2020 Backr review, and what you can expect in 2021
Wow, a lot happened in 2020. Let’s look at what Backr was up to, and what we’re excited for going into the new year!
Originally published on Medium here
When January rolls around, it feels like the perfect opportunity to reflect on the past year. And boy, this year feels like a lifetime. We’ll be looking at Backr’s journey over the last year, what we do to effectively work remotely, and what’s coming next in 2021.
⏪ Then vs now: how far we’ve come
In January 2020, our co-founding team was based in Kingston, Ontario. We had an office on Queen’s University campus and had barely started development. We were all either enrolled in full time studies or working full time jobs. Our extra time was devoted to building Backr. Life was going on as usual, as anyone would expect.
Fast forward to today, we have a product in beta with users finding real value, we’ve grown our team to 10 people with six full time and one part time hire, and we’re working remotely across three different time zones in Canada. And to make things more interesting, all this amidst a global pandemic!
So how did we get here?
In March when provinces started shutting down due to Covid, we all moved back to our hometowns. From then on we’ve been fully remote.
We were fortunate to be a part of York University’s LaunchYu Accelerator from May through August (all online of course). We made great friends, learned good business practices and joined a lifelong support network. It was invaluable to have such a strong group of peers, mentors and directors to support and keep us focused through such an uncertain time.
By July we had our first product iteration launched and were onboarding early users. At this stage our product was by no means perfect, but it was a huge milestone! It was extremely exciting and equally as stressful as we had to work through bugs and hot fixes to keep our users happy.
Over the summer we hired two interns, both who worked on the development of our platform. That was our first taste of managing employees, and now looking back on it we could’ve done a lot better (I’ll get more into this later on).
Heading into the fall we had one main objective: increase weekly active usage. To get there we needed to talk to more users and improve our product. We focused on getting user feedback and making feature updates and technology improvements. At this point our summer interns were done working, but we needed help.
We hired one co-op student as a full-stack developer. But to hit our objectives, we needed to move even faster.
“Don’t hire a lot of people at once,” they said…
We heard this a lot (and for valid reasons). But we didn’t listen.
Instead we hired six people in the span of two weeks. What was the worst that could happen? Until then we had only ever managed two hires at any one time. Now we had seven people to manage, for a total team size of ten.
Although it may not sound like it, going from managing two to seven is a big difference. Without the right processes and practices in place, it becomes a lot harder to delegate, assign and organize tasks.
We were not entirely prepared to handle six new hires, and there was a lot of learning to do very quickly. We made many adjustments along the way, and today we’re better for it.
We now understand why people tell you not to hire too many people at once, but I’m happy with the decisions we made.
This is where I need to give the biggest shout out and thank you to our incredible team. They have been patient, understanding and totally adaptable to new ideas and processes. And not to mention a lot of fun to be around!
With our team, we’ve been able to expand our outreach and have more user conversations than ever, become more active on social, manage technical debt, integrate with Shopify (coming soon), improve our algorithm, create bigger and better audience analytics, and build a company I am so proud of!
🌎 How we effectively work remotely
If you’re like me, you work best when you have your team around. I’m highly motivated by others, so remote work is not easy for me. But much like everything else in a startup, we just have to roll with it and figure it out!
It’s one thing to transition an existing team to working remotely, but it’s a whole different game when you’re onboarding, training and trying to create a company culture with seven new people all through video call.
Here are some things we implemented to work more effectively and create good company culture:
Formal onboarding. With our first three hires we didn’t have a formal onboarding process (sincerest apologies). With their feedback, we created a presentation to welcome new hires, give an overview of our company, explain their new roles, meet the team, and get them setup on all the tools we use (i.e. Slack, Notion). Looking back, I cannot believe we overlooked onboarding in the beginning. This is so important for team alignment, and making everyone feel a part of the team from the get-go.
Daily stand-ups. Daily meetings keep the team focused on the highest priorities for the day. On Monday we set out tasks for the week, and Friday we review our progress on those tasks.
Friday small wins. Every Friday near the end of our day we have a meeting with the whole team just to chat. To give everyone the opportunity to contribute, we go around and share one small (or big) win of the week. It can be anything, personal or work related. It’s great ending off the week by reflecting on what went well, and relaxing with non-work related conversation.
Game nights. This was an initiative taken on by one of interns Haohao, and we’re so glad he did! It feels wrong to even call these game nights, because they are in no way your typical game nights. All I can say is you need to bring all your energy to keep up.
Social chats in Slack. We use Slack as our main messaging platform. We created a few channels reserved for non-work related conversations where we can share memes, random thoughts, and our daily exercise. We also implemented a Slack bot that randomly pairs up two people every week, so you have a chance to get to know people in a 1-on-1 setting. This has been great, because depending on your role some people don’t get a lot of time to just get to know each other.
Open feedback. We want to create a company where everyone is comfortable giving feedback at any time. By doing so, it creates a more open and transparent culture. The beauty of a small team is that we can implement feedback quickly. We took on many new initiatives as a result of the team’s feedback. I think we still have room for improvement, but we’re on the right path!
👀 What’s coming next in 2021
We are coming in hot this year! From everything we learned over the last several months, we’ve implemented better planning and processes.
Here’s what you should know:
We updated our website! Now you can learn more about our team, what our company is all about and sign up for our newsletter to never miss out on future updates. If you’re a creator, be sure to sign up for early access to get notified on our open launch date and get your free custom audience analysis!
We’re now backr.ai (formerly backr.space). You’ll notice this change on our website, and social media accounts. Why the change? Way back at the inception of Backr, we started with a different idea for a platform that served as a space for fans to follow and support their favourite creators. Since then we pivoted, making .space less relevant for our current tool. Additionally, we’re diving deeper into making AI core to our business strategy. This small change is a big signal for the direction of our company.
We’re making a big push to build our online brand presence. Follow us on Medium, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and TikTok. Yes, TikTok. In an effort to stay relevant with the times, we’ll be creating TikToks (and I’m super pumped about it)!
We’re launching our open beta in the coming months. We’re currently collecting sign ups for our open beta release. During this phase, we’ll see how creators interact with Backr at a larger scale, collect more feedback and iterate our product accordingly.
Stay tuned for investment updates. Once we reach our traction and active usage objectives, we will be in a better position to seek external funding.
Despite all the bad in 2020, I’m so happy with where Backr is today. Our team has grown tremendously, and I can’t wait to continue this journey into 2021.