Brian Dolan and his team of advertising and marketing experts at Work Reduce save companies every day from making mistakes in their digital ad buying programs that cost millions of dollars.
Together, they review ads and ad buying programs finding errors and issues that even the best artificial intelligence can’t uncover. Although they work together closely, they don’t work in the same room. In fact, they don’t even work in the same country.
The four-year-old company is entirely virtual with employees working from homes or co-working spaces across the globe.
Why did you start a virtual company?
I was looking to start a company that had lower capital requirements than a traditional software startup. As I started experimenting, I began connecting with people working remotely around the world and was amazed by the amount of talent I found. I wanted to find a way to bring all this talent to bear on challenges I knew existed in digital media. People are smarter than machines and it’s all about putting them to work in the right way.
We started out doing some pilot work for a former client, focused on parts of the ad buying process that I knew were difficult to automate and could benefit from human judgment. At first, I used people I found through Mechanical Turk. Some of those folks were super talented and four years later, several are still working for me.
How has being virtual affected your ability to grow?
The fact that we are virtual made it easier to scale. When we had the opportunity to expand, we were able to find the talent we needed quickly.
We’ve also expanded our structure to include client relationship managers and media strategists. That has allowed us to train and promote people who don’t have as much media buying experience. It’s great to be able to give people an opportunity to move up.
How do you make hiring decisions when people are so far away?
The central part of making this business successful is being able to evaluate people’s skills from a distance. We have an assessment-driven process that is blind, so we can evaluate people based on their skills.
What we have seen that makes people successful is their willingness to reach out to other people in the company and communicate. Maybe “over communicate.” It’s being proactive and asking what else they can do.
You also need people who can work with some ambiguity in what they’re being asked to do. We’re not always available to answer questions but things still have to get done.
How do you keep track of what everyone is doing and keep people on the same page?
We focus on work that has objective outcomes, so we can have a quality assurance process. Our platform helps define and audit a process so we know that when person A did the work, person B checked it and everyone can be accountable for client outcomes.
What are the challenges of running a company remotely?
The distance is a challenge, but then so is being in an office with people.
Because my business partner and I aren’t together as much, it opens up the potential for misunderstandings. You need to be aware of that potential, so you can address things right away.
Some people find that remote work is not a big adjustment and they’re very successful. Others get into it, and they realize after a while that it’s too much time alone with their cat.
What are the advantages?
We don’t have some of the politics that can crop up in an office. When you’re communicating electronically and as a group, people are forced to be polite. If not, it’s obvious right away.
We also can offer flexibility in terms of hours as well as location. We have people who are doing work for us in addition to having a full-time job, which would be more difficult if we had a central location.
Also, because we have people working all over, we can cover more time zones, which allows us to do more.
How do you create a culture with everyone scattered?
We are thoughtful about creating a culture. We have an all-hands meeting once a month with everyone on video. We also have a certain amount of culture on our slack channel. We keep it focused, but there is chatter.
We also stress our core values as we train people. We want them to know they’re having an impact and feel that they are making the lives of our customers better. If we can help make a customer’s day a little better and make them more effective, it’s good for us and for them. Our employees should take satisfaction in their work. People want to do more than just put food on the table. They want to have a job that is satisfying.
How do you manage your days without having to go into an office?
It’s about having a good routine. It’s about making time to do the important things like exercising, eating well and sleeping well. It’s not always easy to do that, especially when I’m traveling, but it’s my goal.
I’ve also found it important to nurture interests outside of work. I find time to shut work off and play music and cook.
I’ve experimented a bit with when in the day to get certain types of work done and I’ve found that for me, it’s best to get the heavy brain tasks done in the morning while scheduling calls in the afternoon.
What’s your best advice for a remote professional?
Find a structure that works well for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for being successful working remotely. But there’s a lot of advice to pick and choose from, so experiment to figure out what the right approach is for your personality and working style.