How to Build a Fully Remote Company as a Digital Nomad, with Sondre Rasch

Gabriela Molina

Sondre Rasch is a co-founder and CEO of SafetyWing. Born in Bergen, Norway, he studied economics and computer science before starting work as a policy advisor for the government of Norway, advising on social policies. After getting frustrated with the slow pace of government change, Sondre first founded SuperSide (YC W16), a platform for freelance designers. He discovered the lack of a safety net for online remote workers. SafetyWing was born in 2018 (YC W18), has raised $35M investments, and has grown its community of 100k+ customers. Sondre is also a host of the Building Remotely podcast.

Digital nomad entrepreneur

Read the transcript

Luis:
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. I am your host, Luis, and this is your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. My guest today is Sondre Rasch. Sondre, thank you so much for being on the show.
Sondre Rasch:
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Luis:
Yeah. Sondre is the co-founder and CEO of SafetyWing that aims to build a global society safety net for remote workers and teams. So we have a lot to talk about, right? About, I mean, this mission that your company is in. I actually used this when I went to Brazil, and it was a nice trip,-
Sondre Rasch:
Nice.
Luis:
… because I ended up meeting my lovely wife. So I was a client back then, so yeah.
Sondre Rasch:
Oh, wow.
Luis:
But before we get into that, I want to ask about, how did you first come to remote work and especially how it impacted your career? I mean, it impacted your career a lot because you ended up building a company that’s for remote workers and teams. But tell me a bit about that story.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. So I discovered remote work very early, though, back in the year 2000. I was like 13, 14. I was playing this game called Planetarion, which was an early text-based MMO role-playing game, massively multiplayer role-playing game. And so, I met people there from different places in the world, and of course we used something called IRC, Internet Relay Chat, which was… It’s essentially what Slack is today. Slack I think was built as an IRC client.
Luis:
Oh, I did not know that. That’s very interesting.
Sondre Rasch:
I actually don’t know. That’s just my guess, given how similar it is.
Luis:
Yeah. It’s familiar. It’s familiar, right? I was there on IRC as well. I kind of miss it to be honest.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. So I met friends there from across the world and I tried to start a company or at least a website selling web hosting services that I hosted in a computer in my room at the time. But the point is, we did this remotely using IRC, not that dissimilar from how you would have a company on Slack today. I think actually, quite a lot of overlap. So yeah, I discovered remote work very early.
Luis:
Nice.
Sondre Rasch:
And then how has it impacted your life? Well, I’ve never considered building a company, not remotely. It didn’t seem novel to me. When you fast forward to 2015 and I start my company then, Superside, previous company, which is a remote company, a freelance platform, freelance designers doing projects for enterprises. And of course, SafetyWing as well is not only a fully remote company, but it’s also offering products for nomads and remote teams.
Luis:
Yeah. Okay. So I want to dig a bit deeper into that situation of your first company. Right? Why did you happen to build it remote? You said it was 2000 and what?
Sondre Rasch:
’15.
Luis:
Okay. 2015. Your first company?
Sondre Rasch:
Mm-hmm.
Luis:
Okay. So that was not usual at all at that time for people to default to building a company remotely. So why was that? I mean, I know that you were used to doing the whole online thing, IRC, et cetera. I came from that background as well. I usually say that my first big experience in leading remote teams was playing World of Warcraft with 40 people. Right? So that’s definitely something that I understand, but why did you decided that the right way to build a company in 2015 was remotely instead of just doing it as most people were doing it?
Sondre Rasch:
It’s not even something I considered at the time. Right? So it’s not like I’m thinking about it and then concluding, “Yes, let’s take the chance here.” I didn’t even ever consider it, to not build a company remotely. Why? Well, I mean, probably because I knew very well both how it worked and that it works. Two, I wanted that. Part of my motivation for starting a startup to begin with was the aspiration of the digital nomad lifestyle in the beginning and being free to move wherever I wanted.
Sondre Rasch:
Three, I was literally working with somebody. Of course, I was also doing that because I took it for granted that I could, but I was also working with someone who wasn’t in the same city. And four, we were building an online freelancer platform which is, by default, remote. So it’s like, it was very relevant to our product and team.
Luis:
Definitely makes sense.
Sondre Rasch:
Those are some strong reasons.
Luis:
Definitely makes sense. Yeah. So tell me a bit then, over the years, you were applying your lessons learned to building new companies, and then we get to SafetyWing. Right? So tell me a bit about how you built this team at SafetyWing, because when I was going over my notes for this show, one thing that surprised me is that SafetyWing’s team is distributed through a lot of the world. Right? Usually, when I talk to remote companies, they are a bit more… Even though they’re fully remote, they tend to be a bit more evenly distributed.
Luis:
Let’s say they have a team in South America, then they have a team usually in countries where the cost of living is lower so they can afford better people for a lower price, but that’s actually not the case of SafetyWing at all. Right? You have people all around the world and some of them in some relatively high-cost-of-living countries. So it does feel that your way of hiring is a bit different from what you usually see in the remote world.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. I mean, the way we hire is the way I think most companies will hire in the future, which is that our main way of getting candidates is on these remote job sites, Remote OK, We Work Remotely. And we don’t consider location. We do state some things. Right? For example, early in the process, for example, the fact that we do have office hours where we put internal meetings, which is 8:00 to 10:00 AM PST, which is the kind of timezone we found work for most of the world.
Sondre Rasch:
But that is a big down… The worst, especially if you’re in East, Pacific islands, that is quite an inconvenient… Late in the evening. But everywhere else, it kind of mostly works a little bit, kind of. And it’s not that big part of the week. It’s just three days, two hours.
Luis:
What is the overlap for the meetings?
Sondre Rasch:
10:00 AM PST.
Luis:
Got it. Yeah.
Sondre Rasch:
So that’s like early afternoon Europe, late afternoon Middle East, evening East Asia. Right?
Luis:
Yeah. All right.
Sondre Rasch:
Okay.
Luis:
All right.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. And then how do we hire? Well, I mean, we post jobs at remote job sites and we don’t look at it particularly when we’re hiring.
Luis:
Got it.
Sondre Rasch:
That’s the short answer. And when you don’t look at that when hiring and you post on these job sites, you get accidentally extremely distributed teams just by random. So we have 130 people now in the company overall. We’re in 70 different countries. It looks like we’re doing it on purpose. It looks like we’re trying to maximize countries, but we’re not doing that at all. That’s just happens to be how it just distributes when you’re not constraining which countries you can hire from.
Luis:
Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So tell me a bit about the story of you deciding that you needed to build this company. Did it come from any travel experience that you had? Why did you decide that, “Okay. The world…” Because you built a company before the remote boom. So you had to have some idea of, “Okay. This is coming and this is a service that’s going to be needing.” What’s the story behind that? When did you have that light bulb moment?
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. So my previous company was a freelancer platform. So it’s already in this working on the internet… So I was in this work-on-the-internet field, and I saw many things that is happening. And I am also philosophically interested and policy-interested and other things like that, so I was able to recognize what was happening. But there was one particular moment that I do remember. It was a genesis which was that in that company, we wanted, at some point, to provide freelancers on that platform with benefits like health insurance and other things, and we went out to buy it and we found that nobody offered it.
Sondre Rasch:
And I kind of understood. So one is, “Oh, this is a customer problem thing,” but I also understood what this was significant of, which was, of course, that we were early adopters being this freelancer platform and that, in the future, many more would work like this, and that the problem we were having was significant. It’s not having health, retirement, protection, like having the social safety net. So I tried for a year to get someone else to start this company, and we said we would be their first customers. So this is from spring 2016 to summer 2017. I went around and somebody almost did it, but nobody wanted to, and then concluded that, “Okay. Nobody’s going to do this, but this is a really important problem and we have to start now.”
Sondre Rasch:
And so, eventually I left that company to found SafetyWing together with Hans and Sarah, with the goal to build this global social safety net, something like what we had in the Norwegian social safety net available globally and digitally as a product, because I thought that was a pretty good solution. So you would have health, retirement, income protection, and we build them one by one, and then we kind of bundle as a membership at the end, where you pay 10% of your income to be a member in it, and also the beginning of a country on the internet. That was also something we saw this looked like the beginnings of. Yup.
Luis:
Yeah. So I do have to ask, what did the first months look like? Because it seems like such a huge deal. Just the logistics of making this work all around the world sounds staggering. How did you know where to begin?
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. It’s funny because you would expect a particular kind of answer, and then the true answer is, the first couple of months, we were drawing those bird illustrations you see on our website.
Luis:
That’s so cool.
Sondre Rasch:
That was literally like, I think…
Luis:
Let’s get the birds right first, and then we can take…
Sondre Rasch:
We got to get the birds right first. Yeah. That’s not an exaggeration. That is literally what we were doing most of the first three months of the company. Okay. But how did we approach the problem? We had a lot of great ideas on day one in SafetyWing, which is still a benefit to this day. But one of them was this idea of like, “Okay. We need to build a global social safety net. It ends with a community membership, but we can’t build it all in one go. We have to build one product at a time, and each product finances the next step.”
Sondre Rasch:
And then it’s like, “Where do we begin?” Well, what do people want the most, and what can we bring to market the fastest? But maybe the latter is even the more important of the two. And immediately, we had this idea. Travel insurance, that’s kind of international, isn’t it already? Is it possible to use on the legal framework for travel insurance to make a global health insurance that works everywhere? That was the initial idea.
Sondre Rasch:
And for our first product, that became Nomad Insurance. And of course, we were nomads ourselves, so it’s very easy to see Nomad Insurance made by nomads for nomads. So that was the initial product. So we made this plan, kind of presentation, but that’s something I learned in the past. I find it’s not smart to raise money, but it is very smart to make an investor presentation to think through your idea, because then you kind of structurally have to think through what’s the problem, what’s the solution, what’s the market, how are we going to get it to customers?
Sondre Rasch:
And it’s not that you have to have the final answer, but it’s good to have an idea on each of these. And so, we wrote that down and that was the initial product. And then distribution, we thought we would distribute it via the platforms, like freelancer platforms and other kinds of platforms on the internet, as well as word of mouth and an ambassador program. Yeah. So that was how we started. And then it’s three months of drawing birds, but it’s not only like… There’s just something we’re doing in parallel here, which isn’t very work-intensive. What we needed to do, we needed to get an insurance company that had licenses all over the world to believe in our product, develop it with us, so that we could sell it, because there are such big barriers to entry here.
Sondre Rasch:
So we could get some licenses to sell, but we can’t get the carrier license in every country in the world. That’s going to take 20 years and $20 billion. It’s impossible. So we needed this thing. And so, we wrote down 70 different things in an Excel sheet, and we had no idea. So I didn’t come from the insurance industry. And we knew the problem, but we came from, well, I guess tech or internet probably. So we wrote down, they had this brainstorming session, we came up with seven different ways, and we just implemented them all in parallel.
Sondre Rasch:
And the path that led us to this connection was, we just wrote an Upwork post that seemed like an insane person’s Upwork post, which was something like, “Yeah. Hi, we’re going to build a global social safety net and a country on the internet, and we want to start with this first product, global health insurance for online freelancers.” That was how we described it in the beginning. “And can you help us?” And this person responded to this ad, who was really good, and he had this partner who had this contact at this company, Tokio Marine. And it was through that contact that we were able to develop the first product, Nomad Insurance.
Luis:
Oh, nice. So you basically found someone on Upwork to help you build the partnership you needed to start?
Sondre Rasch:
That’s right.
Luis:
Wow. Okay. So that brings me to another set of questions, which is, so you’re a founder, right? How many founders were there at the beginning? Was it three? You talked about… Yeah.
Sondre Rasch:
Three, yeah.
Luis:
Yeah. So you’re three founders. You at least are a nomad, right? And usually, I’ve never met company founders that didn’t miss a full night’s sleep, right? Building a company takes a huge amount of work and a huge amount of personal sacrifice. So a lot of people don’t equate the fact that you can be a digital nomad and build a huge company. So I’d like you to tell us a bit, to tell my listenership a bit, about how did you balance that out, because I’m sure that you worked a lot, especially during the first founding years. Maybe you still do, but you also mentioned that you’re a digital nomad. So how do you manage to balance those two things?
Sondre Rasch:
Yes. Hmm. Yeah. I mean, the truth here is that I don’t think I experienced it that much. I understand there’s this contentious discussion online about worker versus not a worker, and I’m not on either side here. I work as much as necessary, but I don’t find that I’ve had to work… I feel like I don’t work as… I mean, I work, but I don’t feel like it’s very excessive, frankly, and I don’t find it very stressful either. There are times. It comes and goes. Every few months, there’s going to be some problem that is particularly frustrating and stress-inducing, but most of the time, I’m pretty fine.
Luis:
So how do you think that is? What do you do differently from many other founders that you actually managed to do that? Because that’s very interesting. I mean, obviously you want to work smart, not hard, but most of us end up working hard anyway. So how did you manage to organize your work life in a way to make that happen?
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. I mean, the most important thing is that work smart, but importantly, it’s… I think I’m slightly better at figuring out what matters than the average founder, but this is also something I learned. So only a few things matter is my analysis of the situation.
Luis:
Like the bird drawings?
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what matters, and people are totally wrong about it. People think that doesn’t matter. That really matters. That really matters. But what people think matters instead is, I don’t know, figuring out, really researching which accounting software to use or something like that.
Luis:
Yeah.
Sondre Rasch:
That’s the kind of thing people think, “Oh yeah, that’s hard.” Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So if you have that little grasp on reality, then you’re bound to… You spend a lot of time doing useless things. So I think that’s where most of it comes from. And part of this was, I mean, we have this as a value in the company. Do only the most important things. And I do truly think like, “How is it possible to be higher productivity without being a frantic, anxious, overstressed person?” It is only one way, and that is to prioritize your actions. It is to only do the most important things and nothing else.
Sondre Rasch:
And I do that deliberately in the form of having prioritization exercises. But also, I think I’m a little bit blessed with a good gut feel here as well. I have a good gut sense, and I can’t quite tell… Well, I often can’t even articulate why is this important, but I trust my gut sense here quite a lot. When something seems the right thing to do, they usually are. And so, I can trust that inner compass quite a bit.
Luis:
Yeah.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah.
Luis:
Couple of things that I want to mention first. Obviously, I’m picking up on the bird thing because it’s funny that that was your answer, but I can totally see why, because there’s just something that clicks when I go to the SafetyWing website. Okay. It feels that this is different somehow, right? That effort and care was put into this. It’s not like the person working in this grabbed some good stock art out of the internet and called it a day.
Luis:
And by the way, it takes time and effort to pick good stock art and mold it into a website, right? But this is something that people even took an extra mile. So I do agree that presentation matters for a lot more than people sometimes give it credit, so absolutely on that. But more of that, I have to wonder about the whole mission of building that. You gave the example of Norway, was it, or was it Finland, right?
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah, Norway. Yes.
Luis:
Norway. Okay. So you gave the example of the social net of Norway and broadening it to the world. And I think that’s a super interesting idea because ever since I started doing stuff online, I was starting my online life and I tried to make my life mostly online since 2004, right? I felt like the internet was its own country.
Luis:
And to this day, I feel… Okay. So my house is in Portugal, so obviously I need to do something in Portugal, but I kind resent paying most of my taxes to the Portuguese government because I live really as on the internet. Right? Portugal is the place where, sure, I use the roads and I use the facilities and et cetera. I’m not saying that we don’t owe something to the physical location where we live. Right?
Sondre Rasch:
Right.
Luis:
But I just feel that if you ask what kind of citizen, some people will say I’m a Portuguese citizen. Some people will say I’m a European citizen. I would say I am a citizen of the internet. Right? The internet is where I met my wife. The internet is where I built most of my businesses. The internet is where I got most of my jobs. The internet is where I have my entertainment, made lots of friendships. I am a citizen of the internet.
Luis:
So there’s this mind shift that you’re taking something that’s usually geographically located, in this case, in Norway, and you’re basically broadening it, I think it’s fair to say, to the internet. How else do you think we can build an internet country, so to say?
Sondre Rasch:
Yes. No. I mean, just to start with just emphasizing or agreeing with everything you just said, I also see it that way and that the internet is amazing and we’re still in the early stages of its rollout in a sense and that we spend most of our leisure time before remote work, with remote work. It’s all of it. And I thought it was very wise, the way you said it. We don’t owe nothing to our physical, but relatively speaking, it’s less. Most of the things we buy, I now buy on the internet. All of my work, most of my leisure, most of my social network. Okay.
Sondre Rasch:
So that’s the way it is. And we need to build these new digital institutions for a lot of things, I find. But one of them is the things that used to be the domain of countries, and that’s the kind of era, I think, we’re heading into. And by the way, just to say one line on the birds, why I think it’s so important, I don’t only think it’s important because it’s… The visual impression and that we look different, although I do think that’s important too, to look different, but I think it’s because art is the birthplace of ideas. It’s like, we have a hunch of something.
Sondre Rasch:
And it was only a few years in and we had this brand consultant say this line when they worked with us, and they were like, “Oh. So this world you’re building, that’s the world the birds live in.” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s actually true. That’s funny. We didn’t think of that when we were making it, but it totally makes sense when you say that. They do kind of live in a…” And of course, also, a lot of other things has emerged. Everyone in SafetyWing has this… When they first join, this illustrator draws them as a bird and they choose their own bird, and that’s the avatar everyone uses in the company, and the whole mythology around it. Everything is named, these kind of things.
Sondre Rasch:
And of course, the bird things really summarizes the idea, because it’s… Well, it’s obviously… It’s this particular freedom that a person can become like a bird with the internet. Right? And that’s the line, the new country, the equal opportunity and freedom for everybody that we have in our tagline. So that’s what I mean. I’m not just saying that it gave us the… We were beginning the thought. We spent a lot of time to really think about what it is we’re trying to do, even though we didn’t get it, but we did it in art. That was what I meant to say it was important, actually critical.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. To the question, why, what, and how can we build a country in the internet? Well, the most substantive thing I can say is that we will make a passport. So we have this project, Plumia, and there are 1,000 volunteers. There is an amazing project. We’ve had so much success with the nomad visa project. And we want to kind of build from that into a new passport for a country in the internet so that you and everyone else can have a second citizenship in that country on the internet, and you can also use that passport in digital space. Sorry, in analog space.
Sondre Rasch:
The reason why I think this is so important is that there’s a lot of things like, what do you get from a country? There’s many things, but some of the fundamental things I find is an identity so that you can enter into contracts. I don’t mean identity like I am an entrepreneur, but I am Sondre Rasch, and because of that, I can own shares or I can enter into a contract, because the way it works today is super duct tape-y, right? I mean, you go on a website and the terms and condition is like, “If there is a dispute on this product, that is to be resolved in the court of Delaware,” or something. Right? And then the company is from Argentina and the buyer is in China, and it’s like, this is a big joke.
Luis:
Makes no sense.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah, right.
Luis:
Right.
Sondre Rasch:
It’s really obsolete. But there is also this that locks people into this… More than anything else, it’s the passport that locks people into the countries that there are so they can move around in the way that they can in digital space. So that’s a key one, is to make a passport and a global community. But there’s much more to it. It’s like, we’re trying to figure out what it is as we’re making it. What is a country on the internet, and how can you make sure that it’s good? I think this is going to be… If we succeed with this, this is a big story of our time. Yeah. But we’re figuring it out as we’re building it.
Luis:
I agree. It’s an amazing concept. I’m very, very, very happy that there are people thinking about this because I think that’s the way to go. We’ve seen some states go fully digital, and you can apply… So you can apply for a digital citizenship in some European countries. But I feel like, if it’s digital, why keep imposing geographic barriers on it? Right. Why not just go full-fledged digital? And I realized that some countries don’t want to play nice with that. Right? It’s still a bit of the legacy blood feuds of hundreds of years ago, sadly.
Luis:
But I have to think that it’s something that once it gets to critical mass, even the naysayers will have to accept that it’s a thing. So I’m super happy that you and your team and hopefully more people, more and more people, will start thinking about this.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. And oh, by the way, I’m so happy. You said that thing about the culture and being from the internet. I mean, that is a thing that we’re just seeing the inklings of. I mentioned we have people from 70 different countries, but they’re not that different. Why? Because they all grew up on the internet.
Luis:
Yeah, exactly.
Sondre Rasch:
Which is of course this interesting thing, which is that there is this emerging universal culture. I say universal, I mean, because it’s like, there is a particular way to be on the internet that kind of works with many different cultures. Right? And you have to learn that when you’re in a remote team, and that universal culture also tends to pick good ideas from different places and kind of implement it in it. And that’s the internet culture, right? And I think it’s such a cool thing. This emerging new country in the internet definitely has a culture and it’s definitely from the internet, and that’s a cool thing.
Luis:
Yeah. I want you to talk a bit about how that influences the culture at SafetyWing because, I mean, one of my life’s missions is to understand how do we make work become a bit more like what I had in World of Warcraft, because when I was in a World of Warcraft guild managing, leading 40 people, it did feel that World of Warcraft sometimes was work. That’s why we call it the grind, right? That’s why we call it the grind. That was probably the most work-like game that I ever played. But yet, the interactions and the bonds from playing it were so strong. Maybe gamification has also something to do with this. It’s an open question. I’m trying to figure it out.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah.
Luis:
But the reality is that even with, let’s say by internet standard, Stone Age tools, I mean, we didn’t have video calls. We used IRC and we use TeamSpeak to talk with the worst voice quality possible over the worst microphones and headsets possible, and still, my World of Warcraft guild probably has better bonds than 90% of the remote companies out there.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah.
Luis:
So at DistantJob, I try to work hard to create a similar culture of camaraderie, and I bet you do too. So I want you to… I mean, to your point, the birds, the fact that everyone has their bird avatar is part of it. So how much of it have you intentionally built and how much of it is a part of the people you hired? And I guess, finally, how do you try to nurture it?
Sondre Rasch:
Yes. So it’s a bit of a combo of those things you said. And I also had the same experience by the way, not through World of Warcraft, but through this other game I mentioned, where there was also allegiance and… Sorry, alliances that was called there, but equivalent to guilds. And often looking back, I’m still impressed. I’m still looking at some of those best alliances, and I’m like, “This is amazing,” like how they were organized and how cohesive and motivated they were. It is just off the charts.
Sondre Rasch:
And what did they do? Well, I mean, let’s just take a second to reflect on what they did, I know, in the World of Warcraft, but looking back at the Alliance. I ran there, but also some of the best. Well, one is, they had incredibly, incredibly unique names and associated visual arts and an associated name. So it’s like, for example, one of the leading alliances was called the Legion and had this Roman slogan under it. Every galaxy had their own artwork. Every name followed this trajectory and things they were doing. Okay?
Sondre Rasch:
And that gave it a very imposing, epic look. So that was one thing I noticed, and all of them kind of had this. Yeah. They discovered their own, but that one was particularly evolved. And that’s something we have just straight up introduced in SafetyWing. Right? We call everything. It’s not as powerful. It almost is like too… It’s a bit embarrassing to have as strong imagery as they do in those alliances. Right? So we’re always on the lighter side because we feel like we still have to say this within a regular work context, but what I think are really-
Luis:
Yeah. The normies are watching.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. Exactly. But I think that you shouldn’t be embarrassed here on the strength of the metaphors and the imagery. So that’s one thing I notice that they do great. What else do they do really well? They’re not afraid to put… Here’s the crazy thing. I’m sure they do it in WoW. They were not, back then, shy about putting completely unrealistic requirements on their members. I don’t know if you had this in World of Warcraft, but it’s ridiculous. Right? It’s like…
Luis:
Sure. Sure. I needed to fill a CV where I explained my key binding.
Sondre Rasch:
Right. Yeah. And we had to get up at 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the morning and check if there are incoming attacks. And very often, you would end up sitting awake all the time doing that. It was so much work, and for what?
Luis:
Exactly.
Sondre Rasch:
For what? It’s unclear, but this is another way I-
Luis:
Most people wouldn’t do that for the job that pays their paycheck. Right?
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. No. And we’re not asking it either. I feel like we’re a bit shy about it. In SafetyWing, even if I do have quite an impressive and actually worthwhile mission, but we are trying to do like you. I’m also doing this and I’m trying to learn what I learned from those early internet game alliances and guilds and to see how we can implement it, because I also find that corporate culture, just all of it sucks. Best practice sucks, almost all of it. It’s really, really poor.
Sondre Rasch:
I found HR best practices is the best summary of why it sucks, is because they’re optimizing on preventing a particular kind of downside, which is often even obsolete. Right? So it’s like, what is HR? In theory, that is making sure you have a great team, a critical component. But is that what they seem to be optimizing towards? And everyone knows. No, it seems largely optimized towards admin and making sure they don’t get sued.
Luis:
Yeah. It’s like, that’s it. It’s basically people covering their backsides. It’s kind of sad, to be fair.
Sondre Rasch:
Right. So you need to kind of bust through that, and that is very difficult, as we’re building SafetyWing, the hardest thing, because everyone comes from other corporations. They think that things work like the way they are in this inauthentic, BS-y way which optimizes for the wrong thing very often to prevent some kind of downside risk, and they think that’s somehow a law of the universe. But that’s why I think people like you and me have to hold on to these alliances and just say like, “No. I’ve seen organizations work much better than this, and they didn’t work anything like this crap you’re saying here.”
Luis:
Yeah. And guess what, sometimes people say the wrong thing. Sometimes, people got angry with each other. Sometimes, people hurt each other. And what did the leaders and the managers do? They patched things up. They got people talking. Right? You didn’t need to have all these rules and regulations and here’s how you behave yourself. No. You call people out if you wanted to get a good environment and you help people talk things through. And if you see that someone wasn’t playing nice, well, you would kick them off the alliance or the guild. Right?
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah, yeah.
Luis:
But that’s always the last resort, because there was also the case that if you were in the guild or the alliance, it was because you were needed. Right? So people have an incentive to work through their problems too, because there wasn’t really people taking space. Right? If you were there, you were filling a function and the group, the team depended on you.
Sondre Rasch:
Yes. And another great example is like, where does motivation comes from? This is something I find people are profoundly confused about in the corporate world. But you see so much great motivation in those alliances, and it’s because of the camaraderie, like you said. It’s because of the meaning and the cohesion that comes from having this shared cause which is so uncompromisingly pursued.
Sondre Rasch:
And that’s where I find motivation comes from. It’s not from ballrooms, or even a lot of benefits. I find that people will increase the benefits. And there’s nothing wrong with benefits, obviously, but I find that people will do that as a substitute for getting motivation. But the real way of getting motivation is, it requires much more boldness and it’s actually free. It requires courage and imagination, not money.
Luis:
Yeah. Exactly, right? It’s like the hierarchy of needs or it’s like a four- or three-legged stool, right? All the components are important, right? You can give the benefits. But for example, I did some consulting with a company about gamification and they wanted me to gamify their projects, and I always start with the why, and the main reason I found out that they wanted to gamify their projects was that they wanted to give less raises. Right? They wanted to pay less. Right? They didn’t want their people to be so expensive in the long run, and I’m like, “Well, we can gamify a lot of your processes and get people to believe work are more fun, but if they’re not satisfied with their salary, they’re not going to be motivated, just as they’re not going to be motivated if they’re well-paid, but if the work they’re doing isn’t inspiring in any way.”
Luis:
Now, I’m not trying to sound like the follow-your-passion guru. I know that sometimes stuff is hard work and you just have to do it. Right? Again, we go back to the grind of the MMOs. They were fun games, but not everything about them was fun, but you were working toward the result. So I do think that there’s this juggling act that modern companies need to do, where the pay doesn’t need to be extravagant, but it needs to be right. But getting the pay right, even though… I mean, certainly, making payroll is no joke. But getting the mission right is harder than getting pay right, I find.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. I agree. It’s harder and more crucial. And thankfully, I think we’ve kind of done that at SafetyWing, which is so great, and we’re still holding on to it and we see that really well.
Luis:
So how have you gotten people on board with that? Right? Is it at the interview level? What’s the level at what you get and where you get the people on board with that mission?
Sondre Rasch:
Here, I had a great benefit in having built one company beforehand. So I knew what was important and wasn’t, and I made some hard lessons. Not everything in corporate world is BS. For example, one thing I was mistaken on is this vision and values thing. I slotted that as corporate BS, and it wasn’t. That’s actually the only thing you got when it reaches a certain scale. So we did these things really early. So we wrote down, and I also knew that a value… Well, vision and values is MVP, minimum viable product, of culture, and there are better and worse values. Values are things that ideally, they’re always true, so you can optimize on them all across disciplines and time. And together, they point in some direction.
Sondre Rasch:
So we spent a lot of time on that. And we wrote down, early when we were just the founders, our first version of vision and values, which I think was well-thought-out and then we’ve iterated on it a few times. But that was a key component, was we did some of these things early, and therefore it’s flown into the company from the beginning. It wasn’t something we applied top-down when we were 100 people, then it would be very difficult.
Sondre Rasch:
And that, of course, is also expressed in how we hire, and perhaps the top thing that we hire that is different from how other companies hire. I would say we put a great emphasis on one of our values which is authenticity, which I think is this super great hack that fits well with our values and it’s easy to recognize. It’s hard to fake and nobody else is looking for it, which is really good.
Luis:
So can you elaborate a bit on that?
Sondre Rasch:
Mm-hmm.
Luis:
What does that mean to you and how do you interview for it?
Sondre Rasch:
Yes. So, authenticity, well, I should say it’s one of those things which it’s easy to recognize. It’s kind of like that old line like, “What is pornography? I know it when I see it,” from that court case in the… It is a bit like that. I think it’s true. But there are also other signs. I find signs of being awake, authenticity sign, people who are sleepwalking a little bit. You tend to think of awake as like, “Either I’m awake or I’m not,” but there’s also actually a spectrum, and people who are very awake tend to be quite authentic. Other things they say, unusual expression, people using their own phrases, people who seem to explain basic phrases different than the mainstream, people who just conjures up some kind of worldview.
Sondre Rasch:
And then there are very strong signs of inauthenticity. That’s just the opposite of that. Right? It’s just using these trend phrases and words where you’re like, “Ah, that sounds smart, but gosh, I kind of swear I’ve heard that before.” Yeah. And here, there is a spectrum. And when people use the density of these things, they’re not being themselves, meaning they’re not authentic. That’s not who they are on the inside. And it’s very unfortunate because that means you’re not even seeing who they are. Right? You can collect… You can do a whole job interview only with these kind of phrases that you don’t even know what means.
Luis:
Yeah. People are like on autopilot, right? As a podcaster, I think that’s 90% of the job. That’s why I do free-flowing interviews instead of scripting interviews with set questions. Right? People have refused to be in the podcast if I don’t present them a list of questions, and I don’t do that because, to me, the interview only really begins when I get the question that wakes up the guest. Right?
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah. And the other thing that I do is that I ask things I’m genuinely curious about, and that also sets you up with a great conversation. You look over their résumé and their application and then something I’m actually interested in, like, “Is it hard to win the national chess championship?” or “What is this organization? Why did you do that?” Very often, it’s not the main thing. Immediately get to the interesting stuff and you’ll get to see if there’s any substance behind it, because all the default things, that’s prepared for.
Sondre Rasch:
And I have no idea why people waste their time on interviews, and then they ask the kind of questions that can be prepared for, and that will be prepared for, because you’re not getting an accurate view of the candidate population that way.
Luis:
Yeah. Exactly. It reminds me a bit of Peter Thiel’s interview question that, “What is the thing that most people believe that you disagree with?” Right? It reminds me a bit of that question as well.
Sondre Rasch:
Yeah, I agree. That question has a similar vibe, but I wouldn’t stop with that question because there’s a whole flora of potential things you can ask, and they’re best… Like you said, it will come from a genuine curiosity.
Luis:
Yeah. Exactly. Oh, well, time flew by. This was nice, but I do want to, I mean, be respectful of your time. So let me wind down a bit with a final question. This one is a preset question that I like to ask everyone, and then you can tell people about SafetyWing and the things that are coming soon and where people can find you, but first…
Luis:
Okay. So my set final question is, let’s say that you’re getting people together for a dinner. Let’s say that it’s okay to have a big dinner with lots of people these days, right? You are hosting a dinner and in attendance are the decision makers from tech companies from all over the world. The topic of the night, the topic of discussion is remote work and the future of work, and the twist is that this dinner happens at a Chinese restaurant. So you, as the host, get to choose what comes written in the Chinese fortune cookie. So what is the message?
Sondre Rasch:
It’s so narrow. It’s dull. I don’t know. I think I would write, “Think bigger.”
Luis:
Think bigger. All right. That’s a good fortune cookie.
Sondre Rasch:
Mm-hmm.
Luis:
All right. Think bigger. So thank you so much for being here and doing this. I lost track of the time during this conversation. It was very fun. Thank you so much for being such a great guest. And I want to ask you, where can people learn more about you? Where can people continue the conversation? Where can they find SafetyWing, and what can they expect from SafetyWing in the future?
Sondre Rasch:
Yes. So you can find us at safetywing.com. We also have a project for building a remote company, like you’re interested in, called buildingremotely.com. So from SafetyWing, you can get insurance for digital nomads, Nomad Insurance, $42 a month, and a subscription if you’re going to live as a snowman for a while, or if you have a remote team. There’s health insurance for remote teams. You can get that for your team. Even if they’re employees or contractors across the world, you can have their own one dashboard.
Sondre Rasch:
And in the future, you can expect things from us like Remote Retirement, first retirement product for remote teams and nomads. You can expect Remote Doctor, first global virtual doctor service. You can expect Plumia, in five years at least, to get their first version of their passport out. And beyond that, we’ll see what comes of the first country on the internet. Stay put.
Luis:
Now looking forward to being a citizen. Thank you for thinking about these things, and this was a pleasure having you here. Thank you so much.
Sondre Rasch:
Thank you, Luis, and I enjoyed it.
Luis:
And thank you for listening to the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. See you next week. And so, we close another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners. And the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners.
Luis:
Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast, click on your favorite episode, any episode really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up so you can actually produce the conversations in text form.
Luis:
And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob Podcast.

Digital nomad entrepreneurship is not easy, but according to Sondre Rasch is definitely worth it. During this podcast, he shares his remote work journey and how he built his first remote company as a digital nomad.

Sondre shares how with two other founders, they were able to build SafetyWings, a company offering insurance for global citizens and remote teams continually on the road.

Highlights:

  • How to build and manage a remote company
  • Building a company as a digital nomad
  • How to identify and prioritize what truly matters
  • Insights about the digital nomad visa project
  • Where does motivation come from in remote teams?
  • Why the mission and vision of a company is fundamental

Interested in nomad insurance? Check it out!

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up every Monday!

Are you our next superstar remote developer?

You live, breathe and eat code, and have fun figuring out how to solve problems. And you love living in South America or Eastern Europe. But you don’t feel as fulfilled as your friends in North America.

I NEED A JOB