STARTUP STORY: Managing remote teams

Over the last seven years, the Ginzamarkets CEO Ray Grieselhuber has mastered what it takes to assemble and manage a top-notch team of developers and SEO experts around the world.

Ray Grieselhuber’s fascination with Japan started when he was 10 and read “Shōgun,” the first novel in James Clavell’s acclaimed Asian Saga. This led to an undergraduate degree in Japanese (followed by studies in computer science, marketing and data mining, finance, photography and Spanish). Today, as the CEO and founder of Ginzamarkets, which uses SEO and content marketing to help global businesses drive growth and new revenue, Ray splits his time between the San Francisco Bay Area and Japan, where his GinzaMetrics platform is used by hundreds of brands across the country.

Over the last seven years, he has become well versed in knowing what it takes to assemble a top-notch remote team of developers and SEO experts around the world.

Ray’s journey started in 2010 when Ginzamarkets got into Y Combinator and went on to raise $2.3 million three years later. “YC taught me how to launch a product, how to get to know people in Silicon Valley, how to tailor your pitch and how to raise money,” Ray tells us. The company also went on to received funding from 500 Startups and a number of key angels in the US, Japan, and Germany.

Ginzamarkets supports more than 120 markets around the world and has been profitable for the last five years. Ray has no intention of raising money or expanding his investment portfolio. “My aim isn’t to build a multi-billion-dollar company in three years,” Ray explains. “We are already a growing company and I am happy to take a few extra years to get to a $100M+ organization... When you achieve a certain level, another zero in your bank account doesn’t really matter."

Ray calls the idea of needing a co-founder the “worst advice” he’s ever heard — for him. While he admits that with two founders his company might be easier in certain respects, he’s learned that he values the freedom to make his own decisions more than anything else. From what we’ve seen, he’s made some pretty good ones so far.

Ray Grieselhuber, CEO and founder of Ginzamarkets
Ray Grieselhuber, CEO and founder of Ginzamarkets

We asked Ray to share his thoughts on everything from hiring and managing remote teams to his advice for other startup founders and the Japanese tech scene.


What to keep in mind when hiring your team

I would advise every new company to seriously question whether they really need to be in Silicon Valley. There are many interesting cities in the US with good colleges and good candidates. Our company is fully remote. We have diverse consumers who require 24/7 support and having people in one place doesn't make sense. There are many reasons to avoid paying the San Francisco premium, for a roughly equivalent level of talent.

We’ve had good luck recruiting on platforms for remote workers such as Upwork and AngelList works pretty well, too. Occasionally, we do job postings, but this doesn’t always work well. Also, my network is a great source. To attract people, you need charisma. I spend 10 to 20 percent of my time on hiring.

How to manage remote teams

We are 35 in total, and we have remote people everywhere: in the US, Canada, Japan, Poland, Pakistan, and Argentina.

Communication is more difficult. We live on Slack, and I prefer written communication because of our team’s different cultures, levels of English and the different ways people express themselves. Sometimes people say something rude, but they don't mean it to be rude. People in the US tend to soften communication, while people in Eastern Europe are more straight, and people in Japan might sound very cold in English because the language lacks the politeness structures that Japanese has built-in.

Before starting my business, I used to work 10 years as an engineering manager. This helped a lot. I’ve learned how to manage people, have patience and deal with remote teams. Therefore, we have solid specs for everything we do and we focus on building a checklist for almost everything.

How the tech scene works in Japan

In Japan, people still want to work for large companies. You rarely see people after college setting up their own company. If they mess up, they might not be able to find a job elsewhere. In the US, by comparison, companies like hiring people with entrepreneurial experience. Failure is not a problem. Quitting a corporate job is Japan is very risky, because without a logo on your business card, you are no one. This is beginning to change in recent years, however.

The business community in Japan is few years behind the US in adopting SaaS. The good thing is, that if people adopt a technology, they are more serious about it. Clients are more loyal.

Leadership style

I believe in leading from the front. You must be willing to work harder than everyone else; don't think you can relax. It is all on you. You must be hardworking, perseverant and motivate your team. Listen to people. Set very clear expectations and leave your ego at the door.

Greatest lesson you’ve learned

Be prepared, it is not that you walk in, rely on intuition and just wing it. I now prefer over-planning and a really good preparation. You have to analyze new markets, anticipate what is going on and be ready for that.

What are you learning now?

How to manage things. Brute force doesn't work anymore. As we are getting bigger, we need processes and discipline. For example, we are planning to launch five new products and we need to have a strong product launch process. We also need a branding and product strategy.

What is your favorite failure?

I started as a single founder, and it was difficult to get off the ground. I was in a crazy mode to do whatever it takes. It was kind of paranoia, and it kept me going for years. What I didn’t expect was that once we hit a certain level of success and I knew we weren’t going to die, I didn’t know what to do with so much residual paranoia and I fell into a slump. I call this the post-survival mode slump and nobody talks about it.

You usually start a business with a lot of excitement, and then you go really down. What’s important is to move from survival mode to execution and scaling. It took me two years to get out of the post-survival mode slump because I had been under a lot of stress and working non-stop.

What is your advice to other startup founders?

There are two types of businesses — cash-flow businesses and disruptive businesses. A cash-flow business can be a service or agency, or even a product If you set up a cash-flow business first, you can fund your disruptive business. The cash-flow business doesn't have to be big, making a profit of $300,000 per year is enough to live and fund side projects. Starting with a cash-flow business will teach you how to run a company. To me, it makes more sense than being a 25-year-old founder without management experience pleading for millions of VC money.

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