What are the biggest challenges in building a distributed team as a startup? Today we discuss how to Hire, build process and lead in a distributed model. We will learn that uncovering the right people hinges on the Individual's desire and their emotional intelligence.

Today’s Quote:

“Completing one another is more important than competing with one another." - John C. Maxwell

Show Guest:

Mark Angel is the CEO and Co-founder of Amira Learning, the company reinventing learning to read with AI.  Amira is a rapidly growing, venture-funded startup bringing the first intelligent reading assistant into K-3 classrooms.

Mark formerly served as Chief Technology Officer at Renaissance Learning, where he led the R&D organization and worked on the two most successful reading apps in the United States – Accelerated Reader and STAR.  He has worked for 30 years in the Silicon Valley as a CEO, CTO and General Manager for innovators in the realm of Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing (Ernst & Young, Nuance, KANA Software).

Mr. Angel is the founder of three successful start-ups.  He is a chief inventor on more than 10 patents in the areas of search.

Episode Highlights:

  • The Story of the Challenges faced when building a distributed company
  • 3 biggest issues you struggled with
  • Tools & solutions that worked best for your team


Challenges in Hiring a Distributed Team:

  • Hire for the distributed model

    • Learn to screen for people who are truly able to function in a distributed environment
    • People not really self-aware.
  • Build process around the distributed model;
    • Challenge: creating infrastructure and culture of behavior to help people to collaborate
    • Choices in tooling that turned out to be wrong
  • Have to "servant-lead" for the distributed model.

What issues have we struggled with around hiring?

  • Where they will Thrive!  

    • People are not self-aware around work mode…
    • The focus seems to be around the technologies they want to use or the comp they want.  

Discuss the Model

  • Need to put the issue up front before people get excited about the rest of the story and fool themselves and consequently us

Core Values alignment

  • We need to be conscious that some folks like talking/collaborating and for others, it’s not the most pleasant part of the day.  We aren't going to change a leopard’s spots.

Creating a situation where there is a balance of work and not having too many meetings. Keeping people in a place where they are getting constructive work behavior. Getting that work done but also helping others to get the work done. People are happiest when you find the “groove”.

Rick’s Challenges

  • An issue of Upfront Expectations alignment

    • Continually ask “Why” 


What have we done about this?

  • Put this issue front & center in the interviewing process

    • Getting out of the skills-based mindset.
    • Screening - needed to find people who are able to cope with the nature of the model.
    • Intentional about the need for people who are wired to work in a distributed environment.
    • -talk about the distributed issue up front.
  • Hired a recruiting expert
  • Learned to screen for being at least somewhat "outgoing" and "opinionated"
  • "Servant-leadership" for the distributed model.

How do we manage work?

Baking collaboration into everyday environment. Tools like google suite/slack/zoom/github/atlassian -- basically emphasis is on creating the norms around the tools. Understand when they should be using the tools

  • Slack, Zoom, Gmail suite,  Google docs works really well, hangouts did not for them.
  • tools around design thinking.
  • Set of heuristics and norms around the tools.

Allow people Flexibility

What went right & wrong in the process?

  • right -- took a "team experiment" approach
  • right -- recognized they needed help & hired an expert
  • wrong -- didn’t push hard enough to create norms

Rick’s first step

  • Take the time to understand a person’s desires before you “Pitch” the company
  • People will tell you what they want. You just have to ask.
    • "If you could design your ideal company, what would that look like for you?"
    • A company where you will Thrive!

Key Takeaways:

  • Hire people who are self-aware - Hire for EQ & cultural fit first
  • Experiment with popular tools to find the tools that “best fit" for your team
  • Recognize you are fighting human nature and hire to overcome
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