Based on our history, we can see that unprecedented events have the potential to cause permanent mass changes. Remember the 9/11 attack? That attack changed the face of airport security forever. Suddenly, new transit rules were enforced and sophisticated surveillance gear became commonplace. Here is how remote startups are changing the game for everyone.
Likewise, the pandemic has forced businesses to embrace remote working. Like it or not, we have been forced into the largest work-from-home experiment possible, without any prior warning.
To be fair, many businesses had distributed teams even before COVID-19 blindsided us. In fact, according to Founders Forum’s survey of 400+ startup owners, 94% of the respondents were already working from home before the pandemic.
Nonetheless, most respondents anticipated that they’d be back to their desks within a maximum of six months. But with the pandemic showing no signs of abating in the United States and elsewhere, they’ve been forced to rethink their business plans.
While many businesses have taken to remote working like fish to water, some are struggling to come to terms with the new normal. To help them make the transition, a new breed of “remote startups” has emerged.
These startups have innovative remote work solutions that help pandemic-prep other companies. Their solutions cover a wide spectrum — from meeting schedulers to gamified learning applications. Their goal is simple: help their tribe make the paradigm shift towards a brighter, remote-friendly future. And, to make a few bucks in the process.
Remote Startups: Turning Adversity into Opportunity
Virus or no virus, our business ecosystem is ripe for remote work. It’s just that startups are better poised than enterprises to capitalize on the remote opportunity.
Startups are uniquely positioned in the business landscape. Their constraints (budget, staffing, opportunities, etc.) compel them to look for out-of-the-box solutions. A startup needs to be on the top of its game to beat the big players and remain relevant. If they don’t come to grips with new situations soon enough, they have a lot to lose.
Considering their flexible mindsets and dynamic states, startups can pivot more easily and adopt a remote culture. That’s one reason why you’ve likely seen an increase in the number of SaaS startups since the pandemic set in.
Newly-remote companies face more roadblocks than a startup will, which impacts both owners and workers.
1. Dip in Productivity
Mega brands like IBM and Google found that their productivity plummeted when they went all-remote. Yahoo, Aetna, and Best Buy reported similar trends. All of these businesses had to roll back their remote work policies and call employees back on-premises.
Upon closer inspection, I have identified a few factors that hamper productivity in remote settings:
- Less face-to-face supervision: Trust is an issue between remote cadres. Often, managers worry that their out-of-sight teams are not sincere about their working hours. They may be tempted to micromanage their teams, which adversely impacts performance and morale.
- Tons of distractions: In a Buffer survey of remote workers, 10% of respondents said they struggle to keep distractions at bay when working from home. They find it hard to focus on work in their “chilled out” space. This is a friction point for most people who fail to create dedicated workspaces for themselves.
- Out-of-sync teams: The communication gap between co-workers can throw the entire team off-track. Although there are many collaboration tools (like Slack and Trello) available, they do have a learning curve that can be hard for non-technical folks. While teams take time to get up to speed, productivity can take a beating.
- Lag in information access: Remote employees spend more time and effort locating information pertinent to their tasks. This can delay time-sensitive projects and slow down the pipeline.
2. Unhealthy Employee Morale
Happy employees are more productive, satisfied, and loyal to their companies. Sadly, remote employees are more prone to pangs of loneliness and isolation, which can pull down their morale.
The funny thing is that 59% of remote managers are least concerned about their workers’ emotional well-being, which has a cascading effect on team morale.
- Lack of team camaraderie: Remote workers often feel a sense of detachment from the rest of the team, according to a Harvard study. That’s because they have fewer opportunities to bond informally with their colleagues.
Daily huddles are mostly about work. They just don’t have the same de-stressing effect as random water cooler encounters with colleagues.
- Lower visibility: Employees in hybrid teams feel left out and mistreated, according to the Harvard report cited earlier. Being out-of-site, they feel managerial positions are out of their reach. If the scope for professional growth is limited, employee churn is inevitable.
They also complain about managers favoring in-office staff, even if they are less competent. Location disparity is a breeding ground for such negative sentiments.
- Difficulty to compartmentalize stuff: 22% of work-from-home employees struggle with unplugging, states the Buffer report. Don’t believe the hyper-real pictures of people sipping piña coladas on a beach next to a laptop.
Remote work is not one long vacation. In fact, extended hours due to lack of discipline can play havoc with their personal lives. This is especially true for people who fail to draw clear lines between work and home.
3. Technical Challenges
Teams in different locations rely heavily on tools and technology to make their working seamless and easy. They need to use software for team communication, project management, training, and reporting.
Employees, as well as managers, need to be trained to use these new technologies. This way, all of the above fears about employee productivity, engagement, and focus can be assuaged to a great degree.
However, 38% of remote workers claim to have received no special training from their managers to help them get acquainted with these tools, according to the Owl Labs research stated earlier.
Thrust into a dark space with no light to guide them, employees often stumble. They are unable to give their 100% to work.
There have been instances where companies have lost business due to poor client communication. Being technologically challenged, they were unable to revamp their communication strategies. Had they transitioned from pushing files to email workflows, the scenario would probably be very different.
Huge problems are huge opportunities in disguise.
Just like the SARS outbreak, which drove innovation and research in diagnostics and health, the current pandemic is also producing many heroes.
For remote startups, all of the above glitches have acted as catalysts of change. Let’s see how.
How Are Remote Startups Transforming Businesses? 4 Use Cases
Remote startups have a great ideology. They develop state-of-the-art solutions to help companies get used to remote working. By doing so, they help mitigate the aftermath of the pandemic and make the business world a better place.
Among the current crop of remote startups, these are my top four picks:
1. Eloops – Keeping Employees Engaged
In distributed teams, employee engagement is critical. The US-based remote startup, Eloops, keeps employees “in the loop” by means of surveys, gamified learning, and virtual check-ins.
Using the platform, you can build custom apps for your employees to download. The apps offer social and engagement tools, personalized inboxes, gamified onboarding sessions, and a lot more.
To build rapport with your out-of-office teams, you can create contests, quizzes, and challenges. You also get access to effective team-building ideas and tools. In short, Eloops lets you align your internal and external teams in a fun, breezy way.
2. Plann3r: Scheduling Meetings Smartly
Meetings are an integral part of remote work. Depending on your role, you might need to schedule and attend meetings with your teams, prospects, and clients.
Plann3r, a remote startup from Belgium, helps you create slick-looking meeting pages in minutes. In this meeting scheduler, you can sync your calendar, import agendas from other apps, and customize your meeting interface.
You can plan your availability and highlight your “busy” slots. In short, you can achieve reasonable time management and stay on schedule.
3. Proficonf: Staying Connected in Real-Time
There are many prerequisites for hassle-free remote management. Staying connected with partners, teams, and clients is one of them. Video conferencing facilitates synchronous communication where participants can share screens, exchange files, and chat on the side.
In this space, the Ukrainian remote startup, Proficonf is doing wonders. Through this video conferencing platform, you can experience HD-level video quality, without dropped calls or data breaches.
Since the application is web-based, it’s light-weight and can work in browsers. The auto-recording feature makes your meeting highlights available at all times. This can come in handy for repetitive training sessions and sales pitches.
The solution works on adaptive telecommunication technology. In simple terms, the video quality doesn’t dip for participants with poor internet connectivity and low bandwidth.
4. Aubot: Cutting-Edge Surveillance
While you’re working from home, who is keeping an eye on your office premises? Telepresence robots can.
Fitted with dual cameras and sensors, these nifty robots stalk your office and stream their footage to your phone, tablet, or PC. This way, you can ensure the safety and operability of your office space.
I know. One remote startup that’s been taking giant strides in this domain is Aubot. Their main product, Teleport, is a telepresence robot that lets you monitor your office from any part of the world.
The robot can adjust its height and change angles to bring objects into focus. From the comfort of your home, you can control the robot using a web-controlled interface.
Such solutions take the stress out of office supervision so you can focus on more productive chores.
Where Are Remote Startups Headed?
It’s obvious that remote startups have a great present. But what about their future prospects? Is there any scope for their survival when things return to some kind of normal?
Remote work is here to stay and so are remote startups. While the future is a blank page right now, I’m confident that remote work will become the norm.
Favorable stats about remote work from the Owl Labs survey:
- 71% of people actively seek out employers who let them work remotely.
- 51% of on-site workers are keen to work from home. 24% will take a pay cut if they are allowed to keep flexible schedules.
- On average, workers with remote experience draw $100K more than those who have never held a remote job.
All of these facts are a reflection of the popularity of remote culture and its viability in the future. From the employer’s perspective, remote teams offer many advantages, including:
- Larger talent pool. Hirers can take advantage of top talent even if they are not in close proximity. Businesses that are open to expanding their team by removing geographical barriers have a better chance of finding people with the right skill sets.In fact, the above survey found that fully-distributed teams hire 33% faster than their local counterparts.
- Stronger diversity of thought. When you look outside your bubble, you can access people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. They bring varied perspectives that enrich your team.A McKinsey study found that diverse teams are 30% smarter than homogenous teams. And they are able to achieve their business goals more efficiently.
- Easier scaling. It’s easier to scale operations in remote set-ups. If you use software to help you scale up, it’s just a matter of expanding your database and letting the algorithms recalibrate the logistics. You don’t have to buy new furniture or office space to accommodate new members.
- Lower operational costs. For small businesses and startups, every penny counts. When you do away with brick-and-mortar offices, you save on rentals, equipment, and consumables.Most businesses don’t foot their remote workers’ internet bills or co-working space rents. Though the cost savings should not be your primary reason to go remote, it’s certainly a big perk.
- Better retention rates. Remote employees tend to be more satisfied with their jobs. With proper time management, they are able to strike a work-life balance. Plus, commute-free jobs mean no stress of travel, which leaves them with more free time.Nestled in their homes, they don’t bear the brunt of office politics (mostly). Overall, they are a happier lot, which is why they stay longer in their jobs.
For employers, this means lesser attrition and greater stability. Moreover, they don’t have to go through the hassle and expenditure of hiring and retaining staff again and again.
Since remote work has so many obvious advantages, it’s very likely that it will replace traditional offices altogether. And as more companies go remote, the demand for remote-friendly products will keep growing. Now you know why I said that the future of remote startups looks very bright.
What are your thoughts about remote work and startups? Share them in the comments below.
Top Image Credit: thisisengineering; pexels
Fintech Kennek raises $12.5M seed round to digitize lending
London-based fintech startup Kennek has raised $12.5 million in seed funding to expand its lending operating system.
According to an Oct. 10 tech.eu report, the round was led by HV Capital and included participation from Dutch Founders Fund, AlbionVC, FFVC, Plug & Play Ventures, and Syndicate One. Kennek offers software-as-a-service tools to help non-bank lenders streamline their operations using open banking, open finance, and payments.
The platform aims to automate time-consuming manual tasks and consolidate fragmented data to simplify lending. Xavier De Pauw, founder of Kennek said:
“Until kennek, lenders had to devote countless hours to menial operational tasks and deal with jumbled and hard-coded data – which makes every other part of lending a headache. As former lenders ourselves, we lived and breathed these frustrations, and built kennek to make them a thing of the past.”
The company said the latest funding round was oversubscribed and closed quickly despite the challenging fundraising environment. The new capital will be used to expand Kennek’s engineering team and strengthen its market position in the UK while exploring expansion into other European markets. Barbod Namini, Partner at lead investor HV Capital, commented on the investment:
“Kennek has developed an ambitious and genuinely unique proposition which we think can be the foundation of the entire alternative lending space. […] It is a complicated market and a solution that brings together all information and stakeholders onto a single platform is highly compelling for both lenders & the ecosystem as a whole.”
The fintech lending space has grown rapidly in recent years, but many lenders still rely on legacy systems and manual processes that limit efficiency and scalability. Kennek aims to leverage open banking and data integration to provide lenders with a more streamlined, automated lending experience.
The seed funding will allow the London-based startup to continue developing its platform and expanding its team to meet demand from non-bank lenders looking to digitize operations. Kennek’s focus on the UK and Europe also comes amid rising adoption of open banking and open finance in the regions.
Featured Image Credit: Photo from Kennek.io; Thank you!
Fortune 500’s race for generative AI breakthroughs
As excitement around generative AI grows, Fortune 500 companies, including Goldman Sachs, are carefully examining the possible applications of this technology. A recent survey of U.S. executives indicated that 60% believe generative AI will substantially impact their businesses in the long term. However, they anticipate a one to two-year timeframe before implementing their initial solutions. This optimism stems from the potential of generative AI to revolutionize various aspects of businesses, from enhancing customer experiences to optimizing internal processes. In the short term, companies will likely focus on pilot projects and experimentation, gradually integrating generative AI into their operations as they witness its positive influence on efficiency and profitability.
Goldman Sachs’ Cautious Approach to Implementing Generative AI
In a recent interview, Goldman Sachs CIO Marco Argenti revealed that the firm has not yet implemented any generative AI use cases. Instead, the company focuses on experimentation and setting high standards before adopting the technology. Argenti recognized the desire for outcomes in areas like developer and operational efficiency but emphasized ensuring precision before putting experimental AI use cases into production.
According to Argenti, striking the right balance between driving innovation and maintaining accuracy is crucial for successfully integrating generative AI within the firm. Goldman Sachs intends to continue exploring this emerging technology’s potential benefits and applications while diligently assessing risks to ensure it meets the company’s stringent quality standards.
One possible application for Goldman Sachs is in software development, where the company has observed a 20-40% productivity increase during its trials. The goal is for 1,000 developers to utilize generative AI tools by year’s end. However, Argenti emphasized that a well-defined expectation of return on investment is necessary before fully integrating generative AI into production.
To achieve this, the company plans to implement a systematic and strategic approach to adopting generative AI, ensuring that it complements and enhances the skills of its developers. Additionally, Goldman Sachs intends to evaluate the long-term impact of generative AI on their software development processes and the overall quality of the applications being developed.
Goldman Sachs’ approach to AI implementation goes beyond merely executing models. The firm has created a platform encompassing technical, legal, and compliance assessments to filter out improper content and keep track of all interactions. This comprehensive system ensures seamless integration of artificial intelligence in operations while adhering to regulatory standards and maintaining client confidentiality. Moreover, the platform continuously improves and adapts its algorithms, allowing Goldman Sachs to stay at the forefront of technology and offer its clients the most efficient and secure services.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Google DeepMind; Pexels; Thank you!
UK seizes web3 opportunity simplifying crypto regulations
As Web3 companies increasingly consider leaving the United States due to regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom must simplify its cryptocurrency regulations to attract these businesses. The conservative think tank Policy Exchange recently released a report detailing ten suggestions for improving Web3 regulation in the country. Among the recommendations are reducing liability for token holders in decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and encouraging the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to adopt alternative Know Your Customer (KYC) methodologies, such as digital identities and blockchain analytics tools. These suggestions aim to position the UK as a hub for Web3 innovation and attract blockchain-based businesses looking for a more conducive regulatory environment.
Streamlining Cryptocurrency Regulations for Innovation
To make it easier for emerging Web3 companies to navigate existing legal frameworks and contribute to the UK’s digital economy growth, the government must streamline cryptocurrency regulations and adopt forward-looking approaches. By making the regulatory landscape clear and straightforward, the UK can create an environment that fosters innovation, growth, and competitiveness in the global fintech industry.
The Policy Exchange report also recommends not weakening self-hosted wallets or treating proof-of-stake (PoS) services as financial services. This approach aims to protect the fundamental principles of decentralization and user autonomy while strongly emphasizing security and regulatory compliance. By doing so, the UK can nurture an environment that encourages innovation and the continued growth of blockchain technology.
Despite recent strict measures by UK authorities, such as His Majesty’s Treasury and the FCA, toward the digital assets sector, the proposed changes in the Policy Exchange report strive to make the UK a more attractive location for Web3 enterprises. By adopting these suggestions, the UK can demonstrate its commitment to fostering innovation in the rapidly evolving blockchain and cryptocurrency industries while ensuring a robust and transparent regulatory environment.
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding cryptocurrency regulations in various countries has prompted Web3 companies to explore alternative jurisdictions with more precise legal frameworks. As the United States grapples with regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom can position itself as a hub for Web3 innovation by simplifying and streamlining its cryptocurrency regulations.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jonathan Borba; Pexels; Thank you!