A Virtual Toolkit For Everyone’s Island

By Tony Conrad, CEO/Co-Founder Sphere
One of the amazing changes taking place in the tech space is companies being formed around a virtual work environment. Sphere has operated this way since inception. The four founders are based in San Francisco, Seattle & Denver. We have team members living in Vancouver, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, San Francisco, New York, and Boston. Our Advisors are based in San Francisco, Connecticut, New York, Boston and Atlanta. At first, I thought it was crazy to start a company with no geographical base. As we started Sphere, I had two main concerns about a virtual environment:
1) how do we effectively work together to create a great product/ service?
2) how do we create a culture that serves as a foundation for success?
We’ve adopted a number of tools that keep us ticking, enabling us to maintain a fluid, nimble approach to creating a great blog discovery engine. Here are some tools we couldn’t live without:

  • we use teleconferencing like crazy – Premiere Global Services
  • we use an internal blog/ wiki – WordPress
  • we use Basecamp for our ongoing UI design process
  • we use Fogbugz for bug tracking, feature priorization
  • we use IM (too much) to avoid too much phone talk
  • we use email (oddpost/ oops, I mean Yahoo! Mail Plus) for formal dialog
  • we use office space from one of our investors (True Ventures)
  • we spend as much time as possible meeting with people at their offices

The culture piece is a little less straightforward. In fact, I’ve never met three of our key team members. Here are a few obvious things to do to develop a feel for each other:

  • we make sure we talk everyday, EVERYDAY
  • we do a group call every Tuesday (Tech team) and Friday (Business Team)
  • we engage people on a series of projects before signing them on as team members
  • the founders meet physically at least once a quarter.

We’re also trying a few new things. For example, this Friday we’re holding a pizza party – each team member will receive a pizza at their homes for a group call and mini celebration of our accomplishments to date – not sure how this will work but it’s worth a try. Check back next week and I’ll share some thoughts on how it goes.