No HQ, No Office, No Employees, No Meetings, No Deadlines
Uncut.fm is quite a peculiar company (or maybe just a post-covid startup...)
Uncut.fm is my fifth startup as a co-founder (I started quite young, at 24), but when I look at it more closely, I feel like it's my first. We spontaneously organized ourselves to fit a post-COVID world and, after only a few months of operations, I realize the model and culture we are building is different from anything I have done before.
Previously, I built my startups in one location. I would choose my co-founders locally and, after incorporating the company and raising some money, the first thing we often did was to rent an office space and start recruiting employees. Once the core team was in place, we followed an on-site approach to work. This essentially consisted of meeting a lot and executing on our product and business roadmaps from 8 AM to 8 PM.
Uncut.fm is different.
Unlike my other startups, I didn't look to work with people locally. In fact, it didn't even cross my mind. I knew exactly who I needed and I knew they were in my network. I went straight to them and asked if they were interested in joining me without giving a second thought to where they call home. Even still, we only meet once a week. We have no office. Nobody has an employment contract. We raised $2 million in just 3 weeks without meeting any investors in person. We work remotely de facto. And we refuse to be constrained by deadlines.
When I say we have no headquarters, I'm not talking about our place of incorporation. I'm referring to our culture. Yes, the company is incorporated in the United States (Delaware), but we are not building an American culture first. We are building a global culture.
Today, our team consists of nine people spread across two continents and seven different countries. Our culture is definitely Silicon Valley-inspired:
We are driven by a vision.
We are on a mission to change the status quo through technology.
We are ambitious.
We try to build things that eventually scale.
We stay agile in our decision-making process.
We worry more about the result and less about the process.
Making mistakes is not a problem if they occur early in the process and get fixed right away.
We want to create great value for a maximum number of users.
We design products that are effortlessly adopted.
We believe that user acquisition is more important than revenue at the beginning…
Despite this Silicon Valley imprint, we're an international team. And when it comes to interpersonal skills, we try to ensure that every team member knows how to operate in a multicultural environment. Jeremy has lived in 17 different countries, Nicholas is French but lives in Lisbon, Alicia is American but has lived in France and is fluent in French and after 48 years I am still wondering: am I French, Spanish or now American?
From Day 1, we knew we would NEVER have an office. Work is a thing you do, not a place you visit. We strongly believe it’s possible to collaborate effectively online and that we're better off building our business in the cloud. We save money on rent and hire employees wherever they want to live. We brainstorm on Around (we hate Zoom), we stay in touch on Slack, we dialog with our users on Discord and we document everything on Notion. Our most recent hires are based in Ukraine, Portugal, Poland, Greece, France...
The thing is: startups need money, not offices. We are saving at least $15,000 a month right now on salaries and rent. Beyond the obvious cost savings, none of us wastes time commuting. And we have access to a wider pool of talent, too. Not everyone lives in a big city, and remote work is more conducive to talent who find traditional office-work constraining (due to disabilities, family life, etc.)
Of course, not every company could operate like we do. Developing a physical product for instance still requires people to be on-premise. And we do miss aspects of that. One of the drawbacks of being a remote team is that physical interaction doesn't happen unless you make a special effort to bring the team together. While we believe day-to-day work doesn't need to be done in person, we do agree some things benefit from in-person interaction and close communication. That's why we've decided to bring the entire team together for a company retreat twice a year. Our first Uncut retreat will be at the end of October: we'll meet for the first time ever in Kalamata, Greece.
We've decided not to have anyone on an employment contract besides me for legal reasons. Like many things we do at Uncut.fm, we didn't set out to operate this way, but that's how it worked out. When we approached our first hires, most of them were busy with other projects. If we had asked them to give up everything to work at Uncut full time, they wouldn't have been ready to make the leap. Instead, we asked them to contribute to Uncut.fm. They chose the number of hours they wanted to devote to the project and quoted us their fee. This approach has allowed us to establish a bond with extraordinary talents that we would never have had access to otherwise.
In fact, Uncut.fm works on the same principles as an open source project. The only difference is it's neither open source nor unpaid! By the way, we never use the terms "employee" or "collaborator." We say "contributors." At Uncut, new hires start as a Temporary Contributor and choose for how much time they wish to contribute. Temporary Contributors keep track of their hours, bill Uncut.fm monthly, and we pay them immediately. There are no benefits of any kind, except for flexibility and money. We do not provide health care. Everyone who works at Uncut.fm is responsible for their own healthcare and benefits. Everyone also pays for their own phone, laptop, internet connection and all the other things they need.
After a minimum of three months as a Temporary Contributor, you have the opportunity to become a Permanent Contributor. The only difference between a Temporary Contributor and a Permanent Contributor is that you no longer have to track your hours worked. We agree on a monthly fee that you bill monthly and you have the right to take as much time off as you want. This new status gives you also access to stock options of the company.
We've found that scheduled all-hands meetings lead to a “hurry up and wait” situation where instead of pushing forward, everyone stops to wait for the meeting before taking action. We’ve learned that forcing face time doesn’t equate to productivity, and scheduling hours of meetings can actually be detrimental. With this in mind, our team decided to shift to a “no meetings” policy.
Well, the above isn't entirely true. We still have a weekly Town Hall meeting, but it’s the only one we have and we don’t really consider it as a traditional “meeting”. As mentioned in my previous post about our Town Hall:
Town Halls are planned not just as a way to share information but as an engaging experience. It gives everyone the chance to closely interact with everybody, and build trust and confidence. During Town Hall meetings we share content you can’t hear anywhere else. We try to only focus in the most strategic topics and not to get into too many details. It’s an open space where everyone can confidently share their successes and challenges with the rest of the group. It’s also a a forum for sharing results, reviewing critical issues and discussing what we can do to help Uncut succeed.
Of course, everyone is free to schedule a one-to-one or one-to-many meeting with anybody, but attendance is absolutely not mandatory. For example, I organize a Remote Committee twice a month. I also invite external guests to come and speak with us. I never know who in the team is going to show up! If no one comes, it may mean the event is not interesting enough or that I scheduled it for the wrong time.
I know what some of you might be thinking: “how do maintain company culture without meetings?” I strongly believe culture is not dependent on meetings, and there are different ways to foster culture. We do that by communicating more openly and directly. We also write a LOT at Uncut.fm.
I strongly believe in virtual or in-real-life experiences. Not meetings.
No deadlines? No deadlines. And I know again what you’re thinking: “That sounds like a really stupid idea.” I think our brains have been wired to think with deadlines. From the time we received our very first homework assignment in school, we’ve been told that every task has a due date. (I know what I am talking about — I started my career as a teacher!) And maybe that's why some people insist that without deadlines, nothing would ever get done at all.
At Uncut.fm, we trust in our team. We know they will do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. I also think the term DEADLINE is ridiculous. What will happen if we don't meet the deadline? Will we all die? People fear deadlines. Some meet their deadlines, but only by becoming extremely nervous and working late, which compromises their peace of mind and work-life balance. Others end up not meeting deadlines at all. They then feel guilty about the negative impact not only on themselves, but also on their team members and projects. This is not the culture we want to build at Uncut.fm.
We see things differently at Uncut. Of course we are eager to move fast. But more than speed, we care about doing things well and doing things right takes time. We define our expectations and our goals very precisely and we commit to move toward them as fast as possible without compromising quality. The only thing we impose on ourselves is to release new improvements every week. It forces us to make constant progress and It shows our community we are committed and moving forward consistently. Tasks will get done because they need to get done, not because we marked a due date on the calendar. If we are worried about losing our motivation down the road, maybe there is something wrong with the destination or with ourselves.
The internet has allowed new ways of working to emerge, and we are just beginning to see them unfolding. Today, there are many different ways to work. Ours is just one of them. Don't try to copy us. First, because we're not 100% sure we're doing it right, and second, because we're constantly shaping this model to fit our aspirations.
Carlos Diaz - co-founder and CEO
Amazing. In 5-10 years, this way of working will be the norm in a wide range of industries. Congrats on blazing the trail.
I did the same (no office, no HQ, no employees...) when I built vdinnov.com. It was very innovative at that time as I built it in 2016, way before covid and I was happy to see that this format became more of the norm after covid.