How to build and optimize a remote workforce: Ryan Burke, VP Sales at InVision

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You have to get a little creative but I would say culture is the biggest thing that you really need to be proactively addressing.

Ryan Burke is VP Sales and of InVision App, a leading design collaboration platform. An intereting fact about InVision is that they’ve scaled to over 200 employees, and everyone is working remote.

Ryan spoke with me on The SaaS Revolution Show podcast, where we talked about How to build and optimize a remote workforce. If you’re thinking about moving part or all of your workforce remote, then this is a must listen/read episode.

You can listen to the full interview below, alternatively, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher and never miss an episode.


Alex Theuma:

Today, I’m joined today by an experienced senior sales and business development executive specialising in scaling early-stage companies and driving enterprise level sales.  He’s also our first VP of Sales on the show.  I’d like to say a big welcome to Ryan Burke, VP of Sales at InVision.  Welcome, Ryan.


Ryan Burke:  Hey, Alex.  Thanks for having me.


AT:  It’s a real pleasure to have you on as a first VP of Sales if you exclude Mark Roberge.


RB:  I like it.


AT:  And another Bostonite as well.  I guess, actually I’ve just answered my next question.  I was going to ask you how it’s going and where you’re calling from but I guess people might know now.


RB:  Yeah, things are great.  Here in Boston the sun’s out.  I know Mark well so definitely in good company.


AT:   One of the things that I’ve found really interesting about InVision with regards to yourself is that you manage a fairly huge sales force that are all remote. I wanted to talk about how to build and optimise a remote workforce.  Are you happy to get into that with me?


RB:  Definitely.  It’s been an interesting evolution with the entire company being remote but it’s been a lot of fun, so happy to talk about it.


AT:  Wow.  The entire company.  That’s very interesting.

Let’s get a proper intro into yourself and InVision.  Can you tell the audience a little bit about Ryan Burke, your background and what is InVision, what does it do?


RB:  Definitely.  Ryan Burke, so I run all sales and customer success for the enterprise business here in InVision.  InVision, we are a product design collaboration platform.  Basically, we have a product that helps literally millions of design and product folks make digital, make any digital products faster.

There’s really two core things that we do.  The first is rapid prototyping.  It allows you to very quickly iterate and build interactive prototypes at the frontend of the design process.  Before you’re doing anything like coding.  The second thing is collaboration.  We make it very easy for you to seamlessly socialise these prototypes across a number of different personas within the organisation.

The company has just been on an extreme trajectory based on just the rising importance of design and the overall business context and we fit very perfectly because we help you really enhance your design process.

It’s been a lot of fun.  Been in the company for a year-and-a-half.  Prior to InVision, I was much more an enterprise-flavoured salesperson.  Beefier sales, schmoozing agency folks, longer sales cycles.  I managed a large sales team at a company called Compete.  So web analytics research company later acquired by WPP.  From there I went to a small advertising startup called Moontoast sort of in the Facebook PND world and then ended up at InVision.

The quick note on InVision was when I was looking for a new opportunity, really the leading criteria that I was using was I wanted to find something where there were clear indicators of product/market fit.  I was actually having a conversation with Roberge about that.  And whether it was organic web traffic, mobile app downloads, there was something that showed that there was clear product/market alignment.  We had that in InVision.

When I started a year-and-a-half ago, we had about a thousand people signing up for the product everyday and we are multiples of that now every day, right now. It’s a lot of fun in a very interesting marketplace.


AT:   I love the name of the company, Moontoast.  Fantastic.  And Compete, you worked at Compete with David Cancel, is that correct?


RB:  I did.  And David actually was one of the folks who initially introduced me to InVision just based on his use of the product.  He knew the CEO so sort of introduced me.  Between Mark and Dave, they definitely both helped me end up here.


AT:  Now, going into the topic of today, this building and optimising a remote workforce. How many is it in the sales force of remote people that you manage directly?  Was it around 28-30 or something like that?


RB:  Yeah, I think as of June 1, we’ll be 35.  We’re growing pretty quickly.  When I started, I inherited a 3-person team.  So it’s about 35.  It’s about 200 at the company overall.


AT:  And everybody in the company is remote?


RB:  Yeah.  It’s an even playing field so everybody is remote.  It’s definitely interesting.  I was a little skittish about it when I first started and had the early conversations with the CEO and sort of came to the agreement that, hey, you know what, maybe at some point we’ll build a sales office in Boston.  He sort of agreed to that.  At the end of the day, I probably still could do that but I think that ship has sailed.  The remote culture is really working for us.


AT:  Do you have any nomads working in the team?  You know what I mean?  There’s this I guess trend of people that are just travelling the world and working for cool companies like InVision.  But have you got any within the sales force?


RB:  Yeah.  I mean, I don’t know.  There may be more than I know of.  We’ve got a Google Map where I can track them down.

But for the most part, people are still pretty well centred in some strategic markets.  I have somebody on my team in Hawaii, and we’re spread across the country.  As a company, we’re spread across the world.  We just hired somebody in Sydney.  We got people in Berlin.  But for my team, the remote is spread all over the place but we do have some pockets in places like San Francisco and Boston and New York.


AT:  Let’s talk about how you started to go about building this remote workforce when you joined.  For which role did you hire first and why?


RB:  Like I said, when I joined, the remote culture was already established in the fact the company was 35 people.  I inherited a small team, a couple of folks in San Francisco, one in Texas.  So my first couple of hires, I wanted to bring in some sellers, so some people that could actually be out in the marketplace, but a pretty specific profile.  I wanted people that were going to be high-product acumen, because that’s the type of product sale we are.  It’s more of a product-driven sale.

But I also wanted people that were a little bit more process and operationally oriented.  I hired a guy into his first AE role, but I had some experience with him in the past but I knew he was a very process structured operational flavoured salesperson.  That’s really important upfront when you’re still trying to scale, you’re still trying to optimise things from a foundational perspective.  I wanted to get sellers because I wanted the data they were going to bring back to the team, but I wanted specific types of sellers.


AT: You mentioned that you had some AEs and specific sellers there.  Now, you’ve got this 35 people by first of June.  Which roles are making up the team now?  And why have you got those specific sort of split?


RB:  We are fairly well-stratified across the team from sort of the lead flow to the account execs to customer success.  And as we scale, we are ultimately specialising more.  We have specialisation on inbound.  We’ve got specialisation on other sort of lead-gen channels, we’ve got specialisation at the SMB level for AEs, we’ve got enterprise, and then we’ve got specialisation now within the customer success as well to focus on things like onboarding, for instance.  That’s kind of how we’ve been building the team and we’ll continue to stratify moving forward then, sort of in concert with that, we’ve got the sales operations.

Which a quick note on that is when I was building the team, I had about 5 people and was looking for a senior operations person.  I decided it was probably a little bit too early and then a couple of months later I had a 15-person team.  It was a little bit too late.  And especially with remote, it’s so important to get that operational rigor in early.  I would err on the side of bringing somebody without background in because so much of what you need to do from a management perspective with this type of model is manage the numbers, manage the processes, and manage using tools.


AT:  What about when you’re hiring?  You’ve got this 35 sales guys and girls within the team.  Is any of the hiring done face-to-face or is this all on Skype or Google Hangouts?


RB:  It’s mostly Skype and Google Hangouts.  But if we have an opportunity, like if we are in a market where somebody is local, we’ll definitely make an effort for people to grab a cup of coffee just to meet them in person and make sure they’re a cultural fit.  But for the most part, it’s all through Hangouts.

It’s a little crazy but the first thing we need to do is we kind of have to screen out the people that just want remote.  That’s always the kiss of death to me when you interview somebody and say, “Hey, what do you like about InVision?”  They say, “Oh, I love working from home.”  That’s not what I asked, right?

There’s a lot of people out there they find jobs like InVision on all of these remote job boards and you really got to filter through somebody’s motivations and then build in the specific type of profile that you want, because it takes a specific type to work on this environment.


AT: Do you mind me sort of asking the success rate of this hiring policy in terms of it mainly all done remote?  Have you had many challenges from that at all?


RB:  We haven’t had that many challenges.  I mean, the reason that the whole remote thing started was because we can afford to be selective with talent.  We want to be strategic about we just want to hire the best people.  That’s the same for sales.

We have a pretty high bar, we have sort of a litmus test that says anybody that at any stage if somebody in the process doesn’t think the person has the ability to be tapped 25% of their role within a year, anybody in the team has the ability to roll somebody out.  We’re pretty disciplined around that.  That’s probably the biggest thing that we do.

Then we do a group demo as part of the process as well because it’s such a big part of our sale.  Selling motion is product demo.  We do group role play demos and things like that.   That’s part of the interview process for us.


AT:  What are the overall pros and cons that you’ve experienced off remote working?


RB:  I mean, even on the interview side, the one thing that I’ll say is it’s a little tough to get especially from a sales perspective.  There’s so many, you talk to these good salespeople at some of these bigger SaaS companies and they all want the Ping-Pong table, the scoreboard, the happy hours and all that stuff so it’s hard.  It’s hard to pull people away from that and sort of represent what the pros of the remote model are especially for some of the younger folks that maybe aren’t comfortable with it and they love these huge office environments.

But I’ll tell you, once we get people into this, our employee satisfaction is absolutely through the roof.  I mean, we’ve got some new NPS-type employee criteria that we use and it’s absolutely through the roof.  So people love it.

I would say between productivity and collaboration, technology can pretty well cater to those things right now. Whether it’s Slack or Hangouts or Skype or a bunch of other tools, you really need to focus on the culture.  That’s where I feel like sometimes that can be a con, obviously.

And we do a bunch of little things around culture but that to me is the biggest potential con that you need to address.  Whether it’s through, we’ve got Hangouts, we’ve got Slack channels to talk about.  Well, we did that.  We can show pictures of your kids, we have a rewards tool called Bonusly that we use that helps you sort of peer-based employee recognition, which is great.

This may sound crazy but we do virtual happy hours.  We did one for Cinco de Mayo last week and people had a great time.  You have to get a little creative but I would say culture is the biggest thing that you really need to be proactively addressing.


AT:  Well, I love the idea of the virtual happy hours.  I can imagine culture being this big challenge.

For me personally, you probably don’t know this, but I’ve been a remote worker for maybe 10 years now.  I kind of felt that I started maybe a little bit too early in my career.  Like when I was like 25, 26.  I had only a couple of years working in the office previously and then when I started remote working, I thought, ah, I can wake up at 10:00 a.m. on a Monday and then I could take a long lunch break then I could finish at 4:30 and go to the gym.

But actually, soon, the productivity, if you’ve got great line managers, like yourself, who are just seeing actually, if you’re cutting corners there, the productivity is not really paying off as such.  I had a bit of a pep talk after like 6 months, which really made me pull my socks up.  I think ever since then my productivity from working from home has been great.

But then I think culturally as well, I’ve always found it sort of challenging especially in my last company that I worked for.  There was a real challenge where even within the U.K. that we didn’t get to meet the other sales guys even once in the year.  I felt that was kind of a real shame.  Certainly culture seems to be one of those things that really needs to be managed.  It’s good to see that you guys are doing that.


RB:  Yeah.  Because you got to think about, too, there’s other negative aspects from a cultural perspective of sort of this water cooler talk where people maybe gossip or politic.  It’s like we distil a lot of that stuff out just based on the fact that we’re extremely focused on productivity and collaboration.  We’re working together in meetings like that’s your focus.  There’s not a lot of this other chatter that sometimes can even be negative.

Then for us it works because it’s also an even playing field.  So everybody’s remote.  It’s not like there’s a headquarters and then three people dialling in.  Even if people are in like a WeWork, for instance, and there’s five of us on a call, everybody’s on their own computer on their own Hangout.  So we want to make sure that it’s sort of equal for everybody.


AT:  Apart from culture, what have been the keys to optimising remote working for InVision but also, not only for InVision, the keys perhaps for other SaaS startups listening that may be sort of earlier stage and they’re thinking about making new sales hires, let’s say, and having them as a remote workforce?


RB:  Listen, from a profile perspective, one of the things that we found pretty quickly is it takes a particular type of personality.  These people have to be proactive.  You have to be somebody that’s going to seek out help, somebody that’s going to seek out the collaboration from a cultural perspective, be very active.  You need to find proactive people, interested especially in the remote side of things.  And within sales that’s tough, so we sort of focus on that.

The other big thing especially with a remote culture is onboarding.  I mean, think about how intimidating it can be to walk into an office on your first day, but at least you’re talking to people.  If you’re sitting alone at home on your first day with just a computer on your lap, that can be intimidating.  We just completely revamped our onboarding a few months ago just to like literally schedule out people’s entire day for the first three weeks, and that’s a big area of focus.

The last thing is the best practices.  You want to make sure that you’re able to… people talk about ah, I like the socialisation of sales and people listening to each other on the phone.  I hear how they overcome objections.  Well, you can still address that through technology and we do that.

We do weekly training calls, which I think are really important.  People have to be active and contribute best practices.  We record demos, best-practices demos.  We’re doing a sales SPIF right now that’s recorded.  Elevator pitches because with the remote model as you scale, it’s increasingly difficult to make sure that everybody is on message, positioning new features the right way, overcoming objections the right way.  That focus on training, collaboration from a best-practice standpoint is really important.


AT:  One final question, and that’s if you were to start your own SaaS business tomorrow, would you get an office or would you be remote-working all the way?


RB:  That’s a good question.  I mean, we have a little bit of the best of both worlds in some selected cities where we do have WeWorks.  It’s funny, everybody wants this WeWork, they want the office but then they love the productivity at home so attendance seems to be a little bit lower than we expected.

But IF I were to have my own company, I’d love to have a place where I could meet, maybe office hours, one day a week just for setting up in-person meetings.  But other than that, I’m pretty sold.  I feel like just from the ability to find great talent, the ability to be productive, everybody sort of being proactive, the way technology works today, I kind of think it’s the way things are going.  And if I were moving forward with my own business, maybe I’d set up shop one day a week somewhere, but other than that I’d be fully remote.


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