45. Part 2. The future of work through the eyes of a lead engineer | Derrick Franco, Co-founder of Counterpart


Derrick Franco | Co-founder of Counterpart


Today we catch up with Derrick Franco, an engineer and entrepreneur with over a decade of experience in startups and software engineering. He is currently lead engineer at Counterpart as well as the host of the Future of Work Project podcast.

This is the second part of our conversation with Derrick, this week we focus on Derrick’s FOWProject Podcast and how it’s well on the way to becoming a book.


Derrick Franco-1


As an engineer and entrepreneur, Derrick Franco has a track record of building and scaling organizations from the ground up. These include co-founding Jumpstart, an AI-powered recruiting platform focused on helping college students find jobs and internships, in addition to building out the technical divisions at InvestorsAlley and Phinaz Media Group. In 2019, Derrick and his partner launched Counterpart, a management liability InsurTech for the 21st century that is striving to help companies become the best version of themselves, he currently leads engineering there. He also is the host of the Future of Work Project podcast, where he focuses on bringing together today's business leaders, researchers, and entrepreneurs who are experimenting with new and unique ways of working.




[00:00:08] - Doug Foulkes
Hello and welcome to this, the second part of Episode 45 of The Future of Work. The podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, and it's brought to you by WNDYR. I'm Doug Foulkes. And again, I'm with WNDYR CEO, Claire Haidar. Hi, Claire.

[00:00:25] - Claire Haidar
Hey, Doug. So good to be back on an episode with you. How are you doing?

[00:00:30] - Doug Foulkes
Top of the world. Thank you. No small talk this week. I am keen to jump into the second part of our conversation with entrepreneur and engineer Derrick Franco.

[00:00:39] - Doug Foulkes
Last time we looked at agile working, a method initially used by engineering departments, but more and more spreading into other areas of the organization. Claire, what is today's question all about?

[00:00:53] - Claire Haidar
The second thing that we'll be looking at with Derrick and that we'll be chatting through with him is looking at how work is really being disrupted and what we can learn from product teams and engineering teams, and how they think and how they've leapfrogged in terms of the way they work and shape work.

[00:01:16] - Doug Foulkes
Great. Over to you.

[00:01:18] - Claire Haidar
Derrick, having been this person, this technologist, this lead engineer, CCO, who has built products from the ground up and who is very much a driver of transformation because of that role that you play inside companies, you've recently tackled a really interesting project, which from my previous conversation with you, actually started before COVID actually hits us. And you've been interviewing some really interesting people who are building companies differently.

[00:01:52] - Claire Haidar
So the question I want to start off there is, tell us about the project. We'd love to hear more about it. And tell us about the characters that you're interviewing and how you're selecting them.

[00:02:04] - Derrick Franco
The project is called the Future of Work Project. And currently right now it's in podcast form. This idea originally came about, I guess it was mid 2019. We were in the middle of building Counterpart, our current company, and the main goal of Counterpart was to bring out the best of companies, make companies the best version of themselves.

[00:02:27] - Derrick Franco
And we were talking about what really drives that. What are the things that can help companies become that best version of themselves? And we were talking to so many great people, and it just hit me that I was like, oh, my God, there's so many people out there that are building companies in new and innovative ways, and they're trying new things.

[00:02:44] - Derrick Franco
And these were pieces where as we were talking to them, you can almost see how work was going to be in five and 10 years. So the original idea of the project was, well, you know what? Let's bring together all of these innovators and these leaders that are experimenting with this new way of working. And I wanted to do a full interview suite with them to learn from them, figure out what are the things they've tried, what's failed, what's worked. And one get it out as a podcast so people could use that knowledge right away with the long term goal being to really write a book on the future of work.

[00:03:16] - Derrick Franco
And then obviously COVID hit. We had 2020 come in, and what people were saying changed drastically month to month. And even the vision that I had in my head for what does the future of work look like five years from now? That changed every three months. But it led to some of the most amazing conversations with people because you could see that people were trying so many different things and really just throwing things at the wall to see what stuck.

[00:03:45] - Derrick Franco
And, yeah, it was incredible. The first season literally was recorded pretty much all through 2020, going into a little bit of 2021. The second season for the podcast will be coming out in the next week or two. And, yeah, going back to the characters. They've expanded from all different kinds of walks of life.

[00:04:01] - Derrick Franco
I've had people on the podcast that have been running remote organizations for large companies, a company that actually just went public with over 1,000 employees, all remote. And trying to dive into how are you doing that? Everybody else is struggling, how are you doing it? To people that were solo entrepreneurs that were traveling the globe. They were bouncing around all over the globe, working as a digital nomad and working for large organizations, but they didn't have a physical location to be at.

[00:04:29] - Derrick Franco
They'd be in Bali, they'd be over in Indonesia, they'd be over in China. So you could see how people were working differently. And, yeah, it's been an amazing journey so far. What that Future of Work looks like has definitely changed from the early days of the project.

[00:04:47] - Derrick Franco
But, yeah, I'm actually more excited now than I was back then about what that future will be, because even through all this hectic and craziness that we've been through, it seems to have accelerated a lot of great trends that we saw, but maybe not for 10 years out.

[00:05:04] - Claire Haidar
Derrick, there's a reason why my TEDx talk is called The Future of Work is Chaos because I didn't even try to define it. I just gave it a name, and I was like, it's chaos.

[00:05:14] - Derrick Franco
Yes. Exactly.

[00:05:17] - Claire Haidar
To your point. And this is actually why Doug and I got really excited when we came across your project. When we started really going and finding people who are diving into this topic is I was like, because it was very obvious that the people who you've had on your podcast are people who are, as you say, like throwing stuff against a wall.

[00:05:36] - Derrick Franco
Yeah. And I think one thing that gives people a little comfort when they really start diving into some of the ideas with me is I tell them, I'm like, look, we're learning from this, but we're not just preaching it. I'm like, I usually take whatever that they're telling me, and I'm like, hey, let's go try it at the company now.

[00:05:51] - Derrick Franco
And, yeah, let me tell you, some things have been absolutely amazing. Other things, I've had people message me and be like, we're never doing that again. We just used Counterpart as a little bit of a guinea pig.

[00:06:02] - Derrick Franco
But, yeah, we've been very productive from it. We've had a remote team even before the time of corona, and we wanted to build remote from day 1 to show that people could do it.

[00:06:13] - Derrick Franco
And yeah, I will say there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but you can take bits and pieces of all of these great ways that people are working and make them work for your organization. And I can just say right now that it is definitely exciting to see as you're implementing these how well they do work once you get it to fit your organization.

[00:06:36] - Doug Foulkes
You spent a year and a half watching people throw stuff against the wall, what has actually stuck? I mean, you said we've got the traditional in person, we've got this virtual mindset that sprang up, and obviously the hybrid of that, how does that actually work in today's world of work? And as you say, not everything works for everyone. What hard changes are there that organizations can actually make?

[00:06:58] - Derrick Franco
I'm going to start one place and what's worked before that's a little bit away from remote. This is one thing that's been a trend on a lot of the leaders that we've talked to and really the high growth organizations that we worked with as well.

[00:07:12] - Derrick Franco
It's really just investing in your employees. And this has a very wide meaning. But focusing on the employee's health, focusing on making sure they're in their most productive environments, these are things that they're easy to say but you don't really see the side effects right away when you do this.

[00:07:31] - Derrick Franco
And some companies, you've seen these companies forever that are offering gym memberships or they're offering mental health benefits, this is absolutely amazing, because it's going to make the employees more productive. But an example, even from what we do right now through our system, all of our employees get a membership to one medical.

[00:07:49] - Derrick Franco
And if anybody doesn't know what that is, it's a medical service but basically, they have offices all over the US, and it's almost like this boutique medical community where you can go in. It's really easy to get an appointment. You literally have an app that I make an appointment. You walk in the same day. The doctors have all of your information there, and you can get whatever you need done in and out.

[00:08:11] - Derrick Franco
And from our employee's perspective, they love this because irregardless of where they are, they know that their medical information is there. They know that the doctors that they're working with are great doctors, and they know that it's going to be quick and easy to do this.

[00:08:24] - Derrick Franco
So from a medical side, they never have to think about this. From the mental health side, we make it a point to verify with people that they are not overworking themselves or burning themselves out.

[00:08:36] - Derrick Franco
It's something that we have to continually do. We check in after every sprint to say, how much did this person work? How big was that project that they worked on? Because it is something that you really have to check in on.

[00:08:46] - Derrick Franco
But as we've really focused there, we can see the results. We've been operating at a high level for over two years now at the company, and we've seen more and more how all of those things add up to just the most productive team that we've ever had.

[00:09:01] - Claire Haidar
And I think that loops back to the previous point that we were talking about, agile is in large orgs, they don't have that two-week window where they're actually pausing, stopping and doing the sprint retro at the end of two weeks to go; what worked? What didn't work? What changes are we implementing? And, hey, are you okay?

[00:09:23] - Derrick Franco
Yeah, exactly. It's little things. And one of the biggest things that we have that is one of our values is basically focusing on health, your health should never be sacrificed. And it's something that we go over during the kick off every week, and it's up to every person on the team. And that's one of the big things that we've seen that's worked.

[00:09:44] - Derrick Franco
Another big thing that we've seen, and this goes back to what we've talked about with the remote pieces. We made the decision to be remote. And so by making the decision to be remote, we were able to basically make it so everything that we did or everything that we put into place was focused on strengthening that relationship with remote.

[00:10:04] - Derrick Franco
So what does that mean? It means that whenever we hire a new member of the team, that we are making sure that even if it's virtually, they get to meet a majority of the team members that they will be working with. So they get 15, 20 minutes on the phone with them to go through and just meet them, make it feel like an in person piece.

[00:10:22] - Derrick Franco
We make it where we're getting the entire team together at least once a year. And it's an expensive endeavor. It's an expensive thing to do, but we're able to at least get that in person time.

[00:10:32] - Derrick Franco
We make sure that when that person's hired, we say, "How do you work best? What do you need to be the most productive version of yourself? So some people it's, well, I need two monitors. Okay, cool, ship the monitors out. I need this computer. Okay, cool, ship that out. Some people, and this is going to be funny. We've had one person that we asked him, how are you most productive? And his answer was, I just need Monsters and Red Bull. I need Monster and Red Bull. And we're like, okay, cool, ship him Monster and Red Bull.

[00:11:00] - Derrick Franco
Nice and easy.

[00:11:01] - Derrick Franco
And so it's little things like that. But by saying we're all in on this, that was the mindset that we had to take. And so when we know that companies are struggling to adapt to this role, the one thing that we've learned from people that are doing remote right at scale.

[00:11:17] - Derrick Franco
The example I'm using here is from one of the interviews I did with the head of remote at GitLab. He was basically saying that they're an all remote team, that people can choose what they want to do, whether it's hybrid, whether it's in person, whether it's remote, but they can't half commit.

[00:11:33] - Derrick Franco
So if you're saying that you are hybrid, well, you have to define what hybrid means. If it's that some people are going into the office and some people are staying remote, okay, that's great, but that's not defining. It's how are you working? Are the people in the office meeting together in person? So are they all working together, but then when there's a meeting, they're in person, then they're just calling everybody else? Well, if so, hybrid will not work for you, because now you have created two distinct versions of workers, ones that are in the office and ones that are not.

[00:12:05] - Derrick Franco
If you want that to work, it has to be that they have a desk at the office. They have the office space to go and get their work done. But they're still calling into meetings. They're still working through the remote tools, because that's how the remote workers have to.

[00:12:17] - Derrick Franco
And so that's the biggest thing that companies need to figure out. It's you have to define what you want in order to make it happen from how you work, not just, we want some people in the office, and we want some people remote. And so that's been the biggest thing that we've seen so far.

[00:12:33] - Claire Haidar
What you're saying is like, I want to go, yes. Amen. Preach on. Because I'm saying exactly the same thing. What I've been describing it as is I'm like, hybrid is a myth. You can't be hybrid. Hybrid is not a state of being. It's not a culture that exists.

[00:12:48] - Claire Haidar
Being virtual and being in person are so diametrically opposed to each other that it's literally the equivalent of like socialism and capitalism, like everything about them. The structure, the way it works, the way it plays out is just different. And you can't try and mesh those two together, because what's going to end up happening is that you can have a huge identity crisis and you're going to churn employees.

[00:13:12] - Derrick Franco
Yeah, exactly. And I think it's one thing where if people are looking at it where, especially some of these big companies, they have a lot of office space, they have leases that are there for a long time, and obviously they want to use it. And let's be honest, there are some people that just work better in an office, and it could be for a multitude of reasons that they have a lot of things happening at the house. They don't have a lot of room at the house. They don't have great Internet.

[00:13:34] - Derrick Franco
They think better in an office environment. That's great.

[00:13:37] - Derrick Franco
Get those people to your offices, but keep their working environment remote. Meaning, like I said before, they're still calling into meetings. They're still typing their notes and getting those pieces together. They're at the office. They have a place to plug in and go, and they're still going there. They're still getting their routine. That's the way that they work best. Like I brought back to you earlier. You ask your employees, how do you work best? But even if there's 20 employees at the office, they're not getting together for their meetings, they're not creating a new way to work there.

[00:14:11] - Derrick Franco
That makes it harder for remote people.

[00:14:12] - Derrick Franco
And I think one of the best things that Darren, who is the head of remote at GitLab, brought up. He actually said that he's like, if you want to try and implement a hybrid environment, the number one thing you do is make sure that the leaders do not go back to the office.

[00:14:28] - Derrick Franco
Now it doesn't mean they have to stay away forever. But if for at least the first year, they should not go back, because if so, you're setting a precedent that okay, well, we don't have to be here, but the leader is there, so we have to be here.

[00:14:39] - Derrick Franco
It doesn't matter what you say. They're going to look at what the leaders do to determine what does the company actually want. Exactly.

[00:14:47] - Doug Foulkes
Derrick, before we move on, you've spoken around large organizations, smaller organizations, maybe, what specifically can the large orgs learn from the small guys?

[00:14:58] - Derrick Franco
I think the biggest thing to learn would be that we can see that workers have gotten a taste of this freedom that remote gave them, and it's the ability to kind of for the first time, most workers that were able to go remote were able to plan their work around their life, not their life around their work. And that's something that's really hard to give up.

[00:15:20] - Derrick Franco
So the first thing I would say is, and this is the one that they've been hearing all the time. If you're forcing people to go back to the office, if that's the choice that you've made, that's fine. But just know there is likely to be some churn.

[00:15:33] - Derrick Franco
If your competitor is saying that we are going to offer complete remote or a hybrid approach versus all in, they're more likely to go to that competitor because that is just another perk, basically to them. And especially if they've worked really well in that environment, they're not going to want to give that up.

[00:15:53] - Derrick Franco
I think the other thing is this idea that it's being talked about more and more, but thinking of the office in this way as like this third place or this third office. So people keep thinking of remote and office is almost binary, where it's like, either someone's in the office or they're at home working.

[00:16:10] - Derrick Franco
But also, myself, I work from the house all the time. I work great at the house, but I also work great out of coffee shops. I work great out of WeWorks. And so that's the other thing that I think big companies can really think about, too, is if somebody says, if you're hiring someone that's remote and they say, "Well, I work great in an office." Well, that doesn't mean that you have to move them to your closest office and get them in there, sign them up for a coworking membership, get them an office there, get them something that's close to their house, to their environment, because you know that you're setting them up to work in the best way for you, and that it's something where they're going to feel comfortable. They have a space of their own.

[00:16:46] - Derrick Franco
And this is something that I see booming over the next couple of years, especially as these leases expire. I think you're going to see a lot of new types of office space open up that are closer to where people live and allows them to really have these really small micro-commutes to an office space where they can plug in and get that feeling of being around other people that are building as well for people that want to be in an office.

[00:17:10] - Derrick Franco
So I think that would be the biggest thing that I would focus on. But the other last thing that I would really push to big companies is to change the way that they're thinking about hiring talent.

[00:17:21] - Derrick Franco
And what I mean by this is, if you are a remote organization, if you have a remote working mindset, your talent pool has opened up tremendously. You are no longer geared towards the talent pool that is in the locales where your buildings are or where your offices are.

[00:17:40] - Derrick Franco
If you are a company that has offices in Boston, and let's just say, somewhere in Kansas, well, you're not limited to just those pools now. You can actually go out and hire somebody anywhere in the US or even globally. You can hire somebody. And just if you're building that remote team, work with the time zone, that's what we do.

[00:17:58] - Derrick Franco
We have people outside the US that work with us all the time, and it's just working between the time zones. And even similarly, a small business, let's say, or a medium sized business that is in the middle of, let's just say, Oklahoma, if they needed to hire programmers before, it was often very hard to find programmers in local Oklahoma.

[00:18:18] - Derrick Franco
Well, now they don't need to. They can find the best programmers around the world, hire them and get them to work on their products all without leaving or moving from their main headquarters organization. So that's the thing that I would really stress to large organizations is think about it from the hiring perspective, the hiring pool and the retention of your employees.

[00:18:39] - Doug Foulkes
And let's face it, no one's going to miss commuting?

[00:18:42] - Derrick Franco
No, exactly.

[00:18:44] - Claire Haidar

[00:18:44] - Derrick Franco
I can tell you right now that the last commute I had to do was about an hour train ride each way, and that's if it wasn't delayed in any way. And I do not miss doing that, I think I'd much rather roll out of bed, make my coffee, and five minutes later, sit down after walking the dogs. It's much easier.

[00:19:03] - Claire Haidar
I think Derrick, the only thing that I'd like to add to what you just said there is large companies need to see cloud technologies. So the Slacks, the Zooms, the Microsoft Teams, and the whole gamut with that, because, I mean, there's hundreds of these tools out there as part of the office-

[00:19:24] - Derrick Franco

[00:19:24] - Claire Haidar
-that is the office. You know what I mean?

[00:19:26] - Derrick Franco

[00:19:26] - Claire Haidar
I think that's also one of the big things. As you say, it's no longer a specific geography. It's actually sitting in the cloud. This is the office. You should be building the office in Slack. Yeah.

[00:19:40] - Derrick Franco
Yeah. And these remote tools. This is the other piece that people need to think about, it's the idea of synchronous versus asynchronous. As I mentioned before, it's a habit that we have. We could always want to just jump into a meeting, we always just want to talk to a person, but the mindset should be the opposite. It's, can I put this information down in a way where everybody can see it collaborate without getting five people into a meeting? Because that's the power that remote unlocks. It allows everybody to get more of that deep flow state to work on what they need to work on.

[00:20:11] - Derrick Franco
And now it does take a little bit more work to align, but that's a learned skill. Just like in office to align people and get everybody together is a skill, it's the same exact thing offline.

[00:20:21] - Derrick Franco
But, yeah, just like you said, it's that switch of a mindset, to the office isn't synchronous. It is what everybody is working on in the cloud using these different tools.

[00:20:31] - Doug Foulkes
And that's all we have time for today. If you missed the first part of our conversation about agile working, you can check it out on Spotify, Google or Apple podcasts or on the WNDYR website. That's W-N-D-Y-R.com. And we'll conclude our chat with Derrick shortly. So from Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.

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