Badger Maps: Remote Teams Management Strategies With Steve Benson

Table of Contents

Steven Benson, CEO at Badger Maps, joins Hammad Akbar in this episode of Launch Legends Podcast.

Key Stats:

  • Badger Maps has 3500 customers
  • Generating $4m in revenue

Key Takeaways:

  • Working with people across different cultures is a challenging task
  • Effective communication is key for managing remote teams
  • Empower employees to control their own workload and make their own decisions.
  • Hard to centralize decision making in a remote environment
  • Leaders need to confront reality and should be action oriented
  • Figure out who is having success in the remote environment and replicate that success across the organization
  • Focus on different KPIs when you are in a good economy vs. bad economy
  • Activity based KPIs can be helpful in the remote environment
  • Track everything
  • It is hard to build relationships in the remote environment
  • Different cultures will develop different types of camaraderie
  • Put up an infrastructure to ensure that people mentor the new generation while working in a remote environment.

Transcription

Hammad:

Hey, Steve. Thank you very much for coming on the show. So CEO of Badger Maps, you are the number one app in the app store for field sales, you know, field sales, MBA from Stanford. 

I know you guys have about 3,500 customers and you’re doing the four million dollars in revenue but before we talk about anything else, let’s talk about who you are and why you started Badger Maps?

Steven:

Sure. Yeah. I guess the reason I started Badger was, my whole background was in field sales and, so I knew a lot about the problems that field salespeople face and as a result when I was at Google 

And I was working very closely with the mapping API that they have Android, and I could kind of see how I could use mobile and mobile mapping to be a platform, to solve a bunch of problems that field salespeople had.

And so in 2012, by January, 2012, I started Badger. 

Hammad:

Got it, Got it. And let’s talk about. You started Badger, but let’s talk about the product growth. How long before you actually launched the product and what kind of problems did you face? 

Steven:

Well, I guess, you know, it’s always challenging to build a piece of software and get something out the door that’s good enough that people can use it and they’re willing to pay for it. You know, I guess we had something that we could sell about a year in and, but it was pretty basic, basically we were talking, and it only worked on the browser only in Chrome and only in the browser, and didn’t work on the mobile devices yet. 

But, we basically could just take salesperson’s customers and lay them out on a map and next we’ve got the ability to colorize those and then filter those, then we got the ability to build routes out and optimize those routes, and really we were able to get our first big customers just with the ability to colorize the points on a map and filter them.

So it was about January, 2014. We did our first $300K deal. And that was with a big dental company. And they have field sales reps that go and sell stuff to dentists. And, they had some challenges around helping to figure out which types of customers their field sales reps focus on.

And so we were able to connect with their CRM system and solve that problem. But it was really a pretty basic product at that time. And the product didn’t really do everything we wanted it to do until like 2017and also work really well with no bugs and that sort of thing.

Hammad:

So from 2000 until 2008, sorry from 2012 to 2014. Did you have any customers at all, or you were still working with the beta users trying to build as much as possible, getting to a point where it could be sellable? 

Steven:

Yeah, we had customers but they were generally very small and they needed simpler things, you know, by 2017, the product was kind of enterprise class and could meet the needs. And, you know, when people would ask us questions, the answer was, yes, that sort of thing. 

Hammad:

Right. So, Steve, I really want to talk about this. I know you guys are doing extremely well with remote teams and you’re very good at that.

So let’s talk about how your company is structured right now. 

Steven:

Okay. So we’re not a remote first company, but we just have four offices. So we’ve been dealing with a lot of the problems that companies are dealing with right now being remote. We’ve been dealing with a lot of those problems for a while.

So we have an engineering team, well, mostly engineering, some sales, some customer success in Spain, headquarters is in San Francisco. We have a sales and customer success team in Utah, and then we have an administrative team in the Philippines. Right. And, so I’ve kinda been dealing with managing people across all these different places, for a long time.

Hammad:

So let’s talk about that, how did you start and where did you end up in terms of, I’m sure you had lots of problems in the beginning there. I mean, I know for me to manage teams, I find it very difficult. So let’s talk about how you progress from the staffing to your point where you can manage them.

Steven:

Yeah, I think, you know, there are challenges and learning to work with people across different cultures. I think, empathy challenges, and really understanding what’s actually going on the ground in faraway places. I think, you know, there’s training challenges and interpersonal communication challenges.

I think there’s a whole litany of reasons why it’s challenging to manage remote teams. But I think, you know, the way the world is globalizing, whether we have coronavirus or not, we’re doing more and more work across cultures, a company often is across borders. And so it’s something that I think it’s important for everybody to kind of try to get good at it. 

Hammad:

Great. So Steve, let’s talk about the day to day processes and systems you’ve put in place to run a very efficient system with remote teams. Let’s talk about them. What kind of presence do you have? 

Steven:

Well, the platform that we mostly use for inter professional collaboration is the Google apps platform.

So, you know, emails and when we have regular meetings in place for different people who are working together on different things. Some of the more important processes is to empower people to kind of control their own workload and control what they’re doing and make decisions.

It’s really hard to centralize all the decisions if you are in a remote environment. Cause it’s really hard to kind of understand what is really going on at the ground level, in a place that you’re not in. So I think it’s really important to empower the leadership in these places that are far and wide and empower the people that are there to make those decisions.

Hammad:

Right. Could you give me one example where you were probably not getting the results you wanted. And then instead you just empower the employees, train them and they start to deliver results you wanted. 

Steven:

Yeah, we were struggling with, at one point with the product side and it just kind of had it sinking with what engineering needed and just kind of having everyone on the same page and the answer there was just to move the person who was running the product from San Francisco to Spain.

And so that the person that was running the product, he moved to Spain for a year and a half. And then, by being there for that amount of time, he was able to understand those what was going on there and communicate that much better, that really solved those communication issues and getting people on the same page.

Hammad:

Great. Great. Great. So what about now? What kind of training and coaching do you do? 

Steven:

Well I think, you know, you’ve always got to be training and coaching, especially in these types of crazy times, right. Times have changed. Right? 

I think, as a manager, you want to spend about half your time, coaching and upleveling your teams skills, not that half your time should be spent, you know, teaching class or anything, but just talking through things with people, debriefing, strategizing, joining them in meetings, doing specific coaching around a specific thing that people are doing right now.

I mean, anything along those lines would count towards that. 50% of your time should be spent kind of interacting and coaching rules of thumb.

 I think, you know, in terms of what needs to be coached, it’s really dependent on the team, right? I mean, if  our sales team for example, is scattered all over the world and that, you know, and that makes that team harder to coach and really wrap your head around what they need to work on than like the engineering team where everyone’s really in the same place already.

Hammad:

Right, right. I mean, you talked about leadership. Let’s talk about that. How does that work in remote teams? How do you make sure that you empower someone and you make someone a great leader to deliver when they’re in a remote environment? 

Steven:

Well, I think a remote environment gives you an opportunity to give people real responsibility.

Right? you can’t control everything, even if you want to. So, these remote environments also need great leadership more than anything else.

Right. In the times we’re having right now, right. We are in a time of economic crisis. I think leaders need to really confront reality. They need to be action oriented. I think they need to be honest in their assessments of the challenges that face their organization.

You know, there’s a lot of bad news floating around a lot of the time these days. And, you have to embrace that as a remote leader. And to ask the hard questions and figure out what’s really going on, and, at the same time, you need to maintain a positive outlook, right?

You need to build an action plan. And you really need to be transparent with your team about that plan and what that plan is. And, you have to be responsive to your team’s needs, right? And people are right now, they’re worried about losing their jobs. They’re worried about, you know, how hard it’s going to be to get another job.

They’re worried about their, you know, their salaries going away or becoming smaller. So I think, you know, it’s easy to go silent if you’re a remote leader, right. It’s easy to just hide behind your computer screen and an email and not really engage, but I think you have to do the opposite to be a successful leader in a remote world.

You have to get in front of your employees and ask them the questions, figure what they need from you in the organization to be successful. And, you know, you can try to figure out who’s having success across the remote organization right now. And you know, what the playbook was for that success.

And then you can, with the help of that employee, figure out how to be successful, you can try to have them work with them, to train the rest of the remote team and replicate that success across the organization. 

Hammad:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s a great thing. You said that it’s very easy to just hop by on your computer when you’re in a remote environment where you probably just forget and probably short while that looks, everything’s fine. No one’s reaching for anything. 

No one’s coming to you with problems. So you might just get complacent yourself and that’s happened to me before. Do you have a weekly or daily routine where you do certain things where you know, that they know you’re there for them. And you basically, they see you all the time. 

Steven:

I think frontline managers in a remote environment should have a daily stand up or remote daily standup with their team. Since I managed people that are managing people, I don’t do that. But, we meet weekly as the management team to discuss stuff and all stay on the same page.

But I think, you know, for some teams, it’s not a bad idea to have two stand ups a day, one at the beginning of the day to kind of get everyone on the same page and then another one at the end of the day. 

Hammad:

Yeah. Yeah. We tried that. I think the team found it too aggressive so we have moved back to one standup a day. I think that worked, that worked well. So, let’s talk about the KPI. 

The thing in the remote environments tracking KPIs is extremely important where I think it’s very easy to deviate from what you should be working on. So I’m guessing you have very strict KPIs in place. 

Steven:

Yeah, I think, KPIs are a way that you communicate what’s important to the organization, what direction things are sailing.

And if you’re going to empower people in the organization to make decisions, you have to kind of show them what yardstick that we’re making decisions. 

I guess one thing to think about with KPIs right now is, when you’re remote, you want to focus on different KPIs, than when you’re all in the same room or in a good economy versus a bad economy.

In a good economy, it’s easy when things are stable, it’s much easier to focus on what I call lagging KPIs. So things like a lagging KPI, meaning like this KPI is reflective of what has happened in the past. 

Like revenue, for example, is a lagging KPI. Like the stuff that we did over the last four months determines our revenue here in November.

Right. And I think, you know, that it can be really helpful when you’re in this remote environment to go to switch to forward-looking KPIs. So you can kind of realign the company on metrics and the KPIs that really show what’s going on this month, in this week.

Right. So, don’t look at something like revenue, but instead look at something like, you know, activity based. Activity-based KPIs can be really helpful in a remote environment. 

So like what has gotten done this week? What if it was a marketing team, how many pieces of content did they create, or if it’s a sales team, how many meetings resulted from the outbound calls this week?

So more around what’s happening right now. So I think that could be really helpful to see if you can identify what people need to be doing right now to create success in the future. And you can manage that. Now there are some challenges with that too.

Because sometimes you can, if you’re counting, if you count certain things in the moment you can get skewy results, right? So you can like, if you are counting things other than revenue or profit for a sales team, for example, you know you can start counting, non-revenue producing things like qualified deals or proposals made, et cetera.

And you’ll end up getting, if you only count things like proposals and only count forward looking metrics here, you’re much more likely to get a whole bunch of proposals, but people will optimize themselves around that, but they won’t necessarily be optimizing themselves around the revenue.

So that’s a challenge that you have to deal with too. 

Hammad:

Right. Great. Great. So Steve, you’ve come really far with remote management, but imagine you’re starting all over again where you’ve got a bunch of people working in house and you’re going to remote. 

And you know everything, you know now, so you might have someone else’s listening to this and they think, okay, we want to be Steve where we want to go fully remote and we’re managing things properly.

What kind of strategies would you start with? What kind of things would you start with? Let’s go step by step. 

Steven:

Okay. Yeah. Well I think, the first thing you have to do is if you’re going remote and there’s different kinds of remote, right? There’s remote, everyone’s working from home and there’s also remote everyone’s in remote offices, but they’re in an office.

But if you’re going with an office, but if there’s, you know, a remote office that you’re opening up in Eastern Europe to do your engineering and get access to the great engineers that are over there. Yeah. I think It’s really hard to manage a team of engineers.

If the leader of the engineering team is in San Francisco, for example, and that team is all in Bulgaria. I think it’s important for the manager of that team to spend the majority of their time in Bulgaria. So, you can hire someone local or you can send someone from your main office to that place.

But I think someone does have to be on the ground managing that team. Now, if it’s a fully remote team and people are truly scattered everywhere, then the geography of the management team obviously doesn’t matter, but you’ve got to really put a lot of structure in place around how are we communicating with people?

How are we interacting with people? how are we listening to what they need to be successful on a daily, weekly basis? 

Hammad:

All right. So let’s imagine you have 15 engineers working for you. All different places, all working from home. What kind of structure would you put in place? I fully agree with you that if you have all your engineers, maybe say Bulgaria or Czech Republic.

Then someone from your San Francisco team should go down and just work alongside them and make sure they’re fully trained, figure out what their problems are. That’s probably the easiest thing to do, but if you have 15 engineers working from home from all over the world, that’s when it becomes a lot more difficult.

How would you set up the structure for that? 

Steven:

Well, we use agile sprints to kind of do that at our company but we spend a lot of time kind of figuring out what people are going to be working on next. Right. There’s a lot of meetings and thinking things through and coordinating the different pieces.

I think there are a lot of frictions for certain types of jobs. That goes along with being a fully remote team. But I think it’s important to keep everyone on the same page and put the structure in place that there are these kinds of regular communication, regular ways to communicate and kind of keep track of everything that’s going on.

But for some jobs, it’s not that hard to coordinate, for others it’s extremely difficult. So I think the more people are reliant on each other, the more meetings you have to have and kind of clear delineation you have to have and communication. 

Hammad:

Right? Right.

So, one question I’ve been asking you is look, well, working from an office has its benefits. One of those being, building the culture where you can actually really control the culture. You can really mature. You can keep an eye on it and ensure that everything’s running fine. People are happy. They’re working with each other and doing cross functional collaboration. 

How would you do that for a remote team where you’ve got 15 people working from all over the place. How do you build culture then? 

Steven:

I think that’s hard. You know, onboarding new people is really hard remotely. It’s just a different culture than you can have In-person. I think it’s harder to build relationships.

We’ve been doing some game playing, you know, but I think, if you’re permanently remote, the company will have a different field. And if you are in an office, a different culture will develop different types of camaraderie.

I think that’s very attractive to some certain types of people. We are planning on going back to the offices here, hopefully next summer, but, we’ve been kind of leaning on the culture that we already had during these remote times.

If you’re truly a remote first culture, it’s just going to feel different than if you weren’t. I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing but there’s less camaraderie and less, I guess, friendship in the office if people are all remote which some people like.

Hammad:

Yeah, well, I’ve been thinking of all these big companies, like Twitter, they’re like, people can work from home forever. I’m not sure if they actually thought about what’s going to happen after a couple of years where everyone’s just doing their own thing and they don’t really have a culture.

And, I dunno, maybe they might have some strategy, but I question whether that’s the right decision or not, maybe there has to be some kind of hybrid solution where they can work from home. 

They can work from the office or they frequently do some kind of thing. I don’t know. Maybe there’s a way, we will need to figure that out.

What other strategies could you have in place to make sure that you have a real remote working environment doing really well?

Steven:

Well, other strategies to have a remote team, I guess you have to have communication be really easy. So Slack’s great. The Google apps suite is great. but I think  it’s important that people get to know each other to some degree. And you want to have strategies around that.

You want to set things up so that people can interact and can have fun and in a remote environment too, or else it becomes a drag. If you can’t ever have any fun, right. So this is a challenging time right now, obviously, but, what I think, there are a lot of companies that will always be remote first and that’s becoming a trend, that’s more and more common.

You know, in terms of building a culture, I think it’s a different kind of culture . The thing I would stress is you, people are going to know each other less well than if they’re in an office together. And, it becomes more about the work at hand than it becomes about, some people, some work environments.

The work environment is mostly about the people that are there, right? Like I think that’s what motivates certain people to come every day and put in their best. It’s about the team. It’s about the people that are there and if people aren’t regularly meeting each other, it’s very hard.

I think you can get everyone together a couple of times a year, rent an Airbnb or something and everyone works out of the same place to kind of build those relationships and, meet for dinner, et cetera. It’s challenging though. I mean, especially if everyone’s all over the world.

But we do a lot of moving people around. So the people from the Spain office will come visit the Salt Lake office. People in the Salt Lake office will come visit the Spain office. Any of the American employees can spend a month or two in Spain, every year. And we have apartments over there that they can stay in and they really enjoy that.

They have a lot of fun doing that, and it’s kind of that I think deepened relationships across these places. And vice versa that people from the Spain office will come stay here. We’ve got an apartment in San Francisco and one in Utah. And so we’re able to kind of mix everyone together and get together for events.

We have an annual event where we get everyone together for this year, we’ll be doing that remotely. But, I think that stuff’s important. People really get to know each other. 

Hammad:

Yeah, that actually kind of reminds me of one thing. I was interviewing someone, a candidate fresh out of college and very bright.

And, one of the conditions was that they had an offer from a couple of other companies and all of them offer work from home forever. And they took that as a pack. 

So I was thinking that’s a kid, right? That he needs to go out. He needs to meet people and needs to learn from his, you know, elders or senior people and he’s going to start his career working from home and wherever he’s going to go.

The other company put him to work from home forever. So what is he going to learn, how his career is going to progress over time? Because he would never pick up those skills. You only get from working alongside great people. 

Steven:

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more and, you know, if you are in a remote only situation and it’s going to be that way for a while or forever, I think you need to work on having that type of mentoring.

You have to work on setting that up and putting the infrastructure in place that people do mentor the next generation, at your company. 

Hammad:

Yeah. So, Steve, thank you very much. One last question. So I tried myself. How do you see this whole remote working, playing out in the next 5 years, especially with the COVID that’s come about?

Steven:

I suspect that most companies will go back to work in the offices again, after there’s a vaccine out. That’s my guess. I think when you look at who’s really committed to long-term, working from home and working remotely. I think a lot of those companies often sell something that enables that.

So it’s like, sure, Slack says you can work remotely forever, or Zoom thinks you can do that. Or Microsoft thinks you can do that, the companies that are saying, yeah, we can just work. We can all work remotely forever and never leave our bedrooms. I think a lot of times there’s those companies that are saying that there’s a reason for it.

So I doubt that we’re going to figure out that working remotely forever is a great fit for most of the companies now, I think it can work sometimes on a long-term basis, but you do have to be very thoughtful about it, but on the balance, I think, people will be back in offices.

Hammad:

Yeah. I think my gut feeling is that there’s going to be probably some hybrid solution where there’s going to be a combo working from home and working from office, that kind of stuff. I think that’s probably the most logical thing that’s gonna happen. Anyway, Steve, thank you very much for coming on the show and, I hope I can speak to you very soon again.

Steven:

Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.

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