One of the best arguments against having partners is that you avoid miscommunication. Not only miscommunication about the simple things (did that order get entered into inventory? did someone de-activate that product we sold out of?), but miscommunication about the grander vision of your company (what are our long term goals and why?). Over time, by necessity, we’ve come up with a pretty good communication system that works for us.
We haven’t had any disagreements yet about the long term vision of the company, but if we do our system will ensure that we openly discuss it. Conversely, in a company with poor communication you grow frustrated over the small things and very well may be pushing the company in completely different directions.
We spend roughly 10 hours per week together as a four person team. The rest of the time we’re working remotely, much like a completely virtual company.
- Skype – since we stopped working with clients, we actually don’t use Skype much at all for phone calls. We primarily use it as an instant messaging system. It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done when you have to ask a quick question that needs an immediate reply.
- Phone – yup, we actually pick up the phone and call each other. Quite frequently actually. It’s amazing how much better the result from a 5 minute phone call compared to a 20 minute IM conversation…not to mention the constant distraction of the IMs popping up over that 20 minutes.
- Micro Blog – to avoid said constant interruptions that instant messaging can pose, we created an internal micro blog that enables us to post status updates for the others to read. The posts display on our Google Personalized Start Page so everyone generally sees the posts within 24 hours. It works great for things that don’t need responses but are good to share – shipments updates, minor programming fixes, news about our competitors, etc. This essentially eliminated the need for email in our regular communication.
In Person Communication
- Monday meetings – Monday is the only day that we all work together in the warehouse. Since Mondays are generally busy, Monday meetings are usually used to bring up quick points of discussion or to plan for our longer Thursday meetings. More important than the meeting time is just the fact that we get to spend ~6 hours working together as a group.
- Thursday meetings – on Thursday nights we meet at someone’s house and have longer meetings over dinner. These meetings are to discuss strategy like new programming projects, vendor/inventory issues, or big sales that we’ll be running. Once every few months we hold these meetings over a really nice dinner to celebrate what we’ve accomplished recently. Those nights are great for bonding. Plus it’s just nice to get out and have some fun sometimes instead of the constant stream of problems that we normally discuss.
- Numbers meetings – about once per quarter we have these meetings where we do an exhaustive review of our accounting numbers. Generally these meetings are where we discuss bigger picture stuff like raises, expansion, and future goals.
All in all, the system we’ve evolved into seems to work pretty well. I think the important thing to remember when starting a new company is that there is no one “right” way to communicate. Each business has it’s own unique set of constraints that should guide the forms of communication. Given the infinite combination of modern technology available (much of it at no cost), the only real barrier to solid communication is an unwillingness to try something new. Well, that and having people that actually desire to work together.