• Lluís M. Ventura

"I am extremely effective when I have no meetings”

Interview with Àlex Rodriguez, CEO of Marsbased.

We interviewed Àlex Rodriguez Bacardit, founder & CEO at MarsBased, a fully-remote, high-end development consultancy from Barcelona specialized in web and mobile applications. (I had the pleasure of working with them on a huge project for Colombia, back in 2016, and they rock!) He is also Director of Startup Grind in Barcelona and was awarded Best Chapter of the Year in 2016. Startup Grind is a global community for entrepreneurs (+500 cities in +135 countries), in partnership with Google for Startups, whose mission is to help every entrepreneur in the world.

As part of their culture, being fully remote, and dealing with different customers and complex projects, we wanted to talk to him about his vision and experience around meetings, company culture, and effective remote working:

We spend an average of more than 12 hours a week in meetings. In your opinion, what is the key to an effective meeting (including before, during, and after)?. And how do create a responsible meeting culture within MarsBased?

  • It is essential to define the goal of that meeting. In most of my meetings, I try to define that beforehand with the person I'm meeting. Of course, if it's a first meeting, exploratory as it were, then there's no goal other than getting to know one another, but as the conversations progress, the transaction comes closer. The goal of the meeting has to be very concise, something like "iron out details in the contract and sign it off" or "define all the features for the moderation workflow in the MVP" or "review and approve mockups for phase 2 of the project".

  • Have meetings last only for as long as you need. If you allocate one hour, you will use that hour. I tend to schedule 15 to 30 min meetings and I get as much work done, if not more. If the meeting is really interesting, then I let it continue for as long as it's needed (provided the other party can do it too). This doesn't fare well with people with busy schedules, though.

I then block Mondays and Fridays as "no meetings" days and guess what? It's when I produce the most.
  • After the meetings, send a recap with immediate next steps right away and have someone follow up to get everything on the list done. I do that when it comes to sales, in the company.

  • We don't do many meetings at MarsBased. We try to favor effective communication. FYI meetings, status updates, and communication of decisions are posted on Basecamp for everyone to read async, digest, and sleep on them. Other quick things can be discussed over chat on Slack. We try to have internal meetings only if we really require active inputs from everyone involved in the conversation. 99% of our meetings consist only of two people.

  • With clients, it's different. We do have one weekly call with most of them to discuss matters. We send them a report a few days earlier so they can process it and then we use the meeting only to solve doubts or to discuss approaches, but never to inform purely. That's what reports are for.

  • Paradoxically, because we almost never do meetings, we're always up for one. We just assume that if there is a meeting required, it's because it’s important.

How are the meetings of the future? How is the current way of working (more remote, more channels to communicate, and also more concern for productivity) changing the way we meet?

  • That's a good question! Never thought about that... I just hope everyone will understand that 90% of the meetings are useless. We live in a culture of meeting for the sake of meeting. A busy schedule makes it look like we're working when it's exactly the other way around.

  • I hope people will learn first of all to be more remote-friendly. Working from home is something necessary that needs to be taught in schools.

  • Second, I hope to see an increase in companies adopting async models of working. Being 100% in sync all of the time is bullshit. It actually prevents people from doing their job.

As the CEO of a 100% remote company, and now that we are all confined and teleworking (some for the first time), what guidelines do you follow? Can you give us some of these guidelines to be productive every day? How do you manage to be a team being 100% remote?

  • Productivity isn't about your output; it's about your outcome. Producing tonnes of lines of code isn't being productive, it's just being able to write a lot of code. What does it do? Does it solve what needs to be solved? Does it make it in an efficient and timely manner?

  • I have always been an advocate for smart working. If you can get your job done in four hours, why work eight?

  • Productivity has been a vanity metric for employers to compare workers and to foster a toxic vicious circle of seeing who produces more, to single out those who don't, forcing the team to always up their productivity at the expense of their working conditions or wellbeing.

After the meetings, send a recap with immediate next steps right away and have someone follow up to get everything on the list done
  • I am extremely productive - or effective - when I have no meetings. Since I do business development, I am constantly trapped in other people's agendas. So if I have more than four meetings in a day, I can't work on anything else, so I work only on these meetings. I postpone everything else.

  • I then block Mondays and Fridays as "no meetings" days and guess what? It's when I produce the most. I also produce a lot when I'm flying or working at night because I'm blocked from all notifications/interruptions.

  • I am a huge believer of the quote that goes "that meeting should've been an email" and its corollaries "that email should have been a post", "that post should have been a tweet".

  • As for the other question, about how to bond effectively as a team, we have two lines of action here: we do online and offline activities with the team.

  • Offline actions include meeting every two months in Barcelona for one-two days of company content (strategy, ask me anything with founders, P&L, workshops, group discussion, etc), a company retreat, we go to conferences together, etc.

  • Online actions include a virtual coffee session every morning at 10.30 am on Hangouts, doing online hackathons every 2-3 months, and other initiatives. We share them in our blog and on our Employee Handbook, so check them out!

Thanks, Àlex!

Keep safe!