One of the questions we get fairly often at TaxJar is what made us decide to become a distributed company with no office. The truth is that this way of working found its way to us. But, there was a day that it became clear that building a fully distributed team was, and always will be, a part of who we are as a company. Let me explain.
TaxJar’s origin story is similar to other businesses’.
A few of us had an idea we thought was worth putting some effort into, but we had day jobs to pay the bills, so we worked to prove our idea on nights and weekends.
We did this over lots of emails, phone calls, and Skype… Largely because we were balancing family time, day jobs and this new project. But also because we weren’t geographically close to each other. Mark, TaxJar’s founder, and I lived an hour apart in Southern California. Matt, our CTO, was halfway across the country in Missouri.
As the business begin to show promise, we had the opportunity to bring on a few more familiar faces to help: our Head of Product, Kevin, and our first full time developer, Bernd, who were both based in Silicon Valley. Our (at the time) content contractor (now our Chief of Content), Jennifer, was based in Atlanta.
At this point we had six people working together – two in Southern California, two in Silicon Valley, one in Missouri and one in Atlanta. Whenever anybody brought up the question, “Where will TaxJar be based when we decide to grow more?” we all agreed that the answer should be “We’ll figure it out when we need to.”
For the most part, all of us had spent years working with each other in some capacity, so we knew we had the best people working together, regardless of location. It seemed like a no-brainer to continue to bring the best people for each position on with TaxJar, regardless of where they lived.
For the next 18 months, we were heads down building TaxJar, with little or no conversation around the fact that we were distributed. We’d meet in person when we needed to, often during events we wanted to attend, and otherwise continued to work with each other online.
As we grew, we added productivity tools like Flowdock and Trello and processes like daily stand-up calls. Still, at this point, nobody had actually made the call and declared that TaxJar is, and always will be, a remote team.
If you build it (remotely), will they invest?
The first test of our ability to be a distributed company came when we decided to raise a round of financing in late 2014. As we began outreach to the investment community, we had plenty of the same question, and consistently gave the same answer.
“We’re totally distributed because that’s how we can build the best team.”
Some potential investors were immediately turned off.
Others were interested but shared that our spread out team was a cause for concern.
And still others knew that we were on to something big, and agreed we could address the issue when we needed to. (Those investors are very happy these days.)
We closed an oversubscribed seed round with the investors who shared our point of view. But after the round closed, we shut the book on the topic of our distributed team and didn’t really think about it again.
The Moment We Realized TaxJar = Remote
Now, in hindsight, I realize that we were always meant to be a remote company. When we created TaxJar, we were loud about our grand plans to alleviate the headaches of sales tax compliance for business owners. But our wish to form a great team – regardless of location – remained unspoken until our second “JarFest.”
JarFests are our twice-annual company get-together where we all meet up and spend time as a team, set our priorities, and have some fun. As it turns out, this would be the event that would shape TaxJar into the proud, distributed company we have become.
As part of getting to know each other, Mark asked each person to share a few words on their backgrounds prior to TaxJar. As each of our 10 TaxJar team members spoke, a strange thing began to happen.
Without prompting, every employee shared why being part of a distributed team was so valuable to our lives. The reasons were all different…
- Being able to spend quality time with the kids
- Housing affordability
- Nearness to family
- A desire to be able to pick up and move
- Not having to leave the house every morning
It was during that moment that a very important and valuable aspect of TaxJar’s culture crystallized for all of us. After that, we never gave another thought to the idea of setting up a traditional corporate HQ.
Today, three years in and counting, I can truly say we’ve created a team of the best-qualified, happiest folks from all around the country. And it’s been a long time since one of our (equally happy) investors suggested we find office space somewhere.
Being distributed is a core part of TaxJar’s culture. It’s who we are.