How to manage remote teams

December 3, 2020

We started Slidebean as a SaaS company. And SaaS is great: big margins, automation, software! It's what investors love, and it's the story of every other successful tech company out there. 

But it turned out customers started coming to us, not only for Slidebean AI, but for our design, our expertise in the pitch deck building, thinking of us as a design agency more than a SaaS tool. And we hated it. We turned them down for months, for years! We pointed them to our SaaS product, which was a terrible idea, and it took us years to realize how wrong that approach was. 

In our minds, why would someone pay hundreds of dollars for a designed presentation that takes days to deliver instead of tens of dollars for a system that can do it for them? 

The problem is, some people want the self-service option, and some people want the expert. They want customer service; they want a turn-key product rather than a DIY. 

Changing consumer behavior is extremely hard, so instead of trying to do that, we adapted to the customer's needs. 

The problem for us is that scaling this turn-key product requires humans. And managing humans takes time. We are going to go over the hacks that we did to scale our staff while maintaining productivity levels. 

Do things that don't scale

To me, the key to managing time as a CEO has been learning to delegate; and the easiest way to delegate is by assigning tasks that you know how to do, and therefore can balance expectations and timeframes with your own standard. 

I made a whole video about the evolution of my tasks as CEO as the company has grown. Check it out if you want more details.

- Recommended:  Managing time as a CEO

In the early company stages, we did a bunch of unscalable things for growth. We talked to each one of our customers, offered demos for the app, got on the phone with trials! That would have made our product unsustainable if we kept doing it at scale, but we did it long enough so that we could deeply understand customer behavior and needs, until we could find a more efficient way to do it. 

When we decided to take this Slidebean Agency experiment, there was nothing scalable about it. I handled sales calls, sent quotes, wrote pitch decks and only delegated the design part. 

The first tool we used for this was Monday.com which worked well. We could set a project status, I could transfer project ownership to the design team whenever the writing portion of the process was ready, and monitor what happened to the project afterward. 

For a time, it was good. 

Scaling 

The first scale of this new product/service was sales. Our Chief Revenue Officer began lending a hand with sales calls, which doubled our revenue in a matter of a couple of months. 

Derek is a great salesman, but beyond that, having the CEO doing the selling and quoting wasn't sending a great signal. Again, it was key to my understanding of the process, but had to be delegated sooner rather than late. 

We started using a CRM to track deal flow and closing rates, and once the project was closed, that's where it landed in my lap. 

The next step was hiring a team to aid with the writing. While all of these projects still expected my involvement, I started to need help to manage revisions and follow-ups with customers. 

We hired Fred, who was a rockstar business analyst, and he started. slowly but surely taking over parts of the project management. 

Finally, as the pipeline scaled, we expanded our team of designers to be able to manage the extra projects; and this is where things get more complex. 

In a matter of weeks, we went from 2 to 6 people involved in delivering a deck to a client, and our old system became unsustainable. You would think that more people equals more productivity, and in theory, yes, but more people also implies managing and distributing tasks, making sure tasks get delivered on time, and especially, managing the bridge or the delegation between one player, and the next.  

I love and hate when this happens. I love it because these are the company moments where your job as a CEO really makes a difference, in everything. You are supposed to make people more efficient, to maximize profit margins, and to keep the customers happy (by increasing the quality of your product, of course). 

These are the times when you can prove your worth. So here's some of the stuff we did.

Automation

We decided to switch from Monday.com to ClickUp. This allowed us to connect our CRM to our project management tool. 

Whenever a project was closed by the sales team, or when a website checkout happened, we had a project automatically created in ClickUp. We automatically assigned that project to the account manager. 

ClickUp also has a really powerful deadline and task list functionality. Every project comes with a deadline, and we can monitor when that task is due. Home and Inbox quickly became my main task list, a place where I can see what tasks I have due for the day or the rest of the week. 

Another critical piece of the puzzle here was sub-tasks. As the projects we managed became more complex, we started needing to assign sub-tasks under the same project, from reviewing content to running financial projections. These are all hosted under the original project but have their own assigned team members, their own deadlines, and their own comment sections. 

ClickUp was really the first tool that we came across, where we could host all of these things in the same place, and other teams in the company quickly adopted it as well. 

Image contains a person using a laptop

Company Efficiency

Company efficiency is quite literally, ensuring deliverables are aligned. Knowing how much each project will take each team and making sure they all finish around the same time. 

What you don't want is, say, your dev team finishing a new product feature and finding out that marketing isn't ready to launch it yet. For an early-stage company, a couple of days can make a tremendous difference. 

We now use a similar system to manage the pipeline in these Youtube videos. Elena, who is our head of production, creates a project skeleton that accounts for about a week for screenwriting, about two weeks for editing and post, and a couple of extra days to prepare the Youtube Premiere. 

Just like with Agency, this Youtube marketing experiment was super lean at first. When we started, I managed the editing, the post, the SEO, and the thumbnail design for all our videos. Thumbnails are SOOO important. 

My involvement in this pipeline has shifted to just defining topics, writing the scripts that require my expertise, reading the off that teleprompter, and finally, our Discord Q&A after each video is released. 

The transition to delegating all of this stuff doesn't happen overnight, but a visual aid helps a lot, and ClickUp provided us with that. 

Since we have a production team of 5+ people now, a Gantt diagram works wonders to understand who assigned tasks and whose deliverables are critical to keeping the project on schedule. 

I'm a big fan of a game called Civilization, which is the gamified version of that same puzzle- my girlfriend has a hard time believing how I consider playing Civ 'leisure time'. 

____

Anyway, this is the 100% real story of how I evolved my task delegation and management over the past few years. 

Coincidentally,... well, not really. Thanks to our rockstar Youtube team, we also managed to get ClickUp to sponsor the video above; which is fun because we would have talked about how we ditched Monday for ClickUp anyway... but killing two birds with one stone is always best. Don't tell them I said that. 

Like I said, we love ClickUp, and we've been using it for almost two years now. We've migrated our design project management, our bug/feature request tracking, our marketing campaign pipelines, and even our development pipeline (from Pivotal Tracker). 

We use Zapier to connect ClickUp to Slack, to Hubspot and to our checkout system, so that every task that requires action from the team ends up running through ClickUp. 

You can try ClickUp for free by using this link, and if you’re interested in purchasing a plan, you can get 30% off on the Unlimited Plan, or 15% off on the Business Plan.

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Caya
CEO at Slidebean/FounderHub. TEDx Speaker. 500 Startups Alum. 40-under-40.
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