Below is my interview with Cristian Ángel Rennella, the co-founder of elMejorTrato.com, a Latin American car insurance and loan comparison website. He has been an entrepreneur since 2008.
Author Note: Cristian’s first language isn’t English, so please excuse any of my translation errors.
How Did This Process Start?
Six years ago, we were two computer engineers who had just gotten our degrees and we were starting to develop and program our first start-up. At that time, we were aware we knew very little and the road ahead would teach us millions of new things, we did know from day one that two aspects were not negotiable:
- We didn’t want a non-technical person tell us what we should do.
- Furthermore, we thought by working more efficiently, we would have 50% more time to spend with our families.
Why Were These Two Decisions So Important to You?
Here are our main reasons:
- Before starting our first start-up, we had worked as programmers for several companies such as HP, IBM, and Intel. While there, we found an enormous contradiction: someone who didn’t have technical knowledge used to tell us what to do, and several times, they voiced an opinion on how we performed the task. And, we couldn’t forget they would then supervise and rate our job. As it can be seen in the story of Larry Page during his first steps as Google CEO: “Engineers shouldn’t have to be supervised by managers with limited tech knowledge.”
- On the other hand, personally as a programmer and engineer, I constantly have a profound disconnection between my schedules and the ones from a manager. In order to do my job with optimum work efficiency, I consider that I need between 3, 4 and even 5 consecutive hours of programming without interruptions. This is definitely not viable when our boss adds a meeting during the course of our working day. Although it seems so simple, it’s not a viable option to stop programming, attend the meeting, and then come back and continue writing code. Paul Graham, programmer, entrepreneur, and creator of YCombinator shared in this excellent article on his personal blog: “For a programmer, the cost of attending a meeting is always higher.”
- The three above items reflect why we don’t work with managers in our start-up, but also, why we work 4 days a week (32 hours). Millions of books have been written about work balance in life. However, we [believe] that the implementations are scarce. Don’t get us wrong. Work is important to us; it’s our source of income and professional fulfillment. But we think our family is more important and we are willing to reflect that in our priorities. This is the reason why we work four days a week instead of five, to have 50% more time with our families.
- There’s another collateral aspect that, we realized over time, also justifies to keep on working with this [type of culture] in our start-up: it turns into a competitive advantage. The best programmers choose us over big corporations with more attractive salaries [because of our working structure].
Every day we see excellent engineers choose to work in a 100% technical environment instead of having to be supervised by non-tech people. The degree of attraction and retention of talent for our start-up is excellent and, consequently, it generates an ideal work environment for this professional profile specifically.
How Did You Implement These Strategies in Your Start-up?
To achieve what was mentioned before, there are several factors we defined since our first day. We have stuck to those factors since we were only two co-founders, until today, with 34 employees. We grow an average of 102% annually in our revenues, [combining] everything with our own resources (bootstrapping) in five countries: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and Chile.
1) No More Meetings
One of the first factors that we modified was to do away with these kinds of meetings. No more personal or group meetings that interrupt 2 or more people’s time. There are no meetings to include in somebody’s work day.
I personally hate wasting time and losing track of what I was doing before a meeting so that I can be ready on time and fully prepared. First, you need to make the call, and then expect not to have communication issues, and finally, you need to fully concentrate again to program and be productive.
This change [to no meetings] can be simple for some people, others may not even think about it. I suggest you try it. Its potential is amazing and it has given us great results for the last six years.
In this way, we become asynchronous programmers. This means that we can work four hours fully concentrated and efficiently without being distracted. After that, when we have time, we are the ones who decide to answer an email/message. Our main means of communication is through text (no calls, no videos, and no meetings.)
2) No More Emails
This is not like the previous item, because we didn’t completely eliminate the emails as we did with the meetings. However, with this work mechanism we were able to reduce the amount of emails received daily from an average of 55 to less than five.
And this is not about the amount of emails, but about the productivity I achieved by not having to use my email as a To-Do list.
The idea of this item is to change the work methodology. We shouldn’t be imposed on by something and be sent to our desk with a task (push). On the contrary, we are the ones who should choose to work on the task we are more interested in (pull.)
To take this to our day-to-day reality, we created an internal tool that we named “iAutonomous.” This is a list of projects which our start-up is currently working on.
Each one of us can create a new project or incorporate ourselves into an already existent one.
If any member of the team creates a new project to work on, they must specify what it consists on, its aim, and the resources they need to achieve it (how many programmers, designers, etc).
[Additionally], if someone wants to get into an existent project, they just need to read the specifications, degree of development, and current status, then join the project.
iAutonomous is our custom-made software which administrates our projects as a SaaS tool (Software as a Service.) This is the pillar of our structure. No more emails telling us what to do, now each [person] decides what and when to do it.
3) There’s No Office
Since day one we agreed we wouldn’t have a physical office and each one of us would work from their houses in any country of Latin America.
This is the reason iAutonomous is so important, and why we’ll go on improving it over time. It allows us to know in real-time what each of the 34 members of this start-up is working on and their records. It tells us what projects they are participating on, how many hours they devote to it daily, what degree of development it has, what’s left to finish it, etc.
In order for this to work correctly we need to have clear goals and they need to be known to each and every one of us. Consequently, each created project and each invested hour is aligned with our annual goals in order to make our medium and large term goals a reality.
4) Only proactive engineers
Another factor that is crucial for this work methodology to succeed efficiently is to look exclusively for other engineers like us.
This means, we need people who don’t need to be told what to do and who don’t need to be supervised all the time.
Each one of us is considered as an entrepreneur per se. Each one knows when they are doing things correctly in time and manner.
We have definitely made mistakes and hired good engineers, who unfortunately didn’t have this profile. As our culture has consolidated throughout the years, we don’t need a manager to report a mistake. People who make mistakes are rapidly exposed in a few days or weeks and without wasting any time, we decide not to work with them anymore. This also avoids wearing the culture off and wasting the time of the people who do work well.
5) No more Fridays
Finally, we decided to eliminate Fridays. Unlike the previous items, this decision was made two years ago and not from the beginning.
If we live the work methodology described and fully focus effectively from Monday to Thursday, it’s more than enough to successfully reach our goals.
What Else Do You Think Readers Need to Know About This Work Structure?
I understand the readership may be thinking that this works only because our start-up emerged and grew with our own resources (bootstrapping), and because there were no investors we needed to explain our work or show results to. They may be thinking it also worked because we are from Latin America and not from the first world, or because we are a team of only engineers, etc. But we are not an isolated example,and I’m glad this doesn’t apply to us only.
Treehouse, a start-up with a venture capital investment of more than 20 million dollars and more than 100 employees, also implements it successfully. I invite you to try it and change the way in which you work.
Featured Image: Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock