Lessons From a 17-Year Old Fully Remote Music Tech Company

Stacey Bedford, Bandzoogle CEO

Stacey Bedford, Bandzoogle CEO

“B-A-N-D-Z-O-O-G-L-E…?” Yes, that’s my new employer’s name.

The following article comes from Bandzoogle, a proud partner of DMN.

“What do you do?” It’s a tech company. We provide a content management system for musicians.

“Where are your offices located?” Oh uhmm, we don’t have a central location, I work from home. We all do.

I almost didn’t get that mortgage approval. Luckily, I have a knack of inspiring confidence, but more on that later.

When I joined Bandzoogle as a front line support person in 2007, remote work was a very strange concept. Internet companies were fleeting, and websites were not all that important to the survival of any business.

Fast forward 13 years: I’m the CEO, Bandzoogle powers over 50,000 websites for musicians who have sold over $61,000,000 in music, merch, and tickets commission-free. And now the only way artists can run their business is online. Here is how Bandzoogle created a successful business online with a fully distributed team.

Tech tools for a remote workplace

When we were just two developers, a customer service rep, and a founder, the really basic needs were: a way to communicate on demand (a virtual office), a way for customers to find us and contact us (our website), and a way to document and monitor everyone’s output.

Creating a productive virtual office

In the last decade we’ve had many growing pains, and through trial and error found the tools that work best for us as a team of 28. We re-evaluate our tools and operations regularly.

Every time we complete a major project, we run a retrospective. This is where our team can openly provide feedback about what worked or didn’t work for them. We document our processes in a company wiki and revise them based on this feedback.

For our office, we started out using Skype, but as we grew in size we moved on to use Slack. We organize it so that each team at Bandzoogle has their own channel. This allows teams to communicate on relevant topics, or listen in on topics that interest them as they happen.

We also have a general company wide channel. Bandzoogle has an open workplace culture and everyone is welcome into every channel. We aren’t limited by the number of chairs at a boardroom table, so there’s no reason to have a maximum.

Every time I run into a reluctance to NOT have an open workplace culture, I think about what the actual problem is. It’s often something that isn’t related that you need to sort out. Find out why there is friction. If it’s oversharing or productivity issues, that’s nothing a skilled project manager or team lead can’t handle.

On that note, we quickly learned that we also needed a way to communicate NOT on demand. The downside to being in a relaxed creative environment is that an influx of ideas can distract everyone from their work.

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So we needed a place to filter all of our wonderful ideas and inspiration that allowed everyone else to absorb it at the best time for them. We use Basecamp as a project management tool, and we have it set up in a very specific way. We have three tiers: organization wide, department wide, and project level.

Everyone is invited to follow and participate at any level or project. This is where we manage to direct, store, and honor all of the wonderful ideas and contributions from our prolific staff.

This is also where we post bulletins that are relevant to specific projects, teams, or company wide. One of my favorite things about working at Bandzoogle is that we’ve essentially eliminated internal emails.

Meetings and staff output

Once you create an open environment where your staff are inspired and motivated, it will explode into a beautiful and potentially dangerous fireworks display. You’ll need to filter the ideas effectively.

Like in a band, at first everyone is going to compete for a solo. It’s going to be the lead singer versus the lead guitarist. When people have fresh ideas they want to be heard, and that can come with a lot of feelings.

It’s really important to simultaneously give those ideas respect, but also to move things forward in a positive way. So you’re going to channel those ideas into brainstorming threads where everyone can share in one safe space, with a set time.

For us, that means a brainstorming thread that gives everyone a week to contribute. Our project manager will break those down into user stories, because if something isn’t of value to our members, we don’t consider it. Then we all meet to prioritize those stories and consult with our developers on the tech side.

Although everyone is welcome to these meetings, it doesn’t mean that everyone can talk over each other. The time for discussion has ended, and this is the presentation of ideas and one person is presenting for everyone fairly, and voting together.

If someone feels strongly about something that may not make the cut, we test it out or rely on measurable data that is aligned with our goals for the year, which always include staff and member happiness.

With the exception of the customer service team who communicate throughout their shifts every day, each team meets weekly. Any time a team gets together it’s documented clearly in Basecamp, and each meeting has a goal beforehand as well as specific to-dos that are assigned afterwards, with timelines.

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Timelines are NOT for hanging your staff. They simply help you create order and expectations for your project manager. They also help you understand if a staffer is not motivated so that you can figure out how to help them. No one actually wants to do a bad job, and the solution can be anything from more interaction, to changing up their responsibilities.

At our regular team meetings, our project manager will go through each project and ask how it’s going, if they accomplished what they hoped to the previous week, if there are any impediments, and what they hope to accomplish this week. There is open time at the end of the meetings for free talk.

Adapting to a remote environment

If you’re making the jump from being in a physical office to working as a distributed team, many of your staff will be growing into their new way of operating. They will feel out of place and might be insecure about their ability to be of service. Insecurity can manifest itself in some really interesting and disruptive ways.

As a leader, it’s more important than ever to assess your team in their new environment. You’ll need to determine if their existing roles are necessary, and quickly pivot them into a position where they can contribute in a meaningful way.

Make sure your staff understands you see that change is a healthy and positive thing. Just as it’s less costly (for your workplace vibe and bottom line) to keep existing customers than acquire new ones, the same goes for your staff. You’re forgoing a ton of product knowledge and experience if you give up on them.

Working from home will force a company to evaluate excesses. It’ll shine light on all of the redundant tasks you do every day that a simple app could handle. It will foster an environment where everyone can focus on moving your business forward instead of menial, time wasting operations in physical transit. It’ll clear the decks so your work family has the physical and emotional space to grow and be inspired. Gone are the times of bloated meetings and water cooler gossip.

Now is the time for deliberate, meaningful contributions and conversations. Remote work can help you and your team achieve that, and more. Embrace this time; you may never want to look back.

Hired as Bandzoogle’s very first support technician in 2007, Stacey Bedford was named CEO of the music website platform in 2018. She was named a 2019 Digital Power Player by Billboard Magazine. A mother of three, Stacey lives in Ottawa with her family, and holds a BA in Economics from Carleton University. She’s also an avid guitar player and karaoke singer.