The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Harris Kenny, Founder at Intro links:




Intro Company Website


Tyler Sellhorn (00:00):
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Tyler Sellhorn (00:21):
Hello everyone. My name is Tyler Sellhorn and welcome to another episode of The Remote Show, where we discuss everything to do with remote work, with the people who know it best. Thanks so much for listening. The Remote Show is brought to you by We Work Remotely, the largest community of remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unique users per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire. Today, we are blessed to be learning out loud with Harris Kenny, founder and CEO of Intro CRM. Harris has spent over 10 years helping founders and executives grow their businesses. Now, Harris is building a tool to help businesses manage their sales relationships with a sense of calm and ease, and he's crafting the team and the tools they use at Intro CRM, with those same ideals of calm and at the center of their business.

Tyler Sellhorn (01:03):
So, Harris, welcome to The Remote Show. Tell us, what problems are you trying to solve with Intro CRM?

Harris Kenny (01:08):
Hey, Tyler, thanks for having me. This is a weird experience because I have followed We Work Remotely, the site, for a long time. My first job actually out of school was remote and this was back in 2009. It was a lot less common back then. And then I had a few office jobs in a row, and I kind of always wanted to get back to remote work. So, I've definitely been one of the, probably millions of people who have checked out your job boards over the years. So it's great to be on the show and thanks for having me.

Tyler Sellhorn (01:33):
You're welcome.

Harris Kenny (01:35):
That motivation's definitely been big for me in how we've started our business. So, what we're trying to solve is this problem of, how do you transit from a founder led sales group, or maybe a founder plus someone running operations that includes marketing and stuff like that, to a sales team? To a sales operation? That jump from essentially zero to one is really hard.

Harris Kenny (02:01):
And, it was informed by the fact that so many companies I've worked with over the years, they just didn't keep up with their sales tools, their CRMs. There was just always dozens of tasks that were overdue. And there was always this feeling of anxiety about not getting back to maybe form submissions on the website fast enough, or not getting proposals sent out fast enough after a really good discovery call. So, this is for companies that are selling to other businesses. They tend to have a longer sales cycle. Usually, there's at least one conversation required in order to close a deal. This is not like a traditional SaaS where you click start trial, add your credit card, and you're a paying customer.

Harris Kenny (02:38):
And we've been basically trying to get at this problem a few different ways. We started with building a CRM because I thought that the CR was the problem. And that was not it, apparently. I was wrong, because nobody really used our simple CRM that we built. And so we've been pivoting more into this productized service, tech-enabled service, where we're just taking these sales activities off of the founder's plate. So, if that's building new lead lists, responding to inbound leads and qualifying them, and scheduling those meetings and helping manage that pipeline. So, it's like checking in on the deals, following up with them and saying, "Hey, did you send that proposal yet," or whatever. So, that's what we're in the process of building.

Harris Kenny (03:15):
And, sales is about relationships and communications. We're, from day one, we've been remote and distributed team. And I'm really excited, because this is going to continue to be a strength for us as we go deeper into these offerings. We're working on these responses, like inbound qualifying responses. And, because we have people all over the world, we can get back to people really quickly. Whereas, if your team is just based in California, you're probably not going to be up at two in the morning, but I have a colleague who is in India, those are her normal working hours. So, we're able to get that turnaround quickly. So I'm excited. Remote was a passion of mine and just a lifestyle choice of mine. But, I'm finding that this is going to become, I think actually really strategically important for our company as we grow.

Tyler Sellhorn (03:58):
Outstanding. Let's go deep on that company formation, and company strategy. Thinking of remote working as a lifestyle, thinking of remote working as a company strategy, let's zoom back to the 2009 Harris Kenny, right? And you were lucky enough to have your first job as remote, and then draw the contrast for us. Because we're in this moment, just to timestamp this episode, we're talking to one another September of 2021 and we're in the throes of some people being told, "You're coming back to the office," and other people saying, "Well, I'm not doing that." And it sounds like you had a similar sort of situation for yourself, just individual career-wise, where it's like, "Okay. I really like that version of my life." And, tell us more about, why you're choosing remote work as a lifestyle for yourself?

Harris Kenny (04:49):
Yeah, totally. It's funny, I haven't thought about that first job in a while. I was in college at the time. And so, most of the work that I was doing was on my own time. It was in the library or in my dorm room, or I don't know, in and out or something. And so, I guess I was kind of used to that. And so when I started with what was an internship that turned into a job, it was like I just had new assignments, but there was no class. Instead of class, I would have a conference call with my boss every week or whatever, and sometimes we would travel and go on insight with our clients. And so, in that way it felt very seamless. It felt like a transition from what was the college environment, where it was kind of self ...

Harris Kenny (05:30):
In college, you sort of get out what you put into it. You can show up to class and you can sort of get Cs, right, and get the degree. But it's really up to you if you want to engage in material outside. You do, I think, have to be sort of self-guided in that way. So it, actually, to me, it felt really normal at that time. I remember not really thinking anything of it. I did have an internship. I had two internships my senior year and I went, I was driving to downtown Los Angeles, but it was only one or two days a week. And, I remember at the time just thinking like, "This is so fun, I'm in downtown LA. I feel like an adult." I don't know. It didn't even really feel like work. It just felt like I've finally kind of grown up. And that was only for a few months. And then I was back to full-time remote for three years.

Harris Kenny (06:10):
And, going back to the office was really when I left that company, it was really kind of abrupt because I just remember feeling stuck, sitting in one place. I mean, it was literally in cubicles, and I remember everyone was sort of on top of each other. And so it was really hard to, just to have your own space. I just always felt like I was not in my own space, even though I technically had my little cube and everything. And even that, I think is better than hot desks these days, where you don't even have a barrier. For me anyway, for my work style. And then I transitioned and I had some really difficult jobs, honestly. I mean, I worked in some environments where it was really, really challenging, and I don't think remote or in-person would've changed that. But I had some very negative work experiences with some people who just didn't treat other people well. And that was what motivated me to start my own business in the first place.

Harris Kenny (07:00):
And, I just remember sort of looking back on the flexibility I had when I first started working, how I could take my car into the shop if I needed to, and work out the times that worked for me. And I just missed it, I really missed that feeling of autonomy. And I work really hard. I know that people sort of associate remote work with not working, but I work really hard. I'm trying to make this a calm company so that I don't work too much, honestly. Like that's the thing I struggle with personally, but even just feeling like I have some control over my day, it helps a lot, I think for me. It helps me be more productive and effective.

Tyler Sellhorn (07:34):
Outstanding. Shout out to all the other young people who are using remote work as a way to leverage some income into their lives as interns, or new workers, in college, or as young people trying to piece together a living. Also, shout out to those of us that want to have the feeling of being grown up. Right? And feeling like, "Yeah, I came out the other side with a degree," right? That I came back with something that is for real. Right? It turns out that remote work is for real. Right? And it does give us the autonomy to be able to choose, and not be abruptly brought back to the office, as you said. Okay. So let's go deep on what it is that you're doing now. So you've chosen to build your own business. Right? And you've kind of chosen remote work as a lifestyle for you and your employees. Tell us more about those choices that you're making inside of the Intro CRM team.

Harris Kenny (08:31):
Yeah. Well, when it came to start growing the team, the company's bootstrapped at the moment, so everything is customer funded. And so when I started needing some help, when things started getting busy, we had more customers coming on board, a really obvious place to be to look for initial hiring was through Upwork, just because I had heard really good things about it. I'd not used it before. I had not been on either side of the table with Upwork before, but I mean, it really was easy to get spun up. And when I identified the task, the process that I did to find our teammates, it was kind of like gradually sort of evaluating who would be a good fit, based on quality work, and availability, and things like that.

Harris Kenny (09:12):
And we started with a larger list. I had reviewed their resumes and work experience. Then I had an exercise that was sort of simulated exercise. Then I sort of had the next round was doing client work, but I didn't end up sending it to the clients. It was just kind of like a test. And this was all paid. All the work was paid from the beginning. And, then ultimately client facing work. And I really deliberately picked people from different time zones, because I wanted to bake the need to wrestle with different time zones in from the very, very beginning. So, I literally just was seeing, "Okay, there's a lot of talent in this one part of the world. So I'm going to go specifically search for other countries in other places, to go, to try to find talent that are going to be in inconvenient time zone gaps."

Harris Kenny (09:53):
And I've talked about this in different Slack groups like Microcom and Founder Summit. And I've heard people say different things, different philosophies. The predominant thing I've tended to hear people say is that, you want to start in the same time zone and then start stretching outside of that later. So I did the opposite of that, and it has been harder in some ways, but it has also been easier because we haven't relied on real time Slack or Yak, or whatever. Someone does not have to be there right away. And so I think that it's making us better. If we can survive through to the medium term, I think it's a better way to start, but it is harder in some ways. Anyway, so that was how I did it. And in terms of finding talent and building the team, it's been a lot of fun. I mean, different people bring different perspectives and I've had people on the team say very explicitly, that they've learned from other members in the team who had overcome some personal biases that they've had, because of some life experiences.

Harris Kenny (10:43):
So I feel like it's a really cool way to build a company, and you really kind of acknowledge from the outset, "Hey, we're all coming from different places here. So we got to really be intentional about making sure we understand what the other person is saying." We don't have these surface level things that make people think you know what they mean, and they know what you mean, because it's really obvious that we have different life experiences. And so, I think that's been helpful to just sort of say it out loud, making sure that we understand what each other is saying.

Tyler Sellhorn (11:11):
I'm just going to say back some of the very important words that you've just said there. Deliberate, intention, on purpose, right? And cosigned on this, that working from a diversity of time zones is hard. Right? But you said something earlier where you were saying that is a deliberate strategy for you, to be able to achieve some of the business objectives that you are seeking to provide for your clients. Tell us more about how hiring across a diversity of time zones has been a boon for your business as well.

Harris Kenny (11:48):
Yeah. And this was not necessarily, I didn't realize this in the beginning, but we've sort of grown into this offering where, so if you're a founder-led sales organization, or if you're the head of operations and you sort, of by default, get a lot of sales stuff on your plate, that means your company has gotten to a certain point. You have a lot of stuff going on, right? You have to check in with your accountant. Maybe you're doing the books yourself. You're working on product. You are working on SEO, marketing, whatever. And so, while you would think that, "Oh, of course, anytime a new lead comes in, that's the most important thing," objectively that may not be the best use of your time because you don't know if that lead is actually a good lead or not.

Harris Kenny (12:31):
And so, you have a hard time. You have only so many hours in the day, you have so many chips that you can place bets on of like, "What am I going to do today?" And that tends to be a pain point. And so, what we've been working on is taking that initial screening off of their plate. And the benefit there is that we take the initial reply, it sinks to their CRM. So our customers can see the conversation the whole time. We're like an extension of their team. And then we say, "Hey, yeah, this really is a legit qualified lead. We'll go ahead and book the calendar." And the neat thing about how we're built is that our customers are, first of all, often global. So if they get an inquiry from around the world and we happen to have an employee over there, that person is going to get a response really quickly.

Harris Kenny (13:11):
And, when it comes to this type of inbound process, speed is really important. Because by the time that customer gets to you, they've already done probably quite a bit of research. And so they're ready to learn and to move forward in the process. And the faster you can get back to them, the better an experience they're going to have, kind of going through your sales process. And the idea of just getting back to them and then finding a time, that's one workflow. And then actually having the conversation is a whole separate set of skills and so, we're kind of un-bundling that. And so by being remote, I think we can do that in a way that's really responsive. And, we can do it in a way that doesn't require us to have a night shift or like, "I'm not checking notifications for form inquiries at two in the morning, because one of my colleagues who's working a normal time for her is just checking her computer."

Harris Kenny (13:59):
So, I think it's going to help us be in the long run, more calm, even though in the beginning, we're sort of like having to have some later or earlier meetings every once in a while, just to kind of get things stood up, or whatever. But I think in time, it's going to lead to a really good offering. It already is. I mean, we had something that came in at 4:00 AM, my time today. And if I were doing this myself or if we were all in Denver, that person wouldn't have gotten a response for four or five hours.

Tyler Sellhorn (14:26):
Yeah. We are living in a global economy. Right? And if we're going to distribute our services and products globally, probably all not to be served by a global company, and you're doing it at your size of business. And I think, we hear it We Work Remotely obviously have a very strong opinion about that, but thank you for sharing your experience of that. Okay. So you were doing some analogizing there in your last response. And so, that gives me a cheap segue into one of my very favorite questions for guests on The Remote Show. Is, do you have a favorite metaphor for remote working, or a framework or a mental idea of how remote work has been your experience? Obviously, listeners to The Remote Show know that I'm a huge fan of nautical analogies. I'm a sailor growing up, but Harris, we're wondering, do you have a favorite metaphor for remote work?

Harris Kenny (15:25):
Yeah. I like to think that remote work is like playing a game of telephone, where you have a message between people, but regular work is like that, too. Right? You have a message between people that you need to transmit. I think where remote work is different though, is that when you're working remotely, you know that you're playing that game. Whereas when you're working in the office, there's a lot of assumptions. So let's just say, there's like a new policy change and you say, "Hey, we had a meeting. So we talk talked about it in the meeting. I told everybody, this policy should be effective now. Everybody should know how it is." And then, when it's not followed or people don't adapt or update to it, it's like, "What the heck? We had a meeting. You're in trouble now." Right? Because you didn't listen or whatever.

Harris Kenny (16:05):
And with remote work, we know we're playing that game. We know people are in different time zones. We know people have different work schedules. So, you can use different mediums to communicate, whether that's like having a culture of documentation where you make sure it's in an employee handbook or a process document, putting it in a project management tool, or relying on multimedia ways of communicating, like with Yak. We've been using Yak, because you can talk back and forth to the person, and you get the benefit to the transcription. So someone can sort of skim it and catch up. And when you know that you're playing that game, you're going to be more deliberate about making sure that people actually understand. Because what I've seen in the office environment is, once people realize they're playing this game of telephone and they have the meeting, then they shift to like CYA culture.

Harris Kenny (16:49):
Well then they just blast out a memo like, "Okay, I had the meeting, I sent the email. Now I have documentation. So if you don't follow it, I can get you in trouble with HR." Like, "I've done my job as sort of a legalistic supervisor." Where with remote, I find that the companies tend to be a little bit more empathetic, and it tends to be a little bit more focused on like, "Hey, did that make sense? Can you just roll with that?" Because, if it didn't make sense, this could take us like several days to iron this out. So let me make sure that I communicate it the right way, depending on time zones.

Tyler Sellhorn (17:19):
Okay. What I'm hearing you say is that remote ends up causing us to be more explicit with our communication. And that sometimes, in-person is more implicit, right? There's so much body language. And one of my jokes recently is to say that monkey brains be primating, right? So it's like, we depend on sometimes the face saying the things, to do things, but that isn't necessarily true, that we always got the communication clearly. It's not documented always, inside of an in-person team, and that remote ends up forcing some of that documentation. That in-person oftentimes leaves us assuming things are understood, and we really should have it written down. We really should have it recorded. We really should have it be in that remote first, digital first version of things, so that it can persist past the meeting. Right?

Harris Kenny (18:17):

Tyler Sellhorn (18:18):
I think that's really, really important. Okay. One of my very favorite questions to be asking people right now, is to be reflecting on the different state ages of where remote work has been. Right? I mean, you started working remotely in 2009, right? Shout out to the 2019 remoters. I was very fortunate to join that cohort at the very end of things in 2019. But then we've also got this version that we're experiencing right now, that's still dealing with the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Right? And then there's also this next version that might be available to us. And, we've talked about lifestyle things, and what do you think about those different periods of time and what those meant for you, as it relates to remote work?

Harris Kenny (19:02):
Yeah. Well, I'll say the pandemic period, I've been very fortunate. I think that we're doing some cool things. And so, we've been able to grow a business that I think is solving problems, and so sort of financially, we've been very fortunate. From a health perspective, we've been very fortunate. But it's been a very difficult time for a lot of reasons. And, I don't think that what remote work looks like over the last two years is what it's going to look like five years from now, for a couple of reasons. One, I mean, just the environment is stressful. What's going on around in the outside world is really hard. And, a pandemic, I think is unique. Pandemic, war, there's certain types of things that are sort of uniquely stressful, versus maybe day to day things.

Harris Kenny (19:46):
But the other thing is that I think that this migration into new tool sets is forcing all of these new products to come in line, that are going to make this easier over time. And these products are going to get better, and the product managers are going to come up with the great new features that make things connect and integrate. And so, just like the tools that we have available are going to get better, and better, and better. And so just, if nothing else, hopefully that global environment will simmer a little bit and then maybe that's wishful thinking. But if nothing else, the tools are going to get better. And I think when the tools get better, and the culture gets better, and more people get comfortable with remote work, hopefully that's going to create a forcing function. I mean, obviously there's a lot of jobs where you have to show up for work. Manufacturing jobs, if you're in shipping, transportation, logistics, food prep. There's obviously, always going to be millions and millions of jobs that are in person.

Harris Kenny (20:41):
But the question is, what's the best use of people's time? And for people who don't have to be there, is there a way that they can do more, or be happier and do the same amount of work in different ways? And so, I think it's going to get better. I'm sort of an optimist, I guess. So I'd probably say that about most things, but I think it's been a particularly hard time and I think it's going to get better. Everyone's kind of just been in a little bit of survival mode, a little bit. And some parts of the world right now, it's really, really hard still. So yeah, I think it's going to get better for sure in the years to come.

Tyler Sellhorn (21:13):
Well, shout out to the other optimists that believe that we're going to survive. You mentioned in your reply there, that you think the tools are getting better. We've been talking about how you are centering a sense of calm and a sense of ease into the center of your organization. How do you think about selecting tools that promote those ideals inside of your company?

Harris Kenny (21:41):
There's a few different ways that I think about it. I mean, the one is the companies that walk the walk, that really use their own product in ... I think that, that's a really helpful indicator of someone who's going to understand the types of problems that we have. And so we've tried big company tools. I've worked with a lot of independent and smaller company tools, and some venture bank startups and bootstrap companies, and just kind of getting a feel for, what is the company like behind the product, and how do they work, and do they really walk that walk?

Harris Kenny (22:12):
A really obvious example of that to me was with Yak. Getting spun up with Yak, it was really obvious that the team was on there. And sending messages back and forth, and doing the onboarding through the product itself, helped me jump in right away and sort of see, here's the mechanics of this. Here's how this works. And that was really neat, because I think it was really important to just immediately get a sense of how the product fits in, and that the people themselves use it. So I think that's one thing, and a culture of the companies themselves is one thing.

Tyler Sellhorn (22:40):
And shout out to other companies that use their own product, to encourage others to use their product.

Harris Kenny (22:46):
Yes, yes. It's very meta, but it works. It works. And so, that's one thing. Does the company walk the walk? Do they understand this problem? Or do the people who work on it not really understand this problem? The other thing is stepping away and asking like, "What's the job to be done here? What am I hiring this tool for?" And, making sure I'm picking the right tool for the right problem. I like to try to consolidate and have as few things to check as possible, but you so recognize that sometimes there's just like a new use case, a new workflow that you require. And so, being really deliberate about adding new things to our stack and knowing that, okay, if we're going to add it, I really have to have a specific problem that we're solving by adding this tool in the first place.

Harris Kenny (23:23):
I ask for feedback from the team. I try not to be too top down about it. I say, "Hey, is this working?" I try not to get too much emotional ownership of a tool that I've picked, that I think is neat. If I see that people aren't using it, I'm like, "Okay, maybe I was wrong about this." And because it's remote, it's really hard to make people do things if it's these sort of smaller things. It's obvious when there's important customer facing work, people understand, "Yeah, this is important." But if I'm like, "Hey, I got this tool so we could chat for fun," and people don't chat, then obviously it's not fun or something. So I rely on feedback from the team. That's a big one.

Harris Kenny (24:02):
And then just trying new things. I think about it all the time. Every day, I'm thinking about the tools that we're using, and how they affect our work culture. I worked for a company where, there's a senior executive at the company who used chat in a way that they would basically, really negatively, they would humiliate employees. And they would, in sort of very large group channels. And there was just sort to this feeling of anxiety sometimes when that executive would use, and the chat wasn't the problem, but that would just happen to be their tool of choice. And I remember really seeing that and seeing how these tools can be used for ill. And so, I spend a lot of time thinking about what is seemingly a value neutral thing, seemingly a value neutral software product can actually be used in ways that are really harmful. So I spend, I guess that's the fourth thing. I just spend a lot of time thinking about it.

Tyler Sellhorn (24:50):
Well, plus one to being invitational, and being intentional about the things that we use to do our work. Very nice to hear you say that. One of the things that I'm curious to hear from you, especially as someone who has been in an office and not in an office, and now building your own company, as a remote first remote only type of organization. When you think about candidates that are being hired, one of the primary audiences of The Remote Show is remote job seekers. Weworkremotely.com, right? So we're curious, what would you say are the things that say, "Okay, this person is ready to be successful at my company."

Harris Kenny (25:35):
Hmm. Well, so far we've tended to do, we've done our sourcing or hiring through Upwork. And so when you sort of opt into a platform like that, it's saying a lot of things about you. And I think the same thing is true for We Work Remotely. I think any applicant that's going to apply through a We Work Remotely, there's sort of like a dozen things that are probably true about that person. Just the fact that they are on the site at all, that they applied for a job through it. And so I think, that's part of it, is demonstrating comfort with that type of work, and independence, and a willingness to be explicit and be patient in maybe having to explain and reexplain something, just to make sure that it's heard.

Harris Kenny (26:16):
Again, I just think in an office environment, it's not that they don't have the need. I just think it's just assumed that people heard it the first time a lot of times, whereas, in remote, especially, if you're relying on text only, sometimes you just don't catch the meaning. And that's why I think multimedia plus remote is kind of the killer combo, improving the fidelity or quality of conversation. But yeah, so demonstrating that you have comfort working in that way, whether that's a full-time job. But you don't need to have a remote job to then get one, in my opinion. I think if you have a project or are involved in a community that is remote or just have something that's just independent, I think is the biggest thing, is I just don't have time. We don't have time to babysit people on tasks.

Harris Kenny (26:59):
And, we had someone on the team who wanted that. They really wanted follow up on all of their tasks. And we ultimately said, "Look, I don't think we're going to be able to support you in the way that you want." So, they're not with the team anymore. It was mutually agreed upon, but it was just like, "I don't have time for that. We don't have time for that. And even if I wanted to, I literally couldn't be available because I would have to be up at all these random hours, or you would have to be up at all these random hours, and that doesn't work." And so, they were like, "Yeah, okay, maybe this doesn't work." And, so it was okay, it was amicable for sure.

Harris Kenny (27:31):
So yeah, going through platforms and channels, demonstrated independence and understanding of it. And ultimately, we hire for competence. And I think because we're hiring globally, it's just like, "Hey, can you do this job?" That's the most important thing. We don't rely on like, "Oh, you went to my university," or, "You're friends with my neighbor." It's, we have very competitive sourcing because we can work from anywhere. All you need is an internet connection and you can work with us. I think that's the most important thing, is that you know how to do the work.

Tyler Sellhorn (27:59):
Well, outstanding. Shout out, and blessings and encouragement to all those seeking remote work, and those that are hiring. You've given us a lot of nuggets today, just thinking about how to center a sense of calm and ease in your company, as you demonstrate that we're not just doing this thing as a follow-on to the pandemic, but we're really doing it from a perspective that this is on purpose. And, we are going to communicate that directly with the things that we say, and the actions that we choose. So, thank you very much for sharing your learning today, Harris.

Harris Kenny (28:36):
Yeah. Thanks for having me. Love the show, love the site. This is just a really cool thing for me. So yeah, happy to be a fanboy and I really appreciate your time.

Tyler Sellhorn (28:43):
Shout out to all the other fan persons out there in the audience. Blessings.

Tyler Sellhorn (28:51):
Thanks so much again for listening to the show and be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs. And, if you're looking to hire a remote worker, We Work Remotely is the fastest, easiest way to do so. As always, if you have someone we should talk to, any advice you have, or if you'd like to advertise on the podcast, please reach out to us at [email protected]. That's [email protected]. Thanks so much for listening, and we'll talk to you next time.

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