It may seem practically impossible, but I haven’t met most of the people who work for LeadGenius.

That’s because most of our people are members of our community of crowdsourced contractors scattered around the world.

But after almost seven years, we felt it was time that we got to know this wonderful community on a more personal level. We’ve communicated for years. Now we were going to put a face to a name.

We decided to go to Serbia first where we have our largest community of contractors for what turned out to be a touching experience at a very human level.

What If We Gave a Party…

…and everyone came?

That’s exactly what happened.

I flew, along with two other employees here in North America, more than 13 hours from Oakland to Belgrade, Serbia for a dinner party to say thank you. But what is even more amazing—at least to me—are the hundreds of people across Eastern and Western Europe who joined us for dinner in Belgrade.

Some endured eight-hour bus ride, others brought spouses and children. And all came together to meet the other members of their community…the people with whom they have been working and communicating with for years.

We came together for five hours to eat, talk, laugh and share stories. Our only agenda item was to get to know one another.

“It was an awesome event. A great opportunity to meet in person and connect a chat avatar to an actual person.”

What surprised me most were the stories I heard that proved just how deep these relationships actually went. Eight individuals in our community are now couples. In one case, a Philippine woman now lives with her partner in Serbia.  Some of our people are actually godparents to the children of other contractors.

The Distributed Business Model Comes of Age

We owe a lot to our crowdsource community. They have proven the viability of a business model that has been talked about and toyed with since the 1980s.

Long before companies had widespread access to the Internet, services like AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy pointed the way to possibilities. As long as communication and data sharing is fast, easy and inexpensive, employees should be able to work anywhere.

Initially, companies accommodated a few employees who lived out of town or worked from home a few days a month. And that trend has proved to be both popular—the number of work-at-home employees has grown more than 140% since 2005, that’s 10x faster than the rest of the workforce or the self-employed—and they are more productive.

A truly distributed business model, however, proved more challenging. We literally are opening our business to career-minded people worldwide. People we rely on for their skills, work ethic and integrity but whom we’ve never met—until now.

“I think the event was great, it was so nice to meet everyone and it didn’t feel like a corporate event, but more like a friendly gathering. Also after the event I got a feeling that I’m really part of the team, not that I didn’t know that before but seeing all the people made it real.”

We discovered that getting a foothold was more challenging than expected—largely because of a long history of exploiting global contract workers as a source of cheap labor.

In talking with people at the party and learning their stories, we heard stories of skepticism. Many refused to believe in the opportunities we were offering. Friends would tell them about the potential to build a career working for LeadGenius. Their almost universal response was to say, “Yeah, come back and talk to me after you receive your first dollar.”

LeadGenius clashed head-on with a tradition of underpaying and indifference to contractors. But as contractors began to come on board, the crowdsourcing model led to deep working relationships…that actually is being proven to scale.

Takeaways for Building a Successful Distributed Model

Launching a startup under the best of conditions is a challenge. The toll it takes on the founders and first few employees are profound.

Now multiply that by the task of building and organizing a worldwide community of contractors who need to collaborate with colleagues scattered around the globe.

It’s been exhausting. More importantly, it has worked.

I believe that LeadGenius has proved that a group of people—no matter whether they work in the same city or halfway around the world—can come together and thrive as a community when they are working toward a common goal.

LeadGenius_Ser

“Event organization was more than good, I am glad that I saw so many people from the community from different parts of the world. I think that all of us were encouraged by the atmosphere that was present in the gathering.”

LeadGenius isn’t me. Legally it’s an entity that exists on paper. In reality, it exists because every one of us believes in a common goal.

Our backgrounds can be (and are) very different. We speak different languages. Live in different countries with different cultures.

In the end, it doesn’t matter.

That said, I’ve identified seven elements that I believe are important to every business success…and critical in a distributed model: 

Overcome Regulatory Issues—What works in the UK doesn’t necessarily meet regulatory requirements in the Philippines. You’re going to have to learn the different cultures and values as well as regulatory requirements and manage the relationships.

Build Trust—As I’ve indicated, this was a major hurdle in the beginning. Cheating and indifference have burned too many people for far too long. I think, however, as more ethical companies prove their willingness to do the right thing, this challenge will dissipate. 

Do the Right Thing by Your People—This is related to the previous point. At LeadGenius, our approach is to pay a fair wage based on the local economy, offer opportunities for advancement for anyone looking for a career, and treat everyone ethically. It’s the right thing to do, and it will come back to you 100 fold. 

Access to Technology and Infrastructure—I suspect that if there has been one roadblock to building a virtual workforce or distributed business model, this is it. For people to collaborate, share and build relationships, communication and data transfer need to be fast, reliable and affordable. Also to compensate a global workforce, you need a global payment infrastructure. We’ve come a long way in the past decade or so.

Support for a Global Mindset—Without getting political, I do believe that insularity is giving way to a global attitude. This encourages worldwide collaboration, allows companies to draw on a wide range of cultures and values and quite simply expands your talent pool.

Integrate the Human Element into the Software—With so much talk about artificial intelligence these days, I encourage tech companies to include the human factor. A machine can use speed and brute force to calculate an answer; people introduce ingenuity and creativity to the equation. The combination is priceless.

Build In Management and Collaboration Tools—At LeadGenius we developed the tools and technology that supports collaborative crowdsourcing, and I really believe this has been critical to our success. The good news today is with so many powerful tools available and growing integration across platforms, it’s relatively easy to support communication, collaboration, and project management.

At LeadGenius, we prove every day that 100s of contractors scattered around the world can collaborate to serve our client’s as effectively as if they were sitting in cubicles side by side. That said, it’s nice to meet face-to-face, smile and say, “Thank you, we appreciate you.”

I’m already looking forward to future gatherings.