Running Remote Businesses Life-First with Adii Pienaar

Adii Pienaar is the founder of  Conversio  and lives in Cape Town, South Africa. Prior to Conversio, Adii was the co-founder of WooThemes /  WooCommerce . Today Adii is a family man (which is why Conversio is a life- and family-first company) who enjoys running, reading and wine.

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Adii Pienaar

Luis Magalhaes:    Hello ladies and gentlemen. This is your host, Luis, with another episode of DistantJob Podcast, and before I get into interviewing my guest, I have an announcement to make. As you probably know by now, but in case you didn’t, we are partners with the Running Remote Conference that’s happening in Bali this year, the 29th and the 30th of June and it’s going to be a conference all about, well building and leading remote teams, which happens to be the topic of this podcast. Since we are partners, we are having a discount for our followers. The people who follow DistantJob, if you go to runningremote.com, when you try to buy a ticket, you can insert the code DistantJob for a 20% discount.

Now, this podcast is going live on Friday, May 31, and this is the last day before the ticket prices go up, but if you’re not listening to this on the exact day that it comes out, well even though the prices may have gone up, you can still save 20% with our coupon code. If you register at runningremote.com, once again the code is DistantJob and you’ll get 20% off.

The reason I’m announcing this on this episode, is that the guest that I’m about to interview is Adii Pienaar. Adii is the founder of WooThemes and Conversio. He is currently working on Conversio, and he is delivering a talk on how to build culture in a remote company from scratch. He is a very family oriented and life-first person. He strives to model his current company culture to put those values first, and we have what I think is a very pleasant conversation. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and if you really enjoy it, be sure to go to Bali, to Running Remote, and check out his talk.

So once again, the discount code that you should apply at runningremote.com is DistantJob. That will get you 20% off and without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Adii Pienaar.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the DistantJob Podcast, a podcast about building and leading remote teams who win. I am your host, Luis, and today’s guest is Adii Pienaar. Adii, welcome on the podcast. Please, tell our listeners who you are, and what you’re all about?

Adii Pienaar:    Thanks, so first off, thanks for having me, Luis. It’s always great to get the opportunity to just kind of speak about one’s ideas and experience and tell one’s story, right, so thanks for having me. I guess kind of your two things that at least professionally that people should know about me and my professional bio is that I was previously co-founder of WooThemes and WooCommerce.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    Built the first product way back in 2007 now, which means coming on 12 odd years, and especially 12 odd years in internet years is an absolutely lifetime. But so kind of WooThemes, and WooCommerce was my first real gig, which I exited in late 2013, stepped down as CEO there. And then in 2014, started working on my current company, which is called Conversio and Conversio is an e-marketing, social [inaudible 00:03:50] specifically for e-commerce merchants, so kind of just sticking close to what we were doing before commerce.

That’s kind of me professionally. Personally, one thing I will say is I am a total wine snob, or wine enthusiast, at least. Something quirky, and more recently I’ve been getting into poetry, and I actually hope to publish a bit of my own poetry in the next couple of months.

Luis Magalhaes:    Wow.

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:    That’s great. So regarding the wine, have you visited Portugal? I know you like to travel. Have you been to Portugal?

Adii Pienaar:    I have been to Portugal once. I’ve been in Lisbon, and I have had some Portuguese wine. Portugal is probably one of the kind of the better known wine areas of the world, except for ports, obviously. I’ve had some amazing [inaudible 00:04:41] ports, but other kind of wine, Portuguese wine, I’ve unfortunately not had a kind of extensive ability to indulge, I’ll say.

Luis Magalhaes:    Let you know the next time you’re around, I will take you places. I [crosstalk 00:04:57]-

Adii Pienaar:    That sounds like a good plan.

Luis Magalhaes:    … might not be able to bring you back from places, but I will definitely [crosstalk 00:05:00]-

Adii Pienaar:    That sounds like an easy problem to solve as well, I’m sure between an Uber or some kind of, or just using our feet, we can have a good time.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, well, certainly, certainly. Besides poetry, I know that you’ve written a lot about… I guess a lot of people would say business, but when I read your stuff, sometimes it feels more like philosophy, than actually business. You definitely have some very interesting writings, and I’ll be sure to include the links on the show notes to everything that you do, but also to your blog.

Now we’ve got in touch because of the Running Remote Conference, that’s going to happen in Bali at the end of June, and links to that will also be in the show notes. You’re giving a talk there. Essentially I feel like it’s about building a culture that scales and guides the growth of communication and the business and specifically kick-starting this culture, because I think that you’re focusing on young businesses and start-ups. Did I get the gist of that?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, totally. That is what I’m hoping to kind of share at the conference.

Luis Magalhaes:    Without giving too many spoilers, what’s exciting to you about this topic? Why did you pick it?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, so I think kind of at least, I’ll say this, right? My kind of motivation for wanting to speak about this, I mean it relates directly kind of to my learning in Conversio and how I did things in Conversio. But kind of precursor to that was the fact that with WooThemes when kind of Magnus, Mark and I, Magnus and Mark were my co-founders. When we started working together and formalized WooThemes in 2008 right, I think we were all very young. We were very inexperienced, I mean it was… for all of us it was our first gig. And when we started building a team and Woothemes originally had a hybrid model right, so we had a small Cape Town office, but the biggest part of the team was remote and Magnus, Mark and I worked together for 16 months I think.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    Before the three of us were in the same room for the first time right, so we kind of… thinking back to the way we built the company, it was very much… and the company was growing insanely fast in those kind of early years, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    Because we were definitely riding a wave with WordPress, and I think in terms of if I think about cultures and values, many of those things within WooThemes at least we had to… kind of either it happened to us, or we had to retrofit something afterwords when we realized… hey wait, like this thing here is broken or is inefficient or is not going to serve us going forward, how do we kind of change that?

So for me there was a very kind of… and just going through that experience and knowing that the old saying is always, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    But that kind of idea. It’s much harder to break dow a habit, than it is to establish a new one.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    So going into Conversio, I really wanted to ensure that from day one we created a space that… where anyone that comes into that space would immediately have some kind of alignment, filter and alignment, right. So kind of filtering who comes into that space, and then alignment in terms of just, generally what we believe and how we go about pursuing the goals, the commercial goals that we’ve set ourselves as to avoid that situation where we had to kind of again retrofit this or-

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    … be reactive kind of later on in establishing kind of that culture and the values around the business.

Luis Magalhaes:    So how do you test for that alignment? What are you, do you have some specific questions, do you do a trial run, what’s your process to figure? Because it’s easy to figure out skills, skills are the easy parts.

Adii Pienaar:    Well, yes. I wholeheartedly agree and I think just in already saying that, I think that’s the first of it, I think that’s where many people make the difference, or the mistake, right. Which is, for us as start, I mean it’s cliché, I mean this is not my words right.

Luis Magalhaes:    Sure.

Adii Pienaar:    But we try and hire people over skills, right, because as you say the skills part is easy, and I think just being aware of that differentiation and knowing that kind of you can have a look at someones resume and see skills, and you can test for skills. Like if you were hiring an engineer, you can do a project with them, right? Or if you’re hiring a writer, they can submit a test to you for your writing party. So that’s the easy part and I think, the first step is literally just to be aware of, tick those boxes, but then you have to focus kind of the majority of your time on these other things.

So for me, like we… I think we have a relative, for a small team, I think we have a rigorous kind of recruiting process in the sense that we ask a lot of applicants, in terms of kind of literally hoops they have to jump through. And not to create hoops, but to make sure that we kind of really filter out the candidates that are not interested in us, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    So kind of a couple of things that I can kind of quickly cover is, one of the things that we ask for in the very first application, is literally like, “Why do you want to join Conversio?” And if that answer is in any way generic, then I don’t even look at anything else, right. You can be the best candidate on paper, but if that’s generic, and you can’t tell me something about yourself that resonates with Conversio, right, like even if it’s just like, “Hey, I saw this thing about life and family under your first culture that you have, that really resonates with me, that’s why.”

Like, that’s enough right, that’s just kind of, that’s how that door opens. So we do kind of influence thought, we do small things like that. But then thereafter, like we did two phases for candidates, one is a kind of written text-based Q & A.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    And if you progress from there, it’s video-based. But in all those conversations, what I’m essentially trying to test for is… I mean one of the things that I try and hire for is someone that likes a challenge, and I want to know how kind of, how they take on those challenges, and specifically, what I want to learn is how they learn about how to overcome those challenges.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    So I would ask questions and stuff, but where I’m trying to figure out like, you have a challenge, tell me about a time you had a challenge before?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    How did you learn about the kind of solutions about this, how did you react, how did you feel afterwards? So you literally just get someone talking about those qualitative things, the softer things, as a way for them to represent their DNA. Because that’s what you want, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    You just want to understand how. Because you can’t mimic, I can’t give them an exact historic thing and say, “You know what, in our team this thing popped up a week ago, how would you have done that?” I mean that’s a very hindsight thing.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    Right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    You have to get them to explain an experience in their own words. But that’s essentially, I mean it’s kind of high-level, but those are the kinds of questions that I ask to try and uncover just more about who this person is, and much kind of less about what they can actually do.

Luis Magalhaes:    And you’ve been adopting this kind of stance for how long now?

Adii Pienaar:    From the very beginning. So I mean, I think the way we’ve hired has kind of evolved slightly.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    But the basics are exactly the same, from the very first hires to our most recent hires, they’ve gone through that exact same kind of process. Some of my questions have changed, some I’ve eliminated, some I’ve kind of even added whatever. But at least they’re kind of the theory around this has been the same from the start.

Luis Magalhaes:    That’s great, that’s great. So that’s definitely, now it’s a matter or refinement then?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:    So let’s talk a bit about the remote part. Your company is fully remote, right? At least that’s the sense I got when I was looking at it. So how did this come about? Was it just something natural, or did you specifically set out to build a remote company? How did this happen? What was the reasoning behind this?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, so I mentioned earlier that WooThemes had a kind of hybrid model, in the sense that we had about a third, slightly less than a third of the new team was based in Cape Town, where I’m still based. But the rest of team was fully remote, and I found that [inaudible 00:13:28] to be challenging and just challenging. I think that’s much harder than either being fully in-office or fully remote.

Luis Magalhaes:    That’s true.

Adii Pienaar:    Purely because, if you think about communication and discipline around communication, if you have a fully remote team and kind of the protocol in the team is, “Listen here, every discussion happens over email, or every discussion happens on Slack, then that’s easy right? But when you have an hybrid model, it was very easy for us to kind of walk over to someone’s desk, have a quick conversation, make a decision, and perhaps it only needed two people in that conversation, right? But the subsequent discipline of then also just perhaps posting the context and the decision somewhere online for the rest of the team to kind of see it didn’t happen right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    So, and I think that kind of imperfection or that challenge is what made me decide this year, this needs to be a fully distributed and remote team, and then beyond that I think… that was just from personal experience, right? The rest of my motivations for a remote team is all about being able to tap into a global workforce, which I think that kind of that flexibility and the optionality involved there is great. And then I also think it’s much easier to have kind of your family and life-first approach with a remote team.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    Because even for me as a, I mean I remember when we had the office in Cape Town, I always felt that as CEO I had to lead by example, so I would be in the office first and often I would be out last, right? And that, that was such a, I mean it’s such an arb way of thinking, like even I know that that’s just irrational, it didn’t have to be that. Nobody was, I don’t actually think anybody cared how much time I spent in the office.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    But I think just by having the physical space of not, and that’s not having that kind of stupid and irrational social kind of pressures and cues. I think it’s actually much better to create that kind of work-life balance, and also just boundaries, like help everyone figure out their own boundaries instead of, this is how I work, and this is how I do my best work without having to think, “Shit, if I don’t go into the office today, what is everyone else going to think about me?”

So it just blurs, I think when the lines are completely blurred, it’s much, much easier to, to do that.

Luis Magalhaes:    Oh yeah, definitely, and that’s actually something that I wanted to bring up when I saw that. Because it plays a big emphasis in that, in the fact that your company is a life and family-first company. And I wanted to drill down a bit on the specifics of how you help people achieve that, because so in my experience with remote work it happens… I’ve met a lot of people that are in one of the extremes. Either, since they bring their work into their home, they actually neglect their family more than if they had a separate physical location. But then once they except that, okay I’m going to be family-first and life-first… beautiful, beautiful thing, but they end up not being work enough.

Adii Pienaar:    Definitely.

Luis Magalhaes:    It’s like they went yip, okay, so I have this with my wife, and I have this with my kid, and then I have that, and then I have that, and I will work later, later, later, later, later and then it comes to the part where they actually have, we actually have to face the fact that we tried to give this person a lot of freedom and flexibility, but they ended up not preforming the minimal of the, to minimal standards.

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:    Because then we don’t want to say, “Well you can’t have all the flexibility that you promised, clearly not working for you.” that just feels mean. So how, have you ever met this dilemma and how do you solve that?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, so I mean, so the last time I had this challenge was with [inaudible 00:17:17] I think that’s because we weren’t as focused on hiring for cultural fits, culture and values fits. And I mean this is obviously years ago, but I think in all those cases where that, the way they played out was… those teams members eventually just left. There would kind of be a conversation like, “Listen here you need to step up, it’s not working, you need to increase your output, blah, blah, blah.”

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    And then if that happened the second or third time, they would just be asked to leave, right, so, I didn’t think that was a great way of doing it. I think the reason we’ve not struggled with Conversio, is I think it’s twofold, right? So, for me it’s firstly finding individuals that want to do stimulating challenging work, they’re high-performing individuals, they find joy in their work. So in that sense, they’re not going to kind of just sit at home and not do anything, and when I say that, I’m also always reminded, I can’t remember whether it was Jayson Fleet or at DHH, either one of them wrote at one stage about this kind of idea of millionaires exiting their business and they said, “The kind of person that can sell a company for the kind of money that allows you to sit on an island and sip piña colada’s for the rest of your life, is probably also the kind of person that will never do that.”

Because that’s the kind of person that will just get bored after a couple of weeks of sipping piña colada’s on their own island. I think that’s the first part of it, right, so trying to find people that really value their work, and want to do the work.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    And then the second parts I think relates back to kind of-

Luis Magalhaes:    I’ll take your challenge by the way, I will try to do the piña colada on an island for the rest of my life then, I will take that challenge.

Adii Pienaar:    … well let me know how that works out, for you? Except personally I think for me at least is, I could definitely do some of it, but eventually I would want to kind of make something.

Luis Magalhaes:    I get you.

Adii Pienaar:    But so for me and then coming up beyond that, I think the second part is just the cultural part, right, which is about us as a team, and if we’re all committed and working towards a similar vision here, you know we notice when someone is not… I don’t want to say pulling their weights, because everyone goes through seasons, right? But when someone isn’t contributing, and when someone isn’t aligned anymore, and that’s a… it kind of that has happened for us as well. So if the whole team grows and evolves in a certain direction, and one person is standing still, then they become the outlier. And sometimes it is possible to reel them back in, and sometimes they just kind of are phased out literally.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    And I think a key part here is that kind of peer-to-peer accountability that needs to be there and say, “You know what, hey Louise like, on our weekly kind of call, I’ve not seen you there, what’s up? Is there something up, are you starting work, is there perhaps something at home that’s kind of troubling you, that’s preventing you from doing your work? You didn’t do this or that, that prevented us from making progress here?” So I think again, those are all kind of almost cultural things that becomes the norm, and sort of how we deal with each other, and make sure that all of us are kind of pulling into the same direction with kind of a similar kind of course.

Luis Magalhaes:    Got it, got it. So what about the opposite? When I was working in an office I, there were a couple of times I physically kicked people out of the office, I told them, “You are not allowed to work anymore, go home, go to your out, to your non-work life.” I find it harder to do that remotely. I can’t cut peoples access to Slack or Basecamp. [crosstalk 00:21:09] How do you try to, how do you take care of the guys that are at risk of burnout?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, so firstly I agree with you. I think that’s very hard, I think with the, considering the availability of technology and then you overlap the fact that, at least for us, and I think there are probably many of your listeners as well, they’re also working on tech companies of some sorts right? Which means that the fact that we are so connected to our devices, we are very, very close to work at all times.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    So I think we, we try and do a couple of things, which is, we at least say that it is not a requirement, unless it’s urgent to… we encourage it like, if you have Slack on your phone, it’s not a requirement to have Slack on your phone, but please just switch off notifications.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    That’s one thing, and again that’s your choice, I can’t force you, but we at least try to raise kind of that or raise that awareness around, this is not at expectation, and here’s a best-practice. So we do that, that’s the first part thereof. I also think we do kind of in terms of… on a bigger scale, what we do for holidays for example… So initially we had, and we still have unlimited holidays, right, but we’ve evolved that to be unlimited and minimum, so we have some, like you can take as much as you want, but you also have to take a minimum amount of holidays.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    And one of those we do require you to take at least a week off at a time, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    If not longer. And what we do from a teams’ perspective is, the team will often like if, if I’m away for a week, and I pop into Slack, into a conversation, they will literally tell me like, “Adii bugger off, like you’re on holiday, like be with your fam.” Right, so again, they can’t, we can’t prevent an individual from doing that, but it is at least frowned upon, or the spirit [inaudible 00:23:10] often for all of us-

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    … for you to be offline completely, rest up, rejuvenate and come back refreshed.

Luis Magalhaes:    Right.

Adii Pienaar:    So it’s… I don’t think it’s perfect, but it mostly works.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay, yip, you’ve got to check in, so basically checking in. Checking in and holding people accountable to resting, that’s how I try to do it and it’s… but, so do you, have you talked about some first principles that help you manage a specifically remote company? What would your first principles be?

Adii Pienaar:    So, no actually, I mean so for me at least the kind of the idea of first principles is very much kind of a recent exploration, all right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    So I would say it’s probably more, almost kind of esoteric in the sense, in how I apply my thinking about kind of first principles, about fundamentals in the business, in the way that I’m just starting to think about it, right, or I just have awareness about it. For me if I take a step back and I say, “When I started the company, I didn’t call it a family and life-first company. Those were words that kind of evolved within the team, as we kind of got there.”

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    But the principles that lead to that were there, and they were parts of what I was thinking, and what I now know is, those were my first principles, right. I just didn’t, I would not have labeled it as such at that stage, and I would not have said, “This is what I’m doing. Like I’m thinking through this challenge or through this opportunity from a first principles’ perspective.” So, like I didn’t think it’s… I don’t want to make myself sound like super-intellectual in that sense, what I like about thinking and learning about first principles now is just, the fact that for me it’s mostly about kind of remembering to go back to some kind of higher-level of something, instead of just being in the weeds, right?

Because I think that’s, in businesses that’s often, business and life, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    So, it’s so easy to just kind of stay within, even if it’s a good flow, but you stay within this flow, and you often forget, “Why am I in this?” Right. And I think a lot, for me at least a lot of the, there was the realizations that have come from times where I’ve spent thinking through my own kind of first principles, and how it relates to me at least were when I kind of got lost in the journey, where I would start a question like, “Hell, I am my own entrepreneur, like why am I in business, like why did I even start working on Conversio?” And I think that has a knock-on effect into the way kind of I, I lead our team and I run our business, but I don’t have a systemized like perfect process in terms of saying, “Like, here’s a thing in the company, let’s have this conversation, let’s start with first principles.”

Luis Magalhaes:    All right. So you do, I think that you would agree with me, when it comes to consistency, that’s important to be consistent in your actions and have a cadence of the actions you do specifically while managing and leading. What are the leadership bases that you touch, every day or every week, when you are managing?

Adii Pienaar:    So I think for me and like, I am most consistently inconsistent.

Luis Magalhaes:    I think I’m going to steal that. I’m going to start using that.

Adii Pienaar:    You know what Luis, I think for me at least is, I don’t mean that as a way to say I’m unstable.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    But what I have learned, and the thing that changed my own kind of mind about this completely, is I always thought I’m very strong-willed and I have very strong opinions, and what I know today a much better approach to kind of life is, the idea of having strong opinions but loosely-held, right.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    So I have that strong opinion until a better opinion comes along, and then not having shame for wanting to change that opinion, and I think that’s what I mean with consistently being inconsistent. Is what I try and do with my team is, I try and be as vulnerable, authentic and transparent as possible about the things that I’m going through as an entrepreneur, and as a leader. Because I think, even though what they hear might be inconsistent because I might change a decision that we made last week, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    But, what is consistent is the fact that I am, I’m being transparent and I’m bringing all the context in this decision back to them, all the kind of consideration and motivation. The way I am leading is still consistent, even though the output is inconsistent.

Luis Magalhaes:    That’s fair enough and it makes a lot of sense, good advice. I was thinking more something along the lines of, let’s say how you start your day. Do you have a specific work routine, how you start your day? For example, myself I always start my day going through the previous day’s timeline in Basecamp. So to get an overview of everything that happened in the business and in my team but I like to watch what happens in other teams as well.

Adii Pienaar:    Got you.

Luis Magalhaes:    Is there something that you often, that you do at a regular interval, and that you always do the same? Do you have a routine, a leadership routine I, that’s I guess what, why I’m asking?

Adii Pienaar:    Got you, yeah. So we do two things at least that I’m involved in that’s not ad hoc.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    I have a single meeting with our… well I mean we don’t believe in titles, but I mean he would be COO in the company, but someone that runs ops, right? So we do just a weekly sync around that, syncing up about everything that’s in all the balls that are in the air, and then he has kind of separate conversations with any kind of, of our project leaders at that stage. Because a project leader can be anyone on the team, we don’t necessarily have a lead engineer or a lead designer, like anyone can lead any kind of project.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    So we do that, and then we do one weekly sync meeting with the team, where and it’s just an hour, and it’s on a Wednesday.

Luis Magalhaes:    On a Wednesday, why hump day?

Adii Pienaar:    That’s a good question. It’s probably, well so for me personally like I, my Monday’s are sacred, like after a weekend I just want to get through my own to-do’s. I do not want to talk to people on Monday’s.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    So I think it’s partly that. But I think, what we used to do in the past is, we just had an informal little water cooler talk and call, and that was on Wednesdays for whatever reason, when it was informal. So it just kind of made sense when we formalized it and gave it more structure, it stuck to Wednesday as well. But what we do on that call is, it’s an hour call, the first half-hour is always formal, so we celebrate a few wins, we go through kind of a scorecard of our key metrics, and then we go through everyone’s… we just update everyone’s quarterly rocks, if there is any updates to be kind of made. Everyone has like three big to-do’s that they’re focusing on for the next quarter.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    And then out of that, if there is anything that needs to be discussed, any issue that needs to be raised about those things that are really important for the next 90 days, we’ll have time for that. And that can extend past the formal half-hour. On most weeks we don’t have to do that, and then the second half-hour, or longer if anyone wants to stay online, just becomes a bit of a banter, and we’ll discuss Brexit, or kind of the new royal baby, or anything, kind of whatever, anything that is kind of topical that pops up. And then we’ll just do a bit of a, that’s a kind of, you know the typical kind of stuff that you would do around a physical water cooler in a physical office.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    That’s pretty much the only routine thing that we have on a weekly basis, everything else is very much ad hoc.

Luis Magalhaes:    So how do you, when you’re in a meet, is there a moderator? Is there someone that gives people the turn to talk? How do you organize it, so it’s not everyone talking at once, with just the people talking and the majority listening?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, so De Wet who runs our ops, he, we as the weekly sync, we have a specific structure for that. There’s a spreadsheet that’s, is prepared, and is filled out, kind of prepared beforehand and then filled in during the meeting, and he runs that meeting. We’ll, for the formal part, we’ll make sure that kind of everyone has an opportunity to speak, and if something pops up, say for example I am updating… it’s my turn and I have to update my quarterly rocks and someone says, “Hey Adii, that thing you just mentioned there, can we talk about it?” Then it’s De Wet’s responsibility for example, to note that and then not allow me to answer that question at that stage, if it’s not a one-liner, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    So, the idea is then, like this is not the time, that conversation needs to kind of be planned for, all right, because at that stage we’re just updating quarterly rocks, and often in those situations, because what we’re trying to avoid is, we’ve asked 13 people to dedicate an hour, a fixed hour every week.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    And perhaps there’s a conversation that only two of us need to have.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    And we should not have those, you know kind of this conversation when 11 other people are watching us. We can update them afterwards, in a sync way, but that’s not the kind of the time and place to have the call. So we do have a moderator in that sense, and he has to, his discretion basically to allow something to run, if it’s a couple of seconds kind of thing. But as soon as we get to a point where you know what, this is not relevant or valuable to the rest of the group, let’s get back to the things that are important for the majority of the people on this call.

Luis Magalhaes:    All right, so another thing that I wanted to ask you, because I was writing, I was reading an article that you wrote about personal branding. In that right, you pointed about the, the importance of the written word, specifically when you’re dealing with personal branding, how important it is to write your emails in a way that makes them stand out. That speaks to me a lot as a writer. I am fascinated by stories of remote company that do most of the work in writing and that barely ever call each other. Because they are the outliers and I love words, so is there something that you’ve learned in the past few years about writing in specific ways in which to use written language when communicating with other, with people that work remotely for you?

Adii Pienaar:    So yes, I mean I think firstly like when we do, I mean I spoke about our kind of recruiting process, right, so there’s a lot, the reason why we do both the kind of your text-based Q & A and kind of a video interview, is because I think those two things serve different purposes.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    Because the bulk of communication is written, it is important for me to see how someone writes, and how someone communicates ideas in writing, right? And I think mostly there is, kind of for me, writing is… you have to be superb at communicating in writing, when we do a video call, it is mostly things that are probably more emotive, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    And where, the kind of you know, seeing someone and that’s having at least some kind of visual cue to their kind of tone of voice, body language, those things would be helpful. So it’s more about connection on another level than it is about pure communication, right? But the rest of it is all writing, and I think at least for me as… the conversations within the team, regardless of who is involved in the conversation or is writing, but, the balance is in providing enough context.

Kind of regardless of whether the context is additional information or just saying, “Hey, what I’m saying here now, I’m saying with a smile, right?” Instead, of “Hey, this, this, this.” And coming off as passive-aggressive when that’s actually not it. So, being able to communicate that context, whatever that is, but still being able to do so in a clear and concise way, right, because nobody wants to have… like everyone’s tired of reading too much, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yes.

Adii Pienaar:    That’s why we struggle through email-overload and we don’t like, whether it’s Slack or Basecamp, like you don’t want to read more than what you actually need to get to kind of the gist.

Luis Magalhaes:    I felt that that was actually your point and forgive me if I’m mistaken, when you wrote the branding thing, I’m tired of emails but I’m actually delighted when I get an email that’s properly written and that feels like a conversation. I enjoy conversation, you know, I just don’t enjoy templates.

Adii Pienaar:    So, yes and I think I wholeheartedly agree and I think… but I mean internally in communication, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to use templates, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, right.

Adii Pienaar:    That’s not that applicable. But I agree, I mean I love seeing someone’s personality come through in kind of the way they write, and the way they communicate themselves, but I think the same way that, if you and I were having that kind of Portuguese wine, if you’re kind of or if I was enjoying my wine so much that I kept talking and talking and talking and talking and didn’t give you an opportunity, like that’s the same thing, right?

I have to balance what I say, how I say it with the fact that this is still a two or three or four-way conversation-

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    … ultimately, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah. I think the perfect example is sometimes in Slack or Basecamp or those kinds of programs that you use you know to communicate in the teams, some people seem to use please as punctuation, you know I mean, please is supposed to be a beautiful word that transmits a request as well as an emotion. But some people just use it like, as if it was punctuation to end a sentence. It’s just a different way of saying, “You have to do this.”

Adii Pienaar:    I think that’s a fascinating point because I mean there’s, and I think this relates to the broader concept of remote working as well that, I think that there’s so little that we know just yet about these things, right, I mean the way of communicating in Slack for example, like it’s not been stress-tested. Nobody’s written a handbook that says, “Hey, I’ve researched 500 companies, right, and analyzed the language and here’s how the best performing companies communicate with each other.” All right?

That information is not available. That probably sounds trivial, or could sound trivial but I do think that is true, because you’re totally right. The way we sometimes communicate is definitely not the best way.

Luis Magalhaes:    For sure. Well we need to keep on learning. We need to keep on learning. Speaking of learning, may I call you a serial entrepreneur, are you to the point of a serial entrepreneur?

Adii Pienaar:    You can ultimately call me whatever you want, right? I mean I once called myself eighty rockstar, right, so I probably don’t have a solid footing here. I dislike the idea of serial entrepreneur, but also just because I started to dislike the label entrepreneur. But those are all my issues. But per definition, yes I have now built two successful companies.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay, so what has that experience taught you? Well I guess this is too broad, but tell me one thing, one thing that this experience taught you?

Adii Pienaar:    I would probably say one of the biggest overarching things that I’ve learned through this is, that it doesn’t matter how absolutely tired, burnt out and sick I get of business, there’s a part of me that will always be a maker of sorts, and that might not necessarily be… I might not be a tech contributor in the future, I might not, it might not even be a for-profit company, right? But that’s parts of me, as I said, it doesn’t matter how tough that is sometimes, if I had to, if Conversio stopped existing today, or I wasn’t involved anymore, I would have to make something else, right?

And I think that’s why I briefly mentioned working on some poetry before, because those are the things I think in that the process of making and putting something out there, there is a component of being challenged and a component of constantly learning and those are I think going from one company to the next and in between all those, playing around with many other projects and ideas, ultimately the reason I do that, and that’s what I’ve learnt from my, you know about myself and this journey is, I need a challenge and I want to continue learning.

Luis Magalhaes:    And since we’re talking about continuing to learn, how do you incentivize that in the people who work for you, or let me put this in another way, if you could spend one hundred bucks or one hundred Euros in something that you would give all the people who work for you to help their growth, or their quality of life I guess, their work quality of life, what would you get them?

Adii Pienaar:    I don’t know. What I will say is this, so what we do do is the team, and I’ll punt another company here as well, so we use a little service called Pleo P-L-E-O DOT I-O. And it’s basically like a team-based wallet and you can get virtual and physical, I think it’s Visa cards, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    That has [inaudible 00:41:01] limits you can change for team members. And we exclusively use that kind of for the teams’ personal learning and development, which is a very broad thing. The team have an allowance. Every one on the team has an allowance to spend that on whatever they kind of deem, you know kind of helps with their personal development and the only kind of, the only rule there is, if they were ever questioned, no, if anyone questioning it said, “You know, hey Adii, like why, why are you spending kind of so much money on your Kindle books-wise?” I would need to be able to look them in the eye and give them an answer, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    So, that’s, that’s how we test there. But, I mean, like there’s a broad range of things that people have done. Like everything from the obvious things like books and courses, but I know for example, Stephano… one of our engineers, also an absolute foodie, like he’s done a brewery course, right? So every time we meet for our team retreats for example, like the deal now is he has to, if it’s in Europe at least, and it’s you know close to home and he can drive, he needs to bring some beer along that he’s brewed for us, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    That sounds like a good investment on your part?

Adii Pienaar:    So, I think.

Luis Magalhaes:    Pay for one course, and now you get refills, free beer for life.

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, exactly so, but I mean, that’s, for me, that’s a thing because I think I’m very careful of imposing a single way of learning in personal development. If I just think, like again, if I think about myself and the things I’ve learnt in the last two or three years, is I’ve read loads of books, and the best lessons have been from fiction books, right, so, like I think and that sounds silly, but if we had a, like a very rigid structure in sort of saying, like, “Hey, here’s an allowance. Here’s 10 things you could do to you know kind of to enhance your personal development or accelerate your personal development.” Those things might just be kind of too obvious, or too limited for someone to learn, like sometimes the better learnings and realizations for someone to personally learn to develop, right?

Because, the reality is, you know for an engineer, right, just by being on the job, and like continuously doing this, they’re probably already learning right, they’re on stack for overflow every day, they don’t have to pay for that like, they’re being paid to learn and evolve and grow.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    I think, in terms of sort of personal development, like they should totally do other things, kind of that interest them, that makes them happier like, that maybe puts them in a space where they see something, experience something, realize something that they would not have otherwise, and they I think when you enhance that in someone, they bring that back into the work environment and there is that benefits to the company and team again.

Luis Magalhaes:    That’s really interesting. Okay, okay. So flipping this on you, what purchase of like one hundred… well I guess we don’t need a money limit, so let’s say in the last six months or one year, what purchase has made your work-life easier, or more productive, or has helped you grow the most?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, so the first thing that comes to mind, and I just because it’s here on my desk, and I’ll show you because obviously I know that the listeners won’t see it, but it’s this device, it’s a tablet. It’s called reMarkable.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay.

Adii Pienaar:    And for, I think on the surface, for what it is, it’s probably over-priced, right, because it’s not an iPad, but it’s essentially an e-ink writing tablet and what is absolutely fantastic is that it feels like pen and paper but it’s not, so everything is immediately digitized, there’s no taking photo’s and what not, and what it has done is, it’s definitely enhanced my writing routine and habits significantly.

Luis Magalhaes:    Really?

Adii Pienaar:    So, I mean I’ve probably written more in the first five months of this year since I purchased this, than ever before so, anyone that likes writing, whether it’s for publishing or not, I don’t think that’s it.

Luis Magalhaes:    I see.

Adii Pienaar:    But I even just write a lot of, like you know I’ll use it in meetings, you know as well, so definitely like that’s the thing that you know, that stands out.

Luis Magalhaes:    Right. So you’re actually the second guest, it’s the second time this is recommended.

Adii Pienaar:    Oh.

Luis Magalhaes:    The first was when with Tammy Bjelland from Workplaceless, you know very, she’s actually going to Bali as well, and she’s all about education and she told me that it made a huge difference for her. I’m going to ask you the question that I didn’t think of asking her when she recommended it. Why do you think this works better than one of those fancy iPad Pro’s that you can write on with the pen as well? Why, is it just being distraction free, not having other apps?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, totally, so I don’t own an iPad anymore.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    And like I, same thing like in terms of my writing, when I switched from reading on my iPad to having a Kindle, I have an old Kindle Paperwhite I think that’s now four or five years old, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yes.

Adii Pienaar:    My, again, I started reading so much more, and the value it gave me, it’s not about quantity right, but the fact that I didn’t like constantly have that sensation of, I am actually in this story right now, or like deep in this book, and I’m following this and then like, and you see a notification popup, or you have that temptation of just kind of flicking through and checking email or checking football score or whatever the case is. So yes, I think it is just that like, you know within that constraints like that’s where you can actually be within flow of the thing you’re actually doing now.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay. How do you view about exporting, is it even possible to export your notes, let’s say to Evernote or another noting tool? Is it, can you email them to yourself as well? One of the things that I love about e-books is that I can make all my notes in Kindle or Apple Books and then just email them to my email. Can you?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, so, like this is, I mean it’s… I would have loved by the way if like if someone on here knows Jeff Bezos, like please tell him to open up the Kindle Store to allow reMarkable to access the books that you buy from Amazon because that would have been amazing. But yes so I mean they have their own app which across my Mac and my iOS.

Luis Magalhaes:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adii Pienaar:    Like you can see the actual writing so it looks like a photo, so you can have that, but they’ve also got a very neat transcription service-

Luis Magalhaes:    Wow.

Adii Pienaar:    … that’s built into the app so it does like OCR of your handwriting and then you can email that to you, so for many of the, if you have a look at my blog, all of the recent blog posts started off as me handwriting them and it does the OCR and I email it to me. The OCR is probably only about 90 percent correct because my handwriting is not perfect and it’s very early-stage device, right?

But with minimal editing, within five minutes I can edit say three, four hundred words with the kind of minor mistakes and stuff like spelling errors or the characters that were misrecognized.

Luis Magalhaes:    Wow, okay. That’s so cool, you should have asked him for a commission because I think you sold me one. So okay, so talking about reading, I really, I usually ask my guests what books have they gifted the most, but in your case I was actually reading your blog, and you talk about two books that I have on my favorite bookshelves, I have a shelf that I create where I put the books that have most influenced me, and on that shelf there are both Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and The Profit by Kehlog Albran… I think I’m pronouncing that correctly, and I thought that it would be so cool that those two books are books that you’ve written about recently. They are very philosophical books, but do you think they have, they’ve changed the way you lead and you manage your companies and you build your staff, and in which ways?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, so for me Siddhartha definitely one of my favorite all time books. I would almost, the one I would add to that, but it just sounds so very mainstream, but The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yes.

Adii Pienaar:    I think that’s the pronunciation?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yes, you have some interesting books.

Adii Pienaar:    So I mean for me these stories are… my biggest take-away is the kind of the journey, and just how that kind of plays out and thinking about your own journey right? So and I think because it’s an ongoing thing, I won’t spoil the books for anyone but that’s the… there’s magic in the books. I think anyone reading it, that is looking at their own journey and thinking about their own journey will definitely kind of get value from both those books. If you only read one, I would definitely recommend Siddhartha and ahead of Alchemist.

What I like about The Profit is just there’s, it’s just, it comes across as I mean even The Profit right, it sounds very religious.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Adii Pienaar:    But when you get into it, it feels very universal, and I love that contradiction right? I have not researched this, I do not know kind of the, what religious denomination or beliefs that the author has, and I don’t care for that matter. There’s just, I think there’s a beauty in the universalism, universality of the words, right?

Luis Magalhaes:    I agree.

Adii Pienaar:    That I think is just beautiful.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, it feels like it’s the wisdom of religion without the baggage.

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, that’s very well put yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:    So you’ve been very generous with your time, we’ve been here for almost an hour. I really appreciate before I talk to you about, before I asked you to tell us where people can find you. I would like to make you one final question, and that question is, let’s say that you have access during, you’re hosting a dinner for all the top executives at tech companies from Silicon Valley, etc. You’re having your own table about remote work, and it’s a Chinese restaurant. So you have fortune cookies, since you’re the host you get to decide what’s written in the fortune cookies. So what does the message say that these people will crack at the end of the dinner?

Adii Pienaar:    The world is your oyster.

Luis Magalhaes:    All right, that’s very good and to the point. Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure Adii. It’s been a pleasure having this conversation with you. How can people continue the conversation with you? Where can they find you? Where can they know more about your business, etc?

Adii Pienaar:    Yeah, if anyone’s kind of interested in me personally, which does not sound great. But if they were to follow me personally, my blog is Adii.me so A-D-I-I DOT M-E and that’s also my handle on Twitter and Instagram. If anyone wants to read poetry by the way, there is some of my stuff on Instagram, and then if they want to learn more about Conversio it’s conversio.com. So conversion without the n. And we also have a YouTube channel, where I publish weekly videos actually have been doing so for-

Luis Magalhaes:    Cool.

Adii Pienaar:    … almost a year. A short little kind of your five to 10 minute videos on various things, anything from kind of email marketing to e-commerce, but also recently did a video on remote book, kind of working and building remotes. So anyone that wants to see more of me and hear more of me, and that’s not irritated with my voice just yet, then YouTube is the place to go.

Luis Magalhaes:    I will be sure to put all of that in the show notes. Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

Adii Pienaar:    Awesome, thanks for having me Luis.

Luis Magalhaes:    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 this 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.

Now another thing that you might want to do, is go to DistantJob.com/blog/podcast click on the, your favorite episode and 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 peruse the conversations in text form, 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 you need, and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate, 40 percent faster than the industry standard. And with that I bid you [adieu 00:54:28], see you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob Podcast.

More ways to listen:

In this episode, we talk about the philosophy of leading from first principles. We explore how to act in order to prevent your employees from burning out (more common than you think in highly motivated remote teams) and how a leader can be consistent while still striving to learn and being open (even eager!) to change his or her opinion. And for the people who want to up their hiring game, we discuss the questions and tests that enable Adii to hire for culture and value.

You can find out more about Adii’s business offering at Conversio

The Books We Discuss:

Siddhartha: https://amzn.to/2Mhholc

The Prophet: https://amzn.to/2MkXp54

Adii’s Recommended Tool:

reMarkable: https://remarkable.com

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