Four bosses, four cities

How smart partners manage their long-distance relationship.

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(FSB Magazine) -- Lots of businesses allow employees to work from home and many rely on networks of virtual staffers. But what if the partners who own and run the business live in four different cities? Thanks to some smart technology, that's what's happening at Blastro Networks (blastro.com), an operator of several music video websites.

Rob Campanell founded the Austin-based company with three partners eight years ago. In 2002 he and co-founder Ben Davis announced that they needed to relocate to accommodate their wives' careers - Campanell to Washington, D.C., and Davis to Los Angeles. For three years Campanell, now 47, and Davis, 35, did things the hard way, communicating primarily through phone and e-mail, passing critical information in attached files. "There was no way to be sure that everyone was working with the same version of a shared document," says Campanell.

SHARE THE WEALTH In 2006 they started using Google Docs (docs.google.com) to work on shared files, instead of Microsoft Word and Excel. The system is web-based, which ensures that everyone is seeing the latest edition of a document. Blastro also uses Basecamp (basecamphq.com), an online collaboration system that allows staff to track the progress of tasks and projects. Using VoIP phones from DoubleHorn Communications (doublehorncommunications.com) for audio conferencing has lowered the phone bill. With the company functioning so well (revenues doubled last year, to $850,000), partner Casey Charvet, 28, decided to relocate to Galveston, leaving Fletcher Lee, 30, to hold down the Austin fort.

THE HUMAN FACTOR The founders also redefined their roles. Austin-based Lee took over HR duties. With Davis near Hollywood, it made sense for him to manage advertising and marketing, instead of focusing on design work. Campanell, Charvet, and Davis still miss the fun vibe of Blastro's loft office. But they get back to Austin about twice a year for two-day strategy and planning sessions.

REMOTE EDGE Working remotely may have made the partners work smarter, says Davis. He believes the virtual setup forces them to be more creative. "Group brainstorming is overrated," he says. "Better ideas are created when someone has to come up with the concept, flesh it out in a message, and then seeks feedback."  To top of page

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