The Remote X: Jordan of CartHook

By Keni Teh, 14 June, 2017

The Remote X is a series by the Planetary team to feature the experiences of remote teams across the world (literally!). Every week, we interview people leading or working in remote teams and share their knowledge with others in the hopes that we can all grow and benefit from their experiences.

Art by Vince Joy

Jordan Gal is the co-founder and CEO of CartHook, a SaaS application that helps to convert abandoned carts to customers for online retailers. Today, we talk to him about how he keeps his remote team happy, how they operate, and the challenges they’ve faced across the years while working together.

Jordan, nice to meet you! Where are you based in right now?

I’m in Portland, Oregon! With my wife, and three kids under five.

Tell me more about yourself and what you do in Carthook!

My name is Jordan Gal, and I am the co-founder and CEO of Carthook. We have two software products, both SaaS products for the ecommerce market — our first product is a cart abandonment app that emails people who started the checkout process but don’t finish it on ecommerce stores, and our second product is a ‘checkout with upsells’ product — which replaces and improves on the Shopify checkout process.

I basically do the business side of things — business marketing sales, corporate sales marketing.

How do you structure your day while working remotely? Do you find it a challenge to keep yourself focused?

We have a 9am PST standup, which is the foundation of the day. Everyone kinda schedules their day around it, because it’s set in stone daily.

My biggest challenge by far are phone calls. Doing demos and phone calls really messes up my flow for the day. Besides that, the other challenge is doing meaningful, strategic work as opposed to just “busy” work — I could just spend all day typing emails, but I only reacted to people and answered questions and didn’t move things forward strategically, be it on content or partnerships.

How is your team currently structured?

What we have now is a hybrid remote. Our developers are in Slovenia but they’re in person — they work together in a coworking space there. My cofounder Ben (CTO of CartHook) is in New York… he’s kinda the one that’s on his own the most. Lastly, I’m here in Portland, but we just hired two people here. So myself and the other two guys — from customer support and customer success — we all work in person. So it’s like a hybrid of remote but we still have these little groupings that are local.

Why did you choose to grow a remote team?

I think all of us gravitated toward each other, and it was already understood by default that no one’s gonna make someone move and change their life in that way just to work together. It was like a shared belief that didn’t even need explanation or argument, it was just already there!

“It was already understood by default that no one’s gonna make someone move and change their life in that way just to work together.”

How often does your team meet face-to-face or do video conference calls?

It’s a challenge. Having our standup with video on Zoom really helps because everyone can see each other, laugh and make jokes — just being able to see and look into each others’ eyes and talk about things like being tired after a day out hiking on your own, keeps us in touch.

At the same time, we don’t go too long without seeing each other in person. Sometimes, you start to feel the distance and you know it’s time to get together.

Ben, to his credit, is very malleable. I have a wife and three children — for me to move around and travel is painful, so Ben ends up moving around a lot. He goes to Slovenia for a few weeks at a time, then he’ll come to Portland to hang out with me, Mike and Aaron. We have fun, work together, stay up late together, and we’re good for awhile. I don’t know if anyone just does pure remote without ever seeing the other people and are okay with it — for us, we need that contact from time to time.

So you guys don’t usually do like yearly retreats, but rather just whenever you guys feel the need to meet?

We’ve done a yearly retreat. The first one was last year, and the next one’s coming up in May, but I can already sense what’s going to happen. We’re gonna go to Slovenia, take pictures of us in these beautiful lake areas — and the guys here in Portland are going to feel a little left out.

I’m definitely looking forward to being able to — you know, financially — just do a big yearly retreat with everybody and not have to think about it. Right now, we’re not bootstrapped because we raised money, but we’re careful in our approach — so we’re waiting on that kind of expense.

Very interesting! How do you manage your team and keep them organized/productive?

Yeah… This is mostly a credit to the other guys. I’m not good at system thinking — I like being more creative (also known as messy), and am not that organized. So Ben and the other guys have really taken the lead on our ability to keep things organized.

We use mostly Slack for communication, Trello for project management and to-do lists, and Intercom for communication — not only with customers and prospects, but also our ability to communicate with one another about various situations.

Would you say that those are the top three tools that your team can’t do without?

Yeah those are the three big ones — Slack, Trello and Intercom.

Also, Zoom is just outstanding. We really searched through everything, from Skype to Slack calls, and Zoom is what works best for video and our standup. We also float around between Dropbox Paper and Google Drive — we’re still trying to figure out that document management thing.

There’s always some back and forth with the systems. Our goal is to really hesitate before going into a new tool, because nothing’s perfect and you have to bend and compromise on some aspect whatever you decide to use.

How much of an emphasis do you put on keeping your team members emotionally connected?

Inevitably, there are highs and lows for everyone on the personal and emotional front — people have their personal lives that’s not disconnected entirely from their professional life. It’s a huge, huge piece of the business and challenge of working remotely.

One of the amazing things about Slack is that it makes you laugh and smile much more than through emails, because it’s this instant connection that’s much closer to verbal communication. We have a good dose of comedy in our Slack — the funny little emojis and automated GIFs.

I also often check in with someone and ask things like “are you okay, how are you feeling” — over time, you get to know someone and how they talk, so you can sense when there’s a change. I see that as my responsibility as the CEO, and not just for business reasons. Obviously, if someone lapses it’s a huge deal with a small team, but you also want everyone to be happy and energized, so checking in on a constant basis and sensing if anything’s amiss — Slack’s been amazing for that.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while managing your remote team, and how did you solve it (if you have)?

I don’t know if it’s the absolute biggest challenge, but one that we face are assumptions.

For example, a developer builds a feature in a certain way and sends it back our way, and it turns out to not be what we wanted, so we’ll send it back and say “actually, I meant this”. In his case, he just spent four hours of his time working really hard on it, so such misunderstandings build resentment and frustration. When you’re in a room with someone right next to them, these things happen a lot less often. The way you say something and how your face looked when you said something — all these little social cues that we pick up intuitively are oftentimes lost when working remotely.

“The way you say something and how your face looked when you said something — all these little social cues that we pick up intuitively are oftentimes lost when working remotely.”

So that’s the biggest challenge in terms of communication with a remote team: in trying to move fast, there are just all these assumptions being made and mistakes are being made from them, and then you have to go back and sometimes, it slows you down even more.

What’s the best thing/your favorite thing about your team?

We feel very lucky that everything has been really good, on both the team and personal front — we kind of gathered a group of hardworking, ambitious, honest and good people at heart.

At times we almost forget it or take it for granted, then someone would bump into the company and you can tell they’re taking a look around and thinking “oh wow, this is an amazing thing that I would want to be part of”! It helps us realize that actually, this is rare! It doesn’t happen every time. You hear a lot about cofounder and employee issues, but we’re all kind of on the same page — same vibe, funny, having a great time but ambitious at the same time.

So yeah, it’s like this magic thing we hoped would happen. We’ve grown pretty quickly over the past few months, and it may not stay this way forever, so we tell ourselves “this is really good right now, and let’s enjoy it”.

Describe your remote working experience in 5 words or less!

Good but not ideal, how about that.

Why is it not ideal?

I can’t help but think that the same group of guys in a room would simply be able to move a lot faster. Faster in the business sense, but also happier, more energized and more in sync — it would be more of a fuller experience.

So you would actually consider a physical office space if it was possible with the same team?

I would kill for that. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, because that’s just not the way it is — I would never have found Rok and Jan in Slovenia if I were limited in that way, and they’re some of my best friends in the world now, so I’m not regretful or anything.

Any last advice for anyone out there working remotely, or thinking of doing so?

One of the things we did that really worked is what we call a dating period — before starting work together as cofounders, we got together for a few weeks. That allowed us to understand each other quickly, and when you go remote after that, you know who’s sitting behind the desk on the other end. You sympathize with them, empathize with their situation, and you hear the sarcasm in their voice and know that’s really just comedy and not them being a jerk.

So getting together in person first, and then meeting as regularly as makes sense is like a fast forward of the relationship building. When you go back, in several ways, you’re better for it.

We would like to give thanks to Jordan for such an insightful discussion into remote working at his company! Find him on twitter at @JordanGal!