Comment: Co-founders across countries

Mimi Gray explains how asynchronous working – where her and her remote team work to independent schedules – has been a benefit to her business.

Mimi Gray is the co-founder of online art store Darklight Art.

The last time I saw my business partner, Sarah, was in 2019, when I traveled from Amsterdam to visit her in London, where she lives. We were sitting in a bar, coming up with the idea for our new company. I haven't seen her in person since. 

Blissfully unaware of what was around the corner in 2020, I went back to Amsterdam and we started planning our launch remotely. In our business plan, we budgeted for traveling by train to see each other every month. We felt it was essential to be in the same room to keep things moving in the right direction. 

We're now approaching the one-year anniversary of the launch of Darklight Art, our online space selling affordable prints; and it's been two years since we thought up the idea over beers in London. We have successfully survived the pandemic without seeing each other once. I'm dying to have another drink with Sarah, sure, but it's worked out well. We even communicate better than if we were seeing each other regularly. 

We have had to come up with our own way of working remotely. We have a call at 9.30am every day to discuss the previous evening's events and our emotional states – yes, it's been a rough year – and then we run through our shared to-do list for the day.

We are very close friends and have known each other for years – sit us in a room together and we could chat about life, love and art all day. But when we're on a call, we're more efficient with our time. In a way, being apart has de-intensified the early days of starting a business. We each have room to breathe and think separately about how to approach difficult situations. 

I'm a night owl, while Sarah works best in the early mornings. Because we have no strict office hours, we're free to work at the times that best suit us and our creative styles; we tag-team in the middle of the day. Trust is such a massive part of running a successful business remotely. We don't mind if the other needs the afternoon off, as long as the work gets done. 

We make sure that we schedule regular check-ins about the bigger picture: how we're finding work, what we're enjoying and what we're not. These are the kinds of conversations that would probably crop up naturally if we were in the same room. 

We have the benefits of two great cities inspiring us every day – different galleries, lifestyles and working cultures. It keeps our conversations and ideas fresh. Being in two cities also means that we double our networks. In practical terms, it also means that we cast a wider net when looking at suppliers and comparing costs. We have better insights into consumer behaviors, too.

It all goes to prove that businesses can operate this way. Why be restricted geographically? After all, it's the idea and the people behind the brand that really make a business something unique. The distance is a small hurdle to overcome, but it can also give you an edge over your competitors.

This article was first published in Courier issue 44, December 2021/January 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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