Organizational challenges of running a fully remote company

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There are tons of remote companies, and the benefits are obvious. In fact, I’m enjoying them right now, typing away from a restaurant in the middle of a sunny park. But rarely do we hear about the obstacles.

Lots of these feel like “chicken or the egg” problems, so maybe our experience will help you at some point.

Prerequisites: it really helps to actually have a company, i.e. being properly incorporated. Here’s how we did it — a separate story with its own challenges. Long story short, we run a US company as citizens of Russia and Germany (admittedly, Claire is a US citizen, which helped a lot in the very beginning).

Mailing address

For incorporating, you need an address for your company, and it shouldn’t be your home address. There are registered agent services out there, who provide you with such an address for a small annual fee (we pay ours $49/year).

You’d think you would be done with the address, right? Yes, but no.

Registered agents can only collect a very tiny bit of legal mail for you. To receive a physical gift, a debit card, or a thank-you note, you’ll need to rent a mailbox. We went with a local provider via Anytime Mailbox, and there are tons of them out there. They will list your incoming items, and wait for instructions — open, scan, forward, discard, etc. 

To rent one, you’d need more paperwork (again). You’ll need to sign and notarize the 1583 form by the United States Postal Service, “Application for Delivery of Mail Through Agent.”

Both Benedikt and myself notarized our forms via NotaryCam by presenting the form (filled but not signed) and scans of two government-issued IDs. My second ID, including the mailing address, was entirely in Russian, but thankfully that wasn’t a problem — the notary instructed me to simply confirm that it matches the information in the form.

Phone number

Phone number is another “legacy” attribute that you’ll need more often than you think. None of us wanted to put our personal number on the line (and we absolutely should not), so we hired a dedicated service again. We went with CallHippo after some basic research. They record incoming voicemail as MP3 files and send them over to us.

Bank account

If you’re using a service like Stripe Atlas, then they smoothly open a bank account for you. We couldn’t use Stripe Atlas because of country limitations, and opening a bank account — without physically visiting the bank — turned out to be a challenge. Thankfully, we had Claire on the US soil who did it for us in Bank of America (not sure how we could’ve managed without her). Two years later, we’re relieved to migrate from Bank of America to Mercury. It’s a remote bank for startups, and they finally support international co-founders.

You’ll need a debit card to pay for services online. If you properly executed step one, then you can receive that card in your rented mailbox. Why not send it directly to your home address? Because Mercury doesn’t ship debit cards outside the US 🙂

Storing your credentials

Now you’re the proud owner of a mailing address, a phone number, a few debit cards, and a dozen “dedicated service” accounts (not to mention other services down the line). How do you handle all this?

As a team, we’re using a shared 1Password vault, and it makes our life much easier — both for everyday tasks and for potential “bus test” occasions. It’s even more important to think about your “bus test” if you’re a solo founder.

“Nah, I’ll take care of this later”

At the moment, you might think, “This is so much work, I’ll just use my personal information for now.” We don’t recommend this. Setting things up takes time, and it’s great to have everything in place should the need arise. Not to mention that exposing your personal data isn’t safe.

As they say, “you should hire an accountant and a lawyer before you need them.” But that’s a whole different story 🙂

— Regards, Jane.