How can early-stage startups thrive with a hybrid working model?
Max Teichert, co-founder at coaching platform Titan Academy shares his thoughts about high-performance culture and innovating at speed in a hybrid team.
“We love three things”, says Max Teichert, “gaming, action sports, and early-stage start-ups”. It’s no surprise then that Teichert, along with co-founder Sam Marsden have embarked on a journey to build an AI coaching platform for gamers that enables them to make performance gains faster than any other means. Titan Academy was created in London in November 2020 and has moved fast to develop its first product, Track Titan, a coaching app for simulated motorsport racing (known as simracing) that’s now available in beta. Before Track Titan, drivers were forced to choose between expensive one-on-one coaching or generic video tutorials. By analyzing real-time data, they provide insights where drivers need it most. “We’re democratizing access to high performance — that’s really what it comes down to”, says Teichert, who also happens to be a part-time motorsport driving instructor for Porsche, IRL.
At six people as of Summer ’21, half the team work in person out of the London HQ with half dispersed remotely. It’s a high-energy, competitive culture, says Teichert, “our dream setup is a company culture that is so addictive people want to come to the office, as the atmosphere is awesome”. Yet, maintaining a partially remote team is crucial to be able to hire the best people, as he points out, “our guy in Belgium is both a professional racing driver and world-class programmer, that’s not something you can find anywhere”. The goal for Titan Academy now is to bring these two teams closer together, despite the physical distance.
Problem-solving for fast-moving teams
Riff is a shared audio space to sit and work with your team throughout the day, whilst working in separate locations. You can talk to anyone in one click, overhear your team’s conversations faintly in the background, and jump in whenever you need to.
As an early-stage startup, the Titan Academy team is quite literally, pedal to the floor. Riff’s hold-to-talk and screenshare features allow them to collaborate effortlessly on the fly, without the need for pre-planned calls. “On the commercial, marketing and content side, that’s where we use Riff extensively, where it’s just, ‘hey Adam, what do you think?’, or ‘let’s just share the screen, let’s check this out quickly’, Teichert says.
And with little time for misunderstandings, the overhearing feature in Riff means he can quickly jump in when sensing some clarification is needed on a given problem. “Because of Riff, I recently became aware of the team trying to fix a problem I didn’t even know existed, and by hearing that and joining their conversation we were able to fix it in two minutes. Riff is perfect because not everything we all do is outlined in Slack to everyone — that would be crazy.”
So simple, you don’t notice it
Riff runs in the background so you can instantly speak to anybody on your team. It’s the digital version of the office: no need to make calls, type messages, or open apps — just talk.
Teichert says Riff is “so simple that you don’t notice….it doesn’t feel like an extra app, it’s as simple as clicking on someone you want to speak to. It’s just there. With hold-to-talk, you can start talking to everyone quickly, like sharing a joke in an office…it’s so simple to use, it doesn’t feel like there are many features, but that’s a good thing.”
A more focused way to listen
A 2017 study at Yale University discovered that voice-only communication is particularly likely to enhance empathic accuracy as it allows us to focus our attention directly on the emotional cues that accompany speech. For Teichert, he sees this value in Riff of being able to focus more intently on what someone is saying. “I think there’s something nice about just being able to walk around your room, not caring about the look on your face”, he says. “A video call has something official about it, not because of the video itself but the fact that we are sitting directly opposite each other…with voice, I could do a handstand whilst talking and no one’s looking at me and if that’s a good way to be creative, then so be it.”
Building community in hybrid teams
Businesses everywhere are emerging from global lockdowns and experimenting with hybrid models, like Titan Academy’s setup. It’s here that the challenge of helping the remote crew feel as included as the in-person team will become apparent.
“Riff really supports a sense of community within teams”
Riff exists to create presence within teams, so they can be any physical location, but work together just as they would in the same room. For Titan Academy, it’s created a space for team bonding that wouldn’t otherwise exist. “I’m German”, Teichert says, “so obviously England beating Germany [in the Euros] was really painful! I chatted to our intern about this and said something about England probably losing the next game. Someone just jumped in on Riff ‘that’s bullshit!’. That sort of thing is precisely what remote work is missing, and it’s a perfect example of a moment that wouldn’t have happened in Google Meet or on a Slack Call…it really supports a sense of community within teams”.