On a May 26th five years ago, we started Verb Company with a virtual organization across Miami, Buenos Aires, and Venice. It was by necessity: each cofounder lived in one of the three cities and wanted to stay there. Federico had clients in Argentina, Avo had Miriam in Italy (they later married), and I had an accountant in the US. We incorporated in Florida in 2015 and started working online over Skype and email. The three of us would only meet in person more than a full year later, when we took the picture on this post.
We are feeling smart now
Because of the crisis, it is now obvious that our virtual organization has made us more resilient. It also opened us up to work with Ivan and the team in New York, with Roxana in Lima, Vicente in Santiago, Leandro in Madrid, Juan Pablo in Geneva, João in São Paulo, and with many other amazing professionals in other cities with whom we would have never been able to work with if we hadn’t developed a distributed workflow. But until last March, the drawbacks of our virtual organization seemed to outweigh the benefits.
We secretly wanted to have an office
Surely, we said, it would be better if we could all be in the same office. Right? COVID-19 answered that question with a resounding “no”. But going virtual was not always smooth sailing. Instead, here are a few things we learned over five years as a virtual organization in case they help you avoid some of the mistakes we made along the way.
We started by over investing in technology
The first thing we did when we started the company was to buy a lot of software that we did not need. Not just collaboration software, some of which was (and still is) essential, but a whole array of digital marketing programs which were not right for us. Our thinking was, “there must be stuff that we need to buy since we are not investing any money in an office.” But things did not work that way.
For example, at one point we figured that the value of Avo’s work would not be diminished if he wrote his articles in longhand and dictated them to us over the phone (to his credit, he never tried to do this even when he would have enjoyed it). We realized that we could really run a company like ours without investing in any kind of expensive tech infrastructure. For us, payroll is the key infrastructure.
We followed up by overemphasizing travel
We then said, “things would be a lot easier if we met IRL a few times per year.” It seemed like a great idea because Avo and I love traveling. Our initial planning meeting in Buenos Aires was very productive, and then we continued with an initial group meeting in New York, which was great to get to know people better.
For our second group meeting Avo and I could not manage to be there in person and connected online, while the rest of the team gathered at a meeting room in Manhattan. But what was the point of making people commute to a meeting room when they could join the same online session?
Soon after this, there were some big changes in our business which required we adjusted plans before our next planning meeting. Suddenly travel looked superfluous. And expensive.
We thought that being virtual was strategic
At one point we also thought, “since Avo is in Europe, let’s try to get some clients there.” We had the same thought about Federico in Buenos Aires, which made a little more sense but had the same underlying problem: the places where we live were not strategic business decisions. We just had gone virtual because we happened to live in different places but still wanted to be in business together. Our customers were all in Miami, or cities in Latin America.
What was strategic?
A decision to focus on clients in the technology industry made more strategic sense. That was an effective decision based on our strengths and the opportunities in front of us. No sector is immune to the crisis, but Verb turns 5 in the middle of lockdown economy in large part because tech is weathering the downturn better than other sectors.
We are grateful to all our customers, and to our team, who made that possible.