For many of us in Ecommerce, we don’t really work from an office and we have no intention to. But what we do struggle with is camaraderie and connection. On the show today, Brett Martin from Kumospace gives us tips on how to create a company culture, even in a virtual world.
About Brett Martin:
Brett is the President and Co-Founder of Kumospace, a platform that provides virtual offices and event spaces where remote and hybrid teams collaborate and connect. He is also the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Charge Ventures (a pre-seed focused venture fund based in Brooklyn, NY), and serves as an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School where he teaches data analytics and technology strategy.
Today’s episode of Deal Closers is hosted by Izach Porter, brought to you by WebsiteClosers.com, and is produced by Earfluence.
Brett Martin: We think the office physical office is great for all three of those things. For culture, for, you know, visibility and support and for collaboration, but we just think that most of that can get done, you know, more cheaply in Kumospace, and you don’t have to, you know, hold onto that really expensive lease in order to do it.
Izach Porter: You’re listening to the Deal Closers podcast, brought to you by websiteclosers.com, a show about how to build your e-commerce business to be profitable, scalable, and one day even sellable. I’m Izach Porter, and on the show today we have Brett Martin who will give us some tips on how to create a company culture, even if you’re operating in a virtual world.
Brett is the co-founder and president of Kumospace, a platform that provides virtual offices and event spaces where remote and hybrid teams collaborate and connect. As many offices have decided that their teams need to come back into the office. There’s been quite a bit of resistance from the workforce.
Brett feels like he has come up with a compromise and the market agrees. He recently completed a 21 million series a fundraising. And for many of us in e-commerce, we really don’t work from an office anyway, and we have no intention to, but what we do struggle with is comradery and finding connection with, the people on our teams.
So let’s find out what we can do about that issue. Hey Brett, how you doing? Thanks for being on the show.
Brett: Izach pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. Excited to, excited to be here.
Izach: Yeah, man. Awesome. Tell us a little more about Kumospace.
Brett: Yeah. Well, you know, Kumospace is, just like a real office, but, but virtual, it’s a, it’s a place where teams, remote and distributed hybrid teams, they show up to work every day. So, the way people use Kumospace is they turn it on in the morning around nine o’clock. we’ve got a team around 30 people and around, well, we’re mostly engineering, so around 10 o’clock in the morning people just come filtering in.
you are, your avatar is your video, and, there’s a bunch of different rooms in, you know, what looks like a virtual office, looks like a kind of two-dimensional floor plan of a space. And there’s different conference rooms, different personal offices. And, you know, you’ll, if you came into our office, you would see 30 people, all, some working together, some working alone, you know, different conversations in different places, and you can just drop right in and, and listen to a presentation and participate or tap someone on the shoulder if, if you need help, getting unstuck from something.
So, the goal is really to create a place where teams can be teams where they can work together, where they can connect, they can have light moments, they can, share information and they can, you know, joke around just like, just like they do in, in a real office.
Izach: Yeah. Got it. So I’m using Zoom a lot for meetings that we’ve got scheduled. You know, the nature of the work that I do is, we work with companies all over the world. We’ve got buyers all over the world. So there’s a lot of these kind of, we have a meeting at two o’clock and we’ll send out a Zoom link.
I think what I find to be kind of annoying about Zoom is that, you know, if I want to get on a, on a call with my business partner or, you know, one of the guys on, on our team, I’ve kind of got to go through that whole formal process of, you know, sending out an invite link, selecting a time, getting them, you know, so is Kumospace more spontaneous in that, does it allow kind of, you to just connect with people in real time or like, how, how do you differentiate it against, you know, some of the competition like Zoom or Teams?
Brett: It, it is exactly that. It is about spontaneous, unstructured sort of conversations. And one of the, one of the core problems that we saw is that you might have, let’s say you have a pretty, you know, company’s doing well, right? You may have a hundred people working at your company, let’s say, but let’s say it’s fully distributed and they’re all in Zoom all day. right? Different meetings, but you have no concept of that.
Like, sure, you might be able to see other people’s calendar, but you’re never just gonna drop in into the marketing meet. You know, let’s say if you work on the engineering team, you’re never just gonna just drop into the marketing team zoom unannounced. Right? You know, they, they would look at you and say, you know, in the waiting room, be like, you know, why is Izach in the waiting room? Right? whereas in Kumospace, It’s, it’s essentially like a networked video chat, right? So everyone is on, you know, kumu space all day, having different conversations and everyone else can see that.
Everyone else can see who’s talking to who. You can check out their presentation. You can, you know, if you need help with something, you just tap them on the shoulder. So you know, my marketing team is constantly just rolling into my office, asking a quick question and rolling out, and so, you know, we try to solve a couple problems.
One is, you know, the friction of scheduling, right? Which is what you talked about. The other is the wasted time. You know, when people schedule a meeting, they feel the obligation to spend a full 30 minutes or an hour talking, when in reality, a lot of times…
Izach: I totally hate that. Yeah. I try to, I try to schedule everything in like five-minute blocks if I can, but most calendars only allow me to break it down to 15. But yeah,
Izach: And a 20-minute meeting is often more than enough, right? And you end up with a 30-minute meeting and then you’re just wasting 10 minutes.
Brett: Just wasting time, right? And so you spend more time scheduling the meeting than you do actually fixing the problem. And you know, I think the alternatives, people might say, oh, well what about Slack? And what about chat? And. Look, you know, that’s important. Asynchronous communication is important. a lot of, you know, remote companies that are work remote like rely heavily on asynchronous communication. They have a strong writing culture, and so do we.
But what we’ve found is that you waste a lot of time on Slack too, right? You waste a lot of time back and forth. Hey, are you there? Oh, you know, miscommunication, right? When in reality, just a quick synchronous chat would actually solve a lot of problems. And so, it’s a scheduling problem, but it’s also that connection problem of like feeling like you’re not, you’re a part of the team. You’re not just working from home in isolation.
Izach: Yep. Gotcha. That’s kind of a good lead in to my next question. So, we, we work with companies, as I said, that are all over the world. You know, got just kind of an example, case in point we’re selling a, a US based digital marketing agency that’s got, about 50 employees and you know, they’re dispersed in like 20 states and six countries or something like that.
So how do you build a culture, when you’ve got this disparate workforce that maybe is never gonna actually meet each other in person, potentially.
Brett: It’s funny you say that cuz actually digital agencies are one of our primary, like that’s one of our core sets of customers. Yeah. We see, we have a lot of agencies in Kumospace. And we think that’s because agencies. One, they have a lot of, they tend to be distributed. Two, they have a lot of project-based work, so they have to kind of form teams, new teams all the time.
So you gotta get up to speed, you gotta meet a new team, you gotta collaborate. You gotta all get on the same page and align very quickly. You’re not just doing the same work on the same project forever. and so we have a lot of companies like that on Kumospace, the way I, I’ve always defined culture is how do people act when you’re not in the room? So when you’re the founder and you’re not in the room, how do people act? What do they know what decision, you know, you think should be made and, and do, and do they follow it? And so much of that is like by learned by being in the room at the same time, right?
By seeing the founder’s decision making by having, you know, being a flower on the wall and listening to, you know, exec team come up with things or popping in and, and getting mentorship right. So we think about, you know, so much of the learning that happens in the office is, is ambient, right? It’s just from being, you know, close to people and, and learning from them.
And so we try to provide that so that, I think that’s, that’s the core. Now then of course I think there’s the ability to be distinct and be yourself, right? And if you think about Zoom, you know, it’s a very infertile place to be right. Like there’s very little opportunity for self-expression, in Zoom. And so it’s very functional, it’s very transactional.
It’s obviously a great product. It’s, you can be very productive in Zoom, but it, but the personalities of the people on it are, are quite muted, when everyone’s stuck their Brady box. And so, you know, one of the big things about Kumospace is the, the Brady Box Bunch. That’s what we call it.
Izach: Yeah, I love it. I’m gonna start using that.
Brett: Right, because it’s hard to be human in there. And so we think, you know, one of the cool things, I’ll give you an example, is, I also am a venture capital investor, charge vc. We do kind of pre-seed investing in, in New York City, and one of the companies from my first fund is called Geology, they’re a skincare wellness e-commerce subscription company, now when I, I invested pre-seed, it was just, Nick Allen, the founder. now they’re doing tens of millions in, you know, subscription revenue now. They’ve always been remote, always been fully remote, always been super scrappy.
E-commerce is a tough business. It’s super thin margin you got, even when you’re selling cosmetics, you gotta be really tightly close to it. And he was always remote and so he actually started using Kumospace and his big thing is that it’s a place for self-expression so every, everyone can decorate their own office in Kumospace. my office is a beach. I got a beach chair; I got an umbrella. I got little waves and I got ocean sounds going at all times. Which is funny cuz you know I’m
Izach: That’s kind of on the nose, right? I have to ask you about the, the, the ice bag on the shoulder. What’s, what, happened?
Brett: You know, I am, over 40 now and I am surfing every morning and my, my body is, doesn’t quite recover as quickly as it does. I’ve got two bumped shoulders and I just take turns icing them.
Izach: it’s worth it though, right?
Brett: It, it’s worth it. Nothing like getting up at 5:00 AM surfing for a couple hours and then being at your desk at eight and then just crushing calls for the next 12 hours. It’s, it’s, I don’t know. It’s the best for me.
Izach: Yeah. that sounds, that sounds great. Sounds that sounds better than the Kumospace beach decorated office, but I think maybe that’s the close second then.
Brett: Well, you can have both. And so, you know what I was gonna say is like, I’m looking in your, house there. I like it. You got a good video set up. You got the guitar, you got the, the Deal Closers Poster, right? Got a little Zen picture on the wall. Like I get a sense of your vibe. You know, in Kuma space it’s the same thing. We just wanna give people the opportunity to do that to their digital space that they spend all day.
Izach: Totally agree. I mean that ma that makes a lot of sense just intuitive to me. So, hey, what, what’s it like to raise 21 million dollars? How, how did you kind of go through that process and, what are the plans for, for those funds?
Brett: Yeah. well, we’re really fortunate. We got great venture investors. Bold Star, which is New York based fund led our seed. And then, Ed and Elliot over there, longtime friends. And then Paul Murphy from Light Speed led the Series A. He’s an entrepreneur himself. worked at Betaworks in in New York.
And you know, we just feel really fortunate to have such great investors. They are really Got it. You know, our space is a crowded space. You know, there’s a lot of people that see the opportunity to build better tooling for remote work. And, you know, to, to Paul’s credit, he looked at 20 platforms that look kind of similar to space and he said, you know, actually this is a different product.
It feels different, it feels more human, it feels more native and easy to use. And so, you know, we’re very fortunate to have such great partners and I think that the big multi-stage VC funds like light. are in, you know, investing in companies like Kumospace because they just see a massive opportunity, right?
If you look at the long-term trend line of people that work remote, it’s just up until the right, it looks like actually quite similar to the e-commerce, you know, percentage of commerce transacted online looks quite similar to that. Just, you know, a, a consistent march toward more e-commerce toward more remote work.
Obviously the pandemic was a huge bump to that. but you know, we think that over the long term, anything that can be done over the internet will be done over the internet. There’s just too many advantages in terms of cost and distribution. And I, and I think that, you know, desk work, is, is one of those things.
Izach: Yeah. How, how about other use cases for Kumospace? You know, could you see it as a tool for educators, for facilitating collaboration for students or even like a social media platform or, you know, you could check in on your friends and see what they’re up to?
Brett: Well, it, it’s funny, when we came up with Kumospace, the initial idea came from it because for my for-charge ventures, I used to throw a monthly networking event. And then when the pandemic hit, People said, well, it was a great source of deal flow. You know, you should bring it online. And I said, you know, I don’t wanna make 50 of my friends endure watching me give a PowerPoint presentation on Zoom once a month.
Like who wants to do that? You know, there’s, it’s weird that there still wasn’t a place where multiple different groups of people could have conversations in the same virtual space. And so that was the core insight. And so people actually do throw a lot of events in Kumu space.
There’s a lot of business events done in Kumospace. We’ve had, you know, con lots of conferences and workshops and we’ve had weddings and we’ve had funerals and we’ve had graduations and, we, you know, actually Columbia Business School was one of our first paid customers. The famous professor there, Todd Chick, he was the one.
He said, we, he gave us a contract as long as we built the ability to get a cocktail in Kumospace. And so the, one of our most used features, the, ability to have a cocktail in Kumospace is because of an education use case interestingly. We let people use Kuma space for a lot of those things.
We just find that the work use case is probably the best business. It’s consistent. People use it, six hours a day. Actually, the average productivity user in Kuma space is in Kuma space, six hours a day. So that’s the one we focus on.
Izach: Makes sense. So on your website, you quote a Stanford business school study that found, 22% more productivity from remote workers versus their in-office counterparts. Some employers probably would push back on that. for example, I know my, my wife is an attorney. She works at a fairly large law firm. They’ve got a big push to come back into the office.
So why, why is that that companies are pushing that? I’ve seen a few articles in the Wall Street Journal recently kind of indicating the same, the same trend and, kind of, how do you think about that?
Brett: There’s obviously value to in-person Interaction, but I think the default is remote. And I think that anything that can be done remotely, if it’s a first meeting, a first sell, a first pitch, like it’s gonna be done remote.
If you’re gonna be, you know, doing calls all day, you don’t need to be in the office to do calls if you’re being, if you’re locked in your office and not being social anyway. Right. And if you look at the work that was done, there was crazy work and productivity done over the. pandemic, right? So it’s clear that you can be productive while remote.
So there’s something to being in office, but there, but it’s not productivity, it’s how we think about it. And so what we think actually you’re missing in the remote work, you know, the tooling like Zoom and slack is three things really. One is culture, which we talked about, which is the ability to, for people to build relationships with their coworkers.
Have human connection, have, you know, a shared sense of purpose and mission and a way of doing things that you learn by being around other people all day. The second is, you know, visibility. I think, I think a lot of these people that are bringing people back to the office is because they, they’re anxious.
They don’t know, they’re not used to managing by outputs. They’re used to like; they don’t know where their team is and what they’re doing. Right. And you might say that that’s a, okay, okay, boomer, you know, that’s a micromanagement, a bad way of being. And I do think that doing it purely to have FaceTime is a bad idea.
But where I think there is a lot of value is in being able to see what people are doing and learn from them and also provide them support. So, you know, one of the problems with managing by outputs is, yeah, you don’t know until the end of the period, right? You don’t until the end of the month if people are doing a good job or bad.
And then, you know, by then a month has passed and then you have to go in and take, you know, corrective action. And so
Izach: Yeah, it’s a backward looking metric yeah.
Brett: Exactly. So you know, one of the nice things about being more aware of what your team is doing and you know, You can actually support them and help them early.
And we see this a lot. The people who really suffer the most from remote work are actually the early career folks that need the mentorship. They need the tutelage, they need the FaceTime so they can actually build relationships, right? And so, support is the second reason. And then the third reason is just collaboration, right?
Like cross-departmental collaboration is probably one of the hardest things about working remote because everyone’s siloed, everyone’s sitting at the desk all day, and if they don’t have a reason to talk across departments, to CS or to sales or marketing, engineering, they’re not going to. And so what you learn, what you have there is you have, you know, everyone’s siloed and things don’t really get aligned.
And so, we think the office physical office is great for all three of those things. For culture, for, you know, visibility and support and for collaboration, but we just think that most of that can get done, you know, more cheaply in Kumospace, and you don’t have to, you know, hold onto that really expensive lease in order to do it.
Izach: Yeah. I’ve, I’ve wondered personally if companies are motivated to get people back to the offices just because they do have leases.
Brett: I, I think that’s the driving factor. I mean, I think it’s literally leases, sunk cost, and anxiety from older managers that haven’t figured out how to use technology to manage, well remotely.
Izach: yeah, yeah, for sure. So you’re also an investor. You mentioned some of your VC background a couple times. I think, you know, somewhere I saw that you’ve put money into over 60 companies. When you’re looking at a potential investment in the e-commerce space, specifically, what are a couple things you’re looking for?
What, what drives value in your opinion? And how do you think about valuation in that space?
Brett: So, first off, I wanna say I just have deep respect for e-commerce entrepreneurs. I think it’s one of the toughest industries, online. It’s a dog, it’s a dog fight. The competition is brutal and you have to run an incredibly tight ship. So I feel like in terms of recruiting op, you know, people from e-commerce, op, particularly ops or you know, marketing, I’m just like, I have deep respect.
I’m also, you know, cautious because like it’s easy to get started, but hard to really scale and grow. What we look for is, you know, differentiated experience. Something that, you know, can’t be done, on, you know, in person or something that, you know, like really facilitates a new and novel way of doing it.
I mean, so when we invested in geology, for example, you know, if started off as a men’s skincare company and you know, the idea was men don’t need one to spend, they, they’re spending more time looking at their self on Instagram or on Zoom, but they, you know, they don’t know how to buy. They’re not, they’re not gonna, they’re afraid to ask questions, in a store, and they’re probably going to CVS and picking something up.
And so, you know, we solved a lot of problems by building a subscription, by building a quality product, by building a, a product line that, serviced men and was adapted and personalized to them. And these are all things you could do online and you couldn’t do in person. And the subscription model obviously is great and, and selling cosmetics is obviously high margin.
So that’s what, you know, we look for in e-commerce business. You know, once we also invested in a, a vaping company, which, you know, at the time we were thinking, okay, well this is gonna help, You know, reduce smoking. So it was, you know, positive thought and that was great. It was a niche industry. Other people weren’t in it, and it grew really fast.
Now, ultimately it got, you know, regulated, way because of some bad actors. But, you know, that’s an example. If you have a really interesting niche, that you can service in a unique way, like I think that’s a, a great place to build an e-commerce.
Izach: Yeah, for sure. That makes a lot of sense. So if, if there’s a call to action, you know, relative to, to what you’re working on at Kumospace, what would you want our listeners to take away from the conversation?
Brett: I would just say, you know, for all the folks that are building remote distributed teams, and you’re looking for a, a way to, keep your team connected, keep them motivated, have them work together more effectively, go check out Kumospace. It’s kumospace.com. You can try it for free.
Get your office, you can personalize it. You can put your logo and branding on it, you know, on it. You can invite customers. we actually have one of our e-commerce companies, they threw a product launch in Kumospace. They invited all the partners, they invited a bunch of customers, and they, you know, really had an interactive experience, you know, that they could have never done you know, in person, they have customers from all over the world.
so I encourage you to check that out and, you know, if you’re building a new, you have a new concept, in the e-commerce space that you think is really novel and you know, has a really big o opportunity to be big, you know, feel free to hit me up. It’s, [email protected] and just mention the deal closers podcast and would love to hear from you.
Izach: Awesome. So I think you have a podcast as well, Vibe check.
Brett: Yeah, we’re always just trying to learn how people create amazing vibe and company culture, remotely. So I’m just really fascinated by rituals of successful companies, how they create a shared experience and a shared culture, shared vibe, and in particular doing a remote. So I’m also excited to hear, you know, if anyone’s interested in that, tune in, we’re about to drop a season and, you know, if you’re thinking about that a lot and you wanna be on the show, I’d love to hear from you too.
Izach: All right. That was Brett Martin from Kumospace. You can find him kumospace.com. That’s kumospace.com. Thanks everyone for listening to this episode of the Deal Closers Podcast, brought to you by websiteclosers.com. If you like the show, be sure to rate us write a review, press the follow button and share it with your network.
And of course, if you’re looking for help selling your e-commerce or technology business, be sure to visit websiteclosers.com. This episode was edited and produced by Earfluence. I’m Izach Porter. Follow me on LinkedIn and we’ll see you next time on the Deal Closers podcast.