By Harriet Taylor
Darius Monsef moved from San Francisco to Hawaii — with a pit stop in Los Angeles — and his employer Zapier wants other employees to follow suit.
Start-up Zapier, which sells software that integrates with apps from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others to automate repetitive tasks, is offering $10,000 to help relocate new hires outside the San Francisco Bay Area.
The 85-person company, in which all employees work remotely, has received over a thousand applications since launching its “De-Location Package” March 17, said CEO Wade Foster. That’s an increase of about 33% over normal.
Even he was surprised.
“I thought it would be popular, I just didn’t think it would be as popular as it has been,” Foster said.
While Foster lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, the company has unusual flexibility in hiring because it has no offices, and instead hands out portable Mifi devices to allow workers to work from anywhere. This allows the company to hire the very best talent from around the world, while saving as much as $2 million a year on pricey Silicon Valley office rental costs. It also helps with employee retention, said Foster.
“People are able to work where their families are, where their lifestyle suits them,” he said. “That ingrains a lot of loyalty towards an organization that allows them to kind of live that type of lifestyle that they deserve or that they want.”
And that increasingly means a lifestyle outside of the tech hotbed of Silicon Valley. Even though Zapier pays “competitive salaries,” high housing costs have made the Bay Area “unsustainable” for many people, said Foster.
Working from a ranch in Hawaii
Foster recruited Monsef — a fellow alum of the Y Combinator start-up incubator — to be Zapier’s head of growth six months ago.
“Although the timing was not an exact match for a ‘De-Location Package,’ I was on my own in the Bay Area, doing all of the Bay Area startup grind stuff, and made the decision to move home to raise my family somewhere else,” he said.
“I found a company that did not default to stigmatizing people that don’t work in an office.”
For Monsef, home was Waimea, HI — a small rural town on Hawaii’s Big Island with more cows than people — which he likens to “Middle America,” but on the most isolated island chain in the world. Zapier was the perfect fit, he said, allowing him to pursue an exciting career while creating the lifestyle he wants with his wife Kaili, who’s pregnant with their third child, and two children, Waialea and Spencer.
In between Zoom video conference calls and Slack messaging with colleagues — spread across 22 U.S. states and 13 countries — Monsef is building his dream home.
“The goal for us is to live on a modern homestead. I like the idea of being fully self-sustained,” he said. “We’re fully off-grid for solar, we will be for water, I want to grow the majority of our own food.”
The ranch sits 2,800 feet above sea level on 43 acres of land among flowing green hills in the shadow of snow capped mountains. Hawaii offers far more than the stereotypical beach shots people associate with it, he said.
He has four cows, some sheep arriving next week, is building raised garden beds and spends his early mornings, evenings and weekends chipping away at his many projects, including building — and mending — hundreds of feet of fencing.
“Cattle and other animals just like to push on fence, so even when you are finished with the fence you have to constantly go check the fence,” he said. “But I actually really enjoy that work — I have spent decades having really nice computer hands and just doing something with my hands and being offline is a really nice balance for me right now.”
Tips on managing a team of remote workers
So how has Zapier managed to keep a team of 85 workers from all around the world on the same page?
The hardest part about managing a team of remote workers is working across different time zones, he said. This means being organized enough to ensure people have the resources and direction they need to work independently so they aren’t waiting around for him to wake up, he said.
“You just have to be a little bit more on top of your planning and scheduling,” he said.
The best remote workers are energetic self-starters who are also empathetic, and so less likely to misinterpret emails or messages and assume the worst, said Monsef.
“Sometimes context and tone doesn’t come through in text, so somebody that defaults to assuming good intentions from others makes it easier to understand where people are coming from and to not misinterpret text,” he said.
Twice a year Zapier flies all its employees to a central location for a week-long retreat where employees get to know one another.
“That gets a lot of face time and kind of builds a lot of that camaraderie that you get from a local office,” said Foster.
Zapier also pairs up employees for weekly “buddy chats” — the remote worker version of a water-cooler conversation — which have no set agenda and bring together teammates across the organization, said Foster.
“A lot of times people just talk about hobbies, families, whatever that kind of suits their interests,” he said.
There is one way in which Zapier sticks to traditional geographic norms. While the interview process is done remotely, all new hires are flown out to San Francisco once they start. There they meet the founders, their manager and a teammate, and get to know the company culture, said Foster.
“We call it Airb-n-onboarding because we often rent an Airbnb,” he said. “It provides a little bit more of a comfort level that first time you pop into Slack. These people aren’t total strangers, instead you’ve met a handful of them.”
Foster would not disclose the company’s financials since it is privately held, but said it has been profitable since 2014 and is growing. The company has been largely boot-strapped, though it did raise $1.3 million in seed funding from Bessemer Ventures and Y Combinator in 2012.