CEO diary: What it’s like to run a company remotely

My team has gone remote, we’ve had to cancel events, and I’ve had to rethink every part of my business. This is a diary of one of the most challenging weeks I’ve ever faced as a founder and CEO.

Monday 16th March

Walking on the beach with the dog at 6:30 am allows time to think about how I’m going to communicate to 5,000 customers that we have to postpone a number of our events.

A quick call with my leadership coach gives me a reassuring boost that our offense and defense are sound, and that this crisis can galvanize the team.

After a long video call with marketing, we decide on an email and a blog post announcing our SaaS conference postponements. It’s tough to write but an easy decision. Our priority is to keep everyone safe.

The usual 1-2-1s get scrapped. OKRs are ripped up. The new focus is how people are feeling and how we can create a virtual conference.

I record an episode of The SaaS Revolution Show Podcast with my guest, You Mon Tsang, CEO of customer success platform Churnzero. My Doberman bursts in during the recording, and my daughter joins while I’m catching up with our business operations manager. Interesting times!

Tuesday 17th

I look at our finances and sources of cash and where we can save. But I’m asking, what are we bridging to — a three- or six-month crisis or longer?

I find myself contemplating how I would feel if the business folds.

I have some tough conversations with long-time contractors as we have no choice other than to pause all agreements. Most understand and say they were expecting it.

But later I get excited about launching a virtual conference. I now have a project and my mission becomes how do we become the leader of virtual events.

We have our first weekly staff meeting on Zoom. The usual agenda has been ripped up. No team updates. Instead I address the company about postponements, shift in focus, and how to work from home. The mood is somber.

Wednesday 18th

I and my team leads agree to a 20% pay cut. We make further savings by cutting down on the 40 SaaS applications we use to run the business. We cut 10 nonessential tools.

On the upside, interest in a remote version of our conference is high from a sample of customers we speak to.

The team reports feeling more tired with complaints of headaches. I feel it too. I give reminders to take breaks in the morning, lunch, and afternoon. Not everyone has the right setup for working from home. Younger members are working in their bedrooms.

We have a team lunch on Zoom and use virtual scenes — Disney lights, northern lights. My computer crashes from the high use of memory. Our CSM Charley ends the lunch with a song about our company. It won’t make the charts, but it warmed our hearts.

Thursday 19th

Started the day by checking finances again. I note how I miss reading. I usually use the commute to get through a book a week.

We have an uplifting team moment when we surprise our content marketing manager, who turned 30, with a surprise flash birthday party on Zoom. When she appeared we were all holding birthday messages.

Above: Screenshot of SaaStock’s “Zoom birthday party”

Then it’s a call to our virtual conference organiser, Hopin. Their CEO joins every one of their calls and his energy is good so I feel supported. (I suspect he must be inundated now!)

For my second podcast recording of the week I speak to the CEO of RD Station, Eric Santos, in Brazil. His workforce of 700 is also working remotely, and it seems everyone is having the same struggles. My takeaway from our discussion is that very few have the perfect work-from-home setup and managers need to be extra mindful of team anxieties.

Then there’s panic on Slack as rumours about London going into lockdown emerge. One team member takes the day off to travel to Scotland to her parents, and an intern flies back to Brunei. Some are concerned about not having enough supplies if lockdown comes into effect because London’s supermarkets are being ransacked. I tell everyone to finish at 4pm to get supplies in.

Friday 19th

The challenge of launching a new product and working remotely now feels like it’s galvanizing the team. Spirits appear to be higher than at the beginning of the week, thriving in the face of adversity.

I resolve to end the week with a complete pricing plan for our remote conference and agree terms with our virtual conference hoster. But my calendar is full of podcast calls, not conducive to me focusing.

Also awaiting good news from the bank on a business interruption loan.

We end the week with a “virtual happy hour” on Zoom. All I can do is open a beer and learn to get used to this uncertain feeling.

Alex Theuma is founder and CEO of SaaStock, a global conference and community for SaaS entrepreneurs and investors.

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