Interview with Dee Dee Walsh, VP of Marketing & Business Development at Mobilize.net
Mobilize.Net brings software applications forward to modern web, mobile and cloud platforms, and makes this process more simple and fast. Formerly known as Artinsoft, the company has already helped millions of developers to successfully modernize billion lines of code over the last two decades. Headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, Mobilize.Net also runs a remote team in Costa Rica. This allowed the company to tap into unique pool of talent, which could not be found elsewhere in the world. Although distance can be a serious hindrance to cohesive communication, Mobilize.Net successfully manages the 200-strong team based across two countries.
In her interview with YouTeam’s CPO and co-founder Yurij Riphyak, Dee Dee Walsh, VP of marketing and business development at Mobilize.Net, tells about the challenges of streamlining communication and setting goals for a distributed team.
Yurij: Tell me about your journey from an idea to a decision to start a new venture that was going to be built by a remote team?
Dee Dee: Probably, as it often happens, this decision was somewhat planned and somewhat spontaneous. In our Bellevue Washington office many of us are ex-Microsoft. And the thing is that a couple of generations ago we were having a platform shift from Win32 to .NET at Microsoft. We had millions of developers that we didn’t want to lose, so we had to come up with a plan of how to migrate old code to the new platform. A couple of us went all over the world to find new solutions, and we discovered a group of insanely smart PhD candidates and their professor down in Costa Rica. They had a technology that did semantics pattern matching, which no one else was doing at that point. Microsoft invested in them and they formed a company. Fast forward to 2012 – Tom Button, CEO of Mobilize, made a proposal to the Costa-Rican company about modernizing their business, and they liked the idea. Originally, we were going to exist as two separate companies, but after a couple of months we’ve merged into one. That’s how Mobilize.net started.
Today we have close to 200 people in Costa Rica, which is the vast majority of our company – product development, professional services, some of the sales team. There are some sales and marketing people here in the US too, as well as our CEO and some technical staff. The main reason for choosing Costa Rica was smart people. But there are way more advantages that we’ve learned about since then. When I was at Microsoft, I worked a lot with India and China, which both have great amount of talent. But Costa Rica has the time zone advantage other countries don’t have.
Yurij: So what Mobilize does is that it turns a code written in different languages and frameworks into .NET. That’s why it was crucial for you that the core technical team already had this unique expertise with .NETs?
Dee Dee: Mostly we modernize client server legacy like PowerBuilder, .Net, Visual Basic 6.0 into web, so that it goes on a browser, phone or tablet. We don’t even have a direct competitor, as what we do is very specialized. So based on our experience at Microsoft we knew that the guys from Costa Rica had this particular expertise we needed.
Yurij: We at YouTeam have a number of teams in different Latin American countries. But we don’t have any in Costa Rica. What makes this country a special place as a work location?
Dee Dee: It’s an interesting country, and of all the Latin American countries is probably the safest and the wealthiest. It’s protected by the US so they don’t have to spend money on a military, and all their money goes into education.Costa Rican population is very powerful and educated. They have a very strong middle class versus a lot of other Latin American countries. The economy does well, they do a lot of eco tourism. So it’s a very desirable place to live and to go on vacation.
Yurij: Getting back to how things work. You have mentioned that your company consists of around 200 people. They are not only developers, but other types of experts as well? Are they all co-located in one office?
Dee Dee: Primarily developers. The thing is, the traffic in Costa Rica is quite bad, so there are certain days of the week when people can’t travel based on the number of their license plate. So when they can’t get to the office, they have at least one working day at home down there and meditate. I think such flexibility is one of the benefits that we offer.
Yurij: Have you ever thought about going further with that? There are companies of a comparable size that don’t have offices at all, with people working from home and from different countries. Have you considered this kind of model or it doesn’t make too much sense to you?
Dee Dee: We use Zoom and Teams and every kind of voice option one can have, so we spend a lot of time on the phone. But I have to say that there’s nothing better than getting together face to face. Last week, our whole company got together in Costa Rica and had a board meeting. And then we had a bunch of meetings together. And it’s funny how much you get on the same page.
Yurij: How often do you do that? Is it usually the US team that flies over to Costa Rica?
Yes, because there’s only eight of us up here in the US. The whole company gets together probably once a year, but each of us goes down more than that: I go four or five times a year, our CEO the same, and then some of our salespeople too. I know that working remote is inevitable. People want to live where they want to live. I live in Seattle, and there are people who do not want to live here. At the same time, I think it is hard to get things done without the ability to walk down the hall and talk to each other. We have a very technical sales process, so you have to be an engineer, basically. We’ve had people who didn’t work out of the office trying to sell and they all failed. The people who succeed are the ones that we have here in the office.
I know that working remote is inevitable. People want to live where they want to live.
Yurij: Do you have people from Costa Rica coming to the United States? One of the founders I interviewed for the book had their core team in France and about 45 people in San Francisco. They would fly engineers over from France for a couple of months to San Francisco, and then move them back to France, and fly to another party. So they go back home and charge the rest of the team with this kind of energy.
Dee Dee: We bring our executive staff up a couple of times a year, but everybody’s so busy, that it’s hard. We have brought some of the engineers up here, three at a time, to get on the same page and get charged, as you say, but we tend to go down to Costa Rica more than they come up here.
Yurij: Let’s talk about the tools you use to communicate, as communication is crucial for distributed teams. What is in your usual communication toolkit?
Dee Dee: We use email, Zoom, Skype and we’ve just moved to Teams – as we’re Microsoft partners, we get a lot of software included, so for us it makes economic sense. And then we have a meeting time to discuss certain things. In order to make progress, we have to be very clear about what deliverables we want to achieve. We make sure to consistently follow up with each other. But it’s easy to have someone put you off if you’re not in their face. You have to be on top of everything all the time. And if you’re not really, really motivated, you will fail.
In order to make progress, we have to be very clear about what deliverables we want to achieve.
Yurij: My last question will be a little bit tricky. We are all builders here and time after time, we come up with ideas to solve the problems which are related to work. Can you recall the last time you had those kind of thoughts? What would I build? What is missing?
Dee Dee: Have you ever used virtual chat rooms, where you can see another person in life size? It’s even hard to tell that you’re not in a room with a real person, that’s how real they are. The bummer is, there is still a disadvantage of time difference. What would be nice is to have a monitor on all the time, so we could just have casual conversations, like a tunnel to each other’s offices. That would be amazing.
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