Puerto Rico 2016
eric, david, cam, danielle, brandon, carson, luke, nic, & steve
We recently returned from our first official corporate retreat!
The Knack team ventured off for a week in Puerto Rico to meet each other for the first time.
This is what happened.
Knack is a 100% remote team. This means each member of the Knack team works from whichever location they choose, and we collaborate online through chat and video.
In 2013 working remotely was easy: it was just Eric and me. Remote was a convenient excuse to not have to pay for an office when our revenue was zero dollars.
By 2014 things were really picking up steam and we hired our first team member relatively quickly... hey Steve!
When I started with Knack, we were “three guys in a basement” (really three remote team members in three different locations).
We worked hard on our remote culture, but I felt it would be great to get together for some face-to-face time.
I started to think about how we could pull off a retreat and started bugging Brandon & Eric about it at every opportunity.
By August 2015 the product and the team had grown in truly amazing ways.
Hey Nic, Luke, Danielle and Cameron!
We knew we wanted to add a few more members to the team so we started to plan for a January retreat. It worked out perfectly when we added David and Carson in December.
Planning a retreat is no small feat by the way, when you've never done one and have team members in CA, OR, MA, NC, KY, PA and NY.
We made Steve do all the work.
Most of us were bracing for another frigid east coast winter so our only requirement was someplace warm. We decided on Puerto Rico and found a waterfront villa to spend a week in!
The timing and location was perfect for everyone.
January? That's during my Birthday! And Puerto Rico is like 3 flights away from Oregon!
As the newest member of Team Knack, I had less to work with going into the company’s first ever retreat.
I started at Knack less than a month before we arrived in Puerto Rico, and while I’d gotten to know my teammates to a certain degree, I was bursting with curiosity over how accurate my impressions would turn out to be.
Would our senses of humor overlap? Would the others’ HipChat emoji usage reflect their personalities? Did Brandon evading a question about his height mean he was super short or super tall?
As I received word of the retreat, excitement grew and I shared this news with family and friends. Inevitably, the conversation would turn toward the idea of individuals behaving differently online versus in person. I was confident that this was not the case at Knack, but family and friends were not so sure.
Jokes were made about awkward meals with strangers, long gaps of silence in conversation, "that one person" who just doesn't seem to fit with the team, and you’re “stuck” with each other for an entire week.
When it came to our first retreat, I definitely felt comfortable with the team, however I still wasn’t sure what to expect.
After all, it was a whole week with people who I had never met in person.
The weekend before I left for Puerto Rico, I even had someone jokingly suggest that Knack didn't exist at all and this whole time I was being elaborately catfished.
Well, spoiler alert, they were wrong and Knack totally does exist.
The initial face to face interactions with the people I had only video-chatted with were exactly as I expected. It was truly as if we all had known each other for years and just planned a reunion.
It was great to see the personality of the remote individual translate perfectly into the actual individual and get a better sense of the person behind the chatroom.
It never felt like work, it always felt like a group of friends passionate about seeing Knack succeed and grow in new ways.
Meeting everyone face to face felt so natural. The emphasis on building our team culture absolutely showed.
During the day we worked at tables together, where we were able to share tricks or pass on tips that we would not have thought to share online.
At night we spent time getting to know each other more, sharing stories and talking about shared interests. I was amazed how much our team culture manifested itself and how much time I spent genuinely laughing.
Culture fit is really important to Knack. We want to stay small enough to always know who we're working with, and we want to actually enjoy that work. We want to punch way above our weight class.
We hire on humility, a sense of humor, a hunger to improve, and a desire to maximize our impact.
It hasn't always been easy building our team. We've turned down a lot of quality candidates along the way.
Meeting everyone and seeing how well we interacted, how quickly we gelled, how productive we were in person--it was all just a complete validation of that strategy.
If you had asked me 2 years ago where I pictured myself today, never in a million years would I think to tell you I’d be a part of the Knack team, let alone their sole Spanish translator.
Alas, here I was in Puerto Rico on our first night out, and the team has no idea how they’re going to order food from a restaurant that doesn’t even have a menu.
First rule of Knack retreats: eat where the locals eat!
The joke was really on them - while I am a native Spanish speaker, I have never seen or even heard the name of any of the fish I ordered!
Believe it or not, everything tasted amazing. I took it as a foreshadowing of how the rest of our first retreat would pan out.
Nic told me the chef had mentioned that it was local custom to eat the fish eyeball to finish the meal.
From day 1 and throughout the entire retreat, we wanted to get to know each other beyond the chatroom. We planned social excursions like hiking in the rain forest, played silly games like "two truths and a lie", and went through our non-resume stories with nightly “Get To Know A Knackster” dinners.
As team member #2 and a previous customer, I’ve probably had the most time to get to interact with the rest of the team and really get a feel for their personalities, but I did also learn a lot of unexpected things.
For example, Luke’s actual name isn’t even Luke… Steve (who's known him before Knack) just introduced him that way. In the real world he’s known as Joel!
It's true. I never bothered to correct it!
Knack has four lefties! Who knew?! We probably shouldn't tell our customers this.
I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. Should we even bother trying to get some work done?
I knew I wanted to take advantage of all of us being together, so I loosely planned some sessions. Each day we broke out into engineering and success groups and also met as an entire team to brainstorm and review big picture topics.
And we totally crushed it. Seeing how much we accomplished and how effective we were working together in person really opened my eyes and left me hungry to capture more of that in our remote practices.
I feel it is very important to understand how other team members work. From their thought process to their actions; it allows one to better understand how other teammates reached their results.
Being the newest engineer on a team, there's a lot of code already written and I need to understand it as quickly as possible! To understand how the team got there is just as important.
The retreat was perfect for this: from code reviews to task discussions to "hallway conversations" during the week, I was able to better understand each engineer individually, pick up tricks, and get a much better sense of the coders behind the code.
We need better photos. I hear daylight works well.
It's like an awkward family photo. I had to photoshop a few together to get something respectable.
Iguanas are best left alone. No matter how cute they look.
Let's also avoid historic blizzards during travel days next time.
Although we walked the beaches, hiked in a rainforest, and swam at the base of a waterfall, the time the team spent working together on the balcony, discussing our backgrounds at dinners, and simply hanging out late at night was more impactful and memorable to me.
I left Puerto Rico not feeling like I had been “stuck” with strangers for a week or had just made new friends, but as if I was saying bye to old ones until the next reunion.
I think I can speak for all of us when I say that Puerto Rico not only left us extremely energized and excited for where our team is headed, but also with amazing friendships that will only grow from here. It was an honor to get to be with everyone at last!
I come away from the Puerto Rico really inspired and blessed to be apart of such a remarkably talented, friendly and respectful team. I look forward to working with the engineering team to build some awesome new features in 2016.
Knowing people as people and not as coworkers makes a huge difference in how we approach our collective responsibilities as well as how we build on strengths for each of us.
This retreat placed us on a path for greater success as it further emphasized an incredible cultural foundation for Knack.
What we achieved in Puerto Rico will shape much of how our team operates moving forward, with a trickle-down effect likely to improve things not only for each us, but for our customers as well.
For me personally, the trip was invaluable. Getting face time with my teammates greatly accelerated my Knack knowledge and adjustment period.
And the view from our beachside Success Team meeting wasn’t too bad, either: