[Interview] Deekron Krikorian Of MotionTraxx
Startup founder Deekron Krikorian of MotionTraxx, was able to pursue his dream of spending a summer abroad in Ibiza, enjoying the music and nightlife of one of the clubbing capitals of the world, while using technology, co-working and other tools to effectively managing his startup and ensuring it moves forward towards its goals while he was abroad. We ask him how he managed to do so – in fact his answers to our interview questions were written while on the island. Jealous much.
1. How did you come up with the idea to go to Ibiza and why? How long did you stay?
I fell in love with Ibiza when I first went there in 2008 with some friends from Madrid. I’m a huge lover of Techno and House, and it really has the best nightclubs and parties in the world for dance music. Yet, what surprised me were all the other amazing things Ibiza as an island has to offer, which you can take advantage of during the day. Things like hidden coves with breathtaking views, daily spiritual activities like mediation and yoga, and a mandatory ferry trip to the neighboring island, Formentera, renown for its raw island beauty.
I recently separated from my wife (over the Christmas 2104 holiday), went through a divorce this year and found myself suddenly single again. With the summer in front of me, I got the inspiration to spend the entire summer season in Ibiza. I figured that it would make a nice break from the intensity of my home town of NYC, and going for the entire summer would help me take full advantage of the amazing music out there, as well as provide a chance to hit the ‘refresh’ button my life.
I had to move a few small mountains to make it happen, but it’s been was totally worth it!
2. Tell us about your startup. What is it about?
Our NYC-based startup has developed a fitness app, called MotionTraxx that motivates you to push harder in the gym so you can be fit and feel great. It streams soundtracks that combine audio coaching from top trainers with music that’s synced to the workout. We say it’s like having a fitness class in your earbuds.
3. Who is on your team? How did they handle the news that you were going to Ibiza for the entire summer?
We’re a 3-person team and we work full time on MotionTraxx. My cofounder, Jason Keck, heads up our tech and runs everything related to our app. Production of audio content falls on my plate. We share marketing and management duties and also have an active Advisor, Andy Jackson, who is based in Denver and handles our Business Development.
I’m lucky that both Jason and Andy were very understanding about my plan to spend the summer in Ibiza. They had both been to Ibiza themselves (Jason actually met his wife there!) and Andy had also been through a divorce. They totally got it, and were very supportive. I thank my lucky stars for having partners that allow me the freedom to do things that are important for my life.
I sense that, often, startup teams can get too heads down and focused on their startup and lose sight of the things that matter personally. Business can do that. But by default, we’ve developed a culture of freedom and flexibility on our team. I think it really works well and it’s one of the things that motivate us to make Motion Traxx a success. That way, we can enjoy good quality of life and freedom while still having financial success. It’s the only way to fly.
4. How did you communicate with your team? How often? What technology/tools did you use?
With Andy in Denver, and Jason and I in New York (but only working out of our coworking space 2-3 days per week) we were already a mostly virtual team. So the transition for me being away didn’t change our flow as a team too much.
We use most of the common cloud-based tools such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Clear Slide and Asana. One great new tool that we added recently is Uberconference. As a distributed team, our 2X/week team calls were crucial and the free services like Google Hangouts, Skype and FreeConferenceCall.com seemed to always have some kind of call quality problem. We have to pay a small fee for Uberconferece but the quality and cool features have made it a great new tool in our toolbox.
The other thing that really helped was finding Coworking spaces here in Ibiza (I tried out two different ones, and settled on one – Cowork Ibiza – which as close to where I was living in Play d’em Bossa.
5. How did you make things work? How did you plan? How did you work out your schedule to be on the same time zones?
With me in Spain, we were spread across 3 time zones. Not to be cheeky, but going to party at nights actually helped us stay in sync. For example, I would often go to bed around 4am, which would only be 10pm in NYC. I’d wake up at 11am, which was 5am in NY. While I’d show up to the coworking space and start my day, around 2pm, it was 8am in NYC. So to keep ‘New York’ hours while in Ibiza helped us with the time zones and helped me get to enjoy the nightlife.
6. What did you accomplish? What were the results?
While my productivity in Ibiza fluctuated, depending on what friends were in town and which parties were happening that week (ha!), I don’t feel we missed too much of a beat. During the summer, we were able to move forward on some important items, including negotiating a partnership deal with Bowflex, producing 2 custom workouts for Shape Magazine, make progress on fundraising, launching our blog and kicking off the redesign of our app.
To give credit where credit is due, Jason worked his tail off during the summer to keep things humming along. He’s already the most productive person I’ve ever met, and he took things up a notch from there, moving at 100 MPH. I am indebted for the extra support he provided me while I was away. The lesson there is that you can benefit from having a great cofounder. He or she can be there to pick up the slack when you can’t.
What was the biggest challenge for your startup with you, the founder, being away all summer?
One challenge, that is endemic to all virtual teams, is that you don’t communicate as much as you would if you were in the same room. This can lead to breakdown and misunderstandings. I’ve found that the key to making a virtual team work, is to communicate as much as possible, and to be ready to listen with an open mind and open heart whenever a breakdown in communication causes upset with one of the team members. The upset MUST be resolved by phone or Skype, directly with the party involved. It will not work to try to do it over email or to speak to anyone other than the party that is upset. By maintaining this philosophy, I think we’ve done this fairly well and nipped problems in the bud pretty quickly.
Another challenge was the fluctuations in productivity. There were times where I was productive, while other times, I was less productive and was a bottleneck for my team or our freelancers from moving forward. There is no shortage of distractions here, but I did my best to maintain some kind of discipline and not let the party schedule slow things down for too long. Besides, at my age (I’m 43) the body just can’t go non-stop for too long like it used to, so that will force you to get back to business as well!
7. What were the lessons learned for your business? And personal life that can transfer professionally?
Professionally, taking this trip and still being able to keep the startup going, reminded me about the importance of having great people around you, and having a great culture at your startup, no matter how small it is. Flexibility and freedom for your team members matters, because it will give them balance and be happy, which will translate to performance while they are at work. Use all the virtual tools available to you in order to keep things going, and when there is a breakdown, resolve it by having a real conversation, directly with the person. Use phone or Skype. Email is not intended for important conversations and can lead to misunderstandings.
Personally, I was reminded about the value of staying inspired. I love dance music and being able to motivate people to workout and be healthy through music, was the reason I launched my start up in the first place. Along the way, the duties of a startup caused me to relate to music as a ‘to do’, that was part of our product. I rarely took time to enjoy the thing that inspired me in the first place. Being in Ibiza and taking in incredible music from the top DJs and artists in the world has helped me reconnect with the music again and to feel re-inspired and happy for why I do what I do.
8. What would you change?
Not much. If and when I do a trip like this again, I’ll probably get my own place instead of Airbnb it with housemates. I would probably also join a gym sooner (instead of waiting 2 months) so I can keep myself fit and strong and in a good mental state for the demands of the startup. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing. I feel super happy and very blessed for having had this opportunity.
9. Would you recommend this to other entrepreneurs, employers/employees?
On the one hand, I would say that anytime you have the opportunity to live abroad, you should absolutely go for it! It broadens your horizons, it forces you to get out of your comfort zone, to meet new people, to learn about new cultures and makes you a smarter and more culturally aware person.
I would only caution that there are a lot of things to consider, like where to live, how to get around, medical insurance, language barriers (luckily I speak Spanish), extra expense and the team-related and time zone challenges I covered above.
But the tools are definitely there to allow others to take a trip like this. If you have the inspiration, the technology is there to keep you connected to your team while you too, can take the trip of a lifetime!
Now if you’ll excuse me. Carl Cox is Djing at Space tonight and I have to get my party outfit on.
Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.