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Remote Work at Aha!

Team Members
*As of October 2015
Aha! Team

Aha! Team

Aha! Remote Company Q&A
Brian de Haaff, Co-founder & CEO - Interview with Remote.co

Aha! is the world’s #1 product roadmap software. Building software is invigorating, and product managers should be the happiest people on earth. Our beautiful, cloud-based software turns product managers into heroes by enabling them to set brilliant product strategy and create visual roadmaps.

The team has founded or been early employees of six cloud-based technology companies and has a total of 15 issued patents. Aha! serves thousands of the world’s best-known software, web, and technology companies.

Remote work is fundamental to our company. In fact, it is so important that we created The Responsive Method as a framework for how we do our best work. We know from experience that when our team members feel empowered and are equipped with the right tools to succeed, they are more productive in all aspects of their lives. So, we want everyone on our team to work from wherever they are and be happy doing it.

I consider sustainable happiness to be the best benefit of remote work. Sustainable happiness empowers you to do what you love for long periods of time — and empowers others to do the same as well.

I believe that everything we have been told about work/life balance is a myth that sets us up for failure and unhappiness. There is no such thing as perfect work/life balance; striving for equilibrium between both of these areas dooms you to feel like you are falling short. Even worse, “work/life balance” proposes that these two things stand in opposition to each other. It does not have to be like this.

CEOs have a unique opportunity to lead their teams with conviction. You earn trust from your team based on what you do — not what you say. That is why we give our team the freedom to work from anywhere and be happy.

I experienced the benefits of remote work after our last company was acquired by Citrix. I spent three years happily working remotely for Citrix, leading product and strategy for one of the products in the online division. I realized that geography simply does not matter if you hire the right, motivated people. And in fact, the right people are actually more productive if you give them clear goals and the freedom to do their best work at the best time for them.

The entire team gets together twice a year at a “destination” location for a few days. We pick destinations that allow us to feel productive and relaxed in tandem as a team. Most of us love to be outside, so we often pick locations that inspire us through their natural beauty. We spend these meetings working alongside each other, sharing meals, celebrating successes, and looking out at our goals. It is important at these meetings to create both connections cross-functionally and within the various groups (e.g. Marketing). We also set aside plenty of time for getting outside.

I do not believe that the principles of a successful working relationship with remote workers differ that much from any other relationship. You have to be responsive, goal-oriented and kind. My goal as the CEO of a remote team is to respond to requests as quickly as possible. Because when I do, I have the best chance of interacting with my team members while they are most focused on their requests or concerns.

I know that when they ask me a question or need to discuss something, I have a small window of time to address them while their requests are still fresh. So, I follow the framework that we have followed for building great products and companies, The Responsive Method, which states that interactions with urgency are what propel people and organizations forward. This methodology drives us and the business.

Aha! provides the best devices for every member of the team.

Aha! currently offers 15 days of paid time off to all employees each year, as well as 10 paid holidays. We also offer extremely flexible working hours and locations. Many of our team members have children, and all of them have full lives alongside Aha!

Since people can work from anywhere in the U.S., this allows them to work from diverse locations without sacrificing time with their loved ones — or their own passions.  One of our team members has a deep love of travel. She lived abroad for two years and has friends and family spread out across the country. Aha! allows her to work hard while experiencing new places at the same time. Thus far, she has worked from six North American cities this year — not including her own home.

We did not implement a remote work policy. Building a distributed company was our intention from the start. Dr. Chris Waters (my co-founder) and I were the first two employees of Aha! We were also self-funding the business, so there was no reason for us to have an office at that point and we wanted to leverage the lessons we learned while working at Citrix about the benefits of remote teams.  

They absolutely can. Just like a company located in an office can have a dysfunctional culture. The key to any healthy culture is having everyone focused on the same shared goals. I believe that the reason Aha! has grown so quickly is due to the fact that our entire team has a shared sense of purpose and understands that we are changing how companies innovate. Whether they work in marketing or engineering, our colleagues are all working towards the same shared goal — to help product managers build better software.

Since that sense of clarity — the “why” of what we do — is so strong, we are able to help everyone see how they play a key role in bringing that vision to life. I credit it with our team’s sense of unity, even though we are all different people living across the country.

I suggest that just because a distributed organizational structure has worked well for us, it may not be the right decision for you. Always begin with the end in mind. Starting with your strategy, ask yourself what you want your product and organization to achieve. If remote work ultimately lines up with your vision and goals, then it might be worth investigating further. The other advice I would give is that not everyone is cut out for remote work. Hiring the right people is crucial for a high-performance, remote team.

Aha! is growing more rapidly than any other company that I have founded or worked for. Chris and I founded Aha! because we believed so deeply in its need to exist — and we have been humbled by its growth. From the very start, it was obvious that we touched a nerve and lots of product managers shared the same pain that we did trying to build great products.

That growth is terrific — but it also means that the team is growing quickly. The biggest challenge with rapid growth is ensuring that new team members internalize the purpose of the company and feel connected to its past and future. We also want and hope that they build lasting friendships with their colleagues. This is why we get the entire team together twice a year.

Remote work has become much easier now that there are so many tools to help teams stay connected and collaborate. We do most of our planning and work in Aha! itself, of course. Since everyone is using the same tool, we have transparency into every aspect of the business.

We can manage releases, prioritize features, crowdsource ideas, and assign to-dos. Anyone can see what their colleagues are working on. This builds trust and cuts down on confusion. We also use other tools like Slack and GoToMeeting for messaging and video meetings.

The best boss I ever worked for told me, “She with a plan wins.” This statement reinforces how important it is to always begin by asking, “Why?” That statement from my best boss is the essence of Aha! — we want our software to help businesses define where they are going and start with strategy. That’s how lovable products are born.