Building a Non-Stop Machine: How Melltoo, The No-Meetup Classifieds, Built A Location-Independent Business

At Melltoo, we work as a distributed team. It was not the plan, but we started out this way and kept growing from a team of 2 to 25. And in this time, we have not felt like we are disadvantaged, in fact, we have executed and grown much more rapidly then our peers.

We are not a team by virtue of sharing office space, but rather by a strong belief in our mission and by working toward common goals. For many of us, Melltoo is a unique opportunity to work within a rapidly growing market while not physically being in Dubai. It is also a great way to make an impact from wherever we are in the world, by contributing to the sharing economy and helping make resale and resuse part of the product lifecycle and in turn build a more sustainable future. Every single of one us finds meaning in our work.

Most people don’t fully understand what working remotely is about. Great ideas don’t always happen in closed spaces. We live in a world with excellent communication technologies (slack, hangouts, appear.in, jit.si Meet, etc.). Idea generation takes place when there is communication, it really doesn’t matter if it’s spoken, written, in person or asynchronous.

Achieving work-life balance in the 21st century

After all, working from the same place every day can be really depressing. With Melltoo, I have had the opportunity to travel to several destinations around the globe while launching major feature updates, such Melltoo Pay&Ship in October 2015. I still remember this experience as one of the most fulfilling work-personal experiences in the past three years. Perhaps, it is the change of routine that helps me schedule both work and “me” time evenly. One thing for certain, I did not feel overwhelmed by either work or travel, as compared to other times where I woke up every day and did the same exact thing over and over. Being able to work-travel also opened my eyes to new things and experiences that I’ve been able to import into my work.

When given the chance, many office employees welcome the option to work remotely. There is even a new “workation” trend, where you are able to fulfill your passions outside of work, while still successfully fulfill your job duties without being limited by physical space. These trends along with digital nomadism is responsible for a new work philosophy among Millennial workers and Gen X-ers. Southeast Asia and cheaper European and Latin American cities are filled with transient digital nomads who hop from city to city looking to feed both their soul and portfolios.

Parents also prefer working at home when available to them. Santosh Binwal, Melltoo’s quality assurance manager, works from home due to family reasons.

“I needed to work from home due to some family conditions. Melltoo gives me this chance. There is no hard timing and pressure. All members in our team are like family. Everybody helps one another. Top management are transparent with all team members and everyone knows what is going on. No hidden things,” Santosh wrote me when asked to contribute to this article.

For the uninitiated, here are three myths about the nature of distributed teams that need debunking.

Myth #3: Working remotely is freelancing

Working remotely is not akin to freelancing. We’re bound by KPI’s, tasks and objectives. Our commitment to the company is very real. In fact, everyone on our team, except several new hires, have been with us for at least a year. It’s all about organization and setting clear, achievable goals. Working remotely does not negate the development of company culture. In fact, I would argue that working remotely has shaped our company culture into one that emphasizes results and execution over office politics.

Many of our customer service agents have been working remotely with Melltoo for over a year. In fact, many are polyvalent and perform several tasks within our broad CS-Operations team. They have witnessed many changes to our processes from the way we verify and book orders to how we treat claims and cancellations.

Timing is especially crucial for a company like ours which prides itself for great customer experience we offer to our users. We schedule our working hours within peak hours of customer interactions. Typically these peak hours fall within people’s resting schedules. Our team is experienced enough to anticipate peak days and hours before they occur in synch with our marketing campaigns schedule.

Our CS team has been through different growth stages. They helped shape CS processes and performances in the past year resulting in a decrease in our CS reply time from hours to 10 minute per query. Everyone continues to learn on the job while also supporting themselves in a handful of small cities in Egypt plagued with a higher-than-average unemployment rate. Fortunately, our team’s professionalism and fondness for team work has kept them in their jobs year after year.

Myth #2: Working remotely is isolating

While this may be true at times, it is still preferable to working in an open office which tends to be awfully distracting with chatty coworkers, background noise, and office politics. According to a Harvard Business Review Research on work satisfaction in open-floor work spaces, the results are not great. The main complaints are noise, lack of cleanliness and constant interruption. In fact, the study reports a loss of 86 minutes per workday due to distractions.

From my own experience, as customer experience manager and content writer, I am able to focus better with a silent background while being the only person in the room. I do my work first and then I schedule calls and meetings around it. Hours of optimal productivity also differ from person to person. Allowing people to work asynchronously improves productivity while increasing job satisfaction. So, while working remotely can sometimes be lonely, it actually helps getting the job done, especially in creative tasks that require a lot of concentration, like coding or writing.

At Melltoo, we recognize the need for social interaction. It is something we constantly work towards.

Rahul Choudhary, our technical manager, recently moved to Melbourne, Australia. Just like the rest of the members of our team, he is not restricted by location to do his job. He fashioned his own communication style with his team of 10 people.

“One of my most important roles is to communicate with the tech team and get things done. I usually talk with the team on phone or skype. Text chat is only used to keep records. So, if there is something that needs to be present as reference, then I put it on Slack or email. Voice call makes it easier for everyone to explain & to understand,” he wrote to me on Slack.

Slack is our favorite channel of communication.

Myth #3: Working remotely decreases productivity

Wrong. As I mentioned above, working alone has the benefit of reducing distractions and boosting productivity.

In addition, work productivity is measured by motivation, not location. Remote workers are by default a motivated bunch of self-starters; you won’t survive very long in the remote work environment if you aren’t. There is no one to tell you when to start work and no one to prevent you from stopping. Without self-motivation, you won’t get anything done, which is a one-way ticket out of the job.

In my opinion , there is nothing more exhilarating than taking the lead and achieving the goals you set out for yourself.

Santosh has worked on multiple app iterations including major feature updates and changes. He relishes increased responsibility.

“I am motivated by taking responsibility. In Melltoo, there is a high responsibility on me that the application should be Bug Free and Users can use it without any hassle. One more thing, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and I am proud to say ‘I am working for Melltoo,'” he wrote me when asked about routine and execution in the job.

We, at Melltoo, have worked remotely since day 1 and we’ve been thriving and growing for the last three years. We don’t clock in, we don’t clock out, we travel, we work. In this time, we’ve served hundreds of thousands of buyers and sellers, raised several rounds of funding and continue to grow the business while working cohesively as a team from many places around the world. We haven’t missed a beat.

It has been a routine of mine to experiment with new automation processes along with our operations QA manager, Hesham Mustafa, often at the wee hours of the morning. We’re both night owls and I prefer test sending messages to users outside of rush hours to see what works best. We never found the need to sit together at one place at one time, we just communicated constantly as we worked together on developing a rationale and method of automation.

Hesham, who is a chemistry graduate, took a liking and commitment to learning and customizing codes and API’s from our tech team to fit the needs of our operations team.

No one on the team is really second-guessing their experience at Melltoo. He wrote:

“Everything I do now I have learned on the job, which was made possible because I could choose where and when to work and didn’t have to waste my time and energy going to and back from a certain work place. In addition to that, I was given the space to innovate and apply my ideas which was a huge motivation to do even more. I’ve thought of it as a hobby that I enjoy more than a job that I would have to do just to get paid,” he writes.

In just a few months, we managed to automate a large chunk of our operations at Melltoo. We have about 10+ people who collaborate daily on operations, from the product development team, CS team, Operations and QA. We’re not bound by strict schedule but rather the simple logic to serve our customers in the ways and in the hours they need us the most.

Mobile Chat:The Ultimate Tool for CRM

Why mobile chat is worth $19 billion? 

When Whatsapp sold for $19 billion, there were collective gasps around the world. Why did Facebook pay so much for glorified SMS, that is neither email nor a voice call? And why are there so many mobile chat applications (Line, Viber, WeChat, Kakao, Kik, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, and on and on); each with so many users? At Melltoo, we’ve always known the power of mobile chat and that’s why we built it into our app.

We believe that our in-app chat combined with our new Melltoo Pay&Ship Secure service (which allows us to handle payment and delivery on your behalf) makes for a very powerful shopping experience. But why is that? Mobile chat is not simply the ugly stepchild of email and voice calls; nor the cheap step-sister of SMS. It is the Cinderella of modern day communications; a whole new way of communicating, a singularity if you will. With chat, you combine the benefits of asynchronous written communication with that of synchronous voice communication.

Mobile chat puts SMS, emails, and voice calls to shame

Chat can take place “live” like a voice call; this allows for banter and quick back and fortemoticons_melltooh communication that effectively conveys meaning. Chat can also take place “offline”; parties don’t engage in real-time, but receive and respond to messages after some time has passed. This makes chat better than both emails and voice calls. Can you have an instant live conversation over email? Good luck looking through the tabs to figure out what was said previously. On the flip side, if you miss a call, can you answer it 2 hours later?

Mobile chat is much more than glorified SMS. Emoticons help convey the “body language” that is missing from written communications. (where’s the “thumbs up” emoticon when I need it?) The ability to send photos and videos makes communication “social”. You can share moments of your life in real-time. Unlike posting a picture to Facebook and getting ‘likes’ hours or days later, sending a picture via chat garners “awwww…that’s so cute!” responses instantly.

Mobile chat builds stronger relationships

Mobile chat is with you everywhere you go. You are never offline which means that you are always “close by”, just a message away. And even when you don’t respond, the other party knows that you will see the message eventually. The connection with your chat interlocutors is perpetual, which means you are closer to your chat friends than people you see in real life. Think about the co-worker who you see daily. Compare her with your ex-co-worker who you haven’t seen in years, but chat with regularly. Who do you feel closer to?

Chat is “low cost” not only financially, but mentally and emotionally as well. SMS costs an arm and a leg. Writing an email requires “Dear” and “Best regards” along with proof-reading and formatting. Making a phone call requires you to stop whatever else you’re doing. Chat, on the other hand, is low overhead. It’s (almost) free, and doesn’t require deep thought nor undivided attention. The quick and constant banter allows users to build up stronger relationships than would take place without chat. You can correct misunderstandings, elaborate, yell, thank, gush, and apologize; all in one conversation spanning just minutes. You also have the ability to re-read before sending, unlike saying something that cannot be unsaid. And you have the benefit of a chat history to revisit a conversation when necessary.

Chat for CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

The benefits of chat in a social setting are easily carried over to a business setting. Chat is the ultimate tool for customer relationship management.

Never miss a customer’s call

Gone are the days when customers would patiently wait on hold for service. These days, they won’t call to begin with, they’ll go straight to Twitter or Facebook because calling is just too high in overhead. Hence, when a customer’s call is not answered, you’ve lost the customer; because he called your competitor when he wasn’t able to reach you. Only a highly motivated customer would call back. With chat, even if you weswitchboard operator_melltoore not online when the customer sent the message, once you see the message, you can re-engage with the customer who might have all but abandoned. Think about it: how many phone calls can you answer at the same time? Now think about how many chat conversations you can have at the same time.

By the way, people are less upset when a chat response is delayed than when a phone call goes unanswered. This is because they had to make time to call you, setting aside existing tasks. With chat however, they didn’t have to invest much effort and the “internet down” excuse is still valid today. Interestingly enough, before I call someone, I usually send a chat message first asking if she’s available to talk on the phone. And after I’ve sent an email, I inevitably follow up by sending a chat message telling the receiving party to check his email.
Keep track of customer requests

If you are a salesperson dealing with multiple customers throughout the day, one of the greatest challenges is to keep track of who said what. With chat, all that is said can be retrieved from your chat history. Your own words are also recorded, which means less chance of error and misunderstanding. Ever “accidentally” quote someone a higher price than what was previously quoted?

Know exactly what customers want

A picture is worth a thousand words. A video is worth a million. And chat is worth $19B! Imagine you are a wedding planner at your florist, about to order table centerpieces for a client. This client happens to see a bouquet centerpiece that she’s decided she absolutely must have for her wedding. She snaps a picture and sends it to you instantly. You adjust your order accordingly and it’s done. Imagine the same scenario over the phone or via email. Your client probably wouldn’t have been able to properly describe what she saw and if she had sent an email with a photo attachment, you would have seen it only after ordering the centerpieces.

Build Human Relationships

Chat is familiar and comfortable. It puts people at ease as much as face-to-face communications make people uncomfortable (is there spinach in my teeth?). This means that in a relatively short time, sales people can establish a stronger relationship with customers; and relationships are what bring customers back.If you are not already using mobile chat for CRM, then you’d better start. At Melltoo, we are so convinced by mobile chat that we built it into our app. Not only can you buy and sell quickly and socially on Melltoo, it’s built upon the most engaging technology of today–mobile chat!