2016: When life gives you lemons…

We have a confession to make: At Arcbees, we liked 2016.

Yes, you read correctly. Unlike many others who want 2016 to quickly fade away in the meanders of oblivion, for us, it was an inspiring year.

Here are our 3 reasons why we loved it and why we will surely love 2017.

Continue reading “2016: When life gives you lemons…”

Survival guide : working remotely while traveling

I have always traveled, it’s in my DNA. In 1985, my parents were crazy enough to take me with them to India when I was just 2, then I lived in Thailand for a month at age 7 (homeschooled on the beach). Since then, I travel every year. This year, I did not want to leave for just three weeks. I wanted more. I wanted to live in cities, at their own pace, and take the time to discover, learn and understand them…

My plan: take off for 4 months. Alone. My computer as my office. Free to design for Arcbees wherever I wanted to.

I am lucky. I would not have been able to do that in any other company. With Arcbees, I could. I asked Christian, my very sympathetic boss, in the simplest way possible: “I want to travel, this is the right time. I’m single, no children, no obligations. I want to go for 4 months and work while I’m away. Are you okay with that?” And the answer was as simple as “Yes, you can but I’m jealous though”.

Christian had only two terms:

  • have maximum access to the Internet for him to be able to communicate with me
  • attend all our Hangout meetings

These were two easily achievable conditions, and not difficult to organize into my plans. So I left on March 16th 2015, with one plane ticket. Quebec city > Reykjavik.

Here is my itinerary.

map

 

A Basic Digital Nomad Survival Guide

This experience taught me a lot about what it takes to successfully organize this kind of digital nomad remote work/travel experience. It is a great perk for people in digital companies where work is electronic and done online. It could build great employee loyalty, and it makes everybody’s quality of life better – those who travel and those who get to learn about the technology scene in different countries through the travelling worker’s eyes. So long as you take care of a few key things, the experience can be very smooth.

Here are the things I learned about how to be a successful digital nomad:

1 / Choose a country where the Internet is easily accessible.

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Of course, I want to travel the whole world, but staying connected to my workplace was to play a big role during this special trip of mine. It may seem like a basic point, but there are many destinations where internet access can be problematic. It is important to choose a country where the internet is easily accessible in cafes, with reasonable speed and above all, free . There are still many places in the world where free internet access is not available, and paid connections are poor quality too.

 

2 / Ok Google, Internet + Coffee + Helsinki ?

Before storming into a new city, it is always important to check beforehand where the internet-cafes are. You will be surprised at how many blogs and websites list and grade them! You will end up finding gems that you would have never found by yourself.

The essentials :

https://workfrom.co
https://nomadlist.com/

My top 3 of cafes I found during my trip :

  • Pois Cafe, Lisbon
    This is a small, well hidden cafe with incredible food! The mozzarella, Pesto and iced tea are to die for.
    http://www.poiscafe.com/
  • Filter Coffee
    This was another incredible place in a neighborhood that is really worth discovering! The mac’n’cheese was delicious. All customers here work at their tables, and the cafe provides many conveniences to make it easy for you to be productive!
    https://twitter.com/filtercafe
  • AntiCafé Beaubourg
    If you are in the mood for a bold mobile working concept, try out this place where you pay by the hour to hang out there, and not for the stuff you consume. All consumables are “free”, and self-serve: drinks, snacks (Healthy ones!) printer, projector…
    http://anticafe.eu/

 

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3 / Out of sight but not out of mind

Once you figure out where you can go to get online, you need to figure out how to best collaborate with your team back home. The fact that you are currently working remotely does not necessarily change your role on the team, so it is very important to collaborate well with your co-workers throughout the digital nomad experience.

Here are some tools that I really enjoyed :

Figure it out: This is a beautifully designed chrome extension, which shows you the time in as many time zones as you like every time you open a new tab. You can convert time across time zones easily with this too.
http://bit.ly/1o6IWUM

Update google calendar with accurate location information at each destination:
This may seem like a VERY silly little thing, but when you often change time zones, you get lost and you can be late for meetings! Search online for info about how to keep your calendar appointments accurate when you cross time zones.

Slack: Like so many other companies, Slack has become the nerve center for our team communications. I still wonder how we ever managed without it before! Even when I was far away, Slack always kept me deeply integrated in the team, aware of everything that everyone was doing.
https://slack.com/

Invision app:
This Slack-integrated visual communication tools was a useful way for me to get feedback on visual interfaces I was designing.
http://www.invisionapp.com/

Postcards

For each city I visited, I sent a postcard to the team. I took up this habit on my first business trip to Albany (yep, not exotic, but it’s the thought that counts). This simple gesture allows the entire team to participate in the trip and lets you say: I’m thinking of you all! (For the record, it is now Arcbees policy that everyone MUST send a postcard when traveling).

postcards

If you have digital nomad tools or ideas that I do not know, and you think they might come in handy for my next trip … please leave a comment!

4 / You will never be as productive as in an airplane

I usually sleep in planes … but I discovered that working in aircraft could be so productive that I became addicted. I even suggested to Christian that he should purchase a private plane, so that my productivity would be 2000% better, but he strangely wasn’t keen on the idea. However, if you have a design job like mine and you need to surf the internet for inspiration as part of your work, make sure you have everything you need before you lift off. Leave the tabs showing pages you will need open in your browser. Some airlines offer wifi nowadays, such as United, but I have never tried it out, although I was definitely tempted .

5 / Being consistent while in flux.

As a digital nomad, you aren’t wedded to the daily grind of office hours, especially if your time zone differs significantly from your home team. Finding a consistent working rhythm takes time, when everything in your environment changes and you are confronting the unknown every single day.

Everyone must find their own rhythm. I’m so not the type of girl who can stay in front of her computer for 7 hours non-stop. I segmented my days with “inspirational outings” as I called them, which kept me fresh and productive, while letting me enjoy the benefits of exploring the new cities I visited. My general pattern of work was as follows:

  • Work 1-2h in the morning, reply to emails, make list of what I had to do, execute urgent tasks.
  • Take the subway, bus or walk to the city core and visit the internet cafe I had previously selected.
  • Work 3h at the cafe: design, design, design…
  •  Visit a museum, do an activity…
  • Go back to my Airbnb
  • Work 2 to 3 more hours

This rhythm let me enjoy both working and travelling, and helped me, to stay focused. Most importantly, I remained a productive contributor to our work at Arcbees. I changed cities so often that without this regular rhythm, I could have easily lost myself. I wanted to find a good balance between travel and work.
I worked in some pretty unlikely places, but the icing on the cake was to work on a cruise ship between Helsinki and Tallinn.

 

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6 / In my nomadic worker backpack, you will find:

Backpack travel

  • Multi plug AC adaptor: I paid $ 30 for mine, it is more than practical, with two USB ports included
  • Always go exploring with your computer and phones charged. Some cafes do not have any electrical outlets for customers, or sometimes they do but they are all being used. (I have two phones that were in airplane mode all along my journey. An Android, and an Iphone for photos.)
  •  A Mac Charger, USB Cable for Phones. Take your cables with you in your backpack
  • Professional Moleskine Notebook: The best notebook according to me. With its 3 sections, it is easy to take notes on all projects. When traveling, no leaflets, no post it. Everything must be centralized!
  •  “Cartoville”: probably the best invention for the disconnected traveler: including a booklet, maps by areas, all the info you need and all the places to visit and the must-see.
  • LaCie rugged external hard drive for Time Machine. I chose it because he is resistant to bumps and knocks. https://www.lacie.com/ca/products/product.htm?id=10564
  • Essentials: tissues, water bottle, mini sunscreen tube, hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes.

 

Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cry …

I still can not believe how lucky I am to have lived this incredible adventure, but to be honest, nomadic life is not always simple. Here are, according to me, the ups and downs of this uncommon life.

 

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Ups

  • What’s routine again? The nomad’s brain is constantly fed new experiences, and becomes completely addicted to novelty and discovery.
  • Spirit opens up! Every new place makes you discover a new culture, a new way of living. I am a dedicated observer of human life. Some of this occurred because I lived with locals via Airbnb. I would also spend hours just watching people, seeing how they behaved, lived, ate… Experiencing another culture opens your mind to new ways of doing things!
  • Me, shy? I’m still shy, but I overcame my fear and I am no longer afraid to approach people and ask for help. I met so many wonderful people with whom I shared moments that were often great, and sometimes… unusual. I had a small problem with cockroaches in Hawaii. Frightened, I asked my neighbor to help me out. I never thought that one day I would see a naked stranger jumping around my room to kill a cockroach for me. Etched forever in my memory.
  • Traveling is enriching. Traveling is like drawing moments in your heart that you will never forget. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I see that black sand beach in Iceland in the heart of the storm; my springtime walks on the Helsinki waterfront; that place in Munich where I tasted a beer and ate a sausage surrounded by Germans in traditional shorts; the piece of chocolate cake in a 4 star hotel in Salzburg; the view over Rome from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica; the boat trip to the Taj in Lisbon; walking along the remains of The Berlin Wall; visiting the Square offices in San Francisco; the Voodon Donught’s donught in Portland; waves crashing on lava in Hilo; the singing dolphins in Kona; the inspiring architecture of Chicago …

 

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Downs

  • Living with loneliness: Sometimes you feel very alone. As I said, I’m very shy and it took me a while to get out of my bubble and connect with others. In the first month and a half of my trip, I would sometimes feel very lonesome. I might go  2-3 days without really talking to anyone. Then something shifted, and I was no longer afraid to approach people. I’m still shy, but I made a huge step forward in this regard, and I’m very proud of myself.
  • Living out of a suitcase. Like any normal girl, I can’t help but feel a bit bored wearing the same clothes four months!
  • And if I died nowwhat would happen? I had this thought in Rome. A car nearly ran me over and the first thing I thought was, “If I died, who would know?” Both my parents have passed away, and sometimes I had not told anybody exactly where I was. Maybe I was a little reckless, but I wanted to feel free. Everyone would have worried about me after not hearing from me on Facebook or by email … From that moment, I became a little more cautious.
  • Rushing through cities too quickly. 7 days is too short to really get the feel of a city. I tested several lengths of stay and found that spending 3 to 4 weeks per city is a minimum.
  • Back to the daily grind. Routine is hard. Really hard. Routine beats you down, and your brain begs you to run away. I really resented returning to my routine life. I felt caged. So I took some decisions to live better and perhaps leave better (wink wink), but not run away!
  • Work at least two days a week outside of the office
  • Take one trip a month, even a small one
  • Explore my own hometown like I did the other cities I visited.

 

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Why I did it and why I would do it again

Why did I do it? I lost my parents at over a two-year intervals at age 28. I thus became an orphan. That is a massive kick in the chest. I ended up asking myself who I was and who I wanted to be. I looked for the answers, but deep inside, wanderlust always came up as a way of finding myself.

What I found during this trip is not what I had imagined whatsoever. I grew up at unbelievable speed, I accepted who I was, and I learned that I did not have to apologize for that. In addition, I am out of my bubble and I opened my eyes on the beautiful world I live in. My greatest reward is the happiness I feel inside every morning and know that the world belongs to me.

Untitled-1

To see more photos of my trip : manongruaz.exposure.co

 

 

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Startup Festival Montreal 2015

In July, I went to the Startup Festival in Montreal. The combination of it glorious location on the Montreal harbour and the awesome list of speakers, it was the ideal event to inspire and motivate us to conquer the world.

Over the course of the two days, I was swept up in a whirlwind of conferences. All the usual topics were represented : unicorns, money, billions, VCs, billions again, and tips on how to become a billionnaire in less than 10 seconds… But those were not the truly important takeaways from this event. Underneath all the “entre-porn” of legendary startups and winning formulas lay a more important message. Something more powerful : be who you are and take the risk to do what you love. Entrepreneurship is about passion, humility, dedication and a lot of sweat (read sacrifice).

I’d like to share my experience of all the sessions I partook in that emphasized this theme. There was a lot of true wisdom shared that can help all of us be more successful in a very meaningful sense.

What is Success? Be who you are

Don’t Pivot, Persevere
by Adeo Ressi @founding

People have ideas all the time. You can pivot on ideas; you know, Lean Startup Style. But one thing you must never do : don’t pivot on your purpose in life. It’s easier to make money than being truly happy.

« You can’t have a good what if you don’t have a good why

Entrepreneurs are builders. But you can’t build something great if you don’t feel passionate about your reason for building it. Your purpose, your motivation and your destiny makes you who you are, and that must drive everything you do.

You have to reflect on and understand your life story, because your company fits your life story. They are not two separate things. You can pivot as many times as you want but if you don’t preserve what you are and why you do things, you won’t be successful. You will just be unhappy with a product which is heartless.

What kills a startup? The founder giving up.

So think about this.

What are your core skills? These skills will become your mission. And you can build on that. A company, a product, a team… You can only succeed when you know who you are and why you are here.

Adeo Rossi has a mission : inspire and assist the best people in the world.

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What is Success? Do what you love

Getting new management without losing your soul
by David Segal davidstea.com

David Segal is the founder of David’s Tea. David’s Tea is obviously a huge success. He started with one store in Toronto in 2008. Now, he has 180 stores in Canada and in the US. But that’s not the point. His story is where the real gold lies.

David was an entrepreneur who loved tea. He struggled to find tea he likes in the stores in his neighborhood. He wanted to discover new teas and new tastes. So… why would he not spend his time finding the teas he likes, selling them and sharing them with other tea lovers in a friendly place?

But tea, at this time, was not cool. Tea was a boring beverage you drank it with granny Edna, in dainty china cups, sitting in dusty parlours at 5 o’clock. Cute and heartwarming, but not strongly appealing.

David had a vision : great tea from around the world, in a modern place and dynamic colors. For the record, at first, he was reluctant to use the name David’s Tea. One of his friends finally convinced him :

« It’s cool. It means taking the tea with you. »

David’s tea was born.

The reasons of David’s Tea success :

Hire amazing people

As the company grew, David needed new people. He found passionate, smart misfits on Craigslist. Why them? He valued life experiences over technical expertise.

Process

He created a process, with his team, to do things efficiently and quickly. That way, it became easy to align the culture and get everyone rowing in the same direction. More importantly, they worked together to pull lots of feedback from their customers.

Stepping down as CEO

As the company was being bought by a bigger corporation, David decided to step down as CEO. He put his ego aside, and decided to learn from the best. It was not an easy decision but he felt it was right. Right for him and for his company.

Even though he stepped out of the CEO role, he stays involved in his business. He makes sure that the culture stays authentic and, as the brand evolves, he checks that the brand remains consistent with his values and his vision.

So… why does his company sell tea? Because it makes them happy.

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What is Success? Have a great team

Better empathy, better teams, better products
by Dylan Richards @dylanr

Dylan Richard has the most epic beard I’ve ever seen. He is also famous for another reason :
he knows how to build a team. And not a boring team. He built the team for the Obama Campaign (2012). So he knows how important team building is for success.

To build a team, start with empathy. When you think about startups and especially about technology, many words comes to mind. Empathy is probably not even in the top 20, but in fact, empathy should come first.

Building a product is solving a problem, a user’s problem.
So their problem must be your problem!

Define the problem

First, you have to feel the pain you are trying to solve. You have to know your customer, what the problem is, and why it is so important for the user. Make their pain points your ultimate checklist : the « what we care about» list. It must be the most important thing for your team.

Diverse team

Once you are focued on your (user’s) problems, you need to find teammates who can help you solve it. But you don’t have only technical problems! Monocultural team don’t build great products. Your team must look like your user base : diverse. A team that brings varied views and experiences is most likely to be able to solve those problems.

The way to great products

  • Diversity in your team must be your core goal
  • Communication must be your central value
  • The user must be the reason for everything you do
  • Set only one goal : relieving user pain
  • Focus on learning and teaching
  • Seek simple solutions

The last but not least : Passion

A startup doesn’t work if people aren’t passionate about solving the problem, and passion springs from empathy.

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What is Success? Have humor

Humor as a survival mechanism
by Harper Reed @harper

Everybody knows that working in a startup is not quite like a regular job. Your stress level is as high as your list of things to do. It never ends! Harper Reed was the CTO of the Obama Campaign, so when he speaks about stress, I truly believe him.

During his a peak of stress, he developed the Four-Step Plan to Have Fun in a Stressful Environment (TM). Because you know, stress doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, right?

Step 5 : You have to be really really good.

Get very good at what you do. Fun won’t get in the way when you are really good at what you do.

Step 4 : Bring your weird hobby to work and expose it to your co-workers.

We all know that other startup people like ourselves are all weirdos. You have to be to work in this sector! Weirdos have weird hobbies. Weird hobbies make for a good laugh. Trust me. This leads us to step 3.

Step 3 : Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Make sure everyone feels safe to joke and have fun, especially when a meeting is very tense, because of deadlines or other reasons… Even if you are changing the world, maintain the good humour to make fun of yourself.

Step 2 : Inclusion

When we make jokes, we often do it at someone’s expense. Not cool. Include yourself in the group that is the target of your humour. Try really hard to laugh with other people, not at them.

Step 1 : Don’t do it if it’s not fun

Always have fun. If you’re not having fun, something is wrong, and you might need to leave. Don’t do something that you feel obliged to do. Make sure you enjoy it. And work hard at that.

Humor brings everyone together and just helps the team to overcome all the problems.

Humor is a survival tool. I can’t agree more.

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What is Success? Be open and enjoy the ride

Rana el Kaliouby @kaliouby
Bringing Emotional Intelligence to the Digital World
affectiva.com

This session was my ABSOLUTE favourite. I’m not kidding.The technical performance was outstanding but what really caught my heart was the intelligence of the apps these people are building (and the humble lady behind all this awesomeness)… it was so awesome, I was in love.

It went like this : everything begins with a simple fact, humans emotions impact our lives. They govern our lives, our communications, our actions. Yet the technology we use every day, at every minute, has no understanding of our emotions. This understanding exists only in movies (Wall-e, Her, Ex-Machina).

Rana is a student at MIT and her thesis explored this issue : technology today has an impressive IQ but no EQ, so how can we teach machines to read our emotions? How can we give our devices emotional intelligence?

By focusing on the study of the emotions in our facial expressions (based on research by Paul Ekman), Rana trained machines to read facial features and understand the patterns of human emotions.

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The study might have stopped there and remained a nice toy for scientists. But Rana had a broader mission to bring emotional intelligence into the digital world.

She began in the world of media and entertainment, focusing on brands. She wanted to know how brands can use emotional data to better understand their users and how people respond to their content and products?

As a designer and brand strategist, I was in a haze of pure delight at this point. In this world where there’s an ocean of content at our fingertips, content strategy is critical for branding success. Both users and brands win when increasingly personalized content can be adapted for the user. The application developed by Affectiva to do this is simply amazing!

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When someone watches a movie, the application records and analyzes in real time these emotions according to several criteria: engagement, enjoyment, confusion, surprise and disgust. The app analyzes how the users respond to the content. That valuable data is an incredible tool for brands and it is acquired so easily. An example: for the United States, the most popular ads were the ones containing small cats and babies. By contrast, in Canada it was cereal ads.

Rana and her team were able, thanks to this application, to create the largest data repository of emotional data in the world. But beyond the application, Rana sees far ahead and is already working to advance affective computing on several fronts: media (Emotional Media Agency – collaboration with Hershey “Smile Sampler Machine”), culture (Twilight concert in Santa Monica), medicine (applications helping autistic understand the emotions of people around them and virtual therapist) and management (meeting analysis).

Rana going to change communication, the relationship between brands and users, and the world. Her advice to entrepreneurs:

Be both open and focused. A startup is a journey, whatever the destination is.

I’m sure to Rana will conquer the world!

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What is Success? A song!

Yes, a song! you read well.

Creating the National Anthem for the Startup Fest to the sound of Eye of the Tiger, with the rockstar millionaire Andy Nulman, in less than 20 minutes was a kind of kick off one doesn’t forget.

Here are the video and the lyrics if you want to sing it in your office

« Eye of the Tiger » playing :
Well is the art of the startup
It’s the path to get rich
it’s with the help of family of VCs
It’s the guts and the glory to be your own boss
It’s the team, the dream the Esteem of the startup

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What is Success? Let me think… Design!

There were dozens of sessions at the conference and I found them all very interesting, very enlightening. But I noticed that none of them were led by a designer. WHY?

Nobody talked about design, or creating a brand. In my opinion, that misses a key ingredient of startup success. I saw so many startups with similar names, similar branding, and similar interfaces. Yes, you have to validate your ideas. But at some point, your design program has to signal your value proposition and your differentiators. The idea alone won’t make you stand out.

Design must be a part of the process of a startup. I truly believe that you can’t reach your true potential without thinking and creating a great brand with a great design. You can have the best idea in the world and the best team, but if your product look like crap, who will use it?

«Between two products at equal price, function and quality, the better looking will outsell the other » Raymond Loewy

Design is not just a cute interface, it’s so much more. Branding and design creates an emotional attachment to your brand and your product. Once the user is attached to your product (and believe me it’s not an easy task) it will be a long-lasting relationship. That’s what you want, right? Because : Users = Value.

So let me put this in perspective :

Great Design = More users = More Value

Design must be a part of the development of a startup. And I’m volunteering to spread the word!