I work for Melltoo, a startup based in Dubai. I live in Tunis. I work with people who live all around the world, UAE, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Ukraine, France, UK, from so many nationalities, Singaporean, Algerian, French, Pakistani, Indian, Ukrainian, Russian, Egyptian, Spanish, Moroccan and American. We represent a diverse group of people working toward a common goal of building the biggest peer2peer marketplace in the Middle East. We dubbed it the no-meetup classifieds.
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 than our peers.
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.
How to successfully execute ideas when working remotely
Yes, we probably have too many google docs we jam ideas into, but we shelve each one as soon as we’re done with it. As a team, we’re task-oriented and we rally behind the ideas of any team member and accompany them to execution. Our workflow is managed with objectives and deadlines.
At Melltoo, we have iterated on our product, operations, and processes unceasingly over the past 3 years. We’ve also launched scores of different marketing campaigns. Typically, someone comes up with a new idea, perhaps from something they read or heard about that makes sense in our context. The idea is pitched on slack generating a lot of discussion and feedback, then the DRP (direct responsible person) drafts an extended pitch on a Google Doc and asks for contributions as a follow up. Objectives, a timeline, and a to-do list are key components to any pitch. Finally, a team call takes place and doubts are clarified and voilà: From idea to plan to execution.
This process allows us to distribute tasks across various teams within Melltoo, from tech to marketing to operations. To date, this has been very successful, evidenced by the weekly flash sale campaigns last year that we revamped into seller-focused campaigns (rather than category-focused); or the “guess and win” campaign during the Dubai Shopping Festival this past January.
Good communication is key
My daily routine includes checking slack every other hour to read conversations across various topics. I chime in if I have a question or something to add, otherwise let people speak uninterrupted when they need to. This is different from the office spaces which I have some modest experience with where other team members will need to constantly interrupt my work and concentration to tell me something (relevant and irrelevant).
Communication is different between different team members and departments. To each their own.
Rahul Choudhary, our technical team lead, relies on direct communication to get things done which includes fixing bugs and launching new features on time.
“One of my most important roles is to communicate with the 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 calls makes it easier for everyone to explain and to understand,” he told me in our conversation.
Personally, I prefer texting which may be is due to my generational obsessions with looking into screens, but I will admit that text often distorts the message and takes more time than necessary.
In a private conversation about this very post, the head of our operations also told me that he calls people outside of work to check on them. It’s a recurrent theme.
“I use phone calls and whatsapp for social communication outside of work with my team members. We share jokes of the day and have a good laugh among each other. We are not missing out [on social interaction].”
Mostafa Mohammed, our head of operations, joined our team in Jan 2016 and has gone through different stages of growth, hyper-growth and the slower growth of the summer. Like many of our team members, including myself, who enjoy working from multiple different locations, he is attached to his job at Melltoo not only because of the learning potential and missions he is tasked to execute but also because of the “remote” part.
“I like my job and am self motivated since I can travel anywhere anytime and work in new places from time to time,” he also added.
In essence, our daily work at Melltoo has as much shaped our experience with work in the 21st century as we have shaped the company culture. Like Hesham Mustafa (our Operations QA Manager from the previous piece) puts it, our team does not have to worry about benign problems such as commuting to and from a job and the waste of time and energy that comes with or figuring out food options and other related costs while away, enclosed in a space at work. This very nature of our work has sustained our business and our growth for the past three years. We invite you to try it too, perhaps for few days at a time!
Building a product through iterations
Vitali is a UX designer. He is from Ukraine. Vitali joined Melltoo to revamp our design and help us communicate better with our users. The role of a UX designer is to figure out the best flows and processes while minimizing user interfaces, the best UI is no UI.
Among Vitali’s first projects, was a revamp of the Melltoo referral program, a strong engine of growth for us. Vitali implemented two new flows to the process that did not exist before. User can now check if their referees had indeed accomplished all the necessary steps to receive their reward or remind them to go through these steps.
These two simple actions in-app have helped lower the inquiries about referral tech bugs and referral programs and consecutively freed our CS time to focus on operational inquiries which are more complicated in nature.
“We need to be aware of the limitations that we have. Limitations of time, limitations of people, and limitations of technology. And, one of the most important work we do is to prioritize what we need to do,” says Vitali.
Vitali works directly with the technical team. He prioritizes direct conversations and calls to clear out detailed plans before the UI team starts to draw new screens. We regularly prepare multiple versions of any given flow, get user feedback, before we decide on which one to implement.
Pandey is a backend engineer at Melltoo. He is also the hero of our user support team. When I was part of the CX team, we often communicated through a project planning tool in writing on a user case basis. Raghvendra works on the server team and specializes in database optimization. He has been with Melltoo since the early days. He interacts with all members of the Melltoo team (leadership, user support, operations, UX and frontend development).
“Communication among the team is very nice. The team is highly co-operative and collaborative. Management’s communication with the team members is also very good, it helps us understand our role in the greater organization. Melltoo is a great place to work and I have enhanced my professional development a lot since joining.”
In the end, becoming a location-independent business requires underlying commitment between staff and leadership. It is neither easily attainable nor too hard to pursue. It has become a trend in a new work culture dominated by millennials, who account for nearly 50% of the workforce today. The recipe for success begins with clearly communicating to every member of the team the company’s vision, mission and strategy. Distributed teams require a high level of independent decision making and good decisions cannot be made if the big picture is not well understood. Processes and workflows are also important since they will reduce communication errors.
We are proud of being a part of this new work culture. We encourage you to get in touch if you and your business decide to give distributed work a try!