Founders · Remote design

Thoughts on remote co-founders?

Cheryl Tom CEO, Founder at Vain Pursuits

October 10th, 2013

I was previously a remote employee #1 and am now quite soured on having core team members remotely located.  It worked out, but I don't think it was optimal. 

Does anyone have any experiences with remote cofounders, pros/cons, best practices? In my case, it's a designer - which may affect how important face-to-face contact is.

Scott Grand Principal Engineer at Amazon

October 10th, 2013

I ran a video game company in the 1990s where two of us were on the west coast with a third person in Chicago and a 4th in upstate NY. Against all odds, we were one of the few developers to actually ship the fruit of our labor. If a company stays small, and you have talented people who know each other, distance is not an issue. However, I think that changes the minute you hire anything but the absolute best with whom you already have strong communication and understanding, which is to say most startups. But that said, the current movement to ban all telecommuting seems like yet another one of those pointy-haired memes we're going to have to endure the next few years. Scott

Lawrence Botley Software Architect

October 10th, 2013

The key is to have daily 10 minute calls to go through details. I think this keeps people on their toes with clear targets.. Im my experience, no matter how professional the person is they are likely to take advantage

Lawrence Botley Software Architect

October 10th, 2013

one final note: you arent being paid to code. you are being paid to develop the right product. coders dont just code, they build, and what they build should be what the client requires

Eric Rogness Technical Product Manager

October 10th, 2013

I'll share my own experience. I am in Toronto and my co-founder CTO is in Kyiv. We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to work together on somebody else's dime, while we were each consulting to a marketing firm in distinct, yet complementary capacities. We worked on several projects together, which his firm delivered on time, the right stuff, the first time. We communicated brilliantly, I found that he was as entrepreneurial as I was, and we really just connected on many levels. When I had an idea for a startup, who else would I want to work with.

Through the ups and downs of startup life, we have supported, motivated, and disagreed with each other. We worked together for over a year before he came to Toronto and we met at the airport. While we had forged a good friendship over Skype and emails, spending a month together in Toronto made us recognize so many other things we had in common and we became even closer friends.

In our case, our distance contributes to our unfair advantage. In Toronto (as is the case with most startup hotspots) the market for top engineering talent is fierce, and it is expensive (in time, money, internal resources) to recruit the best. And once you have them... you might not have them long. Whereas in Ukraine, if we need to add another highly skilled developer to our team, we just say the word. This is both good for the business, and it's been resonating well with investors and other stakeholders. I have no interest in pressing for my cofounder immigrate to Canada with his team (and they wouldn't want to if I did).

This may sound like a bit of a love story (it's called founder "dating" after all, right?), and I suppose it has much  in common. Whatever happens with this startup -- hockey stick growth and millions of dollars are just around the corner! -- we both have the sense that we'll be spending the rest of careers building businesses together.

Distance collaboration is subject about which I engender a lot of passion. Prior to starting a company together, my cofounder and I had each worked remotely with teams and clients from around the world for about 10 years. If any of you (including Cheryl) would like to chat further, reach out on Skype -- 'ericrogness' or email:

Geoff Whitlock Co-Founder and President of Surround

October 10th, 2013

If the person is integral, you need their energy. You can get some on the phone, but real energy, real synergy comes from working closely together. Thanks.

Luis Avila Owner/Fullstack Architect at IdeaNerd LLC

October 10th, 2013

The question should be... What process do I and my co-founder need to agree to in order to both feel like we are making progress and succeeding to the best of our abilities and situation.

People will give you different opinions that may or may not work for you. Only you can define what you'll need from this relationship.

With that said... I've had both successful and unsuccessful remote relationships. They have not worked when...
1) I don't get an email response within the day.
2) I can't call/chat/Google Hangout with the person if it's urgent.
3) When they work hours that I am working and therefore it's hard to collaborate

As long as clear deliverables and deadlines are met, and communication is swift and honest I am happy. There's PLENTY of technology out there that helps facilitate collaboration and communication.

As for Synergy... assuming they are working full time on the project like you... just call them or chat them. 

Just my opinion.

Lawrence Botley Software Architect

October 10th, 2013

plus mate, you program GPU's... this is not building web pages.. so yes.. i would leave you alone to code :)


October 11th, 2013

Hi Cheryl - I'm in LA and my partner is in SF, which worked out pretty smoothly during the pre-launch phase of the business, but is now far from ideal since we're live and there is a need to be more agile and in fairly constant contact. We outsourced UX & design to a small, LA-based consultancy (PXL Bros - they impressed me, just in case anyone's looking for a reference) and met a few times in-person, but ended up using Skype and other share screen solutions a lot. Depending on the nature of your business, I think having a remote designer could work ...but if that person is also going to be a cofounder I think it will create challenges - particularly post-launch. That's just my experience:)


October 19th, 2015

Hi Cheryl! I confess that this hasn’t been my case but I know quite a few people that manage to work with a remote co-founder. They meet maybe 7-10 days in a year and keep in touch on a daily basis via web conferencing tools. From what I’ve heard works, here are some pieces of advice to increase chances of success:

  • Clear definition of roles and responsibilities

  • Honest and open conversations

  • Someone needs to be CEO and have decision making power so that when it comes to difficult decisions/disagreements on major strategic decisions, the CEO has the final say.

  • Manage tasks/responsibilities using a tool like Trello so that at all times there is complete transparency on who is doing what and by when.

  • Bottom line, communication and transparency are key!

Peter Johnston Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.

October 21st, 2015

Look at the downside of doing things the traditional way...

Full-time v part-time
Traditional way of thinking is that a person is only truly committed if full-time. That means that the only way to scale your startup is to have specialists in particular skills - a CTO, CMO etc. That is restricting - everything is seen through one person's eyes within the area of responsibility. It leads to silos, battles for power and blinkered thinking - you buy a person's weaknesses as well as their strengths.

Contrast this with the Virtual C system we use. Multiple expert advisors on a part-time basis. These people have constantly building and up to date experience of other companies and methodologies. You can build a team of people to cover all your skill and knowledge requirements - perhaps, for example, different advisors for different markets, or different products. For the cost of 3 full-timers you can have six or even a dozen experts working on your problems and opportunities.

You can choose to take on the responsibilities for full-time employees. Restrict your growth to adding a person at a time. Accept a lot of expertise in a few things.
Or you can have a pool of experts where you can shrink or enlarge, change direction or add expertise as you need it.

Geography Limited
In medieval times it was enough to be good in your area. Customers were local - they didn't know higher standards existed elsewhere. England had a few million people - you'd only met a few hundred. Picked the best out of that small pool.
But the clever people moved to towns or cities. Formed guilds of all the best in their trade. Travelled to learn how things were done elsewhere. Suddenly the standard was a lot higher.
Now we have 7.3 billion people. World centres of excellence, where many companies compete, raising the level of excellence and knowledge in that field.

So the question is do you want to be a geography limited company? One which picks from a few people who can physically get to meetings with you, pretending the others don't exist.

Managing remote teams is a different skill. But it is one I believe every world class company has to acquire. And it is especially important for startups, who have to go out worldwide and find the talent, rather than using their brand to attract it.