The future of supporting diverse founders with Jinny Oh
Tammy Bjelland, Founder and CEO of Workplaceless, talks with Jinny Oh, Founder of WANDR Studio, an award-winning product strategy and UX design firm who’s “sacrifice as a founder” LinkedIn post reached over 20 million views. The two discuss what the ideal future of supporting diverse founders looks like and how to get there.
Tammy: Hi, I’m Tammy Bjelland, founder and CEO of Workplaceless. And you’re tuned into Pass The Mic by the Rosie Report Podcast. In each episode, the guest from last week, me, talks to another rebel for good. Change makers who bravely opted out of traditional employment and turn their life’s work towards a mission that is also changing the paradigm of work.
Last week, I talked to Lorraine Charles about the future of remote work. And this week I’m excited to chat with Jinny Oh founder of WANDR, an award winning product strategy and UX design firm. Famously Jinny’s LinkedIn post, Sacrifice As A Founder reached over 20 million views. Welcome to the Rosie Report Podcast. Jinny, let’s just dive into the first question. How would you best describe what you do?
Jinny: Sure. So I would say that my job pretty much changes every day, but at Wandr, we consult our clients on product strategy and user experience design. And our mission at Wandr is to build great experiences, meaning we want to build great user experiences for our clients’ customers that are as beautiful and easy to use as consumer mobile applications, but also building great experiences beyond software.
We want to create opportunities for our team to build great life experiences as well. So this is kind of why we chose to scale remotely, even before COVID happened. To us being remote it’s completely rooted in our culture and foundation because we want our team to explore and gain as many unique experiences as possible. Yeah. This is how creativity flows into the work that you do.
Tammy: Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned that you were doing this well before the pandemic, so you were doing all of this before 2020. So your choice to be remote happened well before everybody else saw what was happening. So what did you see that others couldn’t?
Jinny: Yeah, I could not have predicted the pandemic. I’ll tell you that. But being global has always been a big part of who I am as an individual. I grew up having moved to different cities and countries all throughout my life. I’m actually in the process of getting my third citizenship at the moment. So it was really important to me that this value of being a global individual permeates through our organization and that being part of our company’s DNA.
So I always knew that we wanted to grow as a remote company from day one. We wanted to be inclusive of unique individuals who may not be within a 10 mile radius of Los Angeles. We wanted the best talent from around the world, regardless of who they are. And this could be we have mom and dads who work around baby schedules or we have digital nomads who choose to live on the road. So we want it to be very inclusive of those unique individuals.
Tammy: And can you tell me a little bit about where you’re at right now? So you mentioned your desire to scale and you wanted to do that remotely. What’s the size of your workforce right now?
Jinny: So right now we’re still under 30 people. We’re steadily growing. We had a little bit of a halt in our roadmap back in March and April, but we’re back on track to scale this year.
Tammy: That’s really exciting to hear. And so you mentioned you have a staff of under 30 people, but you’re growing. You really want to make sure that your company and its workforce reflects that goal of being global and delivering excellent experiences to all sorts of individuals and audiences.
I’m curious what kind of processes have you developed in your organization that support those individuals that you just mentioned, like being really inclusive? What are some of the practices that you have in place to make sure that your organization is inclusive?
Jinny: Oh, man, we have had to build so many processes, broke those processes and then had to rebuild them again over the last few years. I’ll give you a very specific example. So we used to time track all of our team members and this was a way for us to manage different time zones, understand data behind the different employees. And then we got rid of our time-tracking because we want it to be results driven, not output driven, not hourly output driven.
And it’s funny enough as we’re scaling again, we see the importance of time-tracking. So I think it just really depends on the type of company or what stage of the company you’re at. For us, we swore off time-tracking and we’re reintroducing it into our organization. So never say never.
Tammy: Yeah. Well, and it’s really interesting I think just that example that you gave how cyclical sometimes business can be. And you really do have to take into account the current context that you’re in and your priorities and make decisions according to that context, as opposed to giving one blanket statement and hoping that it’s going to apply to you forever and ever.
Jinny: Definitely. And the second thing that I think is really key to remote organization is communication. Again, keeping in mind that you have different time zones, different culture, a different way of working. And so we have a mix of communication style within our organization. And one thing that I’m sure a lot of people are now starting to learn about is asynchronous communication. Meaning you’re not in real time when you’re talking to somebody. So this means if someone in Europe is logging off for the day, they might have to communicate with someone who’s just starting to log in for the day. So it’s important to provide as much context as possible to someone that you’re trying to communicate with and being super clear, try to communicate and being succinct, but also providing all the information that you need to for the next person.
Yeah, really important points. When we work with companies that are trying to go remote, we really emphasize the importance of an asynchronous culture and not relying solely on those shared moments of time in order to deliver decisions, ideas, news, anything. So that definitely tracks with my own experience.
Jinny: It gets exhausting when you have to be on Zoom all the time. And I think a lot of managers are starting to learn now that it’s not the most efficient way to communicate to have everybody on meetings all day long.
Tammy: Yeah. And to your point earlier about being inclusive, that is not a practice that is inclusive in the long run because you’re inevitably going to leave people out of those synchronous discussions.
Jinny: Exactly, exactly.
Tammy: And so was there a defining moment that you knew that you had to take action and form Wandr?
Jinny: Every day. Honestly, I would say that every quarter there are different defining moments that completely reshape the culture of our organization. When COVID hit, there were a lot of uncertainties, but luckily, because we were always remote, there wasn’t anything that completely shook up our business. What is really important to us now though is realizing how COVID has affected our employees on a personal level.
Like I said, work-wise, we had a little bit of a dip in our sales, but it’s business as usual. On a personal side, I do see morales have changed. People aren’t as happy and perky and energized as they used to be. Everyone has been working from home for the past six, seven months now.
And these are people that we have always encouraged to get out to the world and travel. You work remotely because we want you to travel. And now that they can’t do that, we’re seeing that it’s being affected by their mental health and their personal relationships.
Tammy: Yeah. And that is definitely something that needs to be addressed. Because if employees aren’t happy and they don’t have the energy or they’re just not able to do the things that they were able to do then that has a ripple effect on everyone. And so what are some of the things that you as a team are doing to support your employees?
Jinny: Yeah. So today, funny enough, we actually had our team culture meeting to talk about well, what kind of activities do you guys want to see moving forward? What’s going to help you bring out the best work and be the best person that you can be because we’re not going to be able to host retreats for at least the near future. And one of the ideas that someone brought up is it’s just important to provide a space for us to be open and talk about our mental health.
For example, next month, why don’t we all download Calm or Headspace, use it for every day of the month and then share our experiences and what that was like with the rest of the team. So little activities that are focused around mental health and people were very receptive about sharing what’s going on in their personal life. I think it was just a matter of giving them that space, giving them that safe, open space to bring up those ideas and be able to talk about them.
Tammy: Yeah. And also just with you as a founder being open and vulnerable and identifying mental health as a priority, I think that gives a lot of people permission or feeling like they can talk about it and it’s clearly a priority for you. And so it can still be a priority for them.
Jinny: Definitely. Yeah. I feel like I’m on this personal mission to bring more awareness about mental health, especially in workplaces because I deal with it on my own as well. I’ve been battling through depression most of my life. And I feel that a lot of employers and employees don’t necessarily talk about this topic of mental health as it’s very sensitive or if they do talk about it, maybe they don’t know what to do about it afterwards.
So I’ve been very vocal over the past year about the importance of being vulnerable and having those safe, open space to talk about mental health. Like I said, I’ve been there, I still fight through my own mental health issues. And I can only hope that by sharing these stories, I can help others to be better equipped to deal with their own or to help their employees and their team members to get through it.
Tammy: Yeah. And so, in what you’ve just described, it sounds like you’re really putting a lot of emphasis in your internal operations and in supporting your own team members. I’m curious if that mission to support mental health or bring attention to mental health is expanded in your overall mission in what Wandr does. Has that had any impact on your decisions or strategies?
Jinny: So, if I can rephrase your question, has my personal mission about bringing awareness to mental health, has that affected Wandr as a business?
Jinny: Tammy, honestly, I wish it had a direct effect. I really do, but if I had to be completely honest, I would say that at the moment they’re very separate. There’s only so much that you can do as a founder that’s dealing with her own mental issues. So right now I’m very much focused on trying to be a healthy founder, a healthy founder for my team and my clients.
But otherwise it’s hard because we’re building software. It’s very different than bringing mental health awareness. We do however have two clients in the past that are building applications. So we did build designs for mental health applications. It’s somewhere between like a meditation app and a depression coping application. That’s the best way I can describe it.
Tammy: Very cool. Yeah. I was just curious whether that personal mission had carried over into anything else, but it does sound like it’s something that you use as a lens for just your experience in general.
Jinny: That’s a beautiful way to put it. Thank you. Yeah, that was a great summary of what I … Yeah. That’s it.
Tammy: Awesome. Well, and so much has changed in 2020. You’ve already talked about the impact that you’ve seen on your team members and that it’s a dramatic impact. What else do you see now that you didn’t see before?
Jinny: Yeah, I guess just putting more importance back to talking about employee wellbeing. I think that was something that you really don’t see until you shine light on it. So we always thought by providing this lifestyle of being able to work remotely for employees was enough.
And I thought providing the right benefits to our employees was enough. And so this year it’s really shined light that people just want to be heard and people want to provide value to the company in different ways. I’m being very vague right now.
Tammy: No. I think you’re really touching on some really important aspects. I think it is really hard to quantify the impact of a good employee experience. But what you’re saying is that when there are factors that are contributing to a negative employee experience that could be not related to the actual business, but just external factors.
That does become quantifiable or becomes identifiable. And I think that is a really important lesson for founders in that maybe we shouldn’t wait until a pandemic to really understand what it is our employees are looking for.
Jinny: Exactly. You’re very good at this. I should be interviewing you Tammy.
Tammy: Well, I’m really just intrigued by all of your answers. And I also have struggled with anxiety particularly. And so just you talking about the importance of supporting the whole employee experience and the whole employee. That’s all resonating a lot with my personal experience as a human being, but also as a founder who struggles with anxiety.
So I’m curious, you mentioned right at the start how important it was for you to travel and for you to be a global citizen and also for your team members to be able to travel. I’m curious about how you are handling all the restrictions on traveling and not being able to fill that void.
Oh yeah. I went from being a full nomad, no home base, having a remote company to being stationed in LA and not to mention, I went to the extreme side of quarantine. So I didn’t see anybody. I had all my food delivered. I was in complete isolation for at least five months straight. And I’m just starting to kind of peel out of that and start my social life again.
But in terms of how that’s affecting our company and where we want to go for the future, it’s still rooted with who we are. For now we’re just seeing it as a pause and let’s all focus on being a local. Let’s focus on being as healthy as we can be. And then we can resume back to how life was before COVID and that’s all I can hope for at the moment.
Tammy: Yeah. Is there anything that you’ve been doing in quarantine to sort of help you fill that void or meet that need? What have you been doing to keep your mind occupied?
Jinny: Yeah. Oh my God. I’ve learned so many new hobbies since quarantine. So I’ve been in and out of LA for the last five years and I’m discovering so many new hikes and so many new neighborhoods here that I’ve never even known about before. So it’s just like exploring locally. Cooking. Cooking has been big and just fitness. I’ve honestly just been so focused on my own health body, mind, soul, everything over the last six, seven months.
And I can’t even believe the amount of growth that I’ve been able to experience in that time period by just focusing on like things that I’m consuming, both food, content, things that I’m occupying my mind about. So that’s why I’m preaching about health so much this year, because it’s been a big game changer for me.
Tammy: Yeah. And so do you think that that’s critical as an employee and also a founder?
Jinny: Of course. Yeah. For me to be the best founder and leader that I can be, I have to be the healthiest person that I can be and same with my employees. I expect them to take care of themselves both mentally, physically, spiritually, as much as possible.
Tammy: All right. So Jinny final question. I’m curious about what you think is in store for you and Wandr in 2021?
Jinny: Yeah. I don’t think I’m going to be traveling anytime soon in 2021, but I’m super excited about just continuing the mission that I’m on. Right now, it’s small. It’s just talking openly to my team. It’s talking openly on social media about the importance of mental health and bringing that conversation into workplaces, but otherwise it’s continuing to grow Wandr and that’s about it. Just one step at a time.
Tammy: Yeah. Excellent. Well, thank you so much for talking with me about your journey. If others want to find your work and be able to follow your journey online, where can people find you?
Jinny: Yeah, I’m on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter under Jinny Oh with an extra H.
Tammy: Excellent. All right. That’s it for this week’s episode of Pass The Mic by the Rosie Report. Tune in next week when Jinny talks to Brad Grossman, founder and CEO of consulting and publishing company Zeitguide. Until then, subscribe to The Rosie Report podcast on Spotify and Anchor and be sure to check out more stories on building a future of work for everyone by everyone at therosiereport.com.