Working Remotely: Hackquarters Way

Sabina Babayeva
5 min readApr 28, 2020

As Covid-19 is immensely impacting the planet we need to accept, that the virus is not just a health crisis anymore. It’s more crisis of economic and psychological subsequences touching all the people in all countries. But at the same time it’s a time of reshaping either small business and global macro-economic system. As any crisis we have faced before coronavirus, it’s not just vulnerability, but opportunity to get reed of useless products and features no one is using, and improve the performance.

As Hackquarters, our mission is supporting promising startups to succeed, connecting them with the innovative corporate companies. So, this is getting extreme importance now when opportunities are pushing for more technology adaptation in corporates; and acceleration, driven by productivity, especially when the physical or offline labor is unavailable.

1. Hackquarters Programs & Events Are Online Now

It was a little bit scary first to switch all the operations on the online and digital rails. But it’s possible. Yes, it’s real and it is working. We have started with ongoing programs, Sustainability Growth Program powered by HSBC is one of them. 5 social startups are on-boarded since February.

So, we started with the online training sessions; and mentorships, which went even more active and effective online than offline. Instead of max 1 offline mentorship session, startups started to get 2 or even 3 online sessions from the mentors. Of course, when nothing stops you in physical way why not to benefit from smart people who propose their help. We identify the need in special mentor according to the condition of the startups during our KPI tracking sessions; after which program coordinator matches you and introduces to specific mentor.

No difference in offline and online trainings; despite the fact that people are more eager to ask questions while online. Most of the training sessions were followed by Q&A session; after which startups request mentorship from the trainer. Of course, identifying current needs and responding to them is very crucial from the management point of view. You have to adjust your ongoing programs according to the needs and circumstances; understanding deep inside the status and problems of the startups. And voila; one example based on a ‘true story’; Evren Gulyasar, one of our trainers and mentors, after the training session on Transforming Sales and Communication Strategy during Covid-19 supported E-cording (startup in Batch 1 Sustainable Growth Program) to handle partnership with Intel and Dell for the social campaign during pandemia.

2. Hackquarters Team Working Remotely

Team is the biggest asset of every successful company. First week of quarantine was the most frustrating. Some of us were resting after the crazy work life; however, others started to feel depressed. Trying to understand when quarantine will come to end; and what is the statistics of the infected people; it didn’t take too long to understand that the crisis might take longer than 1 week. So, the show must go on!

Though we had weekly meetings before; for better coordination we decided to catch up everyday at noon. First, it’s easy to follow on daily tasks adopting agile standup practice. Second, you can feel the pulse of the team which makes easy to support and motivate guys immediately. People even started to communicate more. Besides daily video calls; we started to have weekly followups with separate teams for better planning. Goal achieved; people motivated; team communicated; job’s done.

As socializing and communicating with friends is the hardest part of quarantine (at least for me:); traditional lunches together was the most missing among our team. Having good wine, artisan bread with olive oil and balsamic became a sweet memory for all of us for the last 2 weeks. So, we decided to make face-2-face video calls with all the team members giving a chance of people to share everything openly. We are all coming from different backgrounds and our problems during the crisis might vary as well. Some of us might live alone and need a motivation; while others need financial guarantees. But what I noticed really, was despite the quarantine and worldwide pandemic, we are still united by common mission growing Hackquarters; love talking to each other; and working toghether.

3. Engaging Community

Hackquarters is not just startups and the team; but thousands of people who are touching the eco-system supporting the startup business. During last 4 years Hackquarters has touched hundreds of corporate companies all over the region, working with half of them. One project means working and coordinating with dozen of people within the teams and agencies. Most of the clients and stakeholders become trusted mentors after the programs; which is extremely important when it comes to specific sectors of economy like insurance, legal sector, healthcare, etc. In some cases this support, mentorship and partnership becomes irreplaceable. Want to thank all of the people I love!

At the moment our programs can propose 200+ active mentors from 30 countries. Coming together for the night e-coffee is a new normal for our international crew of rockstar mentors; people from Singapore to Canada; from Russia to Pakistan. Most of them are still supporting startups and SMEs online. As I’ve mentioned, number of mentorship sessions per week increased much. We even do not hesitate to go on with online mentorship wargames; critical sessions when 5 or 6 mentors are bombing startups; criticizing, but at the same time brainstorming for more result. Q&A Video Panels with few mentors on specific topic is new format which is extremely beneficial as well.

What founders are doing and need during pandemic, you might ask. Some of the startups see coronavirus as an opportunity and seeking for new sales channels, pivoting business models. While others are in need for good mentor advice more than ever before. Number of requests and introduction coming from startups and corporates increased. Corporate companies need startups to act immediately to reach new customers and support the current clients; while startups are asking for introductions over email with the current partners. Of course, during these hard times for all of us; you start to think twice about the value you can bring to people while giving advice.

4. What About Content?

As content is a king; all the companies and startups are trying to create something unique to match your value proposition. This is natural. Now it’s time to re-position; sometimes proposing something new; or analyzing what is the most precious value you own.

Content we present through the online programs is very unique; training materials are structured; and precisely selected trainers are very dedicated. All online sessions are designed for specific batch only; or program only; avoiding chaos. Invitations and registration is the major part of the game; as leads generated and collected during the online sessions are the key treasure. We are trying to follow up all the contacts in our CRM, sending program updates and summarizing content presented in mailings and newsletters.

In group video call and panels, it’s extremely important for a program coordinator always to create content and questions beforehand; brief the participants; and moderate the session flow. As the host knows the needs and challenges of the both sides; he/she is the best person to lead the talk and direct startups while the Q&A session. New condition require new rules!