Boulder, Colo. – The typical modern office is often laid out as offices branching off from hallways; or large, open spaces with ‘work areas’ or walled cubicles. Such setups let employees see others, discuss projects, and hold impromptu meetings with relative ease. In some open work areas, all they have to do to collaborate with co-workers is swivel their chairs.
Businesses with a far-flung workforce, however, have to find ways to collaborate through technology. But most remote workers, often referred to as ‘telecommuters,’ are still linked to a central headquarters.
The dynamic is a little different for businesses that have no central base but are made up of several home offices, tied together by technological tools. This is a particularly attractive option for young companies that can’t afford to lease traditional space.
One Boulder e-commerce company is finding that it’s a key aspect of their success.
MyGiftCardSupply distributes U.S.-purchased retail gift cards from iTunes, Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, and others to international customers. Such cards aren’t always easy to obtain in places like South America and Asia, so MyGiftCardSupply created a website-based digital delivery system.
Running MyGiftCardSupply requires a staff of customer service agents, some of whom must speak multiple foreign languages. Not long ago, employees of this kind of company would have been centrally-located, sitting in cubicles and wearing headsets.
But in MyGiftCardSupply’s business model, their six employees could be wearing their pajamas.
The company has no formal headquarters and is run remotely from Colorado, Chile, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, according to CEO Sam Gastro. He founded it in 2012 as an eBay reseller and quickly realized that it could be run entirely from remote locations.
Gastro answered a few questions recently about the challenges and benefits of running MyGiftCardSupply across multiple continents and time zones:
Describe the benefits of working remotely.
We all get to work from home, be near our pets, and in some instances, our partners and children.
What kind of early challenges did you have with MyGiftCardSupply’s staff operating from different locations?
The challenge is creating a community and a common vibe. It hasn’t come overnight, but I feel the team is really clicking this year and we’re building a culture together, even though we span three continents and thousands of miles.
What are the biggest challenges you experience in running a far-flung business?
As the CEO, it’s always a balance of managing the day-to-day operations and keeping the bigger picture – the course of the company. We have hundreds of customers every day. But I’m working to equip my team to take care of the daily tasks, while I make sure we’re innovating and finding new opportunities.
How do you keep everyone in the loop?
We’ve done a really good job keeping a constant stream of communication going, so there’s never much to catch up on, but just keeping a constant cadence with each other.
What tools do you use?
Slack is our main piece of software. We recently migrated to it. The voice calling feature is nice, and there’s a slick screen-sharing utility. This allows for multiple chat channels, with tagging and ‘to-do list’ delegation. It’s incredible software.
Do you still use traditional email?
Yes, a lot of our business marketing is done with email.
How do you handle ‘red alert’ issues that warrant immediate attention, since your staff is on different continents and time zones?
It takes a lot of flexibility. With a 24/7 online business you can get the ‘red alert’ message at any time, and it can take control of a day or two of your schedule. This is the price of admission for running an online startup and something that happens to us often. (It) makes us appreciate the normal days all the more.
How do you hire staff with such distances being a factor?
It’s important to have a competent team. I tend to give people small tasks to start and see how that goes, keeping the ‘investment’ minimal to start. If the first week or two goes well, I add more until they’re fully on board. If at any time they’re not making the grade, I break ties. If you’re paying attention, 2-3 weeks is enough time to know if you have a good candidate or not.
Part of the reason you decided on this far-flung model is that you have a lot of international customers. Why are they so important to your growth model?
People all over the world enjoy the movies, music, and entertainment that the United States creates. With this demand, people need a way to buy that entertainment. Converting their currency to U.S. dollars is an inconvenience and expensive using a bank, but it can be done easily through a credit card company. This allows our customers to buy a United States iTunes gift card which carries a balance of U.S. dollars with their credit card, which processes in Euros. Just like that, they have U.S. currency to buy a movie.
Where do you see My Gift Card Supply going in the next year? Three years? Five years?
We want to continue selling iTunes gift cards, which is our biggest focus and can attract the most customers. Once we reach terminal velocity of customer aquisition, we’ll move on to other markets that have great opportunity but might be slightly smaller in size. Three to five years out, I think we’ll take apart some of the things that we’ve done well as an e-commerce business and work it into stand-alone products that other businesses can use. We’ve come a long way with fraud mitigation, and order and inventory management. I would envision opening an office in Colorado or South America.
MyGiftCardSupply’s website is at https://www.mygiftcardsupply.com/