by Frederick Daso
Alex Pustov, cofounder of Synaps Labs, has a lot to say about the pros and cons of having a part of his team located in different regions of the globe. Synaps Labs is a software and hardware platform that enables real-time targeted ads for digital out-of-home advertising so brands can get their ads to a specific audience. Synaps Labs operates in Moscow on 13 digital billboards in partnership with Russ Outdoor, one of the leading European billboard operators. The cofounder is a recent MBA graduate from MIT. Pustov and his team are currently participating in the MIT’s famed startup accelerator, Delta V, which has accelerated many flourishing companies, with LiquiGlide, Nima, Accion Systems, and Infinite Analytics being former participants.
Frederick Daso: Your team is split between North America and Europe. What are some of the challenges of making sure everyone stays on the same page developing the product?
Alex Pustov: There are a few things that come into play: One is that when you’re developing a product and there’s a fast turn around time, it’s important to know what everyone is working on. Only focus on what’s important.
Secondly, working on a startup is more of an emotional experience. When you work remotely, it’s tough to support each other. One of the success factors of startups is how team members help each other during difficult times.
Daso: Wow, I never really thought of the support factor as being a challenge with having your team work remotely. As a founder, how do you address these issues? How are you able to provide support to your teammates?
Pustov: We try to use a couple of techniques. One is we internally over-communicate. A good rule of thumb is it’s better to over-communicate instead of under-communicate. This means that we have daily check-in calls. It’s just on the calendar every day. We go to Zoom, and everyone reports what he is working on, what are his immediate tasks and if he needs any support from other team members. Even if we don’t have anything to discuss formally, we still do the check-in to keep this habit of meeting daily.
Second, we use Slack for daily status check-ins. Basically, everyone at the end of the day reports what they have done today and what they plan to do the next day. It’s a quick check-in and helps to understand what the priorities are and what everyone is working on.
Daso: I think it’s imperative that you bring up the mental support. How do you make sure you create an environment where you’re able to be comfortable broaching that topic with your teammates?
Pustov: I think it’s essential to be open. It’s evident that everyone else has their challenges. It’s imperative to listen to what others say and to have empathy. In some cases, people don’t even say things openly, but then by just talking to them, you pick up on a change in their voice, leading you to ask what’s going on and whether you can help anything. It’s vital for co-founders to become more open and discuss topics more openly.
Daso: Absolutely. We’ve talked about the downsides of having a portion of your team working remotely and mitigating the associated difficulties, but I’m sure there are some advantages to this team configuration. At any given the time of day, someone is working on Synaps Labs. Since you’re working in two different markets, North America and Europe, are there are particular insights each geography that both parts of the team can bring to the table at these meetings. Does that happen?
Pustov: That’s an excellent point. Working essentially 24 hours makes a lot of sense—there’s an eight-hour difference between the two time zones, and people usually sleep seven to eight hours, so we have 24-hour coverage in this case. It’s great if we need to respond quickly to a customer’s request or work on the product rapidly. We try to use the Russian market as we know better as a pilot market to inform our product development in a smaller and more familiar market. By developing our product there, we can test it in the U.S. We also test some ideas in the U.S. market here, and then implement those takeaways in the Russian product and market.
Daso: That’s great. I consider that a huge advantage in such a competitive space.
Pustov: One other important point about having a remote team is that software development is super hot, and being in Boston, New York, the Bay Area or anywhere, it’s tough to find developers. There are so many opportunities for them, and large companies are excellent at hunting for developers. For us, having access to very talented folks in Saint Petersburg, one of the best markets for developers, is essential. Having access to that pool of talent is crucial because it gives us a competitive advantage of being able to develop a high-quality product at a lower price.