Here’s the transcript:
JEFF: Hi Everyone. It’s Jeff Robbins, back with Episode 76 of the Yonder Podcast, where we talk to company leaders and big thinkers, about how to make remote work. We’re focused on expanding the remote work job market, and helping listeners to create happy, productive distributed teams. This time we’re talking with Wences Garcia, who is the head of Culture and co-founder at Marketgoo. Marketgoo.com is where you can find Marketgoo, and we have an interesting conversation today about Culture. Wences is the head of Culture at MarketGoo and talks about Culture and the role that plays for company leaders and CEO’s. We talk about employment regulations, particularly in the EU and Spain, and we talk about language and language barriers which is a thing we don’t talk about nearly enough on this podcast. Interesting conversation coming up with Wences Garcia.
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Alright. Let’s get to out interview with Wences Garcia.
JEFF: Hi Wences. Welcome to the Yonder Podcast.
WENCES GARCIA: Happy to be here, Jeff.
JEFF: It’s great to have you on. As I often ask our guests, the first question on the podcast is, (2:43) where in the world are you?
WENCES: At this moment I am in Madrid, Spain at my house, no office.
JEFF: (2:53) Do you have no office? Or you just happen to be at home now?
WENCES: It’s funny, I say that we have no office, and I’m still getting used to it, because we are a remote company. We used to have a small office in Madrid, downtown, but we closed it back in June. So, I moved into another house just two weeks ago, so for me it’s strange, being in a new house without an office. [laughing] That’s why I got rid of it. Like, shock, no?
JEFF: [laughing] There’s always this, is it shame we have? Or difficulty of feeling am I still legitimate if I don’t have an office, office.
WENCES: My wife is complaining because she doesn’t find anything in the kitchen either [laughing], but my problem is worst, I don’t find anything in my office. It’s full of boxes in the new place and everything is different from my office. But, I’m very happy I have to say.
JEFF: [laughing] Good. So, you are the head of Culture and co-founder at MarketGoo. (4:07) Why don’t you tell us about what MarketGoo is and what your background is and all that?
WENCES: We make SEO tools that are easy to use to help mostly SMBs to have more success online, to attract more visits. We’re not a very well-known brand, but we’re reaching almost one quarter million users using our solution. The trick is that we distribute our own solution through different companies, most of them hosting companies. I’d say Bluehost in the U.S. for example, a well-known brand. So that’s what we do. This is a company I started and co-founded seven years ago and the solution we co-founded is based on our past experience in the hosting industry.
JEFF: (5:19) So, how many people are at the company?
WENCES: At this moment we have 15 core members plus we work with another 10- external permanent co-workers. I prefer to explain because sometimes when I talk to some of our partners they say, “how many are you?” So, working mostly full-time on the team are roughly 20 people, but core members who have been working with us for most of this time is about 15 core members.
JEFF: (5:57) And is everyone is Spain?
WENCES: No. We have people in 3 or 4 different time zones, but most of the people are in Spain.
JEFF: (6:23) Is Spanish the core language of the company?
WENCES: Yes, it is. That is an interesting topic. Although our main which is English, Spanish tends to invade most of the conversations. [laughing]
JEFF: [laughing] Yeah, that’s an interesting topic. When you’re spanning countries, what’s the language that you’re going to speak. It sort of defines, ultimately, who you hire based on what languages they speak.
WENCES: I found the most challenging thing about the language, when it comes to motivation or trying to transmit or express things that are not in your native language, like English is not a native language for me, so when it comes to our retreats or when we have to speak and motivate or do some kind of a speech, that’s where I found the most limitations. Also, in the joking side [laughing] as always, but despite that most of our partners are in English, most of our customers work using English.
JEFF: (7:51) It’s funny this idea that English is the language of the business world, is probably an idea that people who spoke English made up [laughing]. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the rule, but oftentimes on this podcast, we’re just assuming that everyone is speaking English, but this issue around language is probably one that we should talk about a lot more.
WENCES: When I go to some trade shows and I start speaking with some founders of companies and maybe prospects for us, and, as I said the tricky part comes when it’s late at night and you’re having drinks or having some good fun with somebody, [laughing] they’ll start with this slang and jokes and then you start putting those faces like, “oh, yeah, that’s a funny thing, [laughing] and you got no clue what they’re talking about.
JEFF: Well, and a lot of cultural references to children’s television shows and things like that that aren’t always a common point of reference.
WENCES: Kind of. So, I tend to go to the known places like cars or stuff like that. [laughing] I try to eliminate the jokes.
JEFF: [laughing] Yeah. This is something that probably all of us should be conscious of. If we manage or even just work with coworkers from different countries, they probably have different cultural reference points.
WENCES: Exactly. For example, we have one Latvian guy and he’s always [laughing] out of place because nobody gets what he’s trying to say to us. He’s always, “no, but this Latvian food is amazing,” and we look at each and are like, “What? What is that?”
JEFF: So, your whole team is remote. (10:19) You have no office fully distributed team at this point?
WENCES: Yes. Completely remote, fully distributed team at this point.
JEFF: (10:27) Has it always been that way, or have you transitioned to that?
WENCES: My co-founder is the type of guy that is like this technical guru on the business side, and when we started together, he told me, “you know, I like to work overnight. I go to sleep at five or four, that’s my big zone, so I’m going to be at home.” I said, “that’s okay for me, I don’t find that trouble.” So, from the beginning we were a remote company; that was seven years ago, but as soon as we were starting to grow, I found that some people wanted to go to the office, or myself even, I wanted to have a small office, but as I said it was like two months ago that we decided to close it definitely and move into a completely remote distributed team. So, yeah, it’s been nice so far.
JEFF: Yeah. (11:27) How does that go over in the Madrid business community? Are there a lot of remote work companies there or [laughing] is it something that people are confused by?
WENCES: Yeah. It’s funny. I’ve been working on the internet since the late nineties, which makes me a little bit old guy, but maybe I’m feeling that I’ve been living always or working in a bubble, because at the time that we decided or we announced that we were going to become a complete remote company and I just tweeted and some of the guys in the company tweet about that, the guys that were friends and colleagues in Madrid, in Spain, that know about us, they were like, “what? Really? You’re going to become remote, remote first?” So, there was a splash of surprise and we’ve been invited to different events to tell about our experience and what is so strange about being remote. The truth is it’s obviously a global trend.
JEFF: (12:48) Do you come across legal issues around this? Sometimes what businesses have done, is where the law sits, [laughing] and when you try to do something outside of that, you can oftentimes come in contact with ways that the government is less supportive of things like flexible time, kind of undefined exactly when people are working or aren’t working. (13:30) Are there any issues that you found around that?
WENCES: I think that working and playing a global company that is looking into providing service globally and make business globally, have some dissonance with the country that your company is incorporated in, and in our case it’s Spain. So, there was this recent government change in Spain and these new people decided they have to regulate an obligation to all the workers to say how many hours they were working on a daily basis. So, that’s an example that we’re facing. When this government is making these local laws, they’re affecting companies aiming to work in a global playing field. In our case, it’s a ridiculous thing, like asking our co-workers to just say, “okay, I’m starting now and I’m going to lunch.” It doesn’t make sense. Those are the kind of things that are affecting us.
JEFF: Lots of times these laws are made for, as you’re saying, factory workers [laughing] right. For people that are running mill machines and they want to make sure they’re not overworked, it’s not people who are sitting at home on their couch, on their laptop, and sometimes it doesn’t quite line up.
WENCES: I’m not going to rant that much about that, but the strong dissonances they say, “we want to be the next Silicon Valley in Europe” or “we want to be this and that, we want to support technology companies, we want to support very flexible type of organizations,” but at the same time they’re execution is their laws and no, they are not supporting the way that we work. But that’s it, we get over it.
JEFF: (16:03) So, you’ve chosen the title of Head of Culture. The truth is that you are the co-founder of the company and essentially act as the CEO of the company. But, why head of culture?
WENCES: I’m glad that you make that question, because that is a way for me to showcase our team and our culture. Maybe four years ago there was a way to showcase our teams that for us the culture is way more important than even the company. My co-founder and me have past experience in organizations that we didn’t like. It’s in this type of organization where somebody’s looking at you saying, “when they are going to fire me.” Or you just kind of see the fear in their faces. So, my co-founder and me, we had a bad experience in that company, and we were like, “okay, let’s do something. What is making us happy? So, what makes us happy is creating products and having freedom. So, as soon as we started with the project, the project was more important, working on the product, working on distribution, but soon we saw it was kind of a struggle. The company was not growing the way that we wanted because we decided to be a bootstrap company. We decided not to get any start-up money in the search for freedom, so as the company was not growing, we faced that the only way to motivate the team and to motivate ourselves was looking into a bigger goal. A higher goal than just becoming or having breakeven or this amount of monthly recorded revenue. So, that and the amazing team that we initially gathered was like the perfect ingredients to create a kind of culture that wants to become a part of what we’re doing today. But, our bigger goal, our vision, is to become a high-performance team that is going to work here for years and that we’re going to do what we want, and we want to have freedom and do all this stuff around culture. Why are you laughing?
JEFF: [laughing] That you had to take control of the culture.
WENCES: Yeah. It was getting out of hand, so I said, “okay, I have to become the example of this,” so I decided to start working, and there were so many things to work on the culture side. I started a team and enrolled some people in the company, one programmer and marketing manager and so on. So that’s when I said, “okay, what is exciting me more about running this business,” is it the culture? Obviously, I have a lot of work to do in managing the product on the business side and sales and so on, but I think if I look back in 20 years what I think is going to be creating more impact in what we are today is shaping the culture, so that’s why I choose that one.
JEFF: (20:07) I like this idea a lot. I think that every CEO of a company should realize that they are head of culture as well. Many don’t, but that’s where it comes from. The head of division, head of culture, head of keeping the company together, and ultimately being in charge of the reason why people would want to work there, at your company. It’s great. I really like this idea of putting together a team that sort of has a higher purpose than simply the product that you’re building, and that you could do anything with this team. That’s got to feel great for the people that are working there and feel great for you.
WENCES: It’s, how we say, more foundational than I was expecting. When you say we have a higher goal doing stuff together, but when you put this down, it’s like, “okay, what’re we going to do in the next quarter? Where we going to be in the next year or three years? What is our goals and mission vision and values and so on? For example, one of the biggest challenges is how do we mix it all together?
So, the question that comes is, when your mission is to become a really high performing team and do this stuff, what you are going to put forward is to have experiments, not to validate, to master to your team, to know you can do freemium or you can do nice acquisition studies, but it’s not that important that you reach the goals. The important thing is that you increase the wisdom. So, it’s harder than you expect. At some time, you say, “we’re not reaching the goals, but we know that this stuff is not working,” so it’s like, “oh, yeah, it’s well done guys. We have our new skill but that is not paying off in the short-term. “Can you spot the challenge there?”
JEFF: (22:53) Yeah. Absolutely. This is a thing that happens a lot at companies; when your company is very purposeful, focused on a specific goal, and oftentimes you see start-up style companies where they’re bringing in people with incentives that are focused around the goal, “we’re going to have an IPO and you’re going to make a lot of money and that’s why you’re working here.” Then something happens and the company needs to pivot, and they need to change, and they need to adapt, they need to be agile. And all of those people who were focused on that one goal that’s now changed, question whether they should be there anymore. So, if you could focus more on the people and focus more on the journey than the destination, create a great culture, create a great place to work, a place where people really take pride in their work, then it’s pretty easy to adapt and be agile like that. Right?
WENCES: I’m still running a very controversial idea that is, that we, as a group, and I’m talking about us, we aim to provide every team member self-interest fulfillment. When you say we have to look after the people, so I think that the ultimate way to look after the people is like looking at them and “what is your self-interest?” If your self-interest is aligned to what we want to do like a group, at least there is additional enlightenment, so we are going to go together. Let’s take my co-founder example again, he’s like the typical research guy. He’s not used to working on mythology, organization, screen time, deadlines and stuff like that, so my ultimate goal with him, which is not the present time is, that he will be able to understand what are our challenge is, going back into his cave, working there for weeks and come up with new technology or new approach that we can leverage on that. So, as I said it’s a very crazy idea, but I think that’s like the guiding principle that is taking me into the following years. My vision is how do we accommodate all this stuff?
JEFF: (25:45) It’s An interesting idea to think that the collective self-interests of the employees of the company would benefit the company. I think that oftentimes there’s this view that the business has the businesses needs and the employees individual needs don’t matter. [laughing] They’re not part of that. They would not further the goals of the company as a whole. It’s been my experience that having a discussion around that, trying to accommodate the individual needs, sort of self-interests as you’re saying, of the employees ultimately can really help accelerate the needs of the companies goals and growths. It doesn’t always line up exactly, but I think there’s a conversation to be had there. Certainly, ultimately the idea is these people want to have jobs, they want the company to be successful so that they’ll have job security and hopefully continue to have the job that they enjoy doing.
WENCES: We are profitable now, but our main metric is profit brand product because we understand that is a way, we can secure our freedom in a way we are chasing our own self-interest. It’s going to be a nice challenge. Let’s see what happens in five years from now, or something like that.
JEFF: (28:26) And oftentimes, again, in that discussion that we have with employees, maybe they come and say, “I want to build a videogame,” and there’s a conversation to be had. There’s things that they’re not thinking about. Okay, well, who’s going to buy this videogame? Why would people care about this videogame? Can you build an audience? It could be possible that your company could build a spinoff that builds videogames, if there’s actually a business to be built in it. But, oftentimes, this stuff comes from a more developer mindset, more focused mindset is a way of thinking about it, it’s focused on the product and not necessarily the market, and oftentimes there are people, like I’m guessing yourself, who better understand the market and might help to have a more productive conversation around that kind of stuff.
(29:37) This idea of self-interest fulfillment and some companies have talked about this idea of taking your whole self to work or employing the [laughing]complete person rather than this idea of, we have a business self and a personal self, that’s not true. We have our whole self and as a company being able to employ and work with the whole self, I think can be a really good think. But this comes up on this podcast a lot, and a lot of the stuff that you’re talking about, these out there, cutting edge ideas in the business world seem to come up on this podcast a lot. Do you think there’s a relationship between remote work and a lot of these ideas? Do you think it’s because we are the kind of people that have these ideas, we have a company that allows remote work? Or do you think that there’s a way that it works in the reverse as well, where because we’re doing remote work, we need to think about things differently, and it starts to bring in some of these wider ideas that we don’t see so much in the outside business world?
WENCES: We found that remote type of workers, when we were making the hires, they were more willing to have a mindset closer to value, the organization they were working with and not so strict on what they were going to be compensated for, but the way the company was working. Remote workers want to have their freedom and their freedom starts by where they’re working, how they work, what hours do they work, do we have to face anybody, so we understand people are more sensitive to follow these kind of ideas.
JEFF: (31:44) You have an article that I came across on Medium, that talks about improving your companies culture but quickly starts to talk about managing millennials. Talk to me some about that idea and those ideas in a particular what you see as we hire new generations of workers.
WENCES: I think obviously the people are changing. The experience that we have with millennials is sometimes very different to my colleagues. Obviously, there are different types; the younger people are much more willing to have these challenges and fulfillment. They are more willing to make that on their own, but at the same time I found very hard workers. Everything becomes into self-interest. There are some people in our company that are millennials, and they have a very family-wise type of personality.
JEFF: And oftentimes I think millennial is sort of a shorthand for a lot of ideas and stigmatized concepts that are labeling beyond just a [laughing] generational label. We’re talking about these kids can’t pay attention, and they don’t work, and they don’t take responsibility, and stuff like that. I totally agree with you. Those labels are dangerous and prejudiced, honestly. But what we’re finding is that there are just simply new people who are entering the workforce without a lot of those legacy old ideas of what work is, so it’s interesting to see how these new ideas are being formed.
(35:28) You talk about your company being a remote first company. What does that mean to you?
WENCES: What it means is that when we used to have this office, in the office was the sales director and head of product and myself and other team members and we reached a moment where we were having two-sided communications, like people in the office and people remote, so we just stopped ourselves. It was two years ago we started saying we are remote first. Everything should be remote. Everything should be like we have a remote first company, so let’s focus on that. So, I think that remote first means that we are willing to hire people that are willing to work and that we value the freedom and the benefits of remote, but we also understand the constraints. We don’t force people to be on duty every moment.
JEFF: I like that idea because it seems to be more philosophical and a little bit looser than…
WENCES: than location based.
JEFF: Exactly. That you could be a remote first company and look exactly like a conventional office-based company. Everyone comes into the office, however the way that you meet, the way that you interact, the way that you frame the communications of the company can be different. Ultimately remote first is all about communications than locations.
(37:41) I also noticed that Marketgoo has been growing awfully quickly. How has it been growing a company? Have you come up with any thoughts and philosophies around that? You mentioned that you didn’t want to grow at the expense of freedom. I like that idea too. Talk to me a little more about that.
WENCES: Yeah. There are ways to do software technology stuff in companies like the ones that we are running. We have a very similar company that started when we started, with the same idea, same market, same stuff, and they raised $15 million Euros and it’s been very nice. We’ve seen the development and they’ve been doing pretty well, but they are not the owners anymore. They are not the ones running the company, they have a lot of constraints, they have a lot of liaisons, they have to grow and grow and grow. So, I understand the opposite side of the lifestyle business which is always not very well-known and not very well appreciated. So, our thing was, we want to retain our freedom, but we are also a business, so let’s make it, let’s be brave, understanding our constraints. We are not going to put one million bucks into advertising, but we have to see there’s another way around. So that was it. It was like, okay, let’s let us decide for ourselves. Let’s make our decisions. The founders and all the team members, they have more involvement in the decision-making in what we are going to become than others. So, when we have this kind of vision, that I said that the culture is more important than the product that we’re running right now, so we don’t want to be forced to do things that are not aligned to our vision. The vision is to grow in our wisdom and have fun and make nice things together.
Sometimes when you see companies formulating their vision and mission, everything is very purpose driven, it’s like everybody wants to improve the world. At the end of the day for us, our main purpose is to be the best ones. The purpose is based on the team, it’s not based on some investors waiting to have an exit.
JEFF: (41:42) I think ultimately a company’s value is its value to the owners of the company and the people that work at the company. Oftentimes that extends beyond monetary value which isn’t to say that it can’t or shouldn’t be financially successful, but there’s this holistic value of how much are you working? How much do you enjoy it? If you can have a job that you hate and have to work 100 hours a week and it makes pretty good money [laughing] or you can have a job that you love and you only have to work 30 hours a week, and make slightly less money, but ultimately has better value overall. As you’re saying, this idea that oftentimes this phrase ‘lifestyle business’ is used as also a way of stigmatized thing that venture capitalists say, like “oh, you’re a lifestyle business, I’m not going to invest in you,” [laughing] because you can’t be happy and financially successful, and I don’t think that’s true. I like this idea of building a high performing team and just really kicking ass at the things that you set your mind to, and to be able to be successful and happy.
WENCES: Yeah, business related, you have to play with different cards, like when you have all this busy money and you can pour that money into making those experiments, it’s easier to do it. We don’t want to be franchised so we will have to have all these months of burnout of cash in the bank, so that’s one tool that we have. Another tool that we have is that in every decision that we make, we are looking into high leverage; for us it’s leverage, leverage, leverage, always. We have mostly one quarter million users using our tool, we didn’t meet any of these guys. We saw a way to reach these people was through the different channels and hosting companies who have the big amount of SMB, so instead of thinking first against the SMBs we start thinking about our distribution channels and decided to create this sign to be a tool that is a very easy way to resell through that solution types. What I mean is that you change the way that you are doing the things and you look for leverage or you look for some cash that you can invest. You make your wise investments. You keep your focus very strong. As I said, it’s a different game. You rule your own world.
JEFF: (45:36 [laughing] Yeah, exactly. Well Wences this is a great conversation. As we’re wrapping up is there anything else that you wanted to touch on?
WENCES: Jeff, I feel like I would be able to speak for hours. It changed my life. I want to change our members’ lives and our teams. We have a lot of competence about culture. We write a lot about them, you know, our plugs, so if it’s helpful for inspiration we always like to be inspired by other companies as well. I think it’s a very exciting moment to be living in remote work, other than this label, “where do you work?” “I work from home”, or “I work in a remote company”, like I will invite people or companies to think beyond maybe their economic benefits or hiding talent and stuff like that and think that creating a remote company is much more of a mindset and there is a lot of that we can do with that mindset. We haven’t spoken any about the challenges. Like for example one of the things that I found is to run a remote worker company is isolation. No, isolation of people including myself, no.
JEFF: (47:14) How do you battle the isolation? Part of it is identifying it [laughing] which is the first step of helping the problem, but have there been ways that you found to help with that problem?
WENCES: I am not quite sure that it’s easy to identify them. What we do is we gather once a quarter and twice a year all of the team goes together for a week. Actually, the next retreat is going to happen in a couple of weeks. We’re going to go to the South of Spain. We always go to nice places. We spend time together, we mix together, and we have all these conversations, and personal bonding. That’s where we feel if somebody’s mood is isolated then we have our retools, like one on ones and conversations and people coming into some specific place or doing some meetings. I like to host people at my house and do some barbecues and stuff. So, those are opportunities to see them and to see how they are feeling. Mental health I think is one of the most hardest things to spot and one of the most biggest questions to follow and help our teams. I think that’s a challenge, but at least from now I think we have a pretty healthy team.
JEFF: (49:18) Yeah, it’s always interesting, the role of getting together in person makes. I go through phases of digging deep [laughing] with podcast guests, and then sometimes going past it and not really talking about that enough, but certainly for anyone who is listening who is thinking about starting a distributed company or starting a remote team, that will never get together in person, it feels dangerous somehow. It seems like, at least we need to give people the option to get together in person every so often. Once a year, maybe twice a year, something like that. It’s just part of our human nature to build that.
WENCES: The one thing we did with the office that we used to have was instead of thinking there was going to be savings from now, we tell the team, “okay, we have this pocket of money where we’re willing to spend on the office, as we rid of the stuff around the office in Madrid, so this is an additional buy it for us together, so if you have any ideas or you want to meet some guy, you want to spend some days in the sun, in the Canary Islands; like we have one guy living over there, and you want to, just do it. I think we are encouraging people to use that value thing in order to see their faces. That’s what we call rituals within our company.
JEFF: [laughing] That’s great. I’m sure people can come up with reasons to go visit the Canary Islands. [laughing] Go do a little surfing. Yeah.
WENCES: The biggest struggle also beside the issue of isolation, is families and couples. “You’re living the greatest life. Where are you going now?” “To the Canary Islands”. “Where are you going now?” “To the retreat.” It’s like, “do you work or is it all fun?”
JEFF: (51:57) That’s a funny thing that comes up sometimes; this sort of guilt sometimes that remote workers can have around how good things are. [laughing] Oftentimes with their spouse or neighbors they become a little bit ashamed of their lifestyle and stuff like that. It’s a good problem to have I suppose. [laughing]
WENCES: It is. [laughing]
JEFF: Wences, thank you so much. (52:32) If people wanted to follow up and get in touch with you, where should they do that?
WENCES: On our blog, marketgoo.com/blog or on my Twitter account which is @wencesg. It would be very nice to follow up on the conversation.
JEFF: Great. Well, thank you so much for coming on and talking to us today.
WENCES: It’s been a pleasure, Jeff.