Business Podcast Post

Remote Work Culture with Kapil Kale

George Grombacher September 29, 2022

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Remote Work Culture with Kapil Kale

LifeBlood: We talked about building remote work culture, how to replace what we miss from the physical office, the stages where remote work makes sense and where it doesn’t, and how to get started, with Kapil Kale, COO of Tremendous, and remote work expert.

Listen to learn the key to hiring the right remote employees! 

You can learn more about Kapil at, Twitter, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Kapil Kale

Episode Transcript

Unknown Speaker 0:16
this is George G and the time is right welcome today’s guest strong and powerful Kapil Calais, Kapil, you’re ready to do this? Yes, thank you for having me. I’m excited to have you on let’s go. Kapil is the CEO of tremendous their company, empowering businesses to send one off payments to people around the world for completing surveys, participating in research, doing take home projects, and booking demos, and he is passionate experts in building remote companies. Couple tell us a little about your personal life some more about your work, why you do what you do? Yeah, for sure. So I founded the company that became tremendous 12 years ago, believe it or not, with one of my good friends from college, Nick Baum. And, you know, we’ve had a sort of long journey. But in that course of time, we’ve gone we’ve gone through sort of a couple phases of the company, you know, the early startup phase of it all, you know, me, Nick, and another co founder, Jonathan living in the same house together in San Francisco, there’s actually a period where we ended up, no one worked on the company for actually one employee worked on the company for almost two and a half years, and it was on maintenance mode. And then Nick returned to the company in from 2015. Through now, and then I actually returned to the company as well, about two years ago, or a year and a half ago. And we’ve been pretty much remote since 2013.

Unknown Speaker 1:40
And my other sort of background, is I during my hiatus from tremendous. I was the CEO of AngelList talent, which is the largest largest startup, recruiting platform and job site out there.

Unknown Speaker 1:55
Nice, I love it. So three years in San Francisco doing a startup. Sure. That was an awesome experience. And now what brought you to New York.

Unknown Speaker 2:05
You know, there’s a couple things that brought me here, I originally grew up on the East Coast, and I went to school out here. And so California was this place that you go. And actually, I think increasingly for people building their careers now, like you need to spend some time in California, because that’s where you get a real taste of you know, how things work in Silicon Valley. But more and more, it used to be that you had to stay in California as a company or as an engineer. And I knew that I wanted to move back and, you know, be closer to my family and all my friends from high school and college who ended up settling around New York. So I ended up moving back in 2015. Also, at that time, I think San Francisco has been on, you know, no offense to those in San Francisco, but it’s been on the decline as a city in terms of quality of life. And New York is just this amazing place where you get people from every culture, every sort of place on on Earth, every interest group to kind of come to one city and coexist. I think that’s amazing. So that’s why I’m honored to be back here. It all makes sense.

Unknown Speaker 3:09
You mentioned engineer, do you have an engineering background? I don’t. I’m actually the son of two computer scientists. And I’ve been coding since I was a kid. But they talked me out of pursuing a degree in computer science, believe it or not, because it’s funny growing up on the East Coast. There’s like two notions of like what it means to be a programmer. On the west coast. There’s like this amazing, like sexy Mark Zuckerberg or, you know, Vinod Khosla, like these people who are building these companies like Larry and Sergey, that are building these companies that ended up becoming like world changing on the East Coast, especially when you talk about the finance world. It’s actually the business people that end up running the show. And it’s more of like the office space situation of the programmers are working in the back office. My parents never wanted that for me. So they talked me out of it. But I loved it so much that, you know, I just got back into it, the moment that I started working on startups. So that was my path back into being becoming an engineer. How funny. I’ve never I’ve never thought about it or heard it broken out like that. But when I hear it, it makes perfect sense. So yeah, I mean, literally to coast. If you grow up, you think about it, you grew up around Stanford, and Berkeley and all these people leave in the found companies. And even in the in the 1990s, the notion of the programmer was like, Well, you might start the initial idea, but eventually you get like a venture capitalist comes in and they put in a professional CEO. And so there’s this other time thing of like, well, in the 90s and 2000s, when my parents were engineers, it wasn’t a common thing for like the engineer to also become the sort of leader and business person and that has been another shift over time. Where, you know, now you look at like, back when I graduated in 2007, I think like,

Unknown Speaker 4:53
call it 3% of Dartmouth. Undergraduates studied computer science and that is

Unknown Speaker 5:00
is like a tiny portion where it’s like now it’s like 1015. Very different. Yeah. It’s interesting to watch things change and evolve. And certainly the way that the way that we’re working in remote work that’s on the tip of everybody’s tongue right now. You know, and like everything else, people either love it, or they think it’s really stupid. When did you start thinking about it? So my history with companies is, I worked in a very small startup environment where there are three of us living in a house working on the company, that became tremendous. And

Unknown Speaker 5:38
I then took a software engineering job at AngelList, where it was pretty much an in office culture in San Francisco.

Unknown Speaker 5:47
And then I moved to New York, which was like a satellite office of AngelList. And I did the sort of I worked out of a satellite office where there’s the main headquarters in San Francisco, I traveled six times a year, roughly to San Francisco. And then we started AngelList talent, which became its own, this essentially became like a hub in New York that was mostly in person with its own satellite offices. And then during the pandemic AngelList talent got rid of its office in transition to a full remote model. And then when I came back to tremendous in 2020, it was about nine full time employees all remote. And now we have scaled that to 50, something with plans to be well over 100 next year. So I’ve seen the sort of gamut of all of these configurations over the course of my professional career. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 6:35

Unknown Speaker 6:37
So you are for it, obviously, you you think that it’s, it’s functional, you think that it’s an environment where people can succeed and thrive in it as an individual contributor and the company as as a whole.

Unknown Speaker 6:52
It is, you know, what I would say is that for most companies, especially growing ones, or maturing ones, it is the right configuration.

Unknown Speaker 7:03
There are some configure, there’s some times and accompanies lifetime, that it’s probably not the right configuration. Now, I’ll walk you through some examples. If you were like starting on a company, you know, starting work on a company or an entrepreneur, it is so valuable to have your co founder and maybe an early employee in the same city. And the reason for that is that the nature of the work is like it’s very creative, the number of iterations that you need to have is like, you’re gonna go back and forth on every decision. And there’s like, you need to, it’s very valuable to be in the same room early on. And even now, you know, Nick, my co founder, he and I are typically in the same city most through most of the year. So we spend a fair amount of time together working on like complex issues. Now, when you get to a larger organization, call it 1020 people and you have product market fit in the thing that you’re building, meaning you have revenue coming in, you have customers, the nature of the work becomes a little less like you’re doing creative brainstorming in a room. And then the goal of the company, is actually to start attracting the highest quality talent that it can. Now the thing that I no happen when we were in at AngelList. And recruiting exclusively in New York, it was really hard to find people that had, you know, the engineers that had a skill set in our tech stack, wanted to work at the company. And like we’re within commuting distance to like the location of the office that we chose. Now, at tremendous, we recruit from every city,

Unknown Speaker 8:42
within like, you know, four or three time zones, either way of New York City. So we go out to the West Coast. And then we go north and south up through North America, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, wherever Canada, and the pool of talent is so much bigger, that it is like an amazing opportunity to just find people that are going to be able to contribute at a much higher level. I keep hearing from companies I speak with, who were you know, recruiting in their local markets, that it’s hard to find any senior talent, they don’t really like it’s, you know, it’s hard to get them to work at your company, and there’s a limited pool, well, you know, the moment you want an extra pool 100x your pool, it becomes a lot easier to find those people. And so, the number one advantage of being a remote company, is that you just get access to talent that you wouldn’t have otherwise. And that makes life a lot easier when you have you know, some amount of understanding over what you are building.

Unknown Speaker 9:44
What what do you

Unknown Speaker 9:47
what do you think or know that that that you’re missing from the physical environment, and I appreciate you telling me at the beginning, it’s the creativity and the proximity and you’re iterating once once you are a little bit bigger what

Unknown Speaker 10:00
What are you missing out on? And how do you compensate for that? Yeah, that’s a great question. You do miss out on things. So one thing that you miss out on is the interaction that you end up having with your co workers, when you’re all going to the same office together, ends up making it a lot easier for you to make friends at work. And so one of the things I believe about remote work is actually like, Okay, the second thing you miss out on is any sort of really high bandwidth,

Unknown Speaker 10:29
like work that you need to do, whether it’s like, think about it as an apprenticeship, mentor model, like, it’s really valuable to be in the same room with someone that you are learning from when you were learning the job. And as such, I generally don’t think remote work is a great fit. For people who are just starting out with their careers, like you should probably work in an office with like people who you can learn from it, because your rate of learning is much faster. That said, you know, the way that tremendous works now is we just typically hire senior people. Like think about it this way, there’s so many talented parents out there. But the the poles of being a parent mean, you constantly got to take time out of your day to go to a certain place. And suddenly, if you’re dealing with a commute, where you have to go to a specific office, and like what do you do when your kid gets sick, or, you know, there’s some issue with daycare or whatever it is, well, remote work makes that easier. So what we typically find is we’re able to recruit more senior employees who don’t have that same need for like a filling the social part of their life. And they’re typically more advanced in their careers. And so they’re not like they might have skills that they’re developing. That’s like one skill, they’re not just trying to like, figure out how the world works. So I think one compromise is on the social piece. But the flip side of it is when you hire really senior people who are kind of further along in their lives, that tends to lead to, you know, the better workout but anyway, yeah.

Unknown Speaker 11:49
So having the right selection, understanding that you’re making great selection decisions on the front end, and hiring really top to your senior people who are competent and committed, and give them the flexibility to not have to commute gives them flexibility if they have kids to deal with that kind of stuff, which I certainly understand.

Unknown Speaker 12:10
Is there a certain technology that that you embrace over others? How do you think about meetings and collaborating? So you might be familiar with this term skeuomorphism. It’s like when you have some new technology, and you take like an adaptation of like, will be the old world work, and you put it like, exactly kind of, into the new technology. And a good example of that is like, I think when computers first came out, like there was this notion of like the bookshelf in your computer, where you would literally see like the books that you could pull in the same thing in like your iPhone eventually. And then at some point, people are like, Wait, there’s like blog posts, there’s Kindle like these are, this is how it should work, because it’s just words on a page that you need to digest?

Unknown Speaker 12:55
Well, the same thing, I think, is true of people who consider like this remote work environment, and they try to take the things that worked in the old office environment and just adapt them directly. The number one thing is meetings, meetings, and like brainstorming sessions, when you are in a,

Unknown Speaker 13:12
in an office culture,

Unknown Speaker 13:15
they don’t, they feel comfortable like you can have the nature of like being in a room with people means that multi way conversations can happen breakouts between two people just chatting about something organically work. But if you’re in a 30 person meeting that’s like on Zoom, it is one screen talking at a time usually disseminating information from one to many.

Unknown Speaker 13:35
The second piece, the second issue, but that is it’s just exhausting. This notion of zoom fatigue of like being in that sort of, like, you know, watching a screen and trying to pay attention all day, it’s just much it’s much more unpleasant than actually being in person. And so I think that the biggest change for us, like in terms of technology is realizing that when we communicate information or disseminate information, a meeting is not the right way to do it, you typically need to use a different sort of version of media. And it could be writing, we write a lot, a tremendous, it could be a screencast, we use a tool called loom to like actually walk people through like mock ups or something like, like, you know, company strategy, or,

Unknown Speaker 14:19
you know, we actually even have have had internal podcasts that we released that allow people listen, you know, whenever they’re working out, like what’s happening at the company, that’s a very different model than like, well, everyone’s in the same office to just pull them into like an all hands. So I think that that is like one of the big technology changes that it’s not quite a technology change, but it is a

Unknown Speaker 14:40
change in how we work. That relates to technology. Do people miss meetings? No.

Unknown Speaker 14:50
Yeah, I mean, look, there’s a few people who do miss the social interaction, but you know, again, so the other thing that we do and this is again, not a

Unknown Speaker 15:00
IT technology fix, but you do need to have people bond and spend time with each other. And we do three to four company off sites per year. And the way that these off sites work two of them, they’re all company that we’re going to Mexico City in a couple of weeks. And that’s people from all over the world going there.

Unknown Speaker 15:21
We don’t work, there aren’t meetings there. Like company summer camp is a good way to think about it that’s in a fun city. And the only goal is to get people together and have them understand each other, get to know each other and start trusting each other, see each other as as real humans, as opposed to just, you know, pictures on a screen. And I found no substitute for that to date.

Unknown Speaker 15:48
Yeah, I think that that’s a I think that that is a cool, and what I imagined will be really a successful substitute or replacement for

Unknown Speaker 16:00
or solution to creating community and feeling like Like, like, like, you’re part of something so. And now that travel is, again, becoming something that’s that that that’s that’s a real thing, we’re able to do that. What are some of the other key things that that you’re working on, that you think makes remote work successful? I think one thing is you need to change your interviewing and hiring practices to actually screen for people who want to work and can be successful at working in that environment.

Unknown Speaker 16:35
Oftentimes, there’s some set of people who want to actually work in an office or want to be able to go into an office two or three times a week. And the thing that I’ve learned is if you try to get those people and oftentimes these are like extroverts who don’t want to sit in, like, you know, their own office and want to have like much more regular social interaction, or could be like people who have a lot of learning to do and want to be in a more apprenticeship model, the thing that I’ve learned is that it’s important to be upfront with people about that in the interview process, because it’s, you know, look,

Unknown Speaker 17:09
when you have a pool of candidates that’s like, 50x, bigger than what you used to have before, you can find people that are the exact right cultural fit, who have the skills that you need. So I think that’s one. The second is that, you need to look for people who can communicate effectively over this medium. And that typically means having Outstanding Writing skills.

Unknown Speaker 17:30
That’s really big. So one of the things we do tremendous, for example, is every single hire for regardless of what role it is, the interview process includes something that actually has you put together a document, or you know, some sort of writing sample to get a sense of how effective will you be over this new medium?

Unknown Speaker 17:49
Love it. I think that that makes a ton of sense.

Unknown Speaker 17:52
All right, give us give us some of the use cases and why people are are coming to tremendous as customers and clients, for sure, I’ll walk you through it. So tremendous is a payouts platform. This means we help organizations issue payouts to people around the world. Now let’s say that you are a user researcher at Google, and you’re building the next version of Google search. And in order to do that, you have to have conversations with people all over the world to understand what they need out of a searchable

Unknown Speaker 18:26
thing is in order to have those conversations, these people are providing input and time and you need to compensate them for for this time somehow. The issue is that all of these people might be in different places in the world, they all want to get paid in different ways. Plus payments is a regulated space, you can’t just use your payroll provider like it’s it gets complicated. And that’s where tremendous comes in. We’re able to solve this problem for Google by connecting all of the different payout methods that these people may need. Ach Venmo gift cards, prepaid cards, and our software handles the money movement, compliance, regulatory and reporting parts of the problem. So if you are trying to do user research, all you have to do is upload a list of emails and amounts and tremendous takes care of the rest. And that’s why Google’s user research team with I think, like 5000 or so other organizations use tremendous love it. Beautiful. Couple, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage with you and how can they learn engage with tremendous,

Unknown Speaker 19:28
tremendous is that And it is free for anyone to sign up and try so I encourage people to it’s used for all sorts of use cases beyond research. You know, marketers, salespeople HR people all use it. And for myself, I’m on Twitter as Capo que Pio

Unknown Speaker 19:50
Excellent. Have you enjoyed as much as I did so copy of your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to

Unknown Speaker 20:00
Did you get that URL just just bought it or did did you have to buy it from somebody else? Oh, long complicated story. Yeah, it took it took years. And then you got Kapil on Twitter as well. So you are you are killing that game for sure. I love it. So go to and check out the great resources follow Kapil on Twitter at KPIL. And

Unknown Speaker 20:27
see how you can enrich your work life experience and and to potentially switch and utilize some of the tools he’s been talking about into remote work and then how to send one off payments all over the world. Thanks again, Kapil. Thank you, and until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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