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Episode: 136 |
Fredrik Thomassen:
The Future of Work:
Episode
136

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Fredrik Thomassen

The Future of Work

Show Notes

Our guest today is Fredrik Thomassen, CEO and Co-Founder of Konsus.com, an on-demand creative outsourcing service. Fredrik shared his ideas on the future of work (hint: he says that it’s remote work), as well as the way that he runs his own company using a hybrid structure where half his team is located in Oslo and the other half are based in San Francisco. We chatted about the tools he uses to coordinate his company’s activities, how remote work is going to change the employee evaluation process, the challenges of being able to work 24/7, and how his team’s ambition is for every company in the world to eventually have a Konsus subscription.

Fredrik says he is always open to chatting, and he values the many interesting conversations that have started with a simple email. You can reach him at his website: www.konsus.com or email him directly at fredrik@konsus.com.

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Speaker 1: Hello Fredrik, welcome to the show.
Fredrik: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.
Speaker 1: Fredrik, tell me a little bit about your thoughts around the future of work. Started we thought we’d just start with a small narrow question like that.
Fredrik: That is to start there. I think obviously the most kind of easy to predict trends in this remote work is the future of work. It’s the most rapidly growing, very easily observable trend. I think you see it across and all of western Europe to US and you kind of have a similar numbers almost doubling every year. People are increasingly aware of the evidence out surrounding kind of the efficiency productivity of remote working and seeing that that’s for at least a lot of different types of jobs. There’s really no lawson, the employee satisfaction is higher and oftentimes, you can get some kind of geographical arbitrage where, people in less fortunate countries or states or whatever it might be, get access to a higher higher rates in a different labor market.
Fredrik: That’s sort of the most obvious one and I think there’s a few other transitions that are pretty exciting, which sort of follows this remote we’re trending. One transition that was very exciting is this, when you have a remote team, you have to manage that team a little bit of a different way. This traditional focus on face time, hours in the office and politics and so on, which become an observable in a virtual remote context becomes less important. Then actual work output becomes more important. I think one of the most important transitions in a way in a 21st century is from this web governance models where we’re humans decide to a more kind of derive governance model where cold besides promotions, compensations, allocation of work, all this kind of stuff.
Fredrik: Our companies, for example, built around this notion of letting cold and software are allocate work internally, reward people internally, promote people. We haven’t sort of embedded everything in code that we have come quite far. I think overtime we’ll increasingly see companies building promotional paths and salary structures with software instead of this typical HR committee or whatever of all gray, eminence gray type of people, making decisions based on who they like, who they don’t like.
Speaker 1: Now you’re living what you’re talking about with the remote work because you have a company that has a one office, I think it’s San Francisco with sales and marketing and you are sitting right now in Osceola today. Is that right?
Fredrik: I am. We have a kind of a bit of a hybrid structure. We have a couple of small office and then we have half the team working remotely, which is I think saying the people that want to move to Osceola or San Francisco and work with us. They’re happy to have to do we’re sort of help people do that and but people don’t want to stay remotely for a variety of reasons. We will allow that as well. We don’t have a super clear stats. We definitely see that there are also benefits of being in an office once in a while.
Fredrik: I know there’s a certain creative energy and culture and so on, so there are obviously downsides as well. When you take all things into consideration, especially as a cost levels in San Francisco Bay area, it quite quickly becomes at least the tool that most companies should use to, if it’s 10%, 20%, 50% or 100% of your kind of your employees. I think most companies will increasingly rely on a remote workforce with all of the implications that has for monitoring and guiding and training and community and cultural. Having to rethink all of those and building kind of an online virtual communities. Really challenging and excited
Speaker 1: Tell me a little bit about the, like where some of the folks on your remote employees work and what are the tools do you use internally to just coordinate your, your activities of your firm you’re using like some kind of video conference tool like zoom or a using slack or what sort of project management tools do you use to make sure everybody’s on the same page when they’re all in remote remote locations?
Fredrik: We obviously use slack like everyone else. Seems like there’s a circumventing slack him an email, obviously we say relatively traditional set up some sort of video conferencing and solid and then we use for most of our internal processes we use Jira for project management and have tried to embrace it fully agile scrum type structure where we assign points to tasks to evaluate or difficulty and we measure people on how many points they achieve in every spring. It’s relatively data driven and it’s important for us to building internal tools to track performance in terms of how people deliver on key KPIs in a very in the moment go away and how people deliver on points, especially on the software side. It’s sometimes hard to link engineering ultimate directly to KPIs and then you have to sort of get story points and things like that.
Fredrik: It definitely is challenging, but I think the absence of having this element of office face time and definitely makes it kind of more fair. That’s pretty important personally, I think very motivating, especially to the people that are remote and don’t have the advantage of sitting close to management and talking nice to management and getting liked by management in order to get a promotion. It’s a very much of a cultural thing. I think most importantly to the cultural thing. To the other question of where our team is based. We have 110 people now spread across 40 different countries. Really scattered and there’s always something going on 24/7. We have people in 17 times on, so there’s a very kind of a continuous motion kind of thing, which is a blessing and a curious that the same time, at least for me, it means that I can work, I can at any point in time just pick up my computer and start working.
Fredrik: If I’m at the airport waiting and obviously, get used to just sit down and work, but it was also kind of never really, you can never really left town. There’s always something going on and hard to go on vacation for you two weeks and be completely disconnected. I don’t think it’s possible at all. That’s also, I guess some of the downsides of creating this kind of remote virtual continuous motion within your company.
Speaker 1: That is amazing. A hundred and ten employees in 40 countries is incredible. It must’ve been quite a adventure to just even sort out the HR of how do you pay people in 40 different countries.
Fredrik: Yeah, for sure. Luckily a lot of things on the payment side has gotten a lot better over the last five, ten years and I think that has actually been one of the most important enablers of running this virtual team and also obviously on all kinds of clients hides or our customers are increasingly confident in working with us when we say that we’re a virtual company. I guess ten years ago you would’ve had the lot of raised eyebrows, on how we monitor confidentiality. How do we monitor performance all those things. Now it’s completely different mindset where we’re able to say, “Okay, we monitor confidentiality and security because we embedded completely into software without sort of relying on this traditional in office monitoring mechanisms.” People are much more comfortable. It’s much easier to create trust and have a virtual companies today than it was 10 years ago. I expect to see a lot of companies over the next 10 years going completely remote.
Speaker 1: I guess one thing is it’s a real game changer just in terms of hiring. I mean, if you’re a company that’s based in Seattle or San Francisco, then the pool of potential people that you might interview for a given job, it’s kind of somewhat finite. It feels finite. How in the world do you think about hiring employees when they could be, in Indonesia or Dubai or India or Argentina like how do you post jobs and screen employees, screen applicants?
Fredrik: I mean, it’s a great question and I spend most of my time doing recruiting and I don’t have any silver bullets. Obviously it makes things easier when you can recruit globally. You can go to people that works country in San Francisco or Seattle or New York. I work in for some of the big tech companies there and you can give a pitch which was his own know. Okay would you like to work remotely for a couple of years, just try that lifestyle and we might not be able to pay same amount of money that you made in the bay area, but at least you’re free to move around. To some people that’s tremendously exciting.
Fredrik: It definitely opens up some opportunities and it also opens up opportunities for us to sort of hire people, especially on the engineering side out of companies that are much less expensive than California or Norway for that matter, and provide them with a salary that is much, much higher than their current domestic wage but still lower than our the ways we had to pay in Norway or California. We’re sort of split that wage differential. Typically we end up splitting it sort of 50/50 something like that. Definitely exciting. That definitely still the same challenges. I guess recruiting will always be at least for the recruiting, the best people will always be based on referrals from your existing employees and some people let you know and from your investors and so on.
Speaker 1: Yeah. My observation is that recruiting sites a job board have really not kept pace where almost always they ask, they insist that you put in an actual location for a job and that all these monster.com, indeed.com, they should all have an option where this is a completely remote job. You can work from anywhere and within a given country or maybe you can work anywhere in the world. Anyway, if anybody’s-
Fredrik: No, I think that’s a really interesting observation and it’s going to be a super interesting to seek out of how the landscape of job boards will develop over the next few years. I think you’re not different job boards are being domestic, civil domestic, there’s going to be a Swedish or Norwegian general job board and then it’s going to be kind of niche focus. The job boards for if it’s oil and gas or if it’s aluminum or doctors or even on this niche job boards and summit that have been made to create a global job boards, but I’m not sure beyond the aggregators like indeed and so on, how successful the global job boards have been. There a couple of remote job boards that are working reasonably well.
Fredrik: We work remotely flex jobs working reasonably well. I think the main challenge for me with job boards is that there’s no value adding processes and software or whatever. It’s just completely flat structures where people post jobs and then people can, other people can come in and apply to those jobs for some kind of third part day applicant tracking system. I would love to see more innovation such as, for example, hired.com doing where you have some mechanisms to clear the market in a much more efficient way. It’s going to be a super exciting to see how that develops over the next few years.
Speaker 1: Let’s talk about your product. You were at McKinsey for a bit and now you have a pretty big global company, over a hundred employees. Tell us about what your company does.
Fredrik: We’re kind of a venture back to the design agency that’s running in a very much startup tech way. We provide the design services, creative services for large corporations, consultancies, investment banks, independent consultants really, and an animal man and everyone, but typically sort of business professionals way it works is that we have three ways of working with those. You can work with the pay as you go plan, but most of our clients are working on a subscription plan where you buy kind of a thousand dollars or $3,000 multiplier and you’ll get access to our entire talent pool. Essentially our graphic designers, web designers, PowerPoint designers, content writing, research.
Fredrik: Really, for those of your listeners that have worked at McKinsey or BCG or Bain or one of the large investment banks, you’re probably used to having some kind of solution like this internally where you could send stuff to either an outsourcer or in house team that would help overnight to flip things around and we’re doing essentially exactly that but for all, for everyone that doesn’t have this kind of setup themselves. We do it quite a lot more high end orientates to cover kind of all of the ranges from premium just down to sort of production level, presentation design. The whole range is covered. multiple clients are based in Us. We have a quite a good presence in western Europe as well but most of our clients are American business professionals.
Speaker 1: Alright, cool.I think, I’m certainly pretty familiar with using, when I was at McKinsey using the India based visual graphics where you would kind of either hand draw some charts or you would mark up some existing charts with some edits and send it there overnight. I’m familiar with that prior. I think a lot of the listeners are familiar with that kind of service. Tell me about some of the other services you offer, like let’s say graphic design.
Fredrik: Right.
Speaker 1: Give me some use cases for that. Like what kind of graphic design would you be doing and how does that process work? Does someone like … yeah, go ahead.
Fredrik: Yeah, great question. It’s similar in its simplicity to the way we do presentation design. You go to the website, choose what you want. If it’s an infographic or a brochure or a banner ad and then there’s a specific way that we have this specific tech for how to do the brief. Are you filling the brief? Super easy straightforward send it to us in 30 minutes our team starts. The project is assigned automatically to all of our team members that sits a wearable and they started working in, sends it back within 12 hours, 24 hours or a couple more days if that’s needed or if the client wants to have more iterations. It’s really just the hyper fast super reliable design agency at a quarter of the cost of a traditional design agency.
Fredrik: We observe kind of working with design agencies will go through a similar process where you go through a defining website, you enter your email or in some kind of forum, a couple of days later, a sales rep will call you and book you in for some kind of session with a couple of creative people and you do kind of a brainstorm and figure out some concepts. The whole period it just sometimes ends up taking weeks and you spend thousands and thousands of dollars. We just wanted to make something really simple because a lot of the side needs to go fast, needs to be reliable for a specific deadline, needs to be at a little bit of a different cost level, than what a typical design agency delivers. That’s what we’ve enabled. Most of our clients use this just in a recurring way where they are every month they will send a bunch of different stuff.
Fredrik: The marketing team will send us, some marketing teams, will send us all their banner ads and infographics and all the stuff that they use for content marketing. We have clients that use us for branding stuff, sometimes uses for people and from creative agencies used to, when they have a lot of stuff to do, they just send us all of the other design tasks that they need.
Speaker 1: Can you give me some examples of how maybe a consultant would be using your service? What would an example of a brief be from a consultant?
Fredrik: I think most consultants are still relatively stuck with Microsoft PowerPoint as their main tool. That’s the most common way of you getting help with presentation design, doing either a quick brush ups or overnight, a bit more professional formatting or sometimes a high end the designs. If you’re in an important proposal process or a big conference or whatever, people will order a high end design and you can either upload your own template if you have that for a company or we can make a new template for your companies or you can choose from our predefined the templates and then we just make the design along those lines. Some people have very detailed specifications for exactly how they wanted on each and every slide using all the consulting of placing in a yellow box or something on every slide. A very clearly laying out how we want to do it. That’s sort of the most common use case.
Fredrik: We also have a bunch of consultants that increasingly we see that you need to sometime deliver even more compelling graphical expressions and if you wanted to attend, there are some limitations in PowerPoint and you will need to use in a one on the adobe programs that most consultants haven’t yet to figure it out. That I’m pretty sure will become an increasingly important part of most consultants day to day. Where you can create things that are a bit more amazing. I think there are a lot of situations where there’s the return on investment for spending a few hundred dollars on a short concept project to make something look absolutely amazing.
Fredrik: They’re increasingly, we see people using our graphic design service and also we see consultant using our web design service where yo make mock ups for clients and people doing digital projects or making an Atlanta in pages for specific projects or sometimes we have consultants using web design service to make our proposals. In a website that’s become pretty popular especially busy G has, has started to do that a lot. Those would be the three most common with sometimes proofread stuff. Sometimes we make entire reports and do some market research, will lead collection, this kind of stuff as well.
Speaker 1: That’s fascinating. Can you do things like create a white paper or even create an Ebook out of if somebody has, content that they’ve written, create an Ebook for them?
Fredrik: Absolutely. That’s a very common use case where somebody has either, a long word document where they’re written down a ton of stuff, it has no design and they just want to make it into a downloadable Ebook and hide that behind that or put that behind some kind of gated image capture for more or whatever it might be. Definitely very common way of supporting at content marketing teams or marketing teams more generally.
Fredrik: Increasingly we see independent consultants becoming relatively sophisticated in how they do their own marketing by producing quite regularly pieces of content, repurposing existing probe or former projects or existing projects and dome into Evergreen Con, putting that on the website and just a bit of proofreading additional content here and there are some SEO optimization, some design and placing it on the website really makes know 10 x on the number of downloads and even captures that you can get from some relatively basic content. That’s getting definitely increasing the appropriate as well.
Speaker 1: That’s amazing. It sounds like really cool thing. Is all the work being done by your 110 employees or do you also have subcontractors that are doing some of the actual design and some of the PowerPoint work?
Fredrik: We do all in house for sure.
Speaker 1: You do? Okay. You mentioned security, how do you manage security with a remote team or maybe working on some super secret, due diligence project for some investment bank? How do you manage the security across the globe?
Fredrik: The way we look at it, when Uber came and took over for Taxis and in many places it became a lot safer to ride taxis because you would always at any given point in time know who you were driving with him and there would be no question about it because the APP always keeps track with them and in the same fashion we track every single touchpoint that files have, who opens the files when, where, how it’s being used and so on. That’s tremendously powerful. Obviously everything is encrypted and we don’t send files through, we don’t really send files through. We just create a link to our clients that they can go to our website and log in, download their files from there. That makes things a lot safer. Then I thin most important, most leaks are 98% during almost all leaks are from disgruntled employees that are pretty close to the client themselves.
Fredrik: For us, we just don’t have an incentive if you’re in Argentina working on a due diligence documents for an oil and gas company in Norway, you just don’t know any of the names of the drilling rigs. You don’t just don’t have any context and so it’s very hard for you to get any kind of leverage off of that information. That’s the second important point. Thirdly, it’s all about culture and training and we’re probably more obsessive than even McKinsey about confidentiality where part of the onboarding as part of all the training and the first six months for our team members everyone, we talk about confidentiality again and again and again. Then we have super strict NDAs and we just have a constant focus on confidentiality.
Fredrik: Now we’ve done tens of thousands of projects and still haven’t had a single league. I think we’re so far so good. Then we’re doing everything we can. We obviously understand that people’s information security is highly important. Then it’s definitely something that we try to be in the competitive advantage around compared with all other online work marketplaces such as Upwork or Fiverr or ninety designs for those traditions than likely familiar with those platforms.
Speaker 1: Tell us the origin story of your company. How did you come up with the idea? What was the genesis?
Fredrik: I worked at an eCommerce company in Indonesia as part of setting up and building an eCommerce company in Indonesia which was super exciting. Down there and I sort of observed two things and one is that, you just have amazing people all over the world making much less than what they truly deserve. The Internet is a really profound way of linking labor markets globally. To me it’s just so obvious that over the next 20 years, so much of what we do will be moved online to various online platforms. I wanted to be part of that transition and it’s just exploding right now. It’s super exciting to be a part of so of the kind of high level thing and then more tactically around which idea to start with online. It seemed obvious to me that as a user of like his internal tools that all other companies in the world should have this kind of similar support solution.
Fredrik: It’s super amazing when it works in mechanism, but there’s a huge fixed cost of setting it up and I guess it has a thousand people for PowerPoint alone for 12,000 consultants. Getting a system like that setup is really costly and really challenging. Most clients just don’t want to bother with that. Then such really nobody beyond the top 20 or 100 largest companies are written with the most highly recurring needs have those setups. We built a super easy to get started solution and sort of starting from presentation design. Just kept adding on more and more services to sort of now finally having one fur through creative department as a service type of frame where our clients can subscribe for a thousand dollars a month and get you into a full creative department to do all their needs.
Fredrik: I mean our vision in the same way that sort of Microsoft in the 1980s would say our vision is to have a PC on every desktop. Our ambition is to have every company has to have a conscious subscription. Every company have a conscious team in their office. So far so good we have a few 100 clients that uses so recurrently and there are obviously thousands and thousands more so we just need to guide them and find them.
Speaker 1: Do you typically, is it typically you’re selling to kind of an individual within the company who gets a personal individual subscription or is it more of an enterprise sale where you’ll go to a company and then they’ll have like some kind of enterprise offering?
Fredrik: We only do, we believe in keeping costs extremely low, keeping over at extremely low. Just doing kind of a software enabled platform where we allow companies to get the best people and we obviously, we get 5,000 applications every month and we hire maybe 10 of those. Our job is just to make the best people available and let people take advantage of that in the easiest possible way. We mainly do inbound marketing for search engine optimization, content marketing, branding this type of stuff. Then people come to us and we work with our sort of incoming clients and in a very reactive way.
Fredrik: If they need help we helped them if they won’t have a larger set of data. Our say is essentially just customer success management, helping people get stuff more dominantly. We have really anything, we have people that find us from hundred billion dollar plus companies find us and their colleagues, they tell another team, that team tells another team and certainly you have six and seven teams in a huge company just working with us independently without having to go through procurement or doing some large enterprise sales deal. we definitely want to continue to keep an ultra lean structure and sort of not to pass this additional layer onto our clients.
Speaker 1: on a personal level Fredrik, I’m curious if you have any kind of daily routines or weekly routines that maybe you’ve had them for a long time or maybe you recently adopted them that you found really make you more effective.
Fredrik: I’m one of those guys that get super excited about a new habit for, like three weeks. I would get this impulse that, I’m going to become like Tim Cook and wake up like 4:30 in the morning every day and go work out and answer in medicine, all this stuff. Then it just lasts for three weeks. I’ve started to take kind of a more incremental approach where I do, I just small changes to decide where they’re either good or bad. I think I lead relatively normal life and I do think that the life that most people live on a given day, just waking up at a normal time, having a normal breakfast, going to work at a normal time, like 9 o’clock or whatever and then I’m just trying to do your job and working until when you need to not too long and not to just like a normal go home like seven or whatever.
Fredrik: I think common sense is hugely underrated in this world of habits. I don’t do any kind of performance enhancing drugs for any of those 20 things. I think a good cup of coffee in the morning is good. If I drink two mandates it’s not good. I tried to run the next size, an appropriate amount. The driller I just go to work every day and look forward to it. If it becomes too habitual to embrace that, probably wouldn’t excite me that much.
Speaker 1: All right. For listeners who are interested to learn more about your company, maybe even explore subscribing to the service, what is the best place for them to go?
Fredrik: They can go to konsus.com, so that’s k-o-n-s-u-s.com and just take it from there. It’s really, really simple. We have every day or every month at least hundreds of new companies signing up. If you can’t figure it out or if you would like to have kind of accustomed sector or large sector or whatever, I encourage, I never ever wanted to just send me an email at the Fredrik, f-r-e-d-r-i-k@konsus.com and just have a conversation with me. People just email CEOs and say, “Hey, I would love to chat.” I almost always answer all those emails and have a ton of really random interesting conversations with people all over the world. It always gives me and lot of enthusiasm and leads to a lot of great things. Please do reach out.
Speaker 1: Fredrik that’s awesome. Thanks so much for joining us is a great discussion and thanks for sharing the story of your firm.
Fredrik: Thanks a lot for being here and for listening to me turning for a good part of 30 minutes.

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