Clark Valberg, CEO and Co-Founder, InVision
Culture By Design
How Clark Valberg and InVision are bringing founders’ creative ideas to life, and leading the way for remote workplaces.
Clark Valberg can tell you the exact date that his digital product design platform, InVision, launched. It was also his wedding day.
In hindsight, it’s telling that Valberg was able to successfully overlap these professional and personal milestones—InVision is known for its culture of work-life integration, with a 100% remote workforce nearing 900 employees. Eight years later, both InVision and Valberg’s marriage are still going strong.
When Valberg first launched the platform in 2011, it was meant to be a simple prototyping tool for his creative agency. Today, the company offers a full collaboration suite, InVision Cloud, that has redefined how companies design their products.
In addition to collecting over $350 million in funding and a being valued close to $2 billion—officially making it a unicorn—the startup now boasts over 5 million users and is the platform of choice for 97% of Fortune 100 companies, including major names like Amazon, Starbucks, and Uber.
Along the way, the company also redesigned the way its employees relate to the workplace, demonstrating early on just what’s possible in a remote company culture done right.
A Graceful Stumble
Before Valberg was known as the CEO of one of Silicon Valley’s most beloved tech companies, he ran a New York-based creative agency called Epicenter Consulting, from 2003 to 2011. It was a design and development shop that created websites for software companies. However, there was one issue their team consistently ran into when working with clients—incorporating feedback.
Valberg found it challenging to bring his clients along on the design journey, which meant that the first time they saw their website or app was after it had already been coded. That made the feedback process difficult and inefficient. This got him wondering: How could his team show designs to their clients earlier and more often?
That’s how the idea for InVision came to life. It was created to put all their designs into a platform where clients could see and comment on them — similar to how a Google Document allows multiple people to collaborate within the same project. This was a huge step forward compared to the standard method of sending out designs in PDFs or as screen shots.
Valberg had zero intention of turning this product into a standalone business. It wasn’t until someone inside his agency suggested sharing InVision with other companies that the thought even crossed his mind.
At first, Valberg resisted the idea. He figured people wouldn’t be open to drastically changing the way they worked with their clients. However, he was eventually swayed and put out feelers to see if people would bite.
As it turns out, people were interested. While Valberg was pleased with the response, it still hadn’t occurred to him to turn InVision into a full-time business. After all, his agency was doing extraordinarily well and bringing in $1 million in revenue each year. Again, fate stepped in and a designer Valberg worked with suggested raising venture money. And again, Valberg brushed off the idea.
However, the designer persisted and made an introduction to angel investor Daniel Wolfson. Immediately, Wolfson saw the potential of InVision and connected Valberg to investors at FirstMark Capital. From there, a deal unfolded rapidly.
All of these events were, as Valberg puts it, a graceful stumble onto the path that he’s on today.
By the time Valberg secured his seed round of $1.1 million, users were signing up by the hundreds every day. This was when he realized that he needed to go all in on InVision. His wife took over his agency and successfully ran the business until 2018, while Valberg went through the next eight rounds of funding and elevated InVision to its esteemed status.
Ahead of the Curve
One of the characteristics that differentiates InVision from other companies is its 100% remote workforce. While the concept is more common now, it was considered bizarre back when the company first launched.
The idea originally came about as a talent hack. When the startup was in its early stages, Valberg and his co-founder, Ben Nadel, spent entire days taking engineers out to lunch to woo them into being their first developers. They quickly discovered how competitive the New York talent market was—especially with a behemoth like Google opening up their new office next door.
They sat down and asked themselves—what do we have to do over the next six months to be successful? They came to the conclusion that their focus needed to be completely dedicated to finding product-market fit and product development. However, they didn’t have the resources to address either of those priorities with the amount of time they were spending on recruiting. So they decided to hack it.
Valberg recalled working with many contractors at his agency. They were extremely talented but lived in far-off places, like Phoenix, Arizona. What if they hired those folks and let them stay where they were? Valberg reached out to the freelancers he worked with in the past and, instead of pitching a job, he pitched a lifestyle.
According to Valberg, it wasn’t the remote work that was appealing; it was the shift to life-work integration that his company offered. Valberg recognized that work-life separation wasn’t realistic in today’s society. Instead, he decided to focus on offering a flexible lifestyle that would allow employees to better integrate their work and home lives. The idea resonated. The co-founders hired 10 people remotely in less time than it would have taken to hire two people in New York.
“At the time, this was a big, scary idea. It’s a question about trading complexities. We can handle the complexity of this extremely challenging market and end up overpaying for talent that wasn’t necessarily the quality we needed. That feels like a war you can’t win. Or we could figure out this remote thing, which felt like a design challenge,” Valberg says.
Clearly, this strategy has been a huge success for InVision. The company is anticipated to reach 900 employees by the end of 2019 and doesn’t have plans to slow down. Valberg recognizes this as an inflection point in their growth, and he remains extremely conscious of the problems that may pop up from scaling, HR, and culture perspectives. However, he believes the advantages profoundly outweigh the challenges—and his team is ready to lean into any they run into.
Solving Problems With Bad Ideas
At a design-forward company like InVision, creativity is paramount. But even the brightest minds experience slumps and roadblocks. That’s why Valberg and his team have a secret weapon in their back pockets for any time they get stuck in a rut. It’s called “bad version.”
This phrase, which has become a cultural mantra at InVision, is a permission slip that says, “What I’m about to say might not be a great idea, but that’s OK.” Valberg says his team uses it whenever they hit a wall during brainstorms. Most of the time, the wall is a result of people holding back their ideas out of a fear of judgment. “Bad version” serves as a catalyst for the creative process and empowers people to share less-than-perfect ideas without fear of judgment.
Valberg recalls one time he was in a room with five other marketers, designers, and engineers. They were trying to figure out what to call the new plugin they created for Sketch and Photoshop, and they were stuck. To break the rut, someone said “bad version” and suggested the name Craft. The person who suggested the idea didn’t think it would end up being the name of the feature. But, as Craft users know today, it did. More importantly, it sparked the conversation and allowed the team to consider other options.
Valberg uses “bad version” at home with his wife too. He says it gives each other permission to not be right and asks the other person to help expose the best part of their idea. In other words, it’s a way of encouraging healthy conflict. This is a mindset Valberg hopes more people will adopt for work, life, and beyond.
“You probably have decent ideas that you’re just unwilling to share at that time for fear of judgment. That doesn’t make you an insecure person, that makes you a human person. … We become so fixated on arriving at the right answer, that we forget it’s a winding road.”
Clark Valberg’s 3 Tips for Scaling a Remote Workforce
- Take advantage of in-person time.
When the InVision team gets together in person, it’s not about getting work done—for them, the real work happens in the cloud. Instead, in-person time is used to get to know each better.
Valberg believes that sharing this experience positively translates to the online environment, which is why in-person gatherings are an important part of every remote workforce. That’s why InVision has an in-person all-hands once a year and encourages employees in the same cities to get together regularly.
- Consider time zones, but don’t be limited by them.
InVision is a truly global company. Its presence extends across the United States, South America, Europe, and beyond. Which means they have to take time zones into consideration. However, they don’t let those differences limit their teams.
For instance, InVision is mindful of not having geographically-bound teams work on projects together. So while they might not group an engineering team in Australia with one in San Francisco, that doesn’t stop them from hiring engineers all over the world.
- Use the right tools.
Of course, using the right project management software and communication tools is key to maintaining a remote culture. Valberg believes these tools can make remote cultures more efficient than working in physical places.
Consider the amount of time spent gathering people physically for meetings. People run late, dip in and out of the conference room, and have to quiet down before diving into the agenda. Whereas, tools like Zoom enable people to start meetings within seconds and allow everyone to take advantage of any dead time in between. “If I’m five minutes late to call you, you don’t have someone waiting and twiddling their thumbs doing nothing,” Valberg says.
Interview by Nathan Chan, feature article reprinted from Foundr Magazine, by Sophia Lee
- The biggest challenge Valberg faced while running his creative agency in New York
- How Valberg created an in-house product to make the feedback process easier for his clients
- Why he didn’t want to sell his product to the public, and what eventually swayed him
- Valberg’s graceful stumble into securing his first round of funding
- Why the official launch for InVision was also the most important day of Valberg’s life
- InVision’s journey to unicorn status
- The reason Valberg decided to make the company 100% remote, and how he scaled it to 900 employees
- How the InVision team ensures employees never get stuck in a creative rut
Full Transcript of Podcast with Clark Valberg
Nathan: The first question I ask everyone that comes on these, how did you get your job?
Clark: How did I get my job? I kind of invented my own job without realising I was doing that. I ran an agency in New York, a very small creative agency installing software for other people, apps, websites, back when we used the word websites. And we were just trying to figure out a better way to work with our clients. There are always communication issues when you’re running an agency, the relationship between the agency and the clients tends to bias towards the adversarial, right? And so it was just something we didn’t like. We wanted to create a different kind of agency where we’re more aligned and could be more creative in partnership with our clients. So, the fundamental idea for folks who don’t know what InVision does, but the most kind of primitive epicentre of our product is putting designs into a place where your clients can see them and comment on them.
And that’s what it was to begin with, and that’s all we needed. We wanted to take those conversations that were happening every now and then with our clients when we were presenting software that was totally ready to go. And found ourselves disappointed with their feedback because they had feedback and we embrace feedback, right? How can we show things to our clients earlier, more often, embrace their feedback, work with them as partners? We created this product. We called it InVision from the very beginning.
We had absolutely no intention whatsoever – so if anybody ever catches me saying otherwise, by the way, you should listen to this recording – there was no intention whatsoever to turn InVision into a standalone product. No intention to build a startup out of it. No intention to let anyone outside of our immediate company use or even know about it. This is purely, solely a tool to be used with our clients at this agency. We were very happy to let it increase our efficiency, 30% at least. That would have been nice, that we wanted.
Nathan: So what happened?
Clark: Yada, yada, yada, as they say. Yada, yada, yada. Someone inside the agency it wasn’t even my idea, right, said, “Hey, what if there are other companies that want to work this way? What if there were other creative agencies that want to work this way, that wanted the benefit of what we see in the kind of total relationship, dynamic shift with our clients?” I didn’t believe it to begin with. I said, “Oh, this is a totally different process. It will never changed people’s minds. People like to write code. People…” You get the idea. It’s just too much change to expect from folks other than us, right? And this is the “We’re special, we’re different.”
It sounds humble, but it’s probably more arrogant than humble, right? And, finally somebody convinced me, “Hey, why don’t we just put out there and see if people will bite”, right? And so we did. So we invested two to three months of one of our developer’s time to build a billing system into it, and separate it from our internal infrastructure and put it on the internet and bought a domain. So crossed our fingers, expected absolutely nothing whatsoever to happen other than maybe a like, “Oh that’s cool” tweet. That’s all I ever wanted, right. Someone said just tweet that it was cool, and it just kind of turned to a business and it was at right place at the right time. The right product, the right experience for the right market dynamic shift.
Nathan: And when did that happen? When did you put it out?
Clark: This is probably 2010. The end of 2010. The one thing, the one date I have in mind, the memory marker is that the day it went live with billings… so first it was live like, hey, anybody can use it and it’s free. We didn’t really promote it. It was just kind of on the internet. And then we said we should charge something for it, because then there’ll be perceived value around it and people will take it seriously, really use it for real work.
The day that the billing system went live was the day I was married. That date I remember. My now wife, then fiance said, “I know you’re doing this internet thing, the SaaS business with…” – by the way, wasn’t a phrase that anybody used back then – “I know you’re doing this online thing, but if I catch you checking your phone at the wedding, I’m leaving, okay? I’m leaving.” She threatened to confiscate my phones because, “I know you’re going to be excited about this thing all day, but we have much more important things to focus on.” And so that was the fateful day. There was the day I launched two very important initiatives that ended up, thank God, being successful in their own rights.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow, that’s crazy. So did you get customers first day?
Clark: Yeah. So we had people who were intrigued, much more than I had expected, right? Designers who felt like, “Oh wow, this is exactly what we’ve waiting for it. Definitely more lavish praise than I had expected, right. Very early on it was much more than, “This is cool.” It was, “Hey, wow, I can see this totally changing the way I work.” And that is essentially what gave us the confidence to go out and seek funding, which also was a very reluctant path. Listen, I kind of stumbled into whatever we are today. It’s a graceful stumble. Stumbling without letting anybody know that you’re stumbling.
I think I hired a designer at the time, a guy named Medina, who is still out there, is still an incredible designer and very close friend of the business and myself. And he said, “Hey, this is such a great product, why don’t you think about raising venture money and just launching this thing as an independent thing?” And I brushed him off at least twice. “Oh, come on. I’m running an agency”. We made $1 million a year at this agency, which, you think about how small I was thinking at the time. But yeah, that was pretty good that the agency had reached its height, at least so far. And it was doing great on my standard at that time. So I’m 38 now, so I was 28 at the time or something like that. About 10 years ago or something like that. Maybe 11, since it was a little before the company was founded.
And he said, “Why don’t you just raise some money for this thing and then you can spin it off, make it independent?” My timeline you can tell is mixed up by the way, I’m terrible with time. Might’ve been a couple of weeks ago, I’m not sure. I said, “I don’t know, that seems like a lot of effort.” He said, “Just let me make one introduction”, to introduce you to a friend of his named Dana Wilson, who is an angel, who immediately got the idea in a way that I definitely didn’t expect. He was excited about it, became excited to introduce it to First Mark Capital in New York, which are arguably the best early stage investor in New York and are partnering now a board member, , who has been an incredible partner just in every way to the business ever since the very beginning.
So Angel introduced me to the venture guy – this almost sounds like a bar joke, they walk into a room and you know… and the deal happened very quickly thereafter. They saw it as a new space. They understood very intrinsically and intuitively the importance of design and the importance of the design forward process for creating software. It’s like this focus on user experience, the power of a great user experience to differentiate in any market of digital experience. So they got it early, they were bullish, and the whole thing kind of had its own momentum at that point.
We had users signing up at that point. What was it? A very impressive hundreds of users signing up every day, which was a lot for me at the time, was an overwhelming success by my standards. And so we had traction, early excitement of the community, and again, yada, yada, yada. We raised an original seed round I think was $1.1 million and so on and so forth.
Nathan: Yeah, so I’m curious. You obviously eventually shut down the agency, right? At what point in time did you realise that you needed to go all in on InVision? Was that after you registered as a seed round?
Clark: Yeah, I mean that was a requirement. We found that out during the process of raising the round. “Hey, by the way, you know if we give you this money you’ll have to focus on this full time.” And that should’ve been obvious to me. I was like, “Oh yeah, I guess so”, right? So, what do you plan to do with the agency? And so I had a, I call it a hostile takeover, because I like to make a joke out of it. My wife took over the company, took over the agency.
I was very happy to release it at that point because I was very excited about InVision at that time, so she took it over and I think basically ran it for many years up until about a year ago actually. She ran it at different levels of intensity.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow. There you go. So fast forward to now: you guys have raised over 300 million. You were last with series F, you’ve achieved unicorn status. What I’m most curious to speak to you about, which I think is quite unique though, is you guys, and I had no idea. We were supposed to catch up in New York, because we have an office in New York, and we were excited to do an interview and I’ll be like, “Oh, where’s InVision’s office? We’re a user of-”
Clark: Oh, you tried to stop by the office did you?
Nathan: Well, we have an office. And I thought, “Okay, you guys are based in New York.” Had no idea. We’re a user of your product. We love InVision. It’s an incredible tool. And I was really excited. I was like, “Yeah, I’m in New York, let’s make it happen.” And you’ll be like, “Oh no, InVision is fully remote.” You have over 500 plus people distributed around the world. And you guys have been around since 2010, so at what point in time, like back in 2010, 2011, like it isn’t like it is now, you know what I mean? A lot of start ups, yeah.
Clark: It’s still weird now by the way.
Nathan: Yeah, 110%.
Clark: It’s still now. It was radically bizarre at the time. It’s interesting because if things continue for very different reasons than they begin – I find that that’s true of other things – so the reason that we became what we are today in a lot of different dimensions, but especially in the remote dimension, is different. There are different reasons today than they were at the very beginning. It started as a talent tech. So my partner and I had just raised this $1.1 whatever, we’re sitting in an office in Midtown Manhattan and he and I are both just going on, spending basically our entire day taking engineers out to lunch, dinner, coffee, walks in the park, trying to hire our first few developers to launch this product, to get to develop the product to what we thought would be product market fit and to scale and sale.
And we found it to be just incredibly difficult to do in New York, in New York market at that time. New York I think was just a little bit of an uptick in the intensity of the market. It was definitely a seller’s market, talent seller’s market. It was just a challenge to get even a second meeting. I mean you have Google, I think it just opened up a massive office… not office, it’s a compound. And other companies had just sprouted up in New York almost overnight. And we found that every single one of the engineers and marketing people, and …everyone we spoke to, no matter how excited we were about them, right, were also talking to Google or others. And so once you heard that, it was very disheartening.
I think we had a great mission and we had a great vision. Nothing was more humbling than having someone tell you, “This sounds interesting and all. But at Google, they dot, dot, dot.” And so whenever the dot, dot, dot, whatever the blank was, we didn’t do it. I said, “I’ll iron your shirts. You want me to iron your shirts? I’ll iron your shirts. Sorry, we don’t have a ping pong table, right? You can have free lunch. I mean, you can take my credit card and you can go and buy lunch. How about that?”
So, it was like, hey, we’ve regrouped and kind of asked ourselves what ended up being a very critical existential question: what will we have to do over the next six months, where will we have to put our attention over the next six months to be successful? What is the thing that will make or break us with respect to our own focus? Does that make sense? All right. And we both came to the conclusion and clarity that right now it’s all about product market fit. It’s all about product development. It’s about getting this product from an interesting idea to being something that people are really willing to pay real money for at scale, right? And go to market. Getting the awareness over this new category that we’re trying to create to be significant enough to kind of to create momentum.
And neither one of those two would afford the amount of time that we’re spending in recruiting, which was an all day thing. Which is normal by the way, that’s what you do as a founder. But given the market dynamics, it was overwhelming. So we said, how can we hack this? How can we give back? How can we fix this recruiting problem so we can focus on the thing that is most fundamental to our success? And either he or I had this idea, “Hey, we rent an agency. All those incredibly talented people that we sub work out to or brought on as temporary contractors for different projects that were bigger than our team at the time: what if we just hired those people? We can’t relocate those people. They live in exotic locations, far flung destinations like Phoenix, Arizona, or Boulder.”
But what if we just hire them and let them stay where they were? This is a no brainer. Now everyone talks about this. Everyone thinks about this. Some of the biggest companies, most sophisticated organisations in the world, they’re scaling remotely. At the time, this is a big idea. It was a very big scary idea. And we said, “Well, it’s just about a question of trading complexity. We can handle the complexity of this incredibly challenging market and probably end up overpaying for talent that wasn’t necessarily what we considered to be the bar of quality that we needed at the time, right?” So we could do that, we could deal with that, and that feels like it’s a war you can’t win. That feels like a battle that’s just insurmountable, right. Or we can figure out this remote thing, which felt like a design challenge, right?
And so, one of our company principles to this day is being design driven in everything we do. Thinking about every problem first, if it must be done, usually acknowledge that it must be done. And once you’ve acknowledged it must be done, it’s a question of how do you design it, right? And it goes from a hiring and firing conversation all the way to figuring out how you’re going to prepare a board deck or prepare for IPO, right? These are all just design. We think about them as design problems. So this is a significant design problem with very few comps. Very few folks were forged ahead of us. I think at this time the only notable remote kind of culture was 37signals. I think they had just… I could be messing up my timeline here …
Nathan: Yeah, that’s probably, yeah. That’s probably about, yeah.
Clark: And so they get a little commercial for the book, that was published for a short period of time. They had it online for a while and then it disappeared. But during that period of time, there was a little video about folks in their team, and how they loved working remotely and how it was a lifestyle. It sparked a new narrative like, “Hey, this isn’t about remote work. This is about life-work integration.” The whole world is talking about life-work separation, right, and how do we create a moment in time in the day where we just stop talking or thinking about work and turn off our phones, and then we’ll live from that hour on until the next morning.
And it, I think in many ways it’s just not reasonable and not necessarily even appreciated by the kind of people who work in companies like InVision, or like the kind of companies that the folks that are listening to this audio work at or build. We want to be involved in their businesses, we don’t necessarily want to be involved in them 24 hours a day, but want to be involved with them throughout that 24 hour period, as we see fit and as we need to be, right. So how do we kind of allow people to integrate their working life in a way that create just more flexibility of engagement. That make sense?
Nathan: Yeah, makes sense.
Clark: So we turned it into an advantage, I’m talking like a perk. We looked for folks that we’d done contracting work with in the past who were killer rockstar ninjas, whatever we referred to these kinds of people at that time in history, we looked for those awesome people and we made them an offer that we hopefully wouldn’t refuse. A, what’s your commute today? Oh, this guy is commuting an hour to work back and forth every day. She has an hour and a half commute, spends no time with the family, right? And we basically pitched them on a lifestyle change. More than on the new job, more than on the excitement in the startup, which obviously, there’d be that too, right? on a lifestyle change, and we decided we’d pay above local market.
So we found, just incredibly, we weren’t outsourcing to save money, we were outsourcing to create value. To overpay in a market that weren’t New York City. The average engineer in Phoenix, Arizona gets paid very differently than they do in New York city as you might imagine even today, right? And so we leaned into that arbitrage. So, “Hey, you want to make more money? You want to have more flexibility throughout your day. You want to get rid of this commute”, right? “You want to take off in the middle of the day, from two to four because there’s a family thing or you want to pick up your kids from school and come back and get back to the computer when it works for you?” Right? That was the package. And we found that that package worked and we were able to hire our first 10 people in less time than it would have taken us to hire our first two in New York.
And a much higher quality of folks, much more seasoned, more focused. And then it just continued that once we had unlocked and opened that Pandora’s box, that’d be working all over the place. It kind of continued, and at different inflexion points, we’re at about 900 people today. So at different inflexion, where we’ll be by the end of the year, at different inflexion points in our growth, we had to step back and confront this challenge of scale, of scaling remote culture, and this challenge of dealing with this HR dynamic in a remote company. Definitely been there, ………. dynamics especially. There’ve been challenges and we kind of know that we have this locational impairment, right. We know that we have to deal with this, we’re aware of it, and so we just kind of remain conscious of it and we continue to design answers to these problems as they come up.
Nathan: Yeah. So I’m curious, how do you guys manage it now? You said you’d be at 900 people by the end of this year. That’s crazy. For us, we’re like hybrid. Like we have offices in Melbourne and New York now, and we have remote because yeah, I agree, it is a talent hack. Like you shouldn’t be bound to a certain location if you want to hire incredible talent, right. But yeah, how do you guys manage it?
Clark: It’s funny because at the point where we had 100 people or 200 people, if you have that many people in a building, you probably have 90% of the communication problems that we have being a completely remote company of 900 people, right? How much sneaker net, how much walking over to someone’s desk to really get something done can you really do at 200 people? How much sharing things ambiently, opportunistically or whatever, right, at a water cooler can you do with that many people? You have too many water coolers. I mean you have 14 water coolers. At that many people you’d have a lot of water coolers, right? And you’d have people on different floors and you have conference rooms, so they’re just a tonne of efficiencies on communication that we pick up immediately that the whole world is basically getting turned on to now, even companies that are all in one building. Right?
For example, obviously real time communication we use Slack. Most do, right? It’s being point to point, person to person, democratically connected to all of the people in the organisation instantly. I mean that’s the thing every company needs, right? Using great project management software, and just a great stack of management software for engineers and designers. These are all problems of collaboration that anyone would have over a few over folks. We joke that we don’t have Zoom meetings, we have meetings, and the only meetings we have are on zoom. That make sense, right? We joked at we’re the biggest drag on cogs of any Zoom customer, right, because we’re probably using more of their server time than any other customer per user because our folks are just on Zoom all day long, right?
But just think of the efficiency. I don’t know the last time you tried to round everybody together to get them all into a conference room and how much time you spent just getting there and settling in, and then the chitchat and let’s all whatever. And then you know, somebody leaves, somebody has a copy of a hard stop, somebody’s waiting for the room, right? The inefficiency of a physical space – some of them are great and charming, and there’s no replacement for face time. But in terms of collaboration at scale, removing those inefficiencies is an incredible , right? We begin and end meetings in seconds with sometimes hundreds of people, right? Our all-hands meeting starts on time. When was last time you went to an all-hands meeting that started on time, with 800, 900 people?
Clark: We’re not ushering 800, 900 people into the aisles, into seats, quieting everyone down, right? They just start on the minute. And that’s true for every meeting and it ends when it needs to end, and it continues if it needs to continue. And if someone’s late – by the way, I take advantage of this a lot and I think it’s a little part of our culture that we come to embrace, right – if I’m five minutes late to a call, you’re not having somebody sit in a room doing nothing twiddling their thumbs, right? Because we’re all doing other things. So we’ve created like an asynchronous environment of connectivity, right, in this cloud culture everybody’s enjoying using, right. I think it makes collaboration through communication just a lot better in a lot of places, right. It doesn’t mean that we don’t like get together in person, which we do.
We had our product managers onsite in New Jersey earlier this week. I went in, met with the crew. They’re a great group of people. They spend a lot of time, a couple of days kind of aligning at a professional level obviously, and also on a personal level, getting to know each other. And spending that kind of face time that ends up translating into the cloud culture and key. When folks at InVision get together in person currently spend more of their time getting to know each other as people than actually getting real work done. Because for us real work happens in the cloud, right? So the opportunity to get together is an opportunity to share in an experience that’s unique to being in person. And when you do that and you build those relationships, that connective tissue between people translates into the online environment.
When it says we are never to meet… We haven’t met, but if you and I were to meet in person and then have another call like this, that call would be different. It would be fundamentally different. The relationship would be different because we had met in person once, right. Groups get together and then we have a company all -hands meeting once a year. Last year we were in Phoenix, Arizona, all together in one resort for a week. The year before that, LA. Next year not even sure where we’ll be, but we’ll be at the other at least once a year. And then the individual departments get together even more often.
Nathan: So it’s mainly remote in the US, not like different time zones, usually in the same kind of time zones.
Clark: We’re all over the place.
Clark: No, not at all. We’re all over the place, sure. This week, right now, as we speak… This week or next week, forgive me for not knowing, it doesn’t matter because this is recorded, we have our CFT customer facing team onsite happening in London, in Europe. And we have people in Europe, we do in Australia. We have people in South America, all over the globe. I think at our all-hands we give away some sort of a little trophy to the person who travelled the farthest. And I think it was probably somebody from Jakarta. It’s truly a global company. I would say there’s definitely a concentration of people in North America and I would say for certain kinds of work, the out of US geography is an advantage. Obviously you’re in sales, your territory is Europe, EMEA, then that obviously you want to be situated there, and there are some teams and kinds of work that make the whole high delta geographical distribution more challenging.
Nathan: Yeah. So like your all-hands, how does it work if you’ve got so many people around the world? Some might be sleeping at that point in time, or like-
Clark: Some people are just on the call in their pyjamas. I’m just kidding. I’m okay with that. No. So of the 800-something people who are in the company, an all-hands meeting probably has live 500 to 600. There are some people just living in places and for whatever reason just can’t make it. It’s recorded and they watch it later.
Nathan: Yep. Okay. And do you strategically hire for example, engineers, front and full stack, in the US so they can collaborate on that time zone versus let’s just say your CS team, an example are in the Southeast Asian region, and just all see us in the Southeast. Are you strategic around kind of certain departments in certain times zones?
Clark: I would say there’s a light bias in that respect, right? In situations where, I’ll give you a couple of examples where that’s not been the case. Australia is far, far from New York, it’s far from San Francisco. That’s for sure. But we did an acquisition of an engineering team there. And so you might not put those three folks on the same team of two other folks who happen to be in San Francisco. Maybe that would not necessarily be the right, right. But there are other engineering teams and efforts that are a little bit less geographically bound, if that makes sense. Right?
And it’s about those teams kind of being open and vulnerable with each other about their time differences, and negotiating the right hour for that standup meeting. Right. I mean, how much do these folks have to really be working together side by side at the same exact time? There should be overlap and they need to meet, right? They need to meet on a regular basis, whether it’s a daily or weekly stand up meeting. Sure. Right. But you know, the material work itself is often asynchronous, in the world of engineering and most things.
Nathan: Yeah. So, do you think you guys, as you continue to scale, will forever stay remote?
Clark: I can’t imagine how we’d undo that. And, I won’t be one of those folks who state a vision of a world where most companies will be that way, unless there is thought, right. I think some companies will do it. Some companies I think the next wave of thinking around this is around “Our next office will be remote” kind of thinking that you saw from Stripe pretty recently. Our next office will be remote, our metaphorical engineering office. So I think you’ll see that happen. The advantages for us profoundly outweigh the challenges and the challenges were aware about enough to lean too. So yes, I doubt we’ll relocate with 900 people to Brooklyn.
There are some people who work at InVision who wouldn’t live in Brooklyn if you paid them double or killed ……, which is fine. That’s where I live and I’m happy.
Nathan: Yeah, man. I love Brooklyn. That’s my scene, so. Look, we have to work towards wrapping up, Clark. Question around creativity, like where do you get your inspiration from and yeah, we’d love to hear
Clark: On the topic of creativity, we have one creative hack that has become a little bit of a cultural mantra inside the business, and I’m not exactly sure where it came from. It probably just spontaneously emerged and people were so into it that it persisted. And now I think there isn’t a person that works at InVision that hasn’t heard it or used it, right? And that’s the phrase, bad version, right? So I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where you’re in a creative gridlock, right? Standstill, stalemate with a group of other people. Maybe one other person, sometimes much more than that, right? And you’re all trying to come up with an idea, a name for a new product, a slogan, right? Some strategic, anything. Anything. You’re sitting there and you’re all just kind of thinking and furrowing your brow, right?
So I will argue, I will posit that suffering of the brow and the silence is more greatly constrained by a fear of vulnerability than anything else, right? You probably have an idea, a decent one. Or an okay …… be a good one. But you’re just unwilling to share at that time in that group for fear of judgement . And by the way, that doesn’t make you an insecure person, that makes you a human person. All right. It’s rolling around in your head and you’re like, “I don’t know, we could call it this, but I really don’t want to say that”. That’s the right answer, and we become so fixated on arriving at the right answer, we forget that arriving at the right answer is a winding road, right?
So, what we do in that situation is when there’s just any amount of silence, when we find ourselves just backed up creatively, even a little bit, we say bad version. Bad version is like it’s a permission slip. It’s one that you’re giving to the team and it’s one that you’re also giving to yourself. It’s a contract that states, if I were to unpack those words, “What I’m about to say is ……..and that’s okay.” It isn’t the final answer. And what I’m looking for from the group around me here, collaboration in the form of helping me and helping us look inside of this answer and look for the best part of it, and add and embellish and dust away the rest. That’s fine. Does that make sense?
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Clark: It’s a catalyst for the creative process, which is an iterative process by definition, right? Because ideas don’t get handed down in perfect form, right? They are dusty, like gems, right. They’re surrounded by a lot of natural ore, right? And you know, when you find one, you have to say, “Hey, I think I have something here.” Right? But I would love for the other gemologists here around me to help find the precious stones, right, within this raw material, right? So we’ll say, “I’m trying to come up with a product idea and I’ll say – this happened by the way, we had a product called Craft. It was a room of people, there was about six people, some marketers, some …… some engineers, and someone said, “We’re trying to figure out what we’re going to call this thing.” And someone said, “Okay, bad version: Craft.
Now, they were sure it wasn’t the name. Ended up being the name. Sometimes that bad version, you nail it on the first trial. That’s a rare occasion, right? But more often than not, a bad version starts the conversation and increases the vulnerability and thereby increasing the compassionate, creative collaboration. This is incredibly powerful, right, I’ll invite all of your years and readers to try this. The next time you find yourself, but you can use it with yourself. I use it at home. I use it with my wife all the time. All the time, right? It’s like, “Hey, give me permission to not be right. Give me permission to just make an offer. And by the way, I give you permission to hate it, love it. But your work here is in helping me expose the best part of it, and then you can add your best part of it.” It’s similar in many respects to the creative processes in prov, right? It’s a “yes, and…” kind of process.
Nathan: Yeah. So it encourages-
Clark: …… but that’s a whole other world. It encourages? Yeah.
Nathan: Yeah, I was going to say it encourages healthy conflict.
Clark: Absolutely. Yes. Encourages healthy conflict by making it normal. By saying, “Hey, no one is going to feel like an idiot. No one’s going to feel like they failed by not having the right answer, because I would let you know right now for sure this is bad and this is just a version”, right? I’m declaring that, honestly. This is bad and it’s just version one. Bad version.
Nathan: Yeah, it’s really cool. So look, we have to work towards wrapping up. Could talk to you all day man, is a great conversation. Curious two last questions. Who do you learn from right now? Who are your mentors, and do you have any? And where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?
Clark: Okay, so I have a peculiar relationship with questions that begin with who is the most X or where’s your biggest Y? I’ll tell you why, right? I think it kind of defies the real opportunity of life, right? The real opportunity of life in this particular lane is the question of who do you learn from, right, is recognising at some point, usually in your teens, that even your parents aren’t perfect. Sometimes it really …. Your parents said, “No one’s perfect. Everyone you’ll ever meet is oblong and everyone you’ll ever meet has something to offer you in the way of insight, it’s even if it’s at the very least what not to do.” Right? So, I have people who are trusted mentors in the way that I bring them my problems, right? And we work creatively together, or I take some people whose advise I just take, even if it didn’t make any sense, which just so credible on a particular topic.
But just say, “Hey, what do you I do with this?” I likely don’t have the answer and I likely wouldn’t even recognise the right answer if it hit me in the face. Right? So there are people like that, right? Let’s call them trusted advisors, but the trick of learning from people when you ….. – that’s probably not even a word – particular people or glorify celebrities, whether they’re business celebrities or otherwise, right, I think it takes away from the opportunities that are around us today.
My wife ….. super corny, I hope she doesn’t listen to this or she would just make a face if she heard it. My wife is a mentor of mine, right? My children teach me something every day. Again, it sounds so corny I’m just afraid to even say it, right? And definitely the people in my neighbourhood and every single person who works in the company, especially the executive people I get to work with every day, every one of them has taught me something, not something every now and then, but significantly changed the way I think about very important and very fundamental topics on a very regular basis. And that’s key to evolution.
If you’re waiting to have that 15 minute conversation with your celebrity mentor that you always dreamed you would, I can guarantee you you’re waiting for disappointment. You’re waiting for 15 minutes of dazzle, right? Probably a lifetime of depression, right, because you’ve reached the top and you realise that it wasn’t what they made it out to be. So, yeah, I like advisors. I avoid heroes.
Nathan: I like that. I like that a lot, because I think you’re right. It’s very humbling too.
Clark: Yeah, 100%. that’s InVision principle number one. Humility.
Nathan: Yeah. I think that’s important-
Clark: The hardest thing to accomplish.
Nathan: Well yeah.
Clark: The more you accomplish, it’s the hardest thing to accomplish.
Nathan: Yeah. Well look, you guys have got pretty good traction. I reckon that would be hard,
Clark: We’re working in.
Nathan: Yeah. Okay, awesome. We’ll look, last question: where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and InVision?
Clark: Oh geez, let’s see. InVision at invision.com of course. Or you go to our blog, which I think is without a question, totally flies in the face of my last comment about humility. There’s no better place to get great insights and the latest what’s happening in the world of digital product design, which is on a most important place called the screen. Then the InVision blog, that’s a fun place to go. If you want to find out about me, there’s just not a lot to find out. But you can look at my Twitter, you can see me occasionally tweet about something that may or may not, likely won’t, interest you. I’m just a regular guy who lives in Brooklyn, drives a Honda Odyssey. Not a celebrity, not a hero, but always happy to chat.
Nathan: Awesome. Well look, thanks so much for your time, Clark, and yeah, glad we finally could make this one happen and yeah, appreciate all of your work. InVision. Big fan
Clark: My pleasure, as am I.