Seth Shaw was most recently CRO at Airtable, and before that, CCO at Invision and VPS at Wrike.  He was one of the early sales leaders managing a distributed sales team, and it’s interesting to look back at his 2019 talk at SaaStr on just how hard it can be sometimes:

“You don’t want a distributed team suffering in silence”.

Seth sadly recently passed away much too young.  We wanted to take a quick look back at one of the great sessions he was gracious enough to do for SaaStr on managing a remote sales team back in 2019, before we were all doing it:

Joyce Kim | CMO @ Arm Holdings

Seth Shaw | CCO @ Invision


Seth Shaw: We thought this was going to be a smaller Q and A, so this should be exciting. Welcome. My name is Seth Shaw. I am the Chief Customer Officer of InVision. InVision is a software platform that’s built for design teams that are building remarkable digital applications and digital experiences, and it’s used to collaborate with product and engineering organizations as well.

Seth Shaw: Just by show of hands, anybody a InVision customer in the room? Cool. You guys know what the deal is then.

Seth Shaw: Awesome, and the reason that I was invited to speak here is because InVision is a hyper-growth company. It’s really interesting, just as a general SaaS business, but we also have a fairly unique aspect to our business, which is that we are entirely work from anywhere. We don’t say distributed or remote. We actually say work from anywhere, and it literally means we don’t have any physical offices.

Seth Shaw: Everybody either works from home, potentially goes into a shared office space, like a WeWork, or something along those lines. But we are in 200 cities around the world and 50 countries at this point, and it makes it a unique challenge to be able to build an organization in that type of environment. So I’m happy to talk about all things related to how do you hire a team and make them successful in this remote environment. How do you onboard them and shorten the time to them being successful? What types of tools or technology do we use? So any questions along those lines are totally fair game. Feel free to… I think there’s an app as well. But I’ll kick it over to Joyce to introduce herself as well.

Joyce Kim: Hi, I’m Joyce Kim. The way I like to ask about how many in this room have ever heard of Arm?

Seth Shaw: Nobody. Gosh.

Joyce Kim: Man, there’s three or four. How many of the people in this room have a cell phone, smart phone? Okay. You’re all using Arm technology. So Arm is the CPU design processor for all device compute, and what most people don’t know, we are actually a wholly owned subsidiary of SoftBank Group. We also have a very large SaaS business, that does device and IOT data. And the reason why I’m actually sitting here with Seth is because Seth and I are old colleagues and good friends, and I thought I would moderate him talking about the work from anywhere phenomenon that he has so embraced.

Joyce Kim: Before we get started, questions, we’re encouraging questions. This is for the audience. If you go to, you can submit the questions. I obviously have some questions that have been pre-determined, but I’d love to entertain everyone asking the questions. So please go to and submit them.

Joyce Kim: So as the questions come up, you guys can vote it up so that if you want to me to ask it, then it’ll continue to be higher. Before we get started though, the question that I have for you is the phenomenon of work anywhere, I can work from home, I can move my family, it all sounds great. But there has to be sort of specific things that you have to look for, in order to make someone successful. Like what do you do to make sure that they can thrive in that kind of environment?

Seth Shaw: Totally. And it’s a work in progress. So first things first, there really aren’t that many work from anywhere companies. It’s kind of a new phenomenon, so there’s not really a playbook right now.

Joyce Kim: Well, not a full work from anywhere.

Seth Shaw: Correct. Right. Yeah. And that’s, that’s the key difference. We have a fully work from anywhere culture. And so, for us, it’s totally a work in progress. We’re learning as we go. But one of the key learnings early on, I’ve been here for about two and a half years, the challenge is really finding folks that have that strong social network, that are kind of tied into to a work environment that doesn’t require them to physically come into the office to be able to have friends. And that’s tough, and it takes some time to be able to find those types of people.

Seth Shaw: And so we spend a lot of time screening for how connected are they at home, how connected are they to their local community? Because if you’re working from home and you actually don’t get out, it makes it super difficult to be a productive member of a team like ours. So some of the things that we’re screening for in our interview process will be literally ask these questions around, what do you spend your time outside of work doing? What are your hobbies? What do you enjoy? What are your passions? We spend a lot of time talking through that.

Seth Shaw: We also use some software. We’re recently using something called, and if you’re interested, just ping me later and I can give you some of the details. But this actually creates a few different parameters that we evaluate inbound candidates from. And this might sound obvious or maybe not, but one of our biggest problem is we have a lot of people that want to work for our work from anywhere company. And so one of our biggest challenges is figuring out how do we separate out all the folks that want to work for us, versus the folks that are going to be truly successful. And so we’ve got a big battery of not only questions, but also tests that we run folks through.

Joyce Kim: So, I mean, one of the questions, which sort of relates to this is what’s the tech stack that your team uses for both internal communication, collaboration in that whole thing, right?

Seth Shaw: Yeah, totally. So we are huge users of technology. In fact, I would say that’s one of the really unique aspects about our business, because it is fully distributed, you can be much more purposeful when it comes to communication to your team. If you kind of think about the typical way, if we were in an office, we would exchange ideas, we’d be walking down the halls. All of a sudden it kind of becomes known corporate culture. You don’t really have that opportunity to walk the halls here, and so you have to be very explicit around communication. So we try and replicate the water cooler in Slack, as I’m sure everybody does. Our primary means for having literally a synchronous conversation is Zoom. We are huge users of Zoom. When it comes to more kind of work line of business specific platforms, there’s a lot of use of technology like InVision for communicating around specific projects. We’re big users of different project management technology from Asana, and Wrike, and Smartsheet, and others. So a wide gamut of of technology for creating communication, and opportunities for intersection.

Joyce Kim: Yeah. What about processes that sort of align everybody? Do you find that being part of a fully remote makes it more taxing to do that?

Seth Shaw: Yeah, a little bit. And, I’d say that’s the one skill that I’ve personally had to improve the most at, is the process of having a constant cadence of communication. And so, for the team that I’m responsible for, which is sales, and customer success, and support, clearly a weekly note out about what’s going on, with regards to the business is something that I’ve kind of done in the past at other companies, but it’s a ritual here. We’ve created this ritual that literally everybody expects on Monday morning they are going to get a note from me that says this is what’s going on in the business today.

Seth Shaw: In addition to that, we have a whole battery of team meeting cadences that feel a lot like engineering teams with regards to stand ups, and making sure that everybody is connected, what the mission is for the day, and then a circle back at the end on a Friday to be able to kind of come back to that. And then from a broader company level, every two weeks we do a company all hands, where we’ll go through everything from business results, to product results, to marketing campaigns. And those kind of individual reach out touch points, team-based reach out touchpoints, and then company based reach out touch points set up that cadence of communication that’s been successful for us.

Joyce Kim: I mean you’re one person, to the question here, that says how do you measure and manage performance? If you’re not physically together, people… I mean, it’s good to have people manage their own time, but how do you actually make everyone productive?

Seth Shaw: Totally. Well, I mean, first of all, it’s really hard to make people productive. You have to… Exactly. There is no a kind of carrot and stick thing that we have going on. We literally screen like crazy to find folks that are super aligned to our culture. We have an awesome set of screening questions for culture, that helps us be able to find folks that are just the right people in our type of environment. I think the most challenging part for a sales leader in this type of environment is there has been this huge push for inside sales teams, right? Everybody’s like, oh yeah, tilt up your inside sales team, BDRs, inside sales guys, those folks need coaching, they want coaching. How do you replicate that kind of in-person-coaching-centric culture in this work from anywhere environment?

Seth Shaw: That’s been one of those areas that we’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out. One of the breakthroughs that we had in the last 12 months to really accelerate that call coaching culture is we use a technology called Chorus and if you haven’t used Chorus before, it’s… I mean there’s a few different alternatives out there. We really like Chorus, they’ve been great partners for us. But it’s literally the process of creating an environment where folks can request coaching and our managers have an expectation that they will be coaching on a regular basis. And that allows us to be able to calibrate the quality control system, with regards to the, how do we make sure people are having the right types of conversation. When it comes to activity metrics, our sales ops team are awesome ninjas, with regards to dashboarding and trying to create, you know, that era of competition.

Seth Shaw: And then on top of that, just a rigorous review process. This year for us, as I mentioned, two years into this and we’re scaling like crazy and it’s got all its own problems. I’m sure all of you can appreciate that it’s really difficult to triple a company in a couple of years. The area that I’m most looking forward to this next year is really around more active performance management. And so we’ve put in place some really interesting systems for continuous feedback. One technology that I’d encourage people to take a look at is a company called Zugata. It’s basically short form, quick feedback cycles that are prompted through email to managers about individual contributors and vice versa. And it just creates a small little feedback loop that keeps the coaching conversation going. And we pair that iterative process with a more holistic annual review process, that’s also facilitated through Zugata, to try and create this kind of culture and performance management environment within our company.

But one of the more challenging things about the remote work environment is just trust.

Seth Shaw: And I think it actually works really well. But one of the more challenging things about the remote work environment is just trust. It’s tough to get folks to be able to take coaching if they don’t have a deep personal connection and a trust connection. And one of the challenges is always how do you build that trust in a very short amount of time. And our managers, I think, do a really good job of breaking down those trust barriers, because if you think about it, a manager will be on a call with an individual on their sales team, and they’ll be literally seeing each other’s homes. They’ll be seeing the people that are in their lives, they’ll be seeing their dogs, their pets, their whatever. And that creates an environment where folks actually start to break down some of those natural walls that you don’t, I guess, typically get to very quickly within the work environment, where it’s like you kind of put on your work face and you come to work.

Seth Shaw: You don’t really have that in our environment. So we’ve done a really good job of creating a trusting environment, and one recent piece of validation to that. We’re rolling out our annual plan. We have a February 1st start to our fiscal year, and I did a dry run on our, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do this year,” talk. Everybody’s probably been a part of that talk, and it was pretty funny, because I asked everybody within the team that we were doing the dry run on, “Hey, give me some feedback on areas where we can improve.” If I were to ask that same question a year ago, I probably would’ve gotten five or six responses. Now I ask the question and we get a hundred responses. And it’s just like, yes, we’re getting somewhere. People are actually taking down their guard. They’re actually participating in creating this coaching culture. And that’s been a lot of heavy lifting, and a lot of work, and you don’t appreciate that until you need it.

Joyce Kim: Yeah. You talked about the social network that you need. Is there anything specific about the people and their are characteristics that you look for?

Seth Shaw: Yeah. Absolutely. So there are some things that you would think would be really strong signals of great work from anywhere employees, like personal organization. Turns out personal organization is an anti signal for us. Personal organization typically goes with folks that need to have very structured environments, and we are, by definition, pretty fluid. Things change pretty rapidly. So we both have signals of what works and we have anti signals of what doesn’t work.

Seth Shaw: Some of the things that work extremely well for us, number one, folks that are excellent communicators, specifically written communicators. So much of the benefit of working in this work from anywhere environment is that we can document process better than, I think, any company that I’ve ever worked for, because you don’t have that opportunity for it to just become folklore and be adopted as a kind of thing that we do. We literally write down all of our processes, and having folks that are excellent written communicators, they tend to just be great within our business. Weird.

Seth Shaw: But there are, yeah, there are a number of other aspects that are similar to that.

Joyce Kim: Yeah. It’s interesting, one of the questions is do you fly in employees routinely, and it’s like where? To where?

Seth Shaw: Yeah.

Joyce Kim: I mean I remember Clark, your CEO, had mentioned you guys do IRL events. Is that the only time you fly in employees?

Seth Shaw: Yeah, so two years ago we started with this idea that we wanted to actually figure out how tall people were that we worked with. Because that’s one of those random InVision experiences that nobody else has. Literally there’s… Ciara Peters, she’s probably somewhere in the room, she’s right there. First time that I’d ever met her. She leads one of our product teams.

Joyce Kim: He’s like, you’re taller than I thought you’d be.

Seth Shaw: It happens in every interaction.

Seth Shaw: So we decided to get everybody together, to figure out who’s smallest to tallest. And it went really well. I mean, the type of people that work in a company like ours are just really interesting and unique folks. And so we had an opportunity to create this environment where we brought everybody together in Los Angeles, and had this blow it out week, where we set the stage for the year. Worked so well that we’re doing it again in Phoenix at the end of this month. But that’s basically it. Now, when I hire folks on my team, and there’s a couple of people that… One person, in particular, that’s on my team here. My power move right now is going to where they are, and sitting down with them and their significant other. And the reason that I like to do that is that, quite frankly, if you’re going to be working at an executive level with a high-growth SaaS company, there’s an expectation that you’re going to be putting in a significant amount of time.

Seth Shaw: And it’s super trying to be the significant other of somebody that’s working in the home, and not asking them to just go and pick up the kids, or just go and run to the store, just do those types of things. And so having an opportunity to have that conversation, and kind of figure out, hey, are you both into this? There’s a lot of benefits, right? I tell people that, I’ve seen my kids more in the last two and a half years, since I’ve been at InVision that I had in the previous eight years. Sounds like a terrible thing to say, but it’s completely true, because we’re at home. But are are you okay with this person being here and being present for work, and is that going to be a good thing for your family?

Seth Shaw: And having that conversation openly at the pre-offer stage is really important for me. It’s helped me to avoid some potential challenges.

Joyce Kim: How many have you lost?

Seth Shaw: One or two. Not too many. But what’s the most refreshing thing is so many significant others tell me this is the first time that they’ve ever talked to somebody’s boss through the interview process. And it creates a different type of dynamic, I think. Our employees think so, I think, as well.

Joyce Kim: So, next question is sort of about the sales. You talked about it, inside sales. The energy and sort of being able to have the bells ringing. You can’t replicate that in your scenario. How do you keep that energy going with a fully remote team?

Seth Shaw: Totally. Totally. And it’s definitely a thing. We just went through our year-end, Thursday last week. It feels like ages ago, but it was literally just Thursday last week. And it’s amazing, because at the end of a quarter, just like in a traditional salesroom, everybody’s ringing a bell, and it’s crazy, and it’s exciting. And for us the bell is Slack.

Joyce Kim: Virtual bell.

Seth Shaw: We have a team channel. Everybody in the company is in there, you see these deals firing through, and it’s just like people are piling on, and the whole GIPHY thing goes nuts. And then folks are responding to those Slacks, and it kind of creates this weird type of momentum. And I talked to our leaders on Friday last week. And I was just like, how fun was that? And, to a person, they were just like, this was fantastic. This is the type of environment that feels a lot like an in person-environment, even though it’s not.

Seth Shaw: But there is a flip side to that. And one of our biggest challenges is this concept of suffering in silence. Everybody knows the concept of, you can see from the faces of your team how are they doing and how are they feeling? It’s really hard to see the faces of our team when they’re all remote. And so, we spend a lot of time, through the onboarding process, talking about the obligation to make sure that you reach out and that you’re not suffering in silence. And from a managerial perspective, to make sure that folks are doing well, we do a regular series of just random reach outs, where we’ll Slack somebody a Zoom link and get on a call and have that opportunity, just check-in and kind of virtually walk the halls, like Steve Jobs would do. It is a big part of our management DNA here, and it works really well.

Joyce Kim: So with that in mind, does the comp plan for salespeople change in that environment, or is it roughly the same?

Seth Shaw: Pretty similar. When it comes to… Like all good organizations, we tune our comp plans to be able to maximize what are those nearest term objectives that we want to drive folks to. One good example of this is, for instance, we have a a new logo sales team, which is focused on more of your traditional inside sales motion, 28 days sales cycle, $5,000 average order value. We were having some challenges, where people were maximizing for a kind of land ARR, and that created a slower sales cycle for us, and ultimately put us in a position where we weren’t landing as many customers as we wanted to.

Seth Shaw: And so we made some adjustments there, to focus these folks just on landing logos, with an expectation of a minimum ARR, and get as many of them as you can. And over the last two quarters since we’ve rolled that out, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of success, just in keeping it uber simple and helping everybody to know this is your goal post, and run. And we have examples that we’ve learned from that specific scenario that we’ve been trying to move into some of our larger deals sales as well.

Seth Shaw: But I think the biggest thing for us is simplicity, right? It’s how do you take the time to think about how do we make it just drop dead simple to be successful at your job. And the comp plan is an example of one of those areas, where it’s like strip as much out as you possibly can. The more factors that they have to optimize for, especially in this remote environment, the more difficult it is for them to be successful.

Joyce Kim: But that could apply to non-remote.

Seth Shaw: Totally. It totally could. I just, I think you don’t see as many people, I think, taking the time with comp plan design, because it’s just like there’s some models out there, let’s just run this model. For us, we actually have to take the time to figure out how do we strip out those complicated pieces.

Joyce Kim: So the next question is sort of the biggest pro and con. I’m going to ask it in a slightly different way.

Seth Shaw: Yeah.

Joyce Kim: So what is something completely unexpected that is good or bad, that you found from a work from anywhere?

Seth Shaw: I’d say on the good side, an unexpected thing is we’re all… Speak pejoratively. We tend to shape teams in our image. If you’re a leader of an organization, you tend to seek out people that have similar ideas to you, kind of think like you do. And that’s super dangerous. And in an environment like ours, where you’re literally finding people anywhere around the world, coming from very diverse types of backgrounds… We don’t have a lot of people from Bay area, we don’t have a lot of people from Silicon Valley that are our teams. It’s just not a thing we do. We have people from Montana, and Florida, and those types of things. These people have different sets of experiences, and it’s created, I think, a much more diverse set of thought partners for us to continue to grow this business. I didn’t expect that to be the case and it’s been really refreshing and really helpful for us.

Joyce Kim: So diversity is good.

Seth Shaw: Diversity is much better than it’s been in other companies I’ve worked for.

Joyce Kim: Okay. Is there anything specific about your onboarding process that you have to do? I mean, there’s no office for them to go to. What do they do?

Seth Shaw: Yeah, yeah. It’s an excellent question. The first two weeks we have a heavily branded onboarding program called Xenia, and it’s literally every day for two weeks. And they’ll spend time on a Zoom meeting. Zoom’s got all these great functionalities for breakout rooms and being able to do little micro-learning environments. That happens in teams of typically 10 to 12, and we’ll do it two weeks of Xenia, and then start a new class with a week in between. That two weeks typically comes down to all of the cultural components, and we spend way more time talking about the culture that we have and how you have to be courageously candid, and how you have to have passion for our customers, be a go-getter and a go doer. A number of different aspects of our culture. And I’ve never been a part of a company where we spent so much time talking about culture upfront, but I think it’s just this idea you got to be indoctrinated, because if you’re not sitting there physically with folks from day one, it kind of breaks down and it leads to some challenging situations.

Seth Shaw: So first two weeks, kind of culture, company, competitors, products, all those types of things. And then from there, we get into very structured onboarding, which we call develop and roll, where we put people with their managers for the next month. And then we have a rigorous system that allows us to be able to evaluate how are those folks doing against those core KPIs that we expect to evaluate them against. And we provide that out to the management team. And then we have kind of a check-in process after two months to figure out how are people doing.

Joyce Kim: Is there some sort of early warning signs, that you know of, that basically says, hey, this person might not be a great fit for this model?

Seth Shaw: Yeah. People that are silent. People that are quiet.

Joyce Kim: So not you.

Seth Shaw: Well, I mean sure. But you know pretty quickly. Folks get the message coming out of onboarding, that you’ve got to be visible, and you’ve got to be communicating, and you’ve got to be asking questions, because we set a very clear expectation that if you’re not asking questions, then you’re probably not going to be a good fit here.

Joyce Kim: Whether it’s one on one or in a group setting.

Seth Shaw: Especially in a group setting, but definitely in one on one situations as well.

Joyce Kim: Okay. Next one’s an interesting question. You save money in real estate.

Seth Shaw: Yeah.

Joyce Kim: Do you spend it on tools, and is there sort of an ROI on that?

Seth Shaw: Yeah. So don’t expect this to save you any money. I mean seriously. We spend a ton of money on software and travel, not significantly more than any other company, but I think the place where the money goes is that we tend to hire people that are really good at their jobs. And those people, regardless of where they are, have a global cost associated with them. I think the ROI on this isn’t super positive. If that’s the reason that you’re doing it, it’s probably the wrong reason. The reason to do it though, is to be able to get that talent regardless of where those folks are at. Our timeframe to fill reqs on jobs is shorter than any company that I’ve ever worked at, because we literally recruit everywhere. Everywhere and anywhere.

Seth Shaw: Which also has some drawbacks because if you’re everywhere, you’re also nowhere. It’s kind of a weird dichotomy, but it’s put us in a really strong position to be able to get a very quick turn on pipeline. And that’s the biggest opportunity for us. You think about how long your typical req at a company sits open, I would guess that we’re a third of a time at InVision, just because of the interest, the inbound interest, the pipeline associated with that and our ability to literally have a global talent pool that we can go after.

Joyce Kim: I mean it’s interesting because I think we were talking about the fact that, because you guys are fully remote, you can’t… Most companies have a hybrid.

Seth Shaw: Yeah.

Joyce Kim: But do you think that’s part of the reason why it’s working?

Seth Shaw: Yeah. I think you would have a really tough time being successful in the sort of you’ve got the home office and then you’ve got the remote folks. And trying to do that hybrid model. The reason is that you get the stigma of the other, right? You’ve got these three people that are sitting in a conference room and they’re having a conversation, and then there’s a bunch of people that have joined remotely. The people that are remote are always looked at as never doing their jobs, or slacking off at home. The people in the conference room are having a conversation amongst peers, but no acknowledgment of the people that are on the phone. That’s a very common behavior, and we don’t have really any of that here.

Seth Shaw: And so, Joyce and I were talking about this before, but I think there is this model, where it’s like you’re either kind of co-located as a team, or you’re fully remote as a team. And in both of those scenarios, you’re kind of maximizing for employee happiness. But anywhere in the middle, you get this kind of trough of disappointment, or trough of disillusionment, because you always just feel a little bit sort of fish out of water.

Seth Shaw: So it’s been really successful for us to find those completely remote environments, and just lean into them.

Joyce Kim: So, as a final note, do you think this great experiment is working?

Seth Shaw: I mean, yeah, look, we’re zooming past 100 million in ARR right now, and we’ve got 800 people, and the company has taken off. So it’s one of those components that’s really worked, but there’s a lot that goes into the secret sauce and the recipe for making a successful SaaS company. And this is one that’s been super successful for us.

Joyce Kim: Awesome. Well thank you guys. Very nice to be speaking.

Seth Shaw: Yeah. Sweet. Cheers.

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