RWL186: Building Remote Work Culture with Kona Co-Founder Yen Tan

Welcome to Remote Work Life …Ever found yourself wondering if the entrepreneurial spark is something you’re born with or is it the environment we’re raised in that shapes this spirit? Join me as I sit down with Yen Tan, co-founder of Kona, who shares a riveting story of growth, from witnessing their entrepreneurial parents’ balance of work and life, to steering their own company towards transforming remote work culture. 

Let’s face it, leading a team isn’t a walk in the park – more so when that team is scattered across the globe. Yen opens up about the hurdles and victories of nurturing a distributed team, from LA to Vienna, illustrating how Kona’s innovative platform, with its mood check-ins and AI-driven leadership coaching, is revolutionizing the way we manage remote teams’ happiness. If you’re seeking strategies to embed effective communication and a culture that prizes flexibility and psychological safety, this conversation is your roadmap.

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Speaker 1:
0:01

Hey everybody. It's Alex once again from the remote work live podcast and today I've got another excellent guest with me. I have Yen Tan, who is the co-founder of Kona. Kona is not just one of my favourite businesses remote businesses is one of my favourite all time businesses and Yen has been on the podcast before. And I wanted to have Yen back on the podcast because, like I said, one of my favourite businesses, kona as well. As I mentioned before, it's an employee happiness and people analytics platform for remote teams and Yen's work on people first leadership and wellbeing has been featured by no less than the Guardian, fortune, yahoo, techcrunch, entrepreneur, harvard Business School, forbes and more, and I thought I was good just being in Forbes. Yen has spoken at remote work conferences like GitLab, commit, numerous podcasts, including remote life work podcast as well, and advise Fortune 10 companies on remote strategy and their free time. Yen likes exploring LA's bookstores and barbershops Is that Barbershops, barbershops? And convincing their partner that they could use another plant. Okay, that's interesting. Okay, where that come from? Yeah, that plant bit.

Speaker 2:
1:35

Oh man, I became such a plant parent in the pandemic.

Speaker 1:
1:38

They're easier to keep alive than dogs.

Speaker 2:
1:39

But thank you so much for having me again. It's a wonder to be back on this podcast and chatting with you again. It's a pleasure.

Speaker 1:
1:46

It's a pleasure. It's a pleasure and we're going to go a bit more, because before I think we were quite high level, before I didn't kind of delve deep into you and what you've been doing, and I think, before we do that, I think it's only fair that you introduce Kona, because I think, as I said before, kona is one of my favorite businesses and it's a very important business, not just for remote teams but in general. So, yen, please, in your own words, tell me and tell us about Kona.

Speaker 2:
2:24

Yeah, definitely, and so we started this company back in about January 1st 2020. We were really interested in making remote work happier and healthier, and we kind of stumbled into this solution. Right now, kona is a manager co-pilot. It essentially takes the best habits from the best remote teams that we've studied since the beginning of the pandemic and implements it so every single manager can utilize those skills. Some of those habits include red, yellow, green check-ins the ability to check in with how a teammate is feeling. We have leadership coaching powered by AI that's built right into the product, people analytics functioning. The idea is to make it your manager's best friend, and there's a reason we named it after a dog.

Speaker 1:
3:05

So definitely I love it and I was doing a bit more research on you, in fact, and it's like some of the best businesses that they've formulated from the pains of the founders and the pains of the people behind the business, and I think somewhere on your website says something to the effect of the founding team bonded over terrible experiences with remote work. Tell me about that.

Speaker 2:
3:35

It was definitely unfortunate, but my very first foray into the working world was essentially tutoring English to these kids in China. So I found this sweet gig. I think it was off of handshake. It was just a part-time role. I could tutor kids, get paid $30 an hour and it was great. I was teaching for some reason, like I shit you not 10-year-olds, lord of the Flies. So very extreme material for young kids. I didn't question it, though they were very advanced in their literary journey and I would get to tutor these kids right after school or in between classes, and I was like I love remote work. I don't have to drive anywhere, I don't have a car. This is great. The major downside was my manager. Every week I would get these threatening emails If you show up 15 minutes late to the session, I'm going to not pay you. If you don't do X or Y, I'm going to not pay you. If you say this thing off to the parent, we're watching you on the camera recordings. We review all recordings. We're going to not pay you. And so I was continuously getting threatened by this manager and I started wondering how many other folks fear their boss in a remote setting and how many folks is this the reality for remote work? Alternatively, my two co-founders also had increasing experiences we had. Andrew was actively working at Apple, but he felt very isolated. He was doing a remote internship and he wasn't quite able to connect with his coworkers as much as he would have liked. Meanwhile, sid was leading another startup and he was managing a remote team in India and really having struggles with motivating those teammates, and so from a bunch of different angles we were able to kind of witness the different ways that remote work goes awry and we were really hoping to incorporate that into a product that hopefully solves those problems.

Speaker 1:
5:17

Yeah, oh, I mean, I was kind of laughing, but before you started to tell me about your experience with your manager and I shouldn't laugh really, because there was some, really you know some gruesome stories of managers and micromanagers and but threatening to not pay you, that's like crazy.

Speaker 2:
5:37

Yeah, I don't know if that was legal, to be perfectly honest, and there was a horrible kind of unfortunately and I can tell this story later but there was a whole situation about trying to leave that actual company and saying like I no longer want to work here. California is at will, I can say that and they were like well, you're not getting your last paycheck of like a month's worth of work. And I was like I'm not sure if this is legal, but that's just kind of how that happened.

Speaker 1:
5:59

Is that business still around? Are they still?

Speaker 2:
6:02

I don't know. I definitely don't really want to look too much into it, but I'm glad that I'm out and I it definitely taught me a lot about how remote work can be really dark if you're not conducted properly.

Speaker 1:
6:15

Yeah, it can be, but I think it's credit to you and the founding team that from that darkness you've been able to create something that is just so important. As I said, not just, not just the remote teams I think it's obviously lots of hybrid. You do hybrid teams, I guess as well You're not just focusing on remote teams.

Speaker 2:
6:35

Yeah, definitely yeah. I think one great example is Eric Hall uses us in their own words they want to create the best hybrid culture in the world, so that's why they rely on Kona to help facilitate some of that.

Speaker 1:
6:49

When I last spoke to you you, I think, because your career has gone just sort of like like and up. Actually, if you can't see me, I'm pointing towards the sky with my hands your career has just gone on such a kind of upward trajectory. It's like a really steep trajectory. You've gone straight, literally straight, into becoming a co-founder, right, I mean, I know last time when we spoke, it was you were talking about some of the pressures that you were under and you know, obviously you take great pride in what you've been doing. You interviewed over a thousand, I think, remote managers. How is life now, now that you've kind of you know your feet are firmly under the table, you're comfortable in your founding or your co-founding shoes. How is all that?

Speaker 2:
7:41

I think comfortable is such a funny word. So I was checking Google Calendar. The last time we spoke was around 2021. That's a proper two years ago and so much has changed since then. I think last time you were talking to me I was probably leading my very first direct report. I think I had like an intern and I was literally like so, so nervous to mess this up and to be a bad boss. And now fast forward. We had back then raised our seed round of one million. Now we've raised our four million dollar sorry pre-seed round of one million seed round of four million. Now we have a team of 12 to 13 and I'm actively working with folks that at least have 10 years, my senior of experience. I'm not sure to answer your question of comfortable is the word that I would ever describe. I feel it's anything uncomfortable every single day of this journey, but delightfully so. In a lot of ways it's very much a kind of experience of growth and of being able to push myself. It's very funny that you describe it as like an astronomical career, because it's very I'm just. I. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and be like, oh, this is actually happening. I'm being interviewed by the Guardian for my work. That kind of just feels like everyday, regular work. Nothing's changed about what we do, but people are noticing and I think that's the very exciting part. At the same time, I think a lot of the big titles and the kind of publications. They are sort of vanity metrics and in a lot of ways, there's still so much that we need to learn and grow and do before we can actually say that Kona has firmly been a success. I think we have a lot more impact that we need to start creating.

Speaker 1:
9:16

You've got swag, so I mean that's the sign of success. I love that t-shirt that you've got on there For those who are not listening, or I'll put this on YouTube and I'm sure you'll be able to. And you've got Kona. Is that a war? Is that what's that? Is that a Kona cushion? That?

Speaker 2:
9:33

is so nice. The first swag we would get is a cushion, and we only got two of them. We have three co-founders, so I'm not exactly sure what the logic there was, but yeah, it was delightful.

Speaker 1:
9:45

That is the mark of success. When you've got your own swag, it has to be. But no, I mean in all seriousness, I think it's just like I said, from the outside, looking in. I think I said this last time so much admiration for what you're doing and you know I'm one of your cheerleaders from afar and you know just really great, as I said, have you back on on the podcast and you talk. You mentioned one of your clients. Do any other sort of use cases, case studies that you can share with us in terms of how Kona is really helping? Because one of the things, one of the big things I think that you said you experienced as well is is burnout and it's such a big topic, not just in remote teams, but burnout is a big question and it's always something that you see on LinkedIn and conversations around that. How is Kona helping with issues like that?

Speaker 2:
10:42

Yeah, I think it's a really lovely question because in the last two years we've finally been able to prove this very squishy app has real time implications. I think we're always getting questions from early stage investors how do you actually know that this will work? Will folks pay for it? Like, how do you tie this like sharing how you're feeling and building psychological safety to these very real bottom line metrics? And we've finally been able to release case studies. So we partnered with Oyster. If you know Oyster HR, there's some of the yeah in the remote space, the distributed space in general, and it's very much tying together. We've been working with them for over a year and actually across that period we were able to lower their attrition by 6.5% from Kona teams versus non Kona teams. If you calculate that across, like the different salary ranges, we were definitely saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is very insane. And at the same time, folks there reported that they felt the folks that were using Kona 84% of them felt more supported by their manager, and so we're able to cut, basically take the remote aspect and make it so employees are actively being able to feel supported in the moment and get that needed well being support. As far as tackling burnout, I think that's a lot more of like a nuanced question, but what we're really seeing is employees are being thrown through the ringer right now with different types of layoffs, with the fear of job insecurity and all sorts of different isolation and aspects. We have a global war going on right now, and so the more we can offer these support systems to employees, the better. And, as far as helping with burnout, kona definitely allows you to measure these sentiments over time. Tony Jamos, the CEO, actively has a dashboard of Kona metrics so he can stay on top of what's changing at his organization and really get a real time pulse on how his employees are feeling.

Speaker 1:
12:30

So exciting stuff. It is exciting and it's much needed because there's only so much you can do. I mean, I with my colleagues. When I work with my colleagues, I, you know, I check in with them and speak to them, but you can't do that in in real time when we're remote work is concerned. So having an oversight of that is is really important because, after all, I think it's the funny thing about the perceptuality of the employees the perception of remote work is that is, that you're not as you're not collaborative and you're not or as collaborative, should I say as somebody who is in an office. I think there's so much more that is being done. You know, not just the stats and the checking in and the calls that remote managers have to do and the best ones do do that. I think it's a lot more. I feel a lot more when I'm in a good remote team. I feel a lot more supported, a lot more comfortable, a lot more part of the actual workforce apart, just a part of the team. So all those myths about remote work although there are okay, there are, there are. I'm sure there are some teams out there that are not so good, but there are some very good teams out there and I think Kona is doing a really great job to help support that.

Speaker 2:
13:53

Yeah, I think what I love about your point too is just we can't apply the playbook for in person teams to remote work. It just won't work in that way. We have really great experiences with remote work when we actually treat it as its own thing, and it requires intentionality and processes and asynchronous methods to encourage that level of collaboration. So if you do have intentional leaders that know what it takes to create a great remote culture, you're in for a great experience.

Speaker 1:
14:19

Most definitely. And do you think I mean because the other thing I've noticed about remote leaders like yourself, yeah, and is that their businesses almost like a reflection of who they are, and not just that, but a reflection of how they want to. It almost changes the world for the better. Is that fair to say about you? I think it is, but I mean from your point of view, is that something that was part of your mission?

Speaker 2:
14:51

Absolutely. I think when we built this company, we really started talking about values. I really credit the folks at GitLab and all remote work experts that we were able to talk to folks at Buffer, for example, for giving us a crash course and sharing a lot of generous time and knowledge about the value of I guess pun intended incorporating your values into every single choice you make as a business, the different ways that you format your product and the processes that you implement operationally. I think when it came to our own values, we knew we value transparency. We knew we valued inclusivity. Incorporating what we care about as human beings into this business has been some of the greatest joys. I think it's the reason why we've been able to attract such an awesome team. Our team is full of folks that are really empathetic, that really value emotional intelligence and might have gotten burned by a few uncaring bosses in their work experience, and they really care about our mission, about making work happier and healthier. We're really lucky to be able to put our heart literally on our sleeve and to have that be almost like a lighthouse for other folks.

Speaker 1:
15:55

I was going to say I mean, I kind of know the answer to this question, but I think I'm going to ask it anyway Because, as I said, your career has been astronomical in terms of the trajectory and where you are now, and I can only see the future being all the better. What plans did you have, or did you have any plans, say, five, ten years ago? Five years ago, did you have these kind of dreams in your head in terms of establishing such a great business as Colner is?

Speaker 2:
16:37

Yeah, I think it's a complicated question. I grew up as the child of two entrepreneurs and the year I was born is the year my dad decided, screw it, I'm going to quit my job and start a business. And all of the relatives were telling him hey, that's really risky, you just had a baby, maybe don't do that. But he was really set on being able to establish his own executive recruiting firm and I remember growing up with that level of watching that entrepreneurial spirit and really admiring the way that my dad and my parents were able to carve out a space for themselves to be able to have complete work-life balance. I always had my parents pick me up from school. I was very lucky in that aspect because they worked remotely, they had free time to take us to practice after school, play with us, like there were so many things that made them great parents, and I think the lifestyle and work style that they chose really enabled a lot of that. And so, looking at my own career though it's funny I remember reading like I loved how I built this by Guy Raz. I remember listening to his podcast and listening to all these entrepreneurial stories and just being like, wow, that's incredible, I could never do that. I just remember admiring them from afar and wondering like how did they build these huge companies that just sound so far-fetched? And that's kind of what drove me to the entrepreneurship minor at UCLA. But at the same time I kind of still did that out of practicality. I still very much saw it as maybe the equivalent of a business degree. We actually didn't have any sort of business degree at UCLA. That was pretty much the closest you could get. So I was majoring in English. I had a full set plan, basically to be an author, a film producer, like that's kind of the route that I was hoping to take, and film really kind of chewed me up and spit me back out. I just did not get a bit of fire pits there at all and I just didn't know what I was doing. I remember for the winter before I graduated, that winter break I spent just applying to different jobs. I took that tutoring job I mentioned earlier. That was on my resume. I had a bit of experience just helping out at my parents' recruiting firm and I just put that on my resume. I was applying for product marketing roles and different things at Atlassian. I remember that internship particularly because I was like that would change my life to be able to work in these things and, admittedly, I had no idea what product marketing even was. I was just hoping somebody would take a risk on me and actually give me a chance to hone my chops. I think, watching my parents, by the way, as a complete aside do recruiting, and also watch so many of my different friends try to apply for jobs, I do think it's a bit of ridiculous that we expect new interns at entry-level jobs to have three years of work experience, because I'm not exactly sure where that work experience is even supposed to come from. All this to say I am very, very lucky in a lot of ways that Sid and Andrew approached me back in 2019, saying hey, we have this crazy idea and we want to start a startup and we think you can write. Would you be down to explore this idea with me? Because that changed my life and actually gave me a proper job. I don't think that I would have had a much harder time breaking into the professional realm without it, and it's given me so many different skills that I can't really imagine my career kicking off in a more explosive manner, to say the least.

Speaker 1:
19:43

No, it's a great story. I didn't realise that your dad was in recruitment and he was an entrepreneur. That explains a lot, actually, because, again, there seems to be a pattern in a lot of the interviews that I do that there seems to be like a story, some sort of back story, that moulds people like yourself into the great entrepreneurs that they are. And your story is, in fact, that your parents as well used to work remotely as well. That's another thing, because for me as well and I keep saying this on every episode, literally every episode now my first experience of remote work was my godfather. So my godfather, I used to watch him go, I lived with him for a little while and I used to be going to work seven o'clock in the morning on the tube and coming home at nine o'clock at night, and he'd finished sitting up with his drink in his hand after a couple of hours of work, working from home or wherever he wanted to work from. And it sounds like you've had that similar grounding of seeing your parents and being closer to you. Did that make you closer to your parents, do you think?

Speaker 2:
21:02

Absolutely. I think raising children and being able to give them all the attention in the world and being able to be there for every single little small moment is a gift that my parents gave to me, and I don't think until I'm older do I realise how valuable that truly is and the different types of sacrifices they had to make in order to make that happen. I also think I failed to believe we used to read these studies and said that entrepreneurship minor at UCLA where they would say, oh, entrepreneurship, all these entrepreneurs came from great other entrepreneurs and it's all. Maybe it's genetic. Maybe that risk taking, the lack of fear, maybe that's part of their bio, their DNA. I think it's all bullshit, to be perfectly honest. I think it's just we don't really get to be taught that that's a path available to us. So many entrepreneurs actually realise, either through necessity, extreme hardship and not having any other choice, or by maybe having that path revealed to them, that this is a path that you can take with your career and that you can maybe throw the traditional nine to five to the wind and instead pursue something different. So I think it's definitely being able to be shown the path makes so much of an impact on your career choice and where you end up going.

Speaker 1:
22:15

I think so, and I think there's certain traits that I've noticed about entrepreneurship and also the fact that in fact there's it's kind of like a bit of an intersection between the traits of an entrepreneur and the traits of some of the best remote leaders and the best remote workers. You mentioned before as much as I was saying that you're in an upper trajectory and obviously Congress doing well. You mentioned that there's uncomfortable aspects to your role as a co-founder. How do you I mean actually no, before I ask you that, what other? Because obviously you have to have mechanisms and ways of dealing with certain things and you often hear that being, you know, either a CEO or co-founder is quite a lonely place to be because you're having to deal with certain things on your own. I mean, what traits would you say are keeping you in good stead with your role as a co-founder?

Speaker 2:
23:23

Yeah, I think it's interesting because traits almost implies that I came like that. I was born with these kind of personality traits, but a lot of the things almost feel like skills that I've acquired over time. That ability to have emotional resilience has definitely been home through this entire startup journey and I think a lot of that can be credited to having, like, an executive coach. Thank God Techstars provided us with these awesome pro bono executive coaches. I feel like that's been able to up level my maturity and resiliency through all these different scenarios to actually like withstand all the different things that you might run into. Having a therapist has also been really helpful. Having support systems for mental health and to be able to say like this is actually really stressful or this is causing me anxiety, and having an outlet to openly discuss and talk about that, I think has been really awesome. In addition, just being able to I think we're really really lucky. We looked into focusing on a realm where mental health and employee well-being management were the key three things that we've been studying nonstop and that's great things to know and focus on when you're trying to lead a company. We've been able to basically pick up best practices for leadership while actively researching for our product and I think we've been all the better for it been able to kind of incorporate foundations and fundamentals into our culture from day one. Been able to basically understand, like how to identify burnout in ourselves and mitigate stress in ourselves, and actively use the product dog food, the product, another pun inside Slack in order to check in on ourselves and figure out like actually Kona didn't help me with the situation how can we improve the product. So the entire culture, kona itself and our like ideology as founders is very intimately tied together and all of it's hopefully creating this positive feedback loop to lead us to a better workplace attitude in general.

Speaker 1:
25:16

Love that, love that and I think again as much as you're on a great pathway. I mean when you think about your, because you're a well-known remote leader and that's how I see it not just a remote leader, but a leader in the sense of everything that you've achieved in your career. But the question I've got for you is, as a leader, as an entrepreneur, when you think about, if you think about your career in the form of like a stairs on a staircase, right where would you say you are now and how far do you think you want to take it?

Speaker 2:
26:01

Oh man, I asked myself this question a lot because it almost feels like I love your analogy stairs of a staircase. I would challenge it by saying that you're operating this giant staircase in the dark, so you don't actually know if it's a spiral staircase. You don't know where the corners are and you're not exactly sure where the next step is. You just know that you're kind of on the staircase and hopefully it's going up and not down. I would say that I don't know. I feel almost a level of hubris by being able to claim this is what the top looks like, because if you asked me three years ago, do you think in three years you'll be at X, where I am today? I think I would have just like laughed in your face and been like no why would that even be possible? So I firmly believe I don't really know where this is going, and I'm very open to admitting to that. Where I hope it's going is I really hope we can grow this business into something that affects and impacts a lot more people. I really hope that we can be the flagship in ushering in a new, empathetic, employee first mode of work. If we can make work truly people first, I think a lot of people could be benefited from that. I'm not sure if that means, like I honestly see a lot more of the publications and maybe the influencer status and stuff that's all nice to have along the journey, but if we can just accomplish our primary goal of getting Kona in the hands of more customers and impact more businesses and more people, then I think that would be a very clear sign of success. To be perfectly honest, 10 years from now, I kind of hope that there's a chapter after startups. I've been thinking about this for a while, but I'm not sure if I'm fit out to be like a serial entrepreneurship type. I know I definitely want to be involved in this space, but a startup takes a lot out of you and I actually remember an interview from the founder of Hinge for how I built this, where he was actively talking about how Hinge is it as soon as he's done with that one startup? He's only got one in him and I thought that that was so interesting because we often think of entrepreneurship as a forever state. But it's okay for stages of your life to have a little bit more hectic ness and other stages to be a little bit more balanced. And I'm hoping maybe in the chapter afterwards I can still pursue that dream of being an author and a teacher and just kind of pursue that while maybe advising startups on the side. So I can imagine maybe the 15 years away, but it's really hard to imagine a year from now, three years from now, five years from now.

Speaker 1:
28:28

Fair point, very fair. I think the sky is the limit, as they say another little metaphor there and I think as well. Yeah, it's difficult to look that far ahead anyway, and I just wanted to guess. I guess I wanted to see where your mind was at in terms of how far you wanted to go with it. But, like I said, there's so many options and opportunities and Kona I can see Kona being needed for, like you know, way, way into the future anyway, because it's I think work is changing and I think, I hope at least work is changing and that managers are becoming a bit more. Even if they're not naturally conscientious or naturally empathetic, they're at least aware that they have to be more empathetic and they have to be more conscientious. So a tool like this is really important, and advice I mean advice is something that we all have to take on board and I'm sure along the way you've had your fair share of advice and hopefully you've had your support system. You mentioned your support systems as well. But for you, yen, what was the best advice anyone ever gave you and did you follow it?

Speaker 2:
29:46

Oh man, I have to give credit to my mom. I think the best advice I've ever gotten was just pace yourself Like it's a marathon not a sprint, and as a certified sprinter, I never really took that seriously. I was kind of like, oh like, but if I run faster than the race ends and I think the point of that advice is that the race never really ends there's always some new finish line, that's like slightly down the way, and if you're not working sustainably, if you kind of just buy into hustle culture, you're constantly grinding, you're not actually long term able to accomplish as much as you would be if you just kind of went slow, steady and sustainable. A lot of folks, I think, mistake startups as being like super fast paced that you like burn out within three years and that's just part of what you're signing up for. But the startup is at a loss if they lose you within three years. Startups typically take a lot longer to bloom, and so I think just really challenging hustle culture and understanding the wisdom that my mom shared is really important. I think, yeah, that's probably the best advice.

Speaker 1:
30:50

I love that advice and mom's always right anyway, aren't they? Whatever advice they give you, it's always well, usually always. Yeah, good advice from mom. And in terms of your, again back to your old co-founder, there must be for you, because a lot of co-founders they describe like the rollercoaster, the ups and downs and the you know the good, the highs and lows, and the good days and the lots of good days. How do you deal with the points where days are not so good?

Speaker 2:
31:31

Yeah, it's really tough because usually the good and bad days are pretty close in between. There's a lot of emotional whiplash in this role, I'd like to say, when the days aren't so good. I definitely rely very heavily on that support system I mentioned earlier. It's also really important to understand like, why am I doing this? And I think that's the core thing that I keep returning to. I sometimes ask myself, oh, is it for like the prestige, the money, all this kind of stuff, and it's kind of like I could probably be doing more, get paid more, doing other things, and so, at the very end of the day, it's who I work with and why we're doing this and the mission behind this company, and that just keeps me coming back. Of course, though, I think it's also really important to acknowledge that's fine and dandy. It's very motivational. There are a lot of times where I'm just like lying on my face, crying, like that's part of being a founder and being in my feels about that is just part of it, and I think it is. You want to feel those things very deeply because it's part of your journey, and it's the kind of put lightly the cow manure, the cow manure and the fertilizer that helps this business grow, so you're definitely going to rough days but hopefully that kind of just motivates you to really cherish the great, great moments and keep going.

Speaker 1:
32:46

And I can't believe. I mean you mentioned before you've got 12 or 13 people, was it?

Speaker 2:
32:50

13? I think I always I suck at counting, I'm sorry. Yeah, we're 13. We've grown quite a bit.

Speaker 1:
32:59

Just yeah and tell us who, what's the, the makeup of the team. And, yeah, what's the makeup? What's the distribution? Are you just the US or do you have people? You know the parts of the world?

Speaker 2:
33:12

Yeah, we have one employee in Vienna that I work with quite frequently. Her name is Monica. She's our first marketer. The rest of our employees are actually we have a new hire also in Mexico, and so from basically Los Angeles to Vienna is where the time so spread and everybody is. We're completely remote first. So so much so that our co founding team is at the three different polls in the United States, lasf in New York City, so we are very spread out times on wise. All of our employees kind of fall in every major times on the United States basically, and all those employees also travel quite a bit. We have quite a few folks that really love digital nomadding or at least travel while working. So we had one employee that just like recently went to Hawaii because she found like really cheap airfare. That was great. Another employee was like actively working out of a van and just like driving everywhere. So being able to enable like all sorts of colorful lifestyles is really joyful.

Speaker 1:
34:04

Love it and, apart from the remote first aspect, you mentioned that there's lots of travelers. How would you describe you know, because of some of the businesses that I've interviewed, there's certain businesses that are quite, they're online quite a lot and they talk quite a lot and that's what they like and that's what really gets them going, whereas there's a bit more asynchronous and some have a mixture of of both. How would you describe Kona and the way you, that you guys, were?

Speaker 2:
34:35

I think we're definitely trying to figure that out, and, admittedly, there's a lot of hiccups that happen as we've grown. The team things that worked really well synchronous with a team of five are not scaling quite as nicely with a team of 13, and that's just a little tiny multiple. I imagine as soon as we go to 100, we're really going to have to change that as well. Right now, though, it's almost a lot of documentation happens out of necessity, and one of the biggest problems we're facing actually is relying too heavily on Slack and realizing the hard way that Slack is not documentation. Slack is a messaging platform but really does a poor job of tracking all the micro decisions, and so that's forcing us more into notion to track a lot more of our projects, etc. But, overall, I still think that we lean quite heavily into being synchronous, and there are certain conversations that, given we make decisions so fast, we would literally release products, product update and features every single week. We're really trying to like move quickly, and sometimes synchronous just helps a little bit. We can get away with it because I think we still have US times zones that we're working with, so definitely working with that.

Speaker 1:
35:38

Got it and you just said 100 employees. So there's a little glimpse into the potentially into the future of Kona 100 employees.

Speaker 2:
35:46

Yeah, I would hope that, like we, last long enough, but like having 100, 1000 employees, like being able to grow this into a proper business, would be a big joy.

Speaker 1:
35:56

Definitely I'll be there, hopefully I'll be there to see it. You know, I know I'm not that old, but yeah, I'll, hopefully I'll be there to see that growth. You know. But what would you say is is unique about Kona? Because, I mean, again, there's a misconception that all remote businesses are literally the same and we all work the same way. You know, I've learned over the years that the sort of like different spectrums of remote work and each not everybody suits us that spectrum and some people suit that spectrum. How would you just you know what's unique about Kona?

Speaker 2:
36:36

A few things I'd say. One we're very, very empathetic, I think. As a result, we talk about our feelings. A lot People actively talk about going to therapy or different types of things that they're working on. That's very normalized, because we're literally using Kona to share how we feel every single day. Number two I think we really lean into intellectual honesty and feedback. A lot of the feedback that we get from some of the employees that work with us is just like I've never been able to ask these kinds of questions before. I was always shut down or maybe my ideas were put aside because leaders wanted to do it their way. We really encourage this open level of discussion back and forth. Hopefully we're encouraging enough psychological safety to actively have these discussions. Feedback, actively questioning our assumptions those are all core parts of what makes Kona Kona, I guess. The third thing is just we are actively I don't know it's a very humble team. People are really incredible. We literally have an engineer who was previously like an ER nurse and she was actively saving lives and then decided heck, I'm going to go do a boot camp for Code and completely change my careers that way. We have another co-worker who's an artist and he recently just had his paintings featured in a gallery. We just have very interesting perspectives and I think that just makes the fabric of our culture so much more colorful and interesting and hopefully our remote first methodology is encouraging a lot of that stuff on top of just yeah, I don't know, we just really like each other too.

Speaker 1:
38:05

I think that definitely counts for something that always helps, doesn't it, when you at least like each other and get on with each other. I think it's, yeah, the fact that you've been able to put together a team that, like you said, has the empathy. It's not easy. Recruitment is one of the most difficult things to do. You know, how do you I mean you've kind of shared a kind of you know the kind of people that you have in your team. I'm assuming those are the kind of people that you look out for, or has it been through look, or a bit of look and a bit of skill involved? Or how do you go about it?

Speaker 2:
38:42

We have our values very well documented and we definitely do culture ad checklists. Basically, we're trying to figure out, like, what are the fundamental values that drive this individual, why choose a very tiny startup and what were their kind of motivations there? And we're really trying to understand, like, would they be a fit with Kona's culture? Because we've gotten recruiting wrong a few times and it's definitely negatively impacted the culture that we've tried to create. So, really trying to be very particular, trying to understand, like, what exactly are we looking for? Are there certain red flags that we've noticed in the past through previous learning experiences that we can kind of hone in for, ask particular questions and understand Every hire though you're, in the end of the day, taking a risk on the person and taking a bet on the person, and so when we have done all of our due diligence, we just basically see what happens and we kind of see, like, how they can add to the culture itself. And more often than not, folks have taught us more about our culture and what we're looking for as we've hired more and more people. So it's definitely a practice, but it's one of the hardest things people can do, definitely.

Speaker 1:
39:45

And I'm assuming as well that because, again, especially with remote roles, they get sometimes hundreds or even thousands of applications right and I have explained to some of the people that I coach or some of my mentor that if you're applying to a remote role it may be that you have to try and do something a bit different to kind of stand out. I suppose my question's got two parts. How do you deal with the sort of like deluge of applications that you get in?

Speaker 2:
40:19

Yeah, I think the first thing is like Sid is really good At least he's gotten really good at reading resumes and trying to understand, like, what this person's looking for. We read every resume and we definitely try to take in all the applications very seriously. It's a lot, but at the same time, we know that there could be a diamond hiding in the rough, and so we should give that person time. Sid, our CEO, is the first person that person talks to and often the first message they receive from, let's just say, angelus, for example. We think it's really important to have the CEO leading the charge for as long as he can when it comes to the hiring angle, because each of these people are going to be so fundamental to the fabric of this business. So Sid takes that first, almost like a screening call, and just tries to understand, like, what is this person looking for? Is there a potential fit there? And then they go through several steps of our like interview process, and we are, for better or for worse, we do run a multi-step process that can be kind of lengthy, and, as a result, though, it gives us a really good idea of what this person's looking for, the type of attention to detail and the types of like what's driving them basically to this role.

Speaker 1:
41:21

We've been able to find some incredible folks because of it, so, and it's psychometrics in there, psychometric testing and all that sort of stuff, or do you just go? Some people prefer to go with their gut more than the testing.

Speaker 2:
41:32

Yeah, we don't really do tests. As far as I'm aware, Personality tests we that was a previous version of the startup actually, where we were really into like personality testing and the very first, yeah, we used like big five and we were trying to understand like how to incorporate that into work. The key thing we realized is the majority of personality tests don't actually do a good job of reading personality and so a lot of that stuff is more gut for now, but that may change the scale.

Speaker 1:
41:59

Got it, yeah, and actually, what do you? I mean, one of the things I I recommend that people do when they're looking for a remote role is that they try to network with the people within the business, not obviously bug them and sort of like harass them, and ask them questions and send their CVs here and everywhere. What are your thoughts on that?

Speaker 2:
42:19

Yeah, I definitely encourage it. I think, as far as the company is interviewing you and you're interviewing the company, if you can speak to them actively work there, that maybe even have your role title, you'll get a really good idea of what the day to day looks like inside that business, better than any job description could ever tell you. So whenever my friends are asking like hey, I want to make this career pivot, I have no idea what I'm signing up for and I don't know if I'm going to like this company, I literally tell them hey, you're still a student. Go on LinkedIn, poke these people and say like hey, I'm a student, I'm curious about this role. Would you be down? I pay for your coffee. 15 minutes of your time is all I need. Folks love talking about themselves and sharing more about their day. It's like a great interruption and otherwise usually pretty monotonous kind of zoom schedule. So take that risk and it's a little scary, but it'll tell you a lot about the company in a way that glass door reviews and overall business job descriptions won't be able to say.

Speaker 1:
43:12

Love that, love that, love that. And I have so many more questions for you, yen, but we're running out of time, so my final question is what does the future hold for you? What does the future hold for Kona?

Speaker 2:
43:28

Kona is going to become the go to culture platform for how managers lead great teams. I definitely see it. In the meantime, if you want to get involved in stuff, you can try Kona for free. Visit heykonacom. We have a 30 day free trial and you can try out all the features from there. You can still keep using it for free on the free version, so that's awesome. The second thing is we're actually kicking off a manager book club. As of next week, I'm going to be on a call with Kim Scott talking about radical candor, and so we've been able to bring in like 200 really awesome leaders from Lego, sap, meta, you name it and they've all come in to discuss these books. May is going to be a book about mental health awareness for mental health awareness month, so we're really excited for that and we're almost ready to book that author. So fingers crossed. So yeah, come join our manager book club. I'm sure Alex will share the link in comments.

Speaker 1:
44:16

I certainly will share the link. Yeah, and it's been a blast as ever. I'm already planning episode three of Kona in my in my head, but it's been good to see you again. Yeah, and all the best. And we'll be waving the flag for Kona and yeah, all the best.

Speaker 2:
44:33

Thanks so much and I'm excited to see you in another two years. We'll see what the end is going to say, hopefully it's sooner than that, hopefully sooner. Hopefully sooner for sure. Thank you so much.

Speaker 1:
44:43

Thank you.

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