ThinkBusiness spoke with Shane Evans, CEO of Scrapinghub, about setting up a remote-first company and the challenges that comes with starting a fully remote company.

Background

I studied computer science in UCC and started my career as a software developer. I moved to London in 1999 and after a couple of years, I was promoted to head on engineering lastminute.com. When I left there in 2005, I started a company with a few friends based in London doing mostly consulting work, and six months later, most of my clients were based in the US which made me realise that I didn’t need to work in an office anymore. That was the beginning of my remote working journey and I haven’t really looked back.

My first memory of remote working was with me girlfriend (now my wife) and she came home one evening and saw that nothing in the house was done. I was busy working and had no time to do housework, but she was giving out about me being at home all day doing nothing. It was rather funny looking back now.

“When I look at the type of work we do, I don’t feel we need to be all in the one place”

Scrapinghub

I spent some time living in Tokyo and it was during this time I got the idea for Scrapinghub. My co-founder was based in Uruguay and by the time we started the company, I had moved back to Ireland to be closer to my family. Our company was essentially built on remote working. Initially, we needed to hire software developers, and our options were to either bring developers together and work out of an office in the one location, or to source experts from different locations, that were already familiar with our tools and loved what we were doing, which is what we ended up doing.  

The company started out as a consulting business before we built products over time. We have always had a lot of engineers and we’ve always had a very distributed workforce so it’s great to be a remote-first company. I wouldn’t be a big fan of the term remote though – it sounds like your based out of an office but can work remotely away from it, when that’s really not the case with us.

Benefits

Remote working has been hugely important to my lifestyle. When we started out, I wanted to be closer to them my parents and help out where I could, so working remotely meant I was able to do all of that, and I didn’t want it to compromise my career, so that was one of the main motivating factors for me. When I look at the type of work we do, I don’t feel we need to be all in the one place. I’ve a four year old daughter now and I wouldn’t think there are many CEOs who can say they have three meals with their family most days. I’m hugely grateful for that. I got to see my daughter’s first steps and I was there for her first words and that’s incredible. It all stems back to remote working.

“I’ve a four year old daughter now and I wouldn’t think there are many CEOs who can say they have three meals with their family most days”

Staff

I think getting the right staff was a little bit easier when we started out. As a smaller company, you know everyone and it’s easy to keep in touch with all the staff. I would have participated in every interview up to the first 100 people. When you look at the remote-first companies, they’re generally tech companies because that style of working suits the tech industry and we’re early adopters of the technology which is essential for remote working. So with that, a lot of people we would hire would have previously worked remotely which really helps us. Recently, we have put a lot of effort into staff onboarding to ensure that when they join the company, the feel part of a team and get to connect with people who can help them in their role and development. 

Remote working in early 2000s

When I started remote working, I had a lot of people questioning whether I had a real job or not. More so when I started my own company because people just couldn’t get their heads around it. Attitudes have changed an awful lot over the last few years, particularly in Ireland. We are seeing lots of events taking place now across the country, like Grow Remote in Ireland which is becoming so popular. Remote working is having a hugely positive impact on people’s lives.

“I got to see my daughter’s first steps and I was there for her first words and that’s incredible. It all stems back to remote working”

Challenges

You always find challenges with people, but that’s nothing to do with remote working. You’ll find challenges with people when you are sat in the same office as someone. What I would say is sometimes people can become isolated. This is why communication is so important and people really need to focus on it. Early on in the company, there were more challenges around working remotely because it was still quite new and there were no fewer best practises for doing it correctly.

Biggest lesson

Having the right people in place is key to any new business. Timing is also very important. If I look back, I think we may have been short on some skills early on that we could have brought in. Also figuring out how to do remote working well for different types of teams. That’s something we are still working on. I feel we nailed it early on with software development, but building other functions, like sales, was more challenging.

Written by Stephen Larkin

Published on 1 August, 2019

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