The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Mitko's Links:


That Remote Life Podcast




Tyler Sellhorn (00:27):
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.
Tyler Sellhorn (00:46):
Today we are blessed to be learning out loud with Mitko Karshovski. For the last five years, he has been living as a digital nomad and spent a majority of that time growing an agency from a small team of six to over 25 professionals, all working 100% remote. At the end of 2020, he launched Parable, an online membership that uses detailed case studies of real world six, seven, and eight-figure location independent businesses to teach people how to build an online business of their own that allows them to live life on their own terms. Mitko is also the host of That Remote Life, one of the fastest-growing podcasts in its category, where he interviews entrepreneurs and thought leaders on the topics of business, remote work, global citizenship, economics, tech, and much more.
Tyler Sellhorn (01:27):
Welcome, Mitko. Tell us what problems are you trying to solve with Parable?
Mitko Karshovski (01:31):
Hey, Tyler, thanks so much for having me on. I'm super stoked to be here and to talk with you. But yeah, like you mentioned a little bit in the intro there, essentially Parable is a membership community inside of which we publish case studies of real online businesses. And the reason why I think that's so important is that even though to you and I, both of us have been in the remote world for quite a few years, you know the online business, work remotely, work from anywhere kind of thing is almost what we know. Like I've been doing it for like five, six years at this point. I'm 28. Basically my entire working career has been in remote. That's not the case for most people. And a lot of people forget that remote is still very much the wild, wild west of work. That online business is still very much the wild, wild west.
Mitko Karshovski (02:22):
What we do inside our Parable is that while there are lots of courses that will help teach you how to do a lot of different specific things, it can be really difficult to understand where do you actually apply those skills that you've learned? How do all those things fit into a bigger picture of running a business? And case studies have been used by business schools for years and decades to essentially teach people who want to run a business, who wants to work within a business, how to do exactly that. How do you solve problems that will come up in your business career and essentially provide with a chance to practice those solutions? And nothing like this exists at the moment, at least at this scale for online businesses. And so that was the entire idea behind Parable. Was, "Hey, why don't we give people who are interested in how to run and operate an online business, how to start an online business? Let's give them the closest thing possible to practicing that in the real world without actually building a business."
Mitko Karshovski (03:23):
Yeah, that's kind of the entire idea. It's like, hey, we give you a behind-the-scenes look at exactly how these businesses are built and what makes them tick so you can do it yourself.
Tyler Sellhorn (03:31):
Awesome. So pleased to be talking with another early adopter of remote work, teaching others how to do it well. Do you have a favorite case study that you can share with us from Parable that you're thinking, "You know what, when I think about we work remotely as audience of remote job seekers and hiring managers that okay, yes, this is the one that would really make sense to share with these folks say, 'Yeah, you can do this. This is an effective way to run a business. In fact, you can have a location independent business that exists in the real world. Here's our case study.'" What's a favorite of those stories that you'd want share?
Mitko Karshovski (04:08):
One of the ones that springs to mind right away is a friend of mine by the name of Mitch Lowe, who has a really great agency. And what I really like about his business is that he was able to build it very quickly. It took him less than 12 months to scale that company up to six figures, which is pretty impressive when you think about how long it normally takes to do that. And the reason why he was able to do that, after analyzing the case study and looking at how he actually did that, that I think also carries a very important lesson. Is that Mitch, when he was building this agency, and even before that, he really focused on who he was serving and not how he was serving them. Because one of the things that I've seen over and over again in patterns of speaking with a lot of entrepreneurs, you mentioned having that remote life. Even before launching Parable, I've been talking with entrepreneurs. We have over 120 interviews at this point.
Mitko Karshovski (05:04):
And the pattern that I'm noticing is that a lot of people focus on what they do. What is your startup idea? That's the sexy thing to talk about. Is like, "Oh, well, here's this tech that we're building," or whatever it is. But I think people need to focus way more on who they're serving and then essentially make that the core of what they do. And the reason why is because... I mean, you know this. Like when you start a business, it might change as you learn more. It will likely change. The service offering, the product you offer, whatever it is, will evolve the more that you learn. The thing is that if you nail down who you work with, even if that product or service changes over time, you're never starting from zero because you're serving the same core audience that has... you've already established trust with those people.
Mitko Karshovski (05:54):
And so the business can change. You can go from an agency to some sort of software, for example, but you're always serving the same people. And so you're never starting from zero. And that's exactly why Mitch was able to scale his agency so quickly. Was because the people he was serving were people had already established trust with through previous businesses or even when he was working with other agencies. And so I think that's one of those really important lessons that now looking at the patterns of seeing what a lot of other people have done and what has allowed people to either do it easier than most, or more quickly than most, that seems to be a pattern that is very apparent.
Tyler Sellhorn (06:34):
Yeah, I think that is a common thread throughout business right now, but especially inside of the future of work, remote working community is to say, "Okay, let's start with an audience, let's start with connecting with others." I think that's even a through-line to remote working generally. I often quote Darren Murph and his phrase that remote work is a forcing function for intentionality to say, "Okay, this is the type of customer. This is the type of community. These are the types of people that I want to connect with." The internet is lowering the barriers for people to connect with like-minded individuals, divorced from geography, unconnected to like where we are in the world.
Tyler Sellhorn (07:20):
Just like you and I, there was a time in which we would have had to meet up in Cincinnati to be able to connect as business partners. But now through the power of the internet, you're in Bulgaria, I'm in Fort Wayne, Indiana and we're talking about things that we both care about. That is a unique and special thing of 2021. What are we doing now that's different than before? That's really cool to hear. A shout out, Mitch, to you being able to build a business on that idea
Tyler Sellhorn (07:50):
One of the things I wanted to pull out from that conversation about Mitch and his business. What are you seeing... You mentioned patterns. You mentioned the audience first kind of pattern. You mentioned the who is he serving? Not what is he serving them kind of idea. When you think about building businesses in the internet, what is it that makes that the thing that is most powerful, is the person-to-person connection. Because we hear so often in remote work that it's lonely, it's disconnected. What is it about Mitch or yourself or others that you've studied that makes it so that they have a relationship with their customer or with their business partners that are stickier, that doesn't feel as disconnected.
Mitko Karshovski (08:34):
That's a really great question. I think there's several things there. One of the things that immediately comes to mind when I'm thinking about this is... This is one of those things that I've been throwing around recently, it's that going to the office when you were working and you were going to an office and taking a commute and all that kind of stuff, you were essentially living to work. Think about the sort of life you lived. You lived in a city because it was close to the office and you drove there. Everything that built your life was based around your work. And what remote work does is it actually flips that equation. Remote work allows you to work to live. You mentioned I'm in Bulgaria. It doesn't matter where my business exists. I mean, my business is entirely virtual, but if there was a physical location, I don't need to be there.
Mitko Karshovski (09:21):
And so I think that that's a really important thing to understand, and also bringing asynchronous communication into this has also been really important because I find that people who do say that working remotely is lonely or that they get burnt out or anything like that or maybe it's not as productive. To me, that's a sign of you haven't... Maybe not you, but maybe it's a combination of you or the company or the team manager or whatever it is, you haven't quite figured out yet how to make this work for you and that just takes time. I mean, every team has to go through a little bit of a growing pain where it comes down to work remotely and figuring out how do these puzzle pieces come together. But when you do figure it out, that's when, like you said, it becomes sticky because then you're like oh wait, you're telling me that I'm most productive from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM. And then I have this like low for about two hours and I don't need to be in the office. I can go to the beach and then come back having become re-energized and get some more work done." Like when you figure that out and you figure out exactly how to do that for yourself, it becomes very, very sticky.
Tyler Sellhorn (10:37):
Yeah. Another idea that I want to go deeper on with you right there is the shifting from not only location independent work, but also time independent work. You mentioned adapting your workday to your personal rhythms and not the rhythm of a commute. That we're not building our life around going to the office. Instead, we're building our work around like how we know and based upon our own individual patterns of how we're most productive. Can you tell us some stories of how that's worked out for you? Like when you shifted from not only location independent work, but also time independent work, what was that like for you? What was those aha moments for you?
Mitko Karshovski (11:25):
I mean, first of all, it takes time. Like I said, I remember the first year or two, I didn't get it right away. I wasn't able to figure it out for myself right away. And you need to create room for yourself to experiment. And then one of the things is try to keep a journal and see when do you feel the most productive? When do you not feel productive? In terms of like if you look at the day. Like today I felt productive. Two days ago I really didn't feel productive. And like why? What happened on those days that made you feel that way. And then when we review that, try to optimize that for the things that made you feel productive. Did you work in the morning? Did you one day not work in the morning, worked in the evening? Whatever it may be, try to analyze that for yourself and eventually you're going to kind of come upon the pattern that allows you to do that.
Mitko Karshovski (12:14):
I think it's really important, like you were saying, not just shifting from a location independence style of work, but moving towards a time independent style of work. The two things that I've found in my experience and also from speaking with a lot of people who have run remote teams or built remote companies, it really comes down to two things. And that's empowering asynchronous communication. And then the other thing is having a very robust set of SOPs or standard operating procedures.
Mitko Karshovski (12:46):
Asynchronous communication is really, really important because it just helps with organizing the communication within your team in a way that it's not relying on somebody being up and being able to answer questions right away. And I think that that's why it ties in so well with having some sort of index or SOPs. Is that when you're able to figure out something through that conversation, it's really good to record that in an organized manner so that if that question comes up again, you don't need to wait for somebody to respond. You can go and check.
Mitko Karshovski (13:21):
One of the rules that we had at the agency was like, before you ask the question, check the SOP index, because if the answer is there already, then you don't need to wait for somebody to respond. If that's not available in that index, then it's really important for us to focus in on this question and get the answer and then record that answer in our SOP so that we don't have to ask that question a second time. Or if that question comes up a second time, we don't need to wait for somebody to answer it or figure out the answer. Those two things really work very well together, and that's where I find companies really hit the stride or remote teams really hit their stride. Is when they figure out not just those two things separately, but how those two things come together and allowing the team to understand how important those are and why they're married so closely. I think that's when you really hit that stride and you go from now just being location dependent, but being time independent as well.
Tyler Sellhorn (14:17):
I love the way you drew that out. You said that you didn't get it right away, right? You said that you had to experiment and that you had to get reflective. You had to look at the why's and how do we move to time independence? You have to document it. It has to live somewhere that people can reference without having to ping another person. When you're stuck inside of those synchronous workflows, you're depending on someone else to unblock you. But when we're working in a time independent way, we are relying on that person having given us good documentation, a good SOP. SOP index was your phrase. I love that idea. That's a new one for me. I like having the standard operating procedure index.
Mitko Karshovski (14:57):
Sorry, Tyler. Just a point on this. When you're talking about this, one of the things that I wanted to add in there just to be as helpful as possible, clarify things up as much as possible. Is that when you start working remotely, you become location dependent. You do the "digital nomad thing". One of the immediate things that you try to revolt against is this idea of schedules. That's what I did in that and that's why I had a lot of struggles because I was like, "Now I'm free. Nobody's telling me when to be in the office, when to leave the office. I can work whenever I want to and I'm just going to do whatever I want to." That's not how we're built as humans. And this idea of total and complete freedom and lack of schedule makes you very unproductive.
Mitko Karshovski (15:40):
So one of the things that you'll find with people who are very experienced remote workers, who've been doing this for a long time, is that yes, they have the ability to work whenever they want to, but they find a schedule. They find a rhythm. Now the power is in that you get the set that rhythm. If you work best in the evening, which is not necessarily like when an office would like you to work, working remotely allows you to work when you want to. I have developer friends of mine who for example, will pull incredibly long hours. They'll work through an entire night. They'll stay up for hours and hours and hours because they're really into the flow of whatever it is they're coding, and then they'll take a day off. They're super productive. They've found their flow. They've found their schedule that doesn't necessarily fit into an office.
Mitko Karshovski (16:25):
So one of the things, if you're new, if you're just getting started in this, don't shed the schedule, find your schedule. I think that that's really where I, from my experience, that was something that I had to learn the hard way. And I hope that people don't have to figure it out on their own, the hard way as well.
Tyler Sellhorn (16:43):
Thank you for teaching us there from your own experience, that being intentional about a schedule is more important than the rejection of schedules broadly. And maybe that is the way you are most productive. Is to kind of decide when you work best. I think that's the thing that we're finding out in this opportunity in a flexible working arrangement that you can adapt to you, you can adapt to your family or your personal situation. That is the thing that is most powerful and is enabling productivity to remain high, even in a new working arrangement. That's really, really cool.
Tyler Sellhorn (17:19):
I was attempting to transition and you gave us that nugget. So thank you very much for interrupting me. I'm curious what you think. As you have been talking to successful digital nomads or location independent workers, what is it that they communicate to an employer that would say to that employer, "I am ready for remote work. These are the things that are true of me that say, 'Yeah, please select me for your job because I'm very interested in this location independent time, independent... My own schedule, flexible working arrangement.'" How do I demonstrate that that's something that I'm ready to do well?
Mitko Karshovski (17:55):
One of the things that comes up over and over again is this idea of hiring self-starters. These are people that don't necessarily need to have somebody to like poke them and say, "Go work." These are people who are able to manage their own projects to an extent, keep themselves productive, just essentially like not get babysat. But I think this is the beginning of actually a larger topic in that I think we are beginning this transition into what I've been calling micro personal brands. We have heard this term personal brand for a few years now. You probably know somebody who you identify as like, hey, this is somebody who has a personal brand, but the future of work is headed in this direction. Because nowadays with the internet being what it is, you already most likely have a personal brand. Maybe you haven't taken possession of it.
Mitko Karshovski (18:54):
I guarantee you that if you're right now working in an office, if you're in a job, whether it's an office or not, you have a personal brand. That's what the people that you work with think of you and what your managers, people below you in that organization think that that's your personal brand. And companies that are remote first, that are looking to bring on a new person, I think they're looking for people who understand this and are able to claim and market their personal brand. We're all looking for experts to bring them on.
Mitko Karshovski (19:25):
Unfortunately, employment... Fortunately or unfortunately, really depends on how you look at it, employment is currently being squeezed from two different places. It's essentially in the middle of like a scissor movement. On one hand you have automation, that's taking away more and more jobs. We're seeing a huge rise in no-code Zapier type of automations that are allowing to essentially like a lot of work that would have taken manual labor before, it's now getting done automatically. So that's on one side.
Mitko Karshovski (19:56):
On the other hand, you are seeing a huge rise in outsourcing that is only going to increase and accelerate post COVID. Because the idea of allowing Sally who lives 30 minutes away from the office to work remotely versus somebody from the other side of the world, isn't that big. The big jump is understanding the work can be done remotely and without everybody being in the same place. Once you accept that and you get used to that, it's not very hard to go from 30 minutes to an hour away from the office to, there are eight hours by flight in the completely other continent.
Mitko Karshovski (20:31):
And so that is going to lead to this sort of middle-class employment getting squeezed from both ends. And the people who are going to win are the people who can figure out how to establish their micro personal brands and say, "Hey, I'm an expert at this and I'm the best person in this topic for your company." And so I think that that's really important. I think that that goes to that self-starter mentality because the people who are understanding this, the people who are claiming their personal brands, their micro personal brands, either through things like LinkedIn, Twitter, they're building their own websites, they're beginning to develop who they communicate with and how they communicate what they do, those are the people that remote companies want to hire.
Tyler Sellhorn (21:18):
Hey, shout out to all the other internet people on the internet doing internet things out here on these internet streets. I'm just going to say some names to you all here in the audience. As you were talking, I was thinking of Erik Torenberg's personal moat. We talked to Amanda Nielsen a few weeks back. She talked about the same idea that; how do you demonstrate that you are ready for remote work? Well, have a great LinkedIn CV. Just show people... Like even just that, just having a good profile on LinkedIn is going to give you a leg up.
Tyler Sellhorn (21:49):
Now, you mentioned Zapier. Wade Foster is in the archives of The Remote Show. I think about Web Smith from 2PM. Him talking about the barbell [inaudible 00:21:58] of things. Where we're saying, okay, the bottom of the market and the top of the market are really well served and you got to figure out how to be on that other side. And hey, welcome to the 21st century and the internet and what's happening here. There is an opportunity for all of us in this space, for those of us that are willing to be out loud with the ways that we are showing up to work.
Tyler Sellhorn (22:19):
Let's flip that around. Let's say you're a company that's looking to hire folks. How do you demonstrate to those people that have a micro personal brand, that this is a place where you can make that happen for yourself, that you can be upwardly mobile with our organization and be a part of our crew?
Mitko Karshovski (22:37):
Funny enough, the answer's kind of the same. I think the companies that everybody wants to work for are the companies that we like and respect the most. I even remember this before I got involved into the online space. I was speaking with somebody who we were talking about at the time about how these brands are really starting to communicate what they're all about. And so much of their marketing isn't necessarily focused on like, "Hey, look at our mug. And this is why our mug is the best. Look at how nicely we can hold this. It's a pretty color," whatever. And so much of them are saying like, "Hey, here's what we're all about. Here's what we're thinking. Here are our values. Here's how we treat our people. Here are the things that we're doing for our community." And I think that those are the companies that people want to work for." Companies that treat their people well, companies that really believe in what they're doing and understand where they fit into the bigger picture. I think the trick is in understanding how to communicate that, how to essentially put those ideas out there and attract the people that you want working for you.
Mitko Karshovski (23:47):
I just think there's so much about people have just become so much more personal. It's just become very personal when it comes down to picking the place that you work, because you really want to be aligned. People just really want to be aligned with the values of the company that they're joining and figuring out how to communicate that to wherever your ideal employees are, is the trick and something that you need to figure out.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:15):
Yeah. So telling that employment brand story really well is going to be a huge driver of success in those recruiting processes.
Mitko Karshovski (24:24):
But also how you do as a company, what you're hiring for. Like I was thinking about if you're somebody who wants to be a social media manager or something like that, then working for a company like Wendy's would be fantastic because of what Wendy's has done with their Twitter account. Like Wendy's or Slim Jim, those are these brands that have... And I know that these aren't remote companies, but these are brands that have done a really good job with that tool. And if you're somebody who wants to be in social media, then you want to go work for a company that is doing interesting things with whatever it is that you're doing.
Mitko Karshovski (25:00):
And so I just think it also comes down to like being good and interesting at whatever it is that you do will attract people who want to do that better. So I think that obviously the same way that we would say one of the best ways to market your product or service is have a really good product or service and focus on that, and that will do some of the marketing for you, I think the same answer is true for finding talent.
Tyler Sellhorn (25:23):
Really good. Thanks for drawing that out. Some more for us. One of the things that I've been asking everyone that's been on the podcast, especially for those 2019 remoters, the people that had been there before the pandemic. When you think about the versions of remote work that are existing or about to become, what was remote work in 2019 versus during the pandemic versus what is going to become hopefully in 2022? And this is behind us. I'm looking forward to the after times. I don't know about you, but I'm hoping that we can have this kind of a compare, contrast to those different time periods. What do you think about when you think about those different moments in time with remote work?
Mitko Karshovski (26:04):
Yeah. I mean, I think 2019 was this like yeah, remote work is fine, but it will never work at scale. It's a fad. It's something that's not necessarily going to be hugely impactful, no matter how much maybe people like you and I who have been doing it for a while, we're like, "No, no, no, no." This is the whole game. I think 2020, yes it was a great time for remote work. I know that COVID was not a good thing. It brought a lot of negativity. A lot of people were hurt. A lot of people lost their lives, but let's be honest, it really jump-started remote work. And I think some companies looked it in terms of like, "Okay, look, let's bring this on just for long enough so that we can ride this out." And I think that that was actually not a good way of looking at it. It wasn't a very long-term view of it because companies didn't necessarily put in the practices they needed in order to do this long-term.
Mitko Karshovski (27:02):
A lot of the things that I was hearing during 2020 from friends of mine who had just started working remotely during the pandemic was like, "I hate this. How can you do this? This is so hard on me. I've never worked longer hours. I'm feeling burned out." There was just this entire misunderstanding of what remote work is and how to do it correctly because I don't think many companies thought about it in the long-term view of it. In terms of like, "How do we put the systems in place to make this easy for people to do it from now on?"
Mitko Karshovski (27:35):
And I think 2021 and beyond, companies are starting to come to terms that like hey, even post COVID, I think this is how things are going to get done because it's just too favorable. I mean, we're seeing a lot of employees that are quitting their jobs because their jobs are trying to force them to go back to the office. That has been a huge trend over the last couple of months.
Mitko Karshovski (27:58):
On the flip side, so many companies realize just how beneficial remote work is for them. You don't need an office anymore. You don't need to have all those extra expenses that come along with having an office and shoveling people into this office. Not to mention that now you can find the best talent for the position from anywhere. You don't need to just look within your little 30 to 45-minute radius away from your office. Maybe the best talent is an hour and a half away. Well, guess what? You can go hire that person now because they can work remotely just like everyone else in your company. And so there is a lot of benefits to employees like everything that we've talked about, but there's also a lot of benefit also for companies and they're starting to realize that. And so now there's this real initiative of like, okay, both parties want this. We just need to figure out how to make this work long-term because we didn't necessarily do that during COVID because we just thought that it was here for a little bit.
Mitko Karshovski (28:57):
And so I think that's been sort the trend. In 2019, it was like, this isn't happening. This is just a fad. This is always going to be just like a few tiny percentage of people that do this. To then, we have to do this. So let's just duct tape something together that can hold long enough until we are out of this. And then in 2021, I really feel like people have started realizing like this is the way forward. This is just how things are going to be done from now on. And so I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens in this space over the next couple of years, because as more companies figure out how to do this long-term, it's going to become better for everyone.
Tyler Sellhorn (29:34):
I think that's a great place to conclude. There are a lot of benefits to not shoveling people into the office, as you said. Well, Mitko, thank you so much for coming and learning out loud with us here on The Remote Show.
Mitko Karshovski (29:46):
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me on.
Tyler Sellhorn (29:49):
Tyler Sellhorn (29:51):
Thanks so much again for listening to the show and be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs. But if you're looking to hire a remote worker, We Work Remotely is the fastest and 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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