45. Part 3. 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 the Co-founder and Lead Engineer at Counterpart as well as the host of the Future of Work Project podcast.

This is the third and final part of our conversation with Derrick, this week we discuss, through trial and error what has worked and what hasn’t worked so well.


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 third and final part of Episode 45 of The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future. It's brought to you by WNDYR.

[00:00:21] - Doug Foulkes
I'm Doug Foulkes, and with WNDYR CEO, Claire Haidar, we end off our interesting conversation with entrepreneur and lead engineer Derrick Franco.

[00:00:29] - Doug Foulkes
In the first two parts of this conversation, we've discussed agile working and how business teams can use it to their advantage. And we spoke about Derrick's Future of Work Project podcast and the amazing people that he's interviewed.

[00:00:44] - Doug Foulkes
Today, we focus on the practical side and find out what has worked and to be honest, what hasn't. Lots of take-home value here. Claire, over to you.

[00:00:54] - Claire Haidar
You spoke about throwing things against the wall. So we're going to put you on the spot and we're going to ask you, what have you thrown against the wall? And I'll start with what's working.

[00:01:05] - Claire Haidar
So I know you've shared two of the medical benefits and the way you're approaching individual employees, but talk to us a little bit more about that. What other things are working?

[00:01:14] - Derrick Franco
One thing that we've been experimenting, going along asynchronous route again is we've been experimenting using... so Slack, has this tool, but also there's a tool that we use called Loom. And basically it's just pre-recorded videos.

[00:01:28] - Derrick Franco
So one thing that I'll do is, because we have engineers all over the world, I will actually record myself going through the next week's sprint on Friday or Saturday night and going into all the details that my engineers are going to need to know.

[00:01:43] - Derrick Franco
So I'll go through and say, hey, guys, this is what we're going to be working on. This is what changed since we talked to about it. This is what the goal is towards. And then this is what it's going to be working towards in the next sprint after that.

[00:01:55] - Derrick Franco
And so it's usually about a 25-minutes video that I prerecord on Friday, but I send it out on Sunday night. And so any of my engineers, whenever Monday morning is for them, they get that video, they can review it and they can get started. They don't have to wait for a synchronous meeting for us to get together and go through this.

[00:02:14] - Derrick Franco
Now we still have that meeting. But instead of that meeting being 45, 50 minutes, it's a seven-minute meeting. It's everybody gets together. We talk about how the weekend went and it says, hey, guys, did you have any questions on the video or anything that you've worked on so far? And if nobody has questions, then we kick off and get the week started.

[00:02:31] - Derrick Franco
We've now cut our 50, 60-minute kick off on Mondays to five, seven minutes. You want to talk about a productivity boost like that, is it.

[00:02:39] - Derrick Franco
And then doing that as well with a more of a focus on writing. So this really pissed a lot of people off. And it still really does right now with the organization, but it's nine out of 10 times, if somebody messages us and says there's a problem, our reaction is, is there a ticket? Is there something that we can reference and have a conversation on and get all the details in? Because eventually what's going to happen is six months from now, we're going to be like, well, why did we do that or what was the reason? And we actually have a thing to go back and see the full conversation, but also it's completely open.

[00:03:13] - Derrick Franco
We're not siloing information off from people in these public tickets. So if one of my engineers was trying to figure out why we did something and they go into the ticket, they can comment on that conversation or they can bring up that conversation again if it's three months old. So that's something that's really helped as well, is opening that information silo and making it where everybody can contribute to the problems that we're seeing from a day to day.

[00:03:39] - Derrick Franco
I think that one other thing that's worked very well for us, and this is something that's very hard, I think, for organizations, but it goes back to that agile mindset is, we have this mindset that we need to change the way that we run our product as the organization grows. We just know.

[00:03:57] - Derrick Franco
And we started out with two people at Counterpart in 2019. We're almost at 30 people now, and we just keep having to shift how the organization runs. You don't have to implement the perfect system on day 1.

[00:04:10] - Derrick Franco
You just have to implement whatever works for you right now and know that as you're hiring more people, as you're creating more teams, as you're working things out, it's going to adapt. And that's okay. And I think that's where a lot of people right now, they had a lot of trouble. When we first went remote, they almost got shell shocked because it was like, oh, my God, we got to plan this whole thing out and how this works and what this does, what will it do for the future? Et cetera.

[00:04:33] - Derrick Franco
And so companies were just paused for three months, just trying to figure it out. Now, when you're in that mindset, figure out what can work, start working in it and adapt. And that's something that's worked very well for us.

[00:04:44] - Derrick Franco
And is it hectic? Yes, but it's hectic for one or two people every six months and then the organization just keeps flowing at this amazing growth rate. Those are just some of the things that we've seen so far that have really worked.

[00:05:00] - Derrick Franco
But the last thing I want to call out is this idea of open communication. So I brought this up from the information silos, but we've built our culture around putting it in everybody's head that every single person's input should not be filtered, it should be direct because we are going to make much less mistakes, a variety of less mistakes.

[00:05:23] - Derrick Franco
And I tell every engineer, this is part of my hiring process. I say you have full permission to look at me, to look at our CEO and tell us that is the stupidest idea I've ever heard.

[00:05:32] - Derrick Franco
And the only thing I'm going to say back is okay. Why? That's the openness that we want because we want that communication cycles. And so this openness mindset, it doesn't just come from the communication, but it comes from the ability to get that ego away and understand why. What is those reasons that we're wrong? What are those things?

[00:05:52] - Derrick Franco
And if someone can give me a good answer for what exactly it is, perfect, let's move on. You were right. I'm wrong. Let's move on. And that's another way that these have worked so well.

[00:06:02] - Derrick Franco
And that's probably the hardest one to do, because a lot of people and organizations, they do have egos. And so it's something that you have to build from a cultural level of if you want that much openness, you have to start having those conversations with people to figure out what will make them comfortable to tell me when something is going wrong. That's the number one thing to focus on when you're building out that openness cycle.

[00:06:24] - Doug Foulkes
That's interesting, Derrick, because I know Claire with WYNDR you've got the No Bullshit guide.

[00:06:29] - Claire Haidar
[inaudible 00:06:29]. It's almost like you're my twin in some other universe. Like quite literally. I won't go to the history behind the No Bullshit guide. I'll tell you that offline, but I think you'll love it. And that's exactly what it is. It's for that exact reason. It's like-

[00:06:45] - Derrick Franco
I can't wait.

[00:06:46] - Claire Haidar
-drop the bullshit.

[00:06:47] - Derrick Franco
Exactly. I'd rather be angry and trying to figure and scramble stuff out now than think everything's going well for two months.

[00:06:55] - Doug Foulkes
Okay, Derrick. So those are things that are working. What didn't stick when you threw it at the wall?

[00:07:01] - Derrick Franco
Oh, man, how much time do we got?

[00:07:05] - Claire Haidar
Do we need beer?

[00:07:06] - Derrick Franco
Yeah, exactly. No, great question. This is one that I swear everybody's probably tried. So they've probably figured this out. But trying to do the virtual happy hours, they don't work, guys. Just stop doing it. It doesn't work.

[00:07:22] - Derrick Franco
I understand the concept behind it, but realistically, let's think about what that situation actually is. It is not sitting in a room and drinking with all your coworkers and talking. It is literally you staring at a computer, drinking alone in a room. Think about that concept. Eventually, it only takes a couple of minutes into the call for everybody's mind to figure that out. And then it's just awkward for the next hour or however long the happy hour is.

[00:07:48] - Derrick Franco
So yeah, don't do that. Instead, focus on things that are active. One thing that we're planning right now is there's an online escape room, and it's not something that everybody has to attend. We basically just message people and said, hey, guys, how many of you would like to do an online escape room? Is anybody interested? And 10 people reacted like, yeah, I'd love to do that.

[00:08:10] - Derrick Franco
So we're setting that up. And basically that's something that we know is going to be a great exercise because they're going there because they actually want to do this, number one. And number two, they're going to be participating and active in it. So they're not just going to be sitting there awkward, like it's something they want to do.

[00:08:24] - Derrick Franco
Another thing that we've done is, and this is something that's worked. And I should have added this. We've created a channel that we call the Counterpart Café in Slack. And it's just like anybody can post random things in there.

[00:08:38] - Derrick Franco
But the reason I bring this up is it's worked great because it allows us to have these little fun ideas and fun things and rib on each other back and forth. But where we've messed up is before we had that channel, we had seven different types of Slack channels, all for specific things.

[00:08:55] - Derrick Franco
So one Slack channel was a random channel. And one of them was a news channel. And then one of them was an ideas channel. And then one of them... It just kept going on.

[00:09:05] - Derrick Franco
And then you realize after a while that people just didn't post in them because they didn't know where to post it. They'd find a funny article, but they're like, do I post that in news or do I post that in random? They'd have an idea for getting the team together. And they're like, well, is that under remote or culture or? They didn't know what the hell to do.

[00:09:23] - Derrick Franco
And so that's another thing that we messed up on was we had that. And then originally we just consolidated it into Counterpart Café. And it literally says just anything. That is the [crosstalk 00:09:33]. I think off the top of my head were like, anything, imagine a virtual warehouse like coffee shop. That's basically what we kind of like, the idea that we said to people.

[00:09:44] - Derrick Franco
But, yeah, that one definitely was a mess at first. Trying to get people to silo information. One big thing that we messed up on was when we first introduced OKRs, we were spending way too much time trying to get exactly what those initiatives are that focus on the OKRs. That stands for objective key results. And large organizations love these all the time because it's a great way to measure what are we getting done?

[00:10:11] - Derrick Franco
But this goes back to what Claire was talking about, is this no-goals rule. We tried to implement it because we had done it before and then we realized very quickly that all this did was exactly what Claire described earlier. It just took us weeks of planning and arguing about what was the actual thing that we needed to get done? And when are we going to do it? Who's the project donor? Et cetera. When the simplest thing for us was just to take a step back and be like, hey, guys, what are the three most important things that we want to do?

[00:10:38] - Derrick Franco
And all of a sudden, everything else fell into place because it was like, okay, well, all of these OKRs that you listed, none of them have to do with these three. So why the hell are you listing them? Get rid of them.

[00:10:47] - Derrick Franco
All of a sudden, conversations became much more open when you had that almost north star for employees to look at and to drive towards as you were doing your planning. So, yeah, definitely messed that one up there before.

[00:11:02] - Derrick Franco
And the last one I will bring up. One thing we do every year is we try and get people together. We're trying to go for two times a year, but at least once a year to bring it together just because you need that in person time.

[00:11:13] - Derrick Franco
But the one thing that we've messed up before is taking too long to figure out when dates work for people, because we're all busy, especially you want to get everybody together before the end of the year. But let's think about that. If you're in the states, you have Thanksgiving coming up and then Christmas time and everybody's all over the map.

[00:11:31] - Derrick Franco
And if you're working remote, they've probably already gotten their tickets. They've probably already figured out their stuff on when they're going to work in near their parents or near their friends. So that's one thing is, if you know that you're going to do a get together, let's say in September or October time, start getting those dates together in January, because if you wait for the summertime, I guarantee you someone's got a wedding planned, someone's got vacation time, plan someone's got this. And trying to get those dates narrowed out is not going to work.

[00:11:58] - Derrick Franco
We've seen people start to even introduce the head of remote role that does multiple things on this. One, it's focusing on how can we build out this remote culture and figure out what's working and what's not, but also for stuff like this. It's when are we bringing these get togethers? What are ways that we can improve people as they're trying to get together? Are there people that are near each other that we can get together for just like their own little events? We don't have to be there, just the people that are near each other.

[00:12:24] - Derrick Franco
So, yeah, I think that that's another one where we've definitely messed up is waiting too long to plan those events in the past, and we're left scrambling with people at the very last minute being like, okay, well, can you move that or can you move this? Maybe this date, maybe this date. So, yeah, that's something that I've definitely seen us drop the ball on before.

[00:12:40] - Claire Haidar
I think, I love this lines, we've also just learned that no date is ever going to work for everybody. So just [crosstalk 00:12:46]. Derrick, this has been a great conversation, honestly. Thank you so much.

[00:12:55] - Claire Haidar
Like I said, you feel like my twin in some other life, in some other universe. And I can't wait to get this information out there and share it with our audience.

[00:13:07] - Derrick Franco
Amazing. Well, Doug, Claire, thank you both so much for the time as well. And then if anybody wants to learn more about the Future of Work project available on Spotify, all the different ones for podcasts. And then, like I said, the book will be hopefully coming out next year. So, yeah, looking forward to getting that out to the world.

[00:13:27] - Doug Foulkes
And that is the end of Episode 45. Let us know if this shorter, split version of our conversation has worked for you. Catch us on Spotify, Google and Apple podcasts or on WNDYR's website. That's W-N-D-Y-R.com. From Claire and myself, bye for now.

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