How an introverted CEO and his extroverted cofounder learned to communicate again after remote work forced them apart
- David Cancel, CEO of marketing software startup Drift, is an introvert. His cofounder and CTO Elias Torres is an outgoing extrovert.
- When the company of more than 400 went remote during the pandemic, Cancel was a natural while Torres suffered from the lack of in-person interactions.
- At times, their different communication styles created some tension, so Cancel started reading up on psychology and realized they were processing information in different ways.
- He created a method for more effective messaging, which led to a breakthrough in their relationship.
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When COVID-19 forced marketing software startup Drift to go fully remote in March, introverted CEO David Cancel found himself taking naturally to working from home.
"I joked at the beginning of the pandemic that I was born for this," Cancel told Business Insider.
His talkative cofounder and CTO Elias Torres was another story.
"Remote SUCKS," the extroverted Torres wrote in an October LinkedIn post. "There I said it. Communicating over text is NOT enough."
The cofounders told Business Insider that they previously found their personalities complementary, not clashing. But going remote has forced them to reevaluate how they communicate with each other and their company of over 400 employees.
The pair spoke with Business Insider to share what they've learned from months of remote work and years of working with each other.
Understand that people communicate differently
Learning what people really mean has been critical to Cancel's success as CEO.
As the company has grown, Cancel has placed increasing importance on understanding how people think to help keep operations running smoothly.
"My job is only psychology," Cancel said,
The first hurdle he overcame was learning how Torres' communication style differed from his own. As an introverted person, he tends to process things internally, while Torres likes to talk things out, going through what Cancel called "a full cycle of ideation in real time."
"He was more talking to himself than he was talking to me," Cancel said. "And that was frustrating for my personality type."
Cancel's breakthrough came when he took a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test. Although the evidence for these tests is shaky at best, it helped him realize that people communicate in profoundly different ways, which he would need to understand if he wanted to get along with his cofounder and employees.
Cancel started reading up on sports psychology and social psychology. In particular he recommends Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini and Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.
"If I didn't understand type, if I didn't put in that work before, I think we would still have that tension," Cancel told Business Insider.
Plaster over the cracks in remote communication
With the move from Drift's offices in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston to his home, Torres found himself out of sync with Cancel. Conversing with his cofounder had once been as simple as walking over to him. Now he found himself disconnected, relying on messaging apps to keep tabs.
His biggest stumbling block as an extrovert was learning how to rely on what he calls "asynchronous communication," forms of messaging like texts and email that are less instantaneous than a face-to-face conversation.
Messaging tested his comprehension and his patience. He realized he tended to read things into text messages that weren't really there, like tone, and that he had a low tolerance for waiting for a response.
To replace the full range of communication he lost with in-person conversations, Torres started using voice memos and videos. To make sure they're effective, Torres says he frequently slows down and forces himself to think about what he's saying, something that doesn't come naturally to him.
"It's been a major transformation, I would say from the extrovert side to how to work remotely and communicate effectively," Torres said.
Find safe ways to meet
All the video messages in the world won't change the fact that Torres is built to be social. So he started taking weekly in-person meetings with Cancel.
"I either go down towards his place, and we have coffee and go for a walk or he comes towards my place, and we have lunch," Torres said.
Meeting in person helps maintain the social bond that Torres said he needs to work with Cancel. And the preciousness of the face-to-face time has made him a better communicator.
"It's probably better than it was sometimes before," Torres said. "He's taught me to focus on what we're talking about and what we're trying to get done at the moment."
They've adopted the policy for the company at large, holding safe gatherings in public places and inviting individual employees to their houses for dinner. They recently held a product launch in the evening in a public park.
"It was a much needed time for the people," Cancel said. "And we were able to recreate that water cooler effect, talk about different subjects, ideas, and we came up with plans."
But as much as these methods have helped, Torres doesn't see remote work as something that's eternally sustainable.
"There's a lot of advantages to to the remote work," Torres said, " but you cannot never talk to any other person again."
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