Not impossible but tough, he mentioned that their is one TechStars company that has one founder here in the states and the other in Germany.

I thought a few of the techniques they have developed and found useful may be helpful:

Every Monday they have a conference call, the way they do this pretty innovative. To help save resources they video conference using PS3s which allows up to 6 people, while using Skype for the audio.
They use Propane in conjunction with 37Signals Campfire chat tool, while working
They use Pivotal Tracker to monitor progress
Once every 6 months they all get together for a week long jam to focus on goals, knock out a fun project and help cultivate the DailyBurn culture. To keep costs down they usually do this off season, for example they rented a mansion in Arizona in the middle of summer and have rented a cabin in Tennessee.

I asked Andy what downfalls of working remotely might be, he recognizes company culture is tough to foster, having everyone sit in a room to hash out opportunities and spooling new folks up on DailyBurn are all hurdles that they actively focus their attention. On the flip side, I asked what he thought were the benefits, he enjoys not having the distractions of an office environment and the flexibility working from home offers.

He did mention that when investment time comes, if you all aren’t located together and in a top tech city you will find a lot of resistance, which is the position they find themselves in at the moment and are exploring cities and options.

In summary, I believe it is possible to start a startup outside Silicon Valley and remotely however, you will have to embrace the constraints, take sometime to set up a communication system and recognize you will have difficulties other may not. Come investment time, however that if you plan on seeking venture capital more than likely one day you will have to bring the team together in a major tech city. If you choose to bootstrap and if it continues to work don’t mess with it, just crush it.

What tools/techniques do you use?

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