COREY GRUSDEN is the CTO of SoFetch.io, a company that designed and built a Slack plugin for stand up meetings called Standup Bot. We talk – from the train – about what it takes to work remotely, advice for those just starting out, and the importance of having a solid, well-rounded plan.
Please note: Corey is calling from the train. Most of the interview quality is good, but there are a few bits where he cuts out. This highlights the benefits and realities of working on the go!
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Great, and we’re live. So welcome everybody to this remote interview. My name is Lisette, and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. And today on the line, en route from Virginia, on the way to D.C., and then eventually to end up in [inaudible – 00:15], I have Corey Grusden. So, Corey, welcome from the train.
Corey: Hello, thank you for having me.
Lisette: Let’s start with what does your virtual office look like. What do you need to get your work done?
Corey: Currently, it looks like a train. Basically, anywhere that I can sit down, preferably in a quiet space. I don’t have an office. I don’t have office space anywhere. So I do have my cell phone, my laptop, and one of these MiFi things from AT&T. If I get stuck somewhere that doesn’t have Wi-Fi, at least I know I can log in and do emails or write code, which is our main business. [inaudible – 01:03] too much bandwidth.
Lisette: And is that what you’re using to connect now?
Corey: Actually, it is. It is lightweight, which is good.
Lisette: Yeah, the connection is very decent for being on a train. I have spent a lot of time on trains, and the Wi-Fi is never good. I’ll tell you that. So kudos for having your own mobile router, awesome.
You’re the CTO of a company called SoFetch.io. Tell us a little bit about what SoFetch does. And we’re going to get into then your Standup Bot, which is how I learned about you. So let’s talk about your company first and what you guys do because I see on the Internet. It says you’re a software entrepreneur who knows how to build ideas that make money. So what’s that all about?
Corey: Yes, not limited to building ideas that just make money. I’ve been programming for a very long time, probably 23 years. And then over that past 8-9 years, just been working [inaudible – 02:12] remotely, simply because it’s technology. There’s absolutely no reason to be in office. I could be somewhere else and helping a company or a person. There’s some organization ten miles away or thousand miles away, which has been very nice and just kind of sticking to that. SoFetch is built around that principle of we don’t go on site at all. We do everything remotely. We’re 100 percent remote, based in the United States. And the beautiful thing about that is traditional consulting companies, you’re constantly doing service-based work. So you have to find a customer, figure out what it is they need, [inaudible – 02:57] done. So you have to build all these processes that make you more efficient. This way you’re not losing money. And you’re delivering a product that the customer sees a lot of value in for that money. While working remotely, the some processes, you have to take to the next level. And because you’re all remote, so the communication and collaboration, you have all the space between you, physical space. So your processes have to be even more efficient, even more clear. And that’s what SoFetch is. We pride ourselves on knowing that we can get pretty much anything done when we say we’re going to have it done.
Lisette: So what attracted you to remote working to begin with? What was your first step into that world?
Corey: The first step was I got into doing triathlons, and that takes a lot of time out of the week or out of the day really, six days a week to be training. And I remember the last job that I had, I would wake up [inaudible – 04:09] 7:30 a.m. I would be in there before anybody else. As a developer, that’s quite early. And then I would do three, four hours with the work, clock out for two hours, which I’ve got a massive amount of work done in the morning because I knew I would clock out for at least two hours to go ride a bike for whatever, 50 miles, 40 miles, or go to the pool for an hour and a half to swim, which was right across the street from the office, by the way.
Corey: Yeah, very convenient. And then I would come back and I would finish out my day. Well, that didn’t work in that traditional business model [inaudible – 04:47] that doesn’t make sense. You have an hour for lunch. And I came over the top and said, “Well, that doesn’t make sense because I’m getting things done.” And at that moment in time, I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to do this myself.” So I left that position literally that day after that conversation [in an – 05:06] office, fired myself. And immediately, at the time, Craigslist was around, just started becoming [a thing – 05:15] and started looking for positions. I was like, “What am I good at? Oh, PHP. Okay, let me go find PHP jobs.” And it was just really nice because then I could build my own schedule, and I was able to go train. And eventually, I was like, “Oh, I need to go to [this race – 05:35].” And now I don’t need to tell anybody [inaudible – 05:38]. And [inaudible] paying me. They didn’t know that I was down in Miami for six hours or for three days for doing a race because I got everything done. So I’ve just stuck with that all the way through to today.
Lisette: Most people take a lot of time to deliberate whether they should quit their jobs or not. Was it hard? And I should preface. As a developer, you have a lot of options. So that’s not lucky. That’s a very good skill to have if you’re going to go out on your own. There are other skills that may not have it so easy. But was it hard to find extra work?
Corey: Yes. I think at the time, it’s actually probably harder now than it was then to find work, simply because there’s so much noise now and so many more tools and so many more things to go find remote work. I remember being [able to – 06:45] sit down and literally email people on Craigslist. And an hour or two after the initial email, they would get back to me and I’d be on the phone talking about their project. Now there are a lot of companies doing remote work. Corporations are starting to do more remote type of work. So that’s kind of where we want to… We’re already in a position to say, “Hey, we’re already used to being remote [inaudible – 07:16] and add us to your team or your organization very quickly, almost next day, really.” And we’re able to hit the ground running and start building this software. Like I said, now there are other services out there. There’s Hired. There’s…
Corey: [crosstalk – 07:38] is one of them.
Lisette: Yeah, Freelancer, Guru, there’s a lot.
Corey: So people asked me, “Hey, [connection problem – 08:23] quitting my job and working remotely.” And usually, I’m not [inaudible – 08:27], but now that I’ve been operating on [inaudible – 08:32] for quite some time, I tell them, “Be very careful. I would probably not get rid of your day job right now because it’s night and day.” You really need to be [inaudible – 08:46] disciplined. So taking on a side project is a good start because if you can’t deliver on a side project, chances are you’re probably not going to deliver on full-time project either because there is a learning curve. As good as you might be at what you do, whatever it is, [inaudible – 09:01] or otherwise, you really need to make sure it’s something you want to be doing. And a lot of people get this contract and it’s like, “Oh, I can make X amount of dollars from working from home.” [inaudible – 09:14] what happens when my contract [is up]. You’re not used to selling yourself.
Lisette: Right. And the hustling is a lot harder than people think. So that’s really good advice. So taking on a side project to get started is the takeaway from that, which is really good. And you’re right. You do have to be very disciplined as a remote worker because as you mentioned before, the results are what matters. It’s not how much time you took to actually get something done. It’s what did you deliver to the client and are they happy with that. So I can imagine that that’s hard. So how are you finding all of your work now?
Corey: Now you know it’s still referrals based off of the work that we do. That’s been working out now, simply because we’ve been around long enough and had enough success with most of our projects. We’re starting to get work that way. So it does take a while like any other business. We’ve got a marketing plan. We’ve got outbound work going on. We’re lucky since we’re a large or a big company compared to most people that are working from home, which is going to be your solopreneurs. They have one person, themselves. Or it’s them and a friend or something. I just got off the phone with a friend literally 30 minutes prior to talking with you about this very problem. You have to have a marketing plan. You have to have a plan and then execute on that plan or else… because you’re working for yourself remotely, you don’t know the boundaries. You’re so consumed with getting the project done because you’re working from home, the company or organization that’s paying you does not see you working. So having to deliver something often is in your head. And you’re more worried about that than you have to balance it. You have to be looking for new work. You have to have something telling you that today, at the very least, this one little thing I have to do, whether it’s add one person on LinkedIn that you don’t know that’s in your industry, start having a conversation with them. He has been doing that. But writing a blog post, [inaudible – 11:35] a meetup. You don’t do these things until it’s too late if you don’t already know that. And by going to an office, if you’re working in full-time position, you don’t think about these things. And you don’t have to do them. That’s why you don’t think about them. But the second you cross that line to working remotely, it’s a whole new ball game.
Lisette: Indeed, indeed. I think people have this image of pajamas and slippers and a luxurious, working-from-home office. They don’t really realize the marketing and the hustle that goes into making that happen and actually being productive on a day-to-day basis. Now I read that you have an employee leasing program. I found that very interesting. What is that?
Corey: It’s one of those things where we have our projects. Everybody is working on a project. We get a new customer in. They’re like, “Hey, we have our own process to get our software built. We don’t want to use SoFetch’s process because there’s a learning curve.” It’s not too far off. Our employee [inaudible – 13:34] program is not too far from just staff augmentation. We like to think of it as separation of process or processes. We have our software development process that doesn’t change. So everybody that I work with, that’s what we follow. Temporarily, someone will go work for one of our customers, using their process outside of everything that we have, which means during conversations, we know we’re going to be successful when we build your project because this is what has worked time and time again. If we lease out somebody from our team, they are not necessarily bringing our process into your organization. They’re going to be using whatever process you have. And at that point, the responsibilities of getting things done as far as are you going to hit your deadlines, I can’t tell you that because we’re just not a part of it.
Lisette: Right, so there’s no guarantee if you do that. You basically give the employee, like here’s a guarantee that this is a great employee. But there’s no guarantee that if they use your system [inaudible – 14:47]. Whereas if you use your system, [crosstalk]. Interesting.
Corey: Because we’re very efficient at what we do. And every single day, we work on our process to improve it. So we know exactly where we’re at while building software. Once someone goes into your organization, they will be the best. They’re very good at what they do. But they’re different management. We can’t guarantee anything other than yes [inaudible – 15:20] whatever it is you want [inaudible] you say you need done, that will get done via developers. Depending on how your organization scopes the project, manages the project, can’t guarantee that.
Lisette: I’ll interrupt again and say… And you guys have built something, which is how you and I got connect. You’ve built the Standup Bot which runs standup meetings in Slack. Is that correct?
Lisette: Why did you guys build this? It’s a great idea. Totally love it. Why were you building this? And tell us about what it does for people who don’t know what a standup meeting is [crosstalk – 16:08].
Corey: Standup meetings have been around for quite some time. They have been an analog process where everybody is under the same roof. And what they do is the standup meeting is very simple. No one likes being in very long meetings. So you have to be standing up for starters. [inaudible – 17:01] usually in a circle. Somebody usually has something in their hand to say, “Oh, it’s my turn right now.” So in standup meetings, you have [inaudible – 17:21] something to say, “Hey, it’s my turn.” There are three simple questions that need to be answered by you every morning at the same time for the entire group. What did you accomplish since the last meeting at the same time yesterday? What are you going to accomplish from today’s meeting right now to tomorrow’s meeting at probably 10 a.m. in the morning. And [inaudible – 17:42] question is what is blocking you. What this does is it allows everybody to scope their day and stay on task. So it’s like, “Here are the things that I got done yesterday. So it’s helping you see are you estimating correctly. All the things from yesterday you said you were going to get done, did you get them done? Why? Why did you not get them done? Or congratulations, you’ve got them all done. You’ll feel good.” [inaudible – 18:15] accomplish for the next day or today that sets you up for focusing just on [inaudible – 18:20]. So it keeps your attention. The blocking question, if I’m waiting on a contract or if I’m waiting on something, at least I can voice it and that person or somebody in the group can help me unblock myself. Now, since we’ve been doing that online, [inaudible – 18:44] Slack because we all work remotely. We were taking that and I was manually typing those questions to everybody in the room. [connection problem – 18:53] me. I don’t know how long it can happen. So we built a plugin for Slack. I was like, “Please, just automate this because I don’t need to be doing this for two or three hours on my own time every morning. I’ve got stuff to do.” So we built an open-source version of it at first. I didn’t think anything of it. We just put it on GitHub, and we started using it and making small improvements but not many. Since we’re all software developers, I was like, “Just make it easy for other people to install,” because the problem with open-source software is there’s usually no documentation or it’s very difficult to install. So we focused on doing that at the very least.
A couple of months went by and somebody looked at the GitHub account. We’ve got all these people starring, forking, and downloading this thing. So it’s obviously something that’s useful. [crosstalk – 19:43] decision to turn that into [inaudible]. So we turned that into a paid product. And now I get constant pings from Tim who runs that product [inaudible – 19:55]. He sends me feedback from people that love using this. This tool has integrated [inaudible – 20:04] everybody’s daily life now. So many CTOs are like, “Hey, this thing has turned my project around. This tool keeps everybody on task and on focus.” So it’s really nice to see [inaudible – 20:19] almost on a daily basis. We have big names like Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett Packard, and Accenture. They’re using it now to success. So that’s part of our process, and that’s what helps. It’s just knowing how to communicate when you work remotely.
Lisette: The question that comes to mind immediately is what about the human part of the standup meeting where you’re all hanging out? You lose that when you have the Slack bot. So what about that aspect of it all?
Corey: How we handle that is we do have a general chat room where everybody can chat. It is nice to be in the same room as everybody, obviously. When working remotely, just having Standup Bot be something every day that you have to interact with other people, even if it’s text-based, it still helps when working remotely. It gives you that feeling of not being [connection problem – 21:27] by yourself because you know at every morning at this time, you’re going to be talking to at least this many people. So if anything, the byproduct of this tool is hey, there’s a designated time that when you work remotely, we can at least know that somebody else is on the other side of that screen listening to me or vice versa.
Lisette: Right, so it actually adds a humanness factor in some ways just because it’s so constant. It forms a feedback loop that is never-ending in some ways until the weekend.
Corey: It’s extremely [inaudible – 22:02].
Corey: Sometimes [inaudible] I know [inaudible] that use it on the weekends. Their clock is different. Our weekends are their Mondays.
Lisette: Right, depending on where you are in the world, indeed.
I want to ask a couple of more questions. One is what is it that you guys struggle with on your team? What’s something that’s challenging for you?
Corey: There are a lot of challenges. The number one challenge I would say is doing the marketing, focusing on that simply because when you work remotely, you can kind of [inaudible – 22:51] down and ignore the entire world. It’s very easy to do that, extremely easy to do that. So you have to have a plan. You have to follow that plan. An example would be the marketing plan that we have. These things have to get done every single day, sometimes in the morning before everything starts. I wake up extremely early and go run. And then I still have plenty of time to write a blog post or reach out or do whatever is on that plan, or else, when the day starts, you’re just going to be focused right here. And no one is going to be tapping on your shoulder like they would in an office saying, “Hey, did you get this done yet?”
Lisette: Right. I really like the idea when you say… A lot of people say, “Oh, introverts should never become remote workers because they’re just not going to reach out enough.” So I really like that you didn’t focus on whether somebody was introvert or extrovert, but rather regardless of whether you want to reach out or not, have a plan for reaching out and then execute on that plan regardless of personality type because I think you’re right about that.
Corey: Correct. At the end of the day, it is [inaudible – 24:06]. So you don’t have to [inaudible] unit of work [inaudible] going [connection problem]. This one thing, just make sure that happens and it gets done.
Lisette: Right, totally makes sense. I love this interview in particular because it is showing what’s possible. The conversation is choppy but is not bad. For sure, we could discuss details of things. We just have to wait out the pauses. So I think this is a great example of how it can work.
The last question is what is the best way to get in touch with you and to find more information. I assumed that you’d want people to go to SoFetch.io. But what are some of the better ways in order to learn more?
Corey: [connection problem]
Lisette: The connection has been cut. That is what happens. It’s happened on a couple of interviews so far. This is the reality of remote working. That was Corey Grusden, CTO of SoFetch.io. He created a Standup Bot that runs remote standup meetings in Slack. So definitely go check that out. And until next time, everybody, be powerful.