BeRemote LLC has developed tools and processes to help remote and hybrid teams drive innovation, engagement, alignment to company culture, and retention. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Chief Operations Officer Kevin Gardiner to learn more.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. Have you always been entrepreneurial?
KEVIN GARDINER: When I went to the University of Connecticut to get my Master of Business Administration, I wasn’t thinking about entrepreneurship. I started the program with the intention of leveraging my MBA to get into the music business, but my interests quickly shifted to biodiesel and alternative fuels. My second year in the program, I took an elective class where each student wrote a business plan, presented their idea, and could potentially win a prize at the Wolff New Venture Competition.
In that class, I wrote a plan for a biodiesel company. Fortunately for me, one of the three presentation judges was Kevin Bouley, CEO of Nerac, Inc. I won the first prize, and Kevin became a lifelong friend and mentor.
After I graduated, I was writing technology and business plans with a Connecticut-based consulting firm. Kevin contacted me to write a plan for a digital marketing firm that he ultimately invested in. Shortly after, he contacted me to write a business plan for a music collaboration website he was considering investing in. This time, I told him I didn’t want to get paid to write the plan, but I wanted to build and run the company.
I was CEO of Tune Rooms, Inc. for almost three years. We raised about $700,000 over two angel rounds, and had tens of thousands of musicians in 82 countries collaborating on the site. The combination of what I learned at UConn, meeting Kevin, and then getting to run Tune Rooms early in my career gave me the entrepreneurial bug. Once you get it, it never really goes away.
After Tune Rooms, I ended up working for GSI Commerce, which was big but still very entrepreneurial. I wanted to take on the most challenging work they could throw at me, and I ended up managing eCommerce operations for Toys’R’Us/Babies’R’Us.com. (GSI was acquired by eBay in 2011.)
As I navigated my career through GSI to Bloomingdale’s and to Macy’s, I looked at customer and client pain points through an entrepreneurial lens. I was always questioning: Why are we doing it this way? How can we do this better? You end up getting put on interesting projects when you’re inquisitive like that.
I was speaking at many conferences about the latest Omnichannel innovations, and I was contacted by the CEO of ChatID after they raised their Series B. They brought on a Head of Product from Apple and they wanted me to build the customer experience practice. It was the right time and opportunity for me to get back into the startup world, and I was able to move from Chicago back to Connecticut. The company grew tremendously before it was sold to Salsify.
NAN: How did you become involved with BeRemote?
KEVIN: I kept in touch with Kevin Bouley through all of my career moves, and when I returned to Connecticut, he brought me into the XcellR8 world. In spring 2021, Kevin shared a video of Vivek Nigam’s XcellR8 presentation and I asked for an introduction. The use cases weren’t fully formed, but the technology was great. I felt like Vivek and I could do something very big if we worked together. That was how it all started.
Vivek had bootstrapped and developed the BeRemote platform (ReTeam) with a small offshore team. It was originally designed for remote IT teams because he’s used to having a domestic team and an offshore team. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he realized the platform was going to be useful for much more than IT teams—nearly every office worker in the world had shifted to remote/hybrid work!
At the time that I had watched Vivek’s XcellR8 presentation, I was working crazy hours at a hedge fund. Once Vivek and I connected, we’d meet pre-dawn, late at night, or on weekends. As client interest picked up, it became clear that I needed to do more than moonlight with BeRemote, and I officially joined Vivek in October 2021.
NAN: Tell us a little about the business concept and what makes it innovative.
KEVIN: The pandemic accelerated many trends, including the widespread adoption of remote work. However, it’s not enough to simply “take your office online.” If you’re going to lead a truly successful digital transformation, you need to give your employees the right tools, systems, and processes to work in a digital, distributed, virtual environment.
Vivek developed BeRemote’s “ReTeam” platform through social science research, which intentionally builds engagement, respect, and trust on a professional team. The “secret sauce” is having our full suite of tools and processes all under one compatible roof.
Taking this a giant step further, we were accepted into the Microsoft Teams app store in September. This was huge because hundreds of thousands of companies use Microsoft Teams, but they typically only use it for video conferencing. We bring all our features and processes for driving team cohesion into a communication tool that so many companies already use. By adding the ReTeam App, it’s no longer just about video conferencing, but you can build team cohesion and trust and ideate asynchronously all within Microsoft Teams.
We’ve been talking with some of the biggest companies in Connecticut. Now that many have decided to be permanently remote or permanently hybrid, they have a huge need for our platform. They’re excited that they don’t need to add a new tool to their toolkit. While ReTeam can stand alone, we’ve designed it to make Microsoft Teams much more effective. It’s an intuitive platform, but we also embed our customer success team for two to three months to help our clients establish the new norms that are so desperately needed to work more effectively in a remote or hybrid model.
NAN: How has the platform evolved?
KEVIN: Vivek started developing the platform pre-pandemic, with the goal of driving team engagement on IT teams. We continue to iterate on the platform and feature set to maximize engagement, innovation, and retention for the large companies we’ve been working with, and we’re determined to help our clients not only get back to pre-pandemic levels of innovation, but to exceed their pre-pandemic levels of innovation.
With a startup, hard work is key, but most successful startups also catch a bit of luck along the way. For us, the timing was critical. Vivek had already developed the platform, and Kevin introduced us at just the right time. Now, we’re in a place where I feel like we’re firing on all cylinders, and it’s because we got off to such an early start—we built the foundation pre-pandemic without a crystal ball to tell us that the customer need would accelerate exponentially post-pandemic.
NAN: How has your connection with the entrepreneurial community here in Connecticut helped to foster and grow the business?
KEVIN: We raised some pre-seed money after I officially joined Vivek. In these early stages, it’s really your connections that help you land your first pilots. Once you start to convert pilot clients into paying customers, it becomes easier to raise money and to attract new clients. Kevin has been instrumental in both opening up his network to me and in tapping the XcellR8 network for additional introductions.
Also, one of our advisors, Lucy Gilson, who is a professor at the UConn School of Business, has studied virtual team dynamics for 19 years. She’s helped us with some of the design for measuring success metrics. We’ve seen the results with our early pilots, but having her help us craft new surveys and design the research provides validity to our findings.
Those early networks from UConn, XcellR8, and Kevin are so critical when you don’t have enough of a track record or enough money behind you to rise above the noise. You’ve got to rely on those early connections, and it’s worked out well for us to this point.
NAN: Any advice for others on their entrepreneurial journey?
KEVIN: My biggest advice is to be persistent. You’re not going to get things right the first time. You’ve got to constantly ideate, iterate, and adjust your plan and your message.
I officially came on board in October, but I began working with Vivek in late spring. We had some early investor meetings and prospective client calls that helped us figure out what was resonating and what was falling flat. We’re hitting all the marks now when we speak with investors and prospective clients, but that’s because we learned from the last four or five months and we were willing to make the necessary adjustments.
If we just kept giving the same presentation and kept telling ourselves: “Well, they just don’t get it” or “they were the wrong audience,” we wouldn’t have the traction we have now. With each meeting, whether someone says yes or no, you have to learn from it. Check your ego at the door and always be open to making adjustments.