a+synchronous. the best of both worlds w/Rapha Allstadt, CEO & Co-founder @ TLDV

How teams can combine async & sync communications as a first step to moving towards asynchronous first



5/18/202122 min read

Here's the recap...In today's episode, we chatted with a good friend of mine, Rapha Allstadt, CEO & Co-founder @ TLDV. We spoke about his experience building a remote-first startup from scratch using async first. We also spoke about when companies should be using synchronous communication. Finally, how TLDV helps merge async & sync together harmoniously. Giving teams the opportunity to test async before fully committing to it.

This is Part Two of our series on async communication. For part one click here & part three here & part four here.

Related References

Rapha on Linkedin

Rapha on Twitter


Take baby steps vs jumping right into async communication - the backend

TLDV is a fantastic tool that lets you test out the waters of async communication before fully committing. It also helps implement the processes to make async successful. TLDV allows you to share recordings of synchronous meetings, highlight topics, and @ mention specific people as the topic becomes most relevant to them. This helps prevent getting everyone in the meeting, and in many cases pulling people on during offline hours. It also helps those that couldn't attend focus specifically on what's relevant in the meeting to them. It also opens up the opportunity for collaborating post-meeting on specific relevant topics.

Take baby steps vs jumping right into async communication - the frontend

The most successful synchronous meetings come with a well-written agenda at least a few days early. Providing recipients deep content to why the meeting is being called, specific on what will be discussed, on how they are specifically needed/relevant. It also provides the recipients the ability to communicate pre-meeting about topics/agenda points. Whether to further clarify to ensure a seamless meeting or perhaps to provide/solve open items before the meeting even occurs. The detailed agenda and topics ahead of time ensure the time spent in a meeting is maximized.

Why go async from Day 1

I've personally changed my mind over the lifetime of Leading from Afar to fully believe companies can do async from launch. Meetings have always been a time suck and a complete waste to most participants. Yet, I felt at the early stage it was helpful to keep the ball rolling.

Yet, I've learned using long-form text and audio/video can provide the same value, if not more, asynchronously. The future of work is about deliverables+time frame. Thus deliverables will require very detailed specs and notes to ensure at the delivery time you receive what's needed. Time wasn't wasted due to confusion or lack of clarity. The same goes for communicating. Taking the time to thoughtfully craft a document can get a faster and better quality response than throwing people into meetings.

Scott: [00:00:00] Hey everybody. Thank you for tuning into today's episode of Leading from Afar. I'm Scott. Markovits, here with my co-host and co-pilot Tevi Hirschhorn. Tevi, how are you today?

Tevi: [00:00:11] I'm doing awesome, Scott, how are you?

Scott: [00:00:14] Doing well. Thank you again for the fantastic barbecue last week. It was definitely enjoyable and hope to do more of those again in the future.

Tevi: [00:00:24] Yeah. Excited to get the gang back together.

Scott: [00:00:27] So today we'll be going into our second episode in our series about asynchronous communication. What it is, why use it, and the tools to be successful at it.

And today we're very happy to be joined by a good friend, Rapha Allstadt, the CEO and co-founder of TLDV. Which Rapha I'm assuming is short for too long didn't video. Correct me if I'm wrong there.

Rapha: [00:00:50] Yeah, too long didn't view but we have this myth going on around, so it's always cool to keep the conversation going.

Scott: [00:00:55] For some reason that maybe it was just too obvious for me. I didn't think video or maybe the video format just gave me the V but fair enough. So Rapha is building a fantastic tool that I think really merges the two universes of synchronous and asynchronous communication together. And I think really giving the opportunity for teams to get a taste of async. Which will definitely help them potentially move there in the future.

So Rapha, usually the way we start off. Tell us a little bit about yourself and tell us the origin story of TLDV.

Rapha: [00:01:25] Yeah, thank you for having me. Very happy to be on the show. A big fan of the space and the people you have on the show, as well as yourself. So a very exciting opportunity for me as well. I born in Germany. The western part and it's a very engineering-heavy university culture.

So I actually went to study geophysics by nature. Which was kind of keeping me busy for a few years, but yeah. Essentially always had ideas kicking around video since 2016. Now with my co-founder Carlo, we were always fascinated by the medium. This was kind of how we started at first and social media actually. By its potential to reach everyone anywhere without being live at the same time with all the emotions. Which I think is a huge part of it.

So we started to look at the B2B space end of 2019. Because we were already working remotely as co-founders together. We found out that nobody's viewing meeting recordings, but they are insanely powerful. So we said, "Hey, we need to make a company out of that."

And we called it TLDV. Started kicking around with some first prototypes and then COVID hit. Raised some money with seed camp and also some other investors. Built the first team and started building the product. One year in now exciting what we've been experiencing so far.

Tevi: [00:02:36] Very cool. Can you tell us a little bit more about the product? It sounds interesting.

Rapha: [00:02:41] Sure. So the basic founding principle of the product is that it's integrated with the tools you're already using. So you can record meetings from Google Meet and Zoom automatically by adding TLDV on the calendar or directly during the meeting. And you can link your notes with timestamps during the recording. So that every time you're talking about a new discussion point, or you're making a conclusion, you can actually mark that moment. And for example, can feed that back into Slack. So that absent colleagues can not only watch what has been discussed but also the context around it. The emotions, the visuals.

So they have access to the moments that they care about instead of a one-hour meeting. So it's really the harmonization of life and async.

Tevi: [00:03:22] I love it. That's awesome. So from geophysics to. Better meetings. Give us a brief description of asynchronous communication. What are some ground rules?

Rapha: [00:03:33] Right. So I think one inspired me the most when started reading more about it and what I'm still believing in today is asynchronous communication. Basically, any form of communication where no immediate answer is required. For me, it's really, really powerful because it makes the message much stronger. Because you anticipate the review when you're writing it. It helps you to form a really clear message that you're sending to someone. That then is empowered to actually come back to this message and act on it whenever it is right for them.

Scott: [00:04:03] Interesting. One of the things we think about quite often, and we hear quite a bit is the, sometimes the misconception that people in companies will have of what async is, why use it. Is it totally offline, totally disconnected, and maybe discuss a few of the points of what companies and people are getting wrong about async communication?

Rapha: [00:04:24] Yeah. I think one danger is one might fall into a productivity trap. Setting it equal to not having meetings because meetings are more considered to be inefficient and then certain degrees.

And also to keep it very focused on the message and the context. Maybe at one point sacrificing a little bit what I call the soul around it, which is the emotion. So I feel that teams that adopt asynchronous technologies, should be aware that it's the basic principles. So it should be async first. However, there will still be inefficiencies and there are still a lot of things that can be actually discussed with the rich medium. Such as live meetings. It's just a balance that needs to be found, and that should lean to async as opposed to being fully async.

Tevi: [00:05:05] So very cool. When should somebody use async versus synchronous? I'm sure there's a lot of confusion out there. Async is very new for a lot of companies as it is. So how do you choose when to go sync versus async. Maybe within the same company. Maybe it's not a question of the culture of the company, but more of at what point should a person go for a live meeting? Face-to-face versus async.

Rapha: [00:05:27] Yeah, I love that question. I read it the other day on the Doist blog where they mentioned some great inspirations for us. I think generally async should form the baseline of anything. So like every meeting should have a clear agenda, clear anticipated discussion points. Make sure everyone has the time to really read and digest and even already ask maybe one layer of async questions for clarification.

But when this kind of groundwork is done, then I think meetings are insanely useful whenever it comes to starting a new project. Because you might be working with people that are completely different from yourself. Come from different cultures. I think async is the brain of the project but live is the heart and soul of it. You need this emotional cohesion layer for a new project at forums to really be successful. And then I think during the projects, I think a good rule of thumb would be maybe if one to two to three async back and forth can't resolve the issue. I just had it last week. We had a back and forth on the project and then we went on a meeting and 10 minutes in I was like, "Oh, now I finally get it." It was so powerful, not only for me but also for the recipient that heard me getting it. Which was an insane moment.

So whenever there is something to be clarified or not clear, I would say is definitely whenever there is a decision that is important. So I have that often when I want to reason this deeper and emotionally connect with the team.

So this would be like three incidences. Did I miss anyone that you have in mind that is very strong right now? Super curious to hear your perspective.

Tevi: [00:07:00] I would say that when it comes down to actual culture and team bonding, it's hard to get that from async. So then live is important. So even if it's a coffee meeting or a team event, then you would definitely want to be synchronous. I think that it's easy to solve problems in async. It might take a little bit longer at times, but to actually create that connection, that human connection has to come live.

What do you think Scott?

Scott: [00:07:29] Yeah, I agree with that. I think the only two cases I've said in quite a few of these episodes, I'm a passionate hater of meetings and I think meetings, in general, should die. The synchronous ones are really around team building. Getting the team together to have fun. That's nothing to do with work.

And the second case is that one-on-one feedback. Whether it's positive feedback or constructive feedback. Those two things you need to be doing synchronous, in real-time. But outside of that, it's moving, I think towards asynchronous. Maybe try to combine a couple of points that we spoke about.

When you mentioned before from the Doist blog. Tomorrow we'll be publishing an episode with Amir, kicking off this series on async. A great way for teams who were maybe thinking about it and wanting to put their toe in the water for asynchronous, there's something that you had mentioned comes to us from the Doist blog.

It's very detailed meeting agendas and having that discussion at least a few days ahead of time. To be able to get the conversation back and forth. I mentioned in that episode something that I've done in my career trying to avoid meetings. It's @ mentioning somebody. Saying, "Okay, Rapha, I need you to approve this. Tevi I need you to assign at." Knowing that you or Tevi or whoever doesn't want to sit in a 30 or 60-minute meeting for two minutes of something that's relevant to you. You'll see your name mentioned out there and saying, "Okay, here's the action item that I need to do to hand over. So in theory, if I can do that now I can give the approval or give the assign the person needs to be involved, that means I probably don't need to be engaged in that meeting." And historically for me, it's solved out at least 50% of the meetings or more that I've ever had to organize

I think that's a great opportunity to be able to put these very detailed meeting agendas ahead of time. At least a few days ahead of time for people to have that initial conversation and try to flesh out most of what will be discussed in the conversation. At the synchronous meeting.

And then using a tool like TLDV on the back end of it. Being able to record it and being able to timestamp it, being able to @ mention people. If Tevi's offline, Tevi doesn't need to watch the entire video. Meeting point 14 minutes and 13 seconds, something comes up with Tevi @ mentioning him. So he just needs to focus on that one specific thing that's relevant to him.

That's the beautiful thing that teams can start maybe dipping their toe in there. Of these more detailed meeting agendas then using tools like TLDV may not necessarily jump into the deep end of asynchronous, but at least getting there in stages. Having the tools and the right processes to be able to do it, especially do it successfully.

Tevi: [00:09:47] Yeah. I loved your point about having a layer of async first. Where the meeting itself can be focused on achieving that shared understanding and coming together. We don't only just have a meeting and then everyone gets there and then discusses things that they could have already learned about earlier. I think a layer of async is great to have everyone at a certain baseline before you can act live.

Rapha: [00:10:10] I think it's really empowering because you really feel that meetings can slip away from you. You know? Like you come prepared and then somebody asks a question and you're like, "Oh my God, I need to go three steps back now." This feeling is the worst feeling in the world when the meeting is like slipping away. So I think async first should be the base. And for any company, I believe it will become more and more popular with time.

Now that we've all been in the remote first world increasingly we'll gravitate towards it as a society. I think that this is a very healthy baseline in general for businesses and anything we can do beyond. I think then it gets to the point where it becomes really addictive. Because the moment where you feel anything I have is accessible to me, it's well documented and it's widely spreadable as well. This moment is when your business starts unlocking efficiencies at scale.

Scott: [00:10:56] So I'm going to try to play devil's advocate on this question. I'm going to put it first to Rapha and then maybe Tevi if you want to chime in afterward. But for Rapha. Your team at TLDV is still pretty small. I believe roughly about 15 people if I'm not mistaken. I believe almost all of those people are also in EMEA.

So if 80, 90% of your team are all in the same time zone, why not use synchronous communication? You're not pulling someone often at nighttime. Someone doesn't have to stay late or come in early. What is the emphasis of being specifically this stage being asynchronous and not saying, "Okay, we're all in the same time zone. We're all around working now anyway, let's just get everyone together and do a synchronous meeting."

Rapha: [00:11:36] I love that. We're very focused around the EMEA region. We have one person in Australia though, which is really rocking the boat in terms the synchronicity. First of all, I think any business should start the culture and the processes focused around async first. No matter if they're sitting in the same office. Because if you're hungry and you want to grow beyond that, and you want to globalize your service and offering, you will eventually at one point get into this situation. So this would be a very technical answer, but my even stronger point would be that I think async, it's what is required for time zone differences. But speaking the other way around, I think that shouldn't be the only reason that is by far not the only benefit. I think that the benefits for any business of async communication, as I mentioned, better preparation for meetings, more empowered workforce is definitely outweighing only the benefits for timezone accessibility.

Tevi: [00:12:26] Yeah, totally to chime in there. The flexibility you get with async and the creativity you get and how everybody can work on their own schedule. Then it's not that you can't get everyone in the room at the same time. It's that, why should you even try? Let people work the way they want to work?

And we could all work together that way.

Scott: [00:12:47] One of the things that I love about doing the show is the opportunity to learn and to be able to grow myself. And I know we kind of touched this topic in one of the early episodes. And I had mentioned the founding story of InVision. We had a group on the East Coast, New York. And we had some people on the West coast and one person that moved to Scotland.

But everyone at that time worked in New York schedule. So I know Tevi and I had a little bit of a back and forth about the life cycle of the company. I think that's one of the questions that we posed in the previous episode. Is maybe it is a certain size or scale of the company maybe makes sense to go synchronous first.

And then as you grow and then people move out to different regions, then you hire all over the world and moving into that. The thing that I appreciate most across all the episodes, even outside of asynchronous is really that methodology of documentation. It's really putting a lot of focus on the written word and documenting whether it's processes or procedures or if you need something, this is my job. If you need to ask something about design, you talk to Tevi and if you have something about operations, it's this person. If I'm out, you can look at this document. It's relying very heavily on the written word. And that provides the value to get more context and be able to take it on your own time and have more detailed feedback.

But it also really sets that foundation for being asynchronous. The reason why you are doing synchronous is to be able to get all the information out there in one shot. To get all the answers, all the questions and things like that. But if you can rely more on that heavily documented, heavily written word, you have the opportunity to get the same thing there.

It's something that we've spoken about across episodes. Getting away from the Slack methodology of, "Hey Rapha, Hey Scott." "How are you doing? Great, how are you doing?" Getting away from that always-on kind of ping pong approach. Taking the time and the effort to get all my thoughts in there, revising and getting here's what I really want to say. Get it all as one document.

And having everyone have the opportunity to read it, to think about it, to take notes on it, and to be able to give a thoughtful and effective response to it. That would be in essence the same value that you'd be getting out of a synchronous meeting.

That's at least something that I've cherished out of doing these episodes. I was probably in that boat of saying, while you're still an early-stage company do synchronous. And once you've grown. Now you have people over the world, the time zone issue comes into play. And that becomes a cultural issue, a hiring issue, and things like that. Then at that point, fantastic moved async. But now, as I've had the opportunity to learn I certainly have changed my mind to go from the async model from day one. I think.

Rapha: [00:15:16] Yeah. And I think, especially in the early stage. There is the question of your team needs to bond and you need to create these very strong layers that can allow when you to scale fast. The culture being very ingrained in a few people that trust each other blindly to then enable this fast-growing nature. If you do it smartly and it's obviously the balance to strike, I don't see one or the other kind of contradicting each other. I think that anything professional should always be done async first. And then again, layer on top the whole element of emotional cohesion.

As you already mentioned, for example, personal one-on-one starting there. But also the whole kind of socializing aspect that should be always done live. And it's a very important piece that then forms part of this culture that allows you to actually have a solid foundation.

Tevi: [00:16:01] Yeah. To kind of tweak a little bit, one of the negatives of async. People wanting an answer now. I want to talk to you. I want to get an answer right now. I want to figure out what the story is. I don't want to wait for a response. So inherently there is a leg in async communication. How do you maintain momentum and keep moving forward and making sure you're hitting deadlines and schedules.

Rapha: [00:16:23] I love that question and I was thinking about it. For me, lag is almost a feature of the whole process for two reasons. Because the first one is, you start anticipating much more. "Okay, what is likely or what could be a likely question from that person?"

You start understanding who is your recipient and what are their questions? To anticipate what kind of back and forth could exist and how can I make this process faster? This is the first one. So your documentation would get clearer by default. And the other point, especially in product, but we have another recency bias involved as well.

This is so important right now. We need to get this done when you know that projects might take a while until they're picked up again by someone. You will understand that maybe the importance is in this in the next week and not as high as right now. So things start to level up a little bit, and it's kind of a good filter for them. Prioritize the business.

I think the other piece of it is that if you only have team members that are working on this one project, I think then you're doing something to be optimized. For now, for my team, it's actually a great empowerment. Because when they are waiting for something here, maybe to have time to think about how to approach this next, or they have a backlog item that still can be refined. So we all never run out of things to do when there is this lack. That actually, I think is very nice to the business itself.

Tevi: [00:17:36] Nice I realized while I was asking the question that it's probably a false flag. Because I was literally over the weekend trying to figure out how to get a bunch of people in a certain meeting this week and was afraid I'm gonna have to punt it another week because I couldn't get everyone on at the same time.

So the truth is it may even be faster to just start a conversation, async at times because you can't always get everyone in the same room at the same time. So it may not even be a reality to say that there's a lag with async.

Rapha: [00:18:07] On the other side, I do think it can be very convenient when the person, when you can just tap on the shoulder in the office, right. Then it can get really fast as well.

Tevi: [00:18:14] That unveils a whole bunch of other problems though. If I'm working, I don't want to be interrupted all the time and that's a problem within the office. A different conversation.

Rapha: [00:18:23] I remember in my previous company it was always so funny that many people wore big headphones. And it was like this do not disturb. The ultimate sign for don't tap me on the shoulder right now, I'm working. This was kind of their way of saying, "Hey, maybe you should do that async.

Scott: [00:18:37] I think that's come up in a previous episode as well. Maybe I've never been sensitive to that. One of the things around async, it kind of removes that person-to-person interaction and engagement between the team. So we'd love to hear what your team does and what recommendations you can give to other teams of things to do to ensure your team and their team can remain engaged and connected. And even if those meetings are no longer, face-to-face.

Rapha: [00:19:02] I think that obviously, we're still so early and when you got founded and hired during the pandemic. So there's one big element that I'm now saying that is important, that I've never actually done, which is meeting in person. We couldn't. So right now I'm speaking and have not met half the team in person ever.

So I base my answer on kind of this environment. I think the first one is. You don't need to be friends with everyone. It's not important that your culture just revolved around building a family. And everybody needs to be super connected. This can put a lot of pressure on people and remove the kind of organic and intrinsic way of bonding on their own terms. So I think that's important to realize that we are working together. We are very empowered in our independence in terms of working asynchronously.

Yet I think that it's very important in your communication, even if it's only text to already allow for some sort of joking. For some sort of Easter eggs that are hidden there. Maybe in your document, a meme or Gif, or just some personality is very important. And I think when leadership starts doing that, teams will also create very joyful Easter eggs in their communication. I think that's a nice cultural start of async communication. And then beyond that, we do random walkie-talkies. Where we match team members that go outside for a walk together, share a coffee. We play sometimes for example Counter-Strike with some members of the team as well or Fortnight. Whatever you want to play and can really bond you. Other nice games like chess. So we do all these activities, but I do think one big thing for us is definitely a team event missing. And we're really craving for that right now. We need to meet a person and we need to have a whole lot of fun for an entire week. And so far, we couldn't do that. Thanks to the pandemic, but hopefully soon.

Tevi: [00:20:43] Yeah. I think that meeting in person is hugely important. It's I think that what a lot of people get wrong about this async lifestyle is that they think, "How do you have a relationship if you're only async?" Everyone we've spoken to. I agree, Scott, I know also agrees that async communication is great, but you also need to have in-person communication to build those relationship foundations.

It's just that it doesn't have to be every meeting is in person and you could have 90% of your meetings async and maybe 10% in person or face-to-face. How does asynchronous communication or a TLDV and other async tools, how does that contribute to healthier communication?

Rapha: [00:21:24] I think it removes a lot of pressure from teams to get it right. Because I feel right now we're in this moment where some feel like, "Oh man, I'm doing too many live meetings." It's hard for a manager to decide, should it be only eight people now is to make it easier for two that shouldn't join? Or no, I'm going for fully async and cancel all the meetings from my calendar.

So TLDV is kind of your chill pill a little bit. It's like, "Hey, you can do this gradually. You know, don't worry." You can record your meetings. You can make them asynchronously accessible. And maybe out of 10, you can start with only five people and share it with the other five, you know?

So it really empowers at scale each organizer to move towards an asynchronous first kind of culture. And then it also helps to conserve all these amazing insights from these conversations and contextualize all the decisions. Because essentially right now, I think we're still in this problem that life and async are in silos still. It's very hard for us to get these to live together and they need to. To form a remote collaboration stack in the long run. And I think that what TLDV does, it's making your meeting notes really rich and with context while on the other side, removing the pressure, to join every meeting life.

Tevi: [00:22:31] I love it. That's great.

Scott: [00:22:33] Cool. So, kind of quick product question. I would love to know, perhaps if you can actually share, what is the most, requested feature that you've gotten that you simply won't do, and maybe give a sense of why.

Rapha: [00:22:47] I thought this question was so interesting and I actually thought a lot about it. There is obviously a bunch of feature requests that we currently don't do. They're very open about it to the requester. And we always mentioned the reason why. I think the biggest one because we're moving a little bit towards building more in public. I'm sharing a current thought that we're spending a lot of time on. I mentioned at the beginning, that one big goal for us is to harmonize the collaboration stack and amalgamate your live meeting providers. Google Meet and Zoom. But also your async collaboration tools such as Slack, such as Notion. And so a big product question that we have right now is around how much should we build collaboration features on TLDV itself. As of just focusing on just working very well with the best async tooling at large, such as Notion. So this is what we're thinking about a lot and evaluating each feature on. I think there will be a lot of cool updates coming out soon. Next time I come on I'll have a clear answer.

Tevi: [00:23:44] Love it. Last question for you. If a team was looking to switch over to async, what are some, the top three things they should consider? What are some tips you have?

Rapha: [00:23:53] I think the first one. If you will still have meetings that will go out of your hand and they will go crazy. Even though you go and you really become an advocate of async, there will be someone that probably hasn't once read the documentation, or even maybe yourself. You actually realize you're texting, Hey X, Y, Z. And you're like, "This is not async." But there will be exceptions to the rule and that's okay. We shouldn't be pressured to make it perfect from day one. The transition is gradual, and if you're going in this direction, that's the first important step to take. So no pressure around it.

And I think it's also very important to involve the entire team in this and highlight a lot. That it brings a lot of personal freedom to the employees, as opposed to seeing it as just a productivity increase. This is obviously very important both together, but the personal element and the cultural aspect should be very visible for the entire team.

Then I think, you know, just experiment a lot. Treat your culture and your communication processes as a product while you're doing that. In order to twist and tweak your documentation. I think these would be three tips to get started.

What would be yours? What would be your number one tip? Maybe Tevi.

Tevi: [00:24:59] I mean, you honestly said it. My first tip would be to do it gradually. Try to replace the pieces that are normally face-to-face one at a time. Until you're before you know it, your calendar is less busy and you have more flexibility in your schedule. That's I think the best tip I can give.

Scott: [00:25:18] Yeah, I'd agree with that. Even though I would like to say, just kill all meetings today and auto-reject everything. Go slow and start documenting. Start writing every person regardless of the team. Start putting insights, feedback, thoughts, whatever it may be. Practice writing and be able to shift the focus to that.

Gentlemen, any last questions? Any last thoughts? No. All right, so we'll call it an episode. Rapha thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. Thoughts, insights around TLDV and how you're trying to help companies take that first small step from synchronous, moving towards asynchronous. And being able to merge those two worlds together. And giving us the sense of yes, even a small company with less than 20 employees, that's split mostly in one region, but has people on the other side of the world can do asynchronous from day one and it can be successful. And it can work.

Now for all those teams that are that size or founders that are looking to launch a company now we're thinking, "Can I go asynchronous from day one?" You obviously can. So again, gentlemen, thank you so much for all the conversation, and until next time, have a great day everybody.

Rapha: [00:26:29] Thank you so much for having me have a great day as well.