By Kylie Francis on December 1st, 2020
As someone who grew up in the warm, seasonless tropics, the turn of weather away from an all-too-familiar hot and humid summer makes fall my favorite season. This fall was particularly special because it marked the beginning of several adventures in my personal and professional life: I got married, moved to New York with my husband, and launched Dia with Aisha and Alia. But while we’ve shared many of the highlights of our launch on our social media channels, it’s been far from a smooth and easy ride.
We’ve faced many challenges in the past few weeks, from becoming a remote team to unexpected things going wrong. Along the way, we’ve learnt a lot about ourselves and each other, and we’ve become closer as friends and as teammates. With that, we’d like the share a few of the cultural values and norms that we’ve adopted, and that have helped to strengthen the fabric of our long-distance team:
Open and bursty communication: As close friends, we are accustomed to communicating honestly and transparently with each other, and that includes talking about our challenges and boundaries. We’ve also used the 13-hour time difference between Kuala Lumpur and New York to our advantage. In addition to regularly scheduled check-ins twice a week, we have short periods of rapid-fire communication over WhatsApp only during the mornings and evenings. Research has shown that this “bursty” communication style is characteristic of high-performing teams because it helps to focus energy, develop ideas, and achieve closure on specific questions.
Run towards the problem, not away from it: No matter the time crunch or the frustration, we help each other march calmly towards the issue rather than drowning in the stress. On the day of our launch, for example, any initial excitement quickly dissipated once we realized that there would be an issue shipping products to the UK, EU and Canada, which all have Value-Added Tax (VAT) on top of import duties. Early on, we had decided to give customers abroad a seamless shopping experience by offering low flat-rate shipping and assuming any excess costs, including import duties. But a few hours pre-launch, an issue with Tax IDs and VAT meant we couldn’t do that for the UK, EU and Canada. We had to do a flurry of last-minute calculations to incorporate variable tax amounts into a tiered shipping system to maintain a seamless customer experience without surprise duties.
While it would have been far easier to delay our launch, or not ship to those particular places, or dampen the early customer’s experience, we chose not to. Instead, we put our heads together to grapple with and untangle a problem straight on.
Assume positive intent: While many people caution against working with friends, this advice from Indra Nooyi has helped and will hopefully continue to help us avoid interpersonal conflict on our team. She said:
"In business, sometimes in the heat of the moment, people say things. You can either misconstrue what they're saying and assume they are trying to put you down, or you can say, "Wait a minute. Let me really get behind what they are saying to understand whether they're reacting because they're hurt, upset, confused, or they don't understand what it is I've asked them to do." If you react from a negative perspective — because you didn't like the way they reacted — then it just becomes two negatives fighting each other. But when you assume positive intent, I think often what happens is the other person says, "Hey, wait a minute, maybe I'm wrong in reacting the way I do because this person is really making an effort."
Agility: Although we’ve come a long way and have learnt a lot, we still don’t know what we don’t know. The only way to prepare for these known unknowns—knowing that we don’t know things—is to embrace failure, to learn from our mistakes, and to adapt. The times they are a-changin’, and so are we.
This list will continue to grow as we grow, and we look forward to what lies ahead!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kylie is Dia’s co-founder based in New York City. Hailing from a family of journalists and writers, Kylie grew up with a passion for stories and a curiosity about the world. This has led her to travel extensively across the globe and she has lived in Malaysia, Zimbabwe and the United States. Kylie graduated with a Bachelor’s in Government from Harvard University and an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.