Ask the Expert: Starting Small and Virtual

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Ask the Expert was originally published in the Union Leader on November 20, 2022

Author: Roy Wallen, Chief Product Officer, Pristine Surgical

Even before the pandemic took people out of their offices and “work from home” became an acronym, virtual work had been adopted in some sectors of business.  Companies were formed, raised capital, and executed product development initiatives without an office or a formal organizational reporting structure.  Time sheets disappeared long ago for professional, salaried workers but the expectation to show up in an office and to be there for a specified window was a common expectation before March of 2020.  When government subsidies and height-adjustable desks became part of propping up an economy that was compromised by idle factories and supply bottlenecks, there were some who shrugged at the ado and kept working.

How is it done?

Personal, face-to-face contact has always been the best way to establish a network of business relationships.  However, it need not be the only way.  For example, when a group off graduate students developed a technology to address a problem in orthopedics, they turned to their networks of existing business contacts to pursue developing a company.  They identified several CEO candidates and settled on one who could lead the company in its formative stage.  The newly-assembled team set objectives and a budget together, engaged a corporate attorney to lead the formation of a startup company, and established a cadence of meetings and reporting checkpoints.  They never all met in person but relied on email and telephone conversations to collaborate. 

After three months of collaboration, a new C corporation was established in Delaware – four of the five founders had never set foot in Delaware.  The team created and approved bylaws and a Board of Directors was formed.  A 3-year pro forma financial plan became the operations guidance for the new company.  The startup team members each took assignments to execute on such tactics as establish a business plan in the form of a pitch deck and an accompanying one-page prospectus, build and release a website along with attendant marketing communications standards, engage a board of outside advisors, initiate agreements with two university licensing offices, and establish a pattern of contacting potential investors.  The product development road map that was a result of the financial plan was ready to be deployed as soon as investment capital was available.

All of this happened before the founding team met in person, an event that occurred four months after the company was formed and seven months after the collaboration started.  This was also at a time when Zoom was a small, unknown company and Skype (or maybe Webex) was a novel way to deploy business collaborations.  During the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom downloads went from less than 100,000/day to over 3 million/day but none of that was happening when this example company was formed.  Before the pandemic, few companies used video conferencing and those who were decentralized used email and voice communications.  Without this tool that is now considered essential, companies were formed and well on their way to commercial success. 

Find the best talent

The model of forming a founding team based on both personal and in-person interaction was the widespread approach to company formation before 2020.  However, this is not always the way to recruit the best talent and build a strong team.  Now that business leaders have experience working in teams with geographical separation, finding someone to bring special skills – or to simply match the culture and chemistry – is a much easier task.  Networks still matter but someone we once knew in Derry who has since moved to Destin can still be recruited into a startup organization and be a very effective team member.  Concerns about relocation and its attendant costs have disappeared.  

As noted in the example above, companies can be formed and built on solid communication but without in-person meetings.  However, strong teams are built when people interact and share experiences.  We are created as social beings and remote working alone cannot build a strong team.  Fortune magazine, in an article by Bill George in April 2021, cited compromises in trust, collaboration, and customer interaction as compromises of working remotely.  Organizations can overcome these shortcomings by building a team that is committed to periodic face-to-face time while retaining the remote work benefits of productivity, flexibility in work hours, and cost savings.

In short, we can find the best talent from anywhere and put the structure in place to ensure collaboration and diligence to meet business objectives.

Steps to take

  • Identify a business idea that solves a real need.
  • Identify the team that can build a solution to that need, regardless of geography.
  • Establish a structure that ensures collaboration and common goals.
  • Plan on periodic, in-person sessions.
  • Keep communications open and frequent.

About the Author

Roy Wallen serves as Chief Product Officer for Pristine Surgical, a medical device company with a mission to simplify endoscopy, and as CEO of Directional Healthcare Advisors, an international advisory services firm specializing in commercialization of healthcare technology.