First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Raj Singh: We are doing ok. We are certainly luckier than many families who may be truly struggling. The hardest part has been the kids at home and my wife and I both being working parents. Our 8-year-old is in a remote school, and our little toddler who keeps us extra busy.
I’m looking forward to the COVID vaccine and getting past wildfire season here in California.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Loop Team?
Raj Singh: I’ve been doing startups my whole career. I dropped-out of Masters and started my first company, definitely a significant learning experience. Some of my startups have failed, and some have been successful, but the key thing is that each startup was a learning experience, and it was based on a personal passion.
The story of Loop Team stems from my last company, Tempo AI. We were a partially distributed team. We had an HQ in Menlo Park and had remote team members distributed mostly across the US and other countries like Argentina and India. After Salesforce acquired us and I left, I would check-in with some of my former remote team members and ask them how things were going at Salesforce. All of them would say that they felt “out of the loop” compared to when they were at Tempo. I would ask them why and they said that they were often forgotten or just not included and so they would fly to the Salesforce office for one week every month to compensate.
I started thinking about what we were doing differently when we were a startup before Salesforce acquired us. We used to ship a second device to every team member when they joined, usually an iPad, and we ran a 24/7 Hangout in our office. We asked everybody remotely and/or anyone working from home to sign into the Hangout. Some new hires felt that it was a bit invasive at first, but they quickly grew to really like it because they could see and hear all the discussion in the office. They were completely connected and in the loop.
As the team started to grow, though, it didn’t scale very well. We were no longer in one room at the office, and there would often be 10+ people on the Hangout — meaning everyone had to mute because there was simply too much cross-chatter and distraction. With Loop Team, I am applying some of these learnings, amongst others, to bring a better experience to make distributed teams feel more connected. You can’t replace the real-life in-office camaraderie, but hopefully, you can come close to it.
Tell us more about Loop Team?
Raj Singh: Loop Team is a virtual office that brings the best parts of working together IRL (in real life) to distributed teams. Our goal is to make teams feel more connected, and we feel the best way to do this is to drive more conversations through enabling instant communications, displaying real presence to give teams a sense of belonging, and by allowing conversations to be made available offline to create more transparency for your globally distributed team.
We accelerated Loop Team in conjunction with Stanford Research Institute (SRI) that has incubated companies like Siri, Nuance amongst others. We apply AI to enable richer presence and brief conversation summaries.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Raj Singh: Like most companies focused on remote work, the Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated us 2 years in 3 months. It has also become even more clear that remote work will be part of the future of work, and there are new problems to solve as a result-of.
Many companies have team members reporting a loss of connection and loneliness, missing much of the in-office camaraderie, and feeling less aware of what’s happening day-to-day.
These challenges of working from home are significantly compounded with the pandemic. We are hoping to address some of this via our virtual office.
Certainly, our own team, previously being partially distributed, has had some struggles now that we are fully distributed. These struggles have been less-so from remote work, but more-so from shelter-in-place and our kids being out of school. Most of us, by now, have now developed balance and routines to ameliorate. That said, we are certainly waiting for the post-COVID vaccine world.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Raj Singh: As a startup entrepreneur, you are always making hard choices. It’s often better to make the wrong decision than to sit on a decision. We’ve made many decisions around go-to-market, launch, and more. I think the key lesson is something I’ve repeatedly learned: stay focused, stay lean, and keep executing and don’t look back, instead learn and iterate quickly.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Loop Team in the future?
Raj Singh: Absolutely, I get stressed, but I don’t always think of stress as a bad thing. As a CEO, it comes with the job; it’s the nature of the business. With SIP (shelter-in-place), this was exacerbated with the kids home from school, higher risk family members, and more. I miss being able to get together with my team and celebrate.
The best way I’ve found to deal with this is to stay focused. It’s easy to get distracted, but I’ve opted to exit a lot of social media and focus on our mission- to make distributed teams feel more connected.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Raj Singh: After COVID, there has been a significant focus on video and remote work. There is a range of tools trying to enable the virtual office like ourselves, but the market has gotten so large that there will also be multiple winners.
The goal of the virtual office is to make teams feel more connected. The best way to do this is to drive more communications. We feel by staying focused on our mission, we can win and show teams that virtual office is a new part of their must-have remote work stack.
Your final thoughts?
Raj Singh: Teams miss the serendipity from hallway chat, the team bonds formed at lunch, the evening laser tag, and more. Nothing can truly replace the in-office social dynamics, but a new breed of remote work tools can certainly help make teams feel more connected.
The way we work is changing, and we see the virtual office as being part of that transformation.