Since the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more businesses have decided to implement a remote approach with their employees but GRV Media, the parent company of The Focus, has been operating entirely remotely for more than 20 years.
Vic Daniels, co-founder and Executive Chairman, spoke with Paul Fogarty at The Focus about how GRV Media was first founded as a remote company, several years before the internet truly became mainstream, and how the business has coped with the challenges that come with having its 100-plus employees and contributors work from home for well over two decades.
Why GRV Media was founded as a remote company
GRV was initially set up in 2002 with its flagship website, Here Is The City (HITC), which began life in financial news.
Over the years, HITC, as it became known, has evolved dramatically and now covers football news while GRV has expanded to encompass a library of over 50 websites and an AdTech business that covers a wealth of news verticals from entertainment and lifestyle to football coverage, as well as ventures into other sports, including F1, golf, tennis, wrestling, and UFC.
When asked why GRV Media was founded as a remote company, Daniels confirmed that there were two main reasons.
“Financially it makes sense,” he began. “Why would you go out and get locked into bricks and mortar, and all the costs associated with that – when there is no guarantee of success? Running an online business makes it a lot easier to grow from cashflow; that’s a smarter and less risky strategy.”
Traveling time to work was also an issue he wanted to solve. Daniels used to spend up to 15 hours a week just commuting to work – something that remote workers today highlight as one of the biggest reasons behind the switch to working from home.
“Before I co-founded GRV Media, I’d been working for probably 25 years and traveling on the tube to work each day,” Daniels said. “One of the jobs I had early on in my career, I had to get from East London to West London and, at the best of times, it was a three-hour journey.”
“I read a lot of books in the 18 months I did that journey but the reality is, it was a lot of wasted time,” he added.
“Today, I literally just come down 4 steps there, and I’m in the office basement,” he joked while pointing to the stairwell behind him.
The biggest challenges of running a remote business for over 20 years
Running any sort of business is a huge undertaking and recent years have presented challenges such as Brexit, a global pandemic, sky-high inflation and interest rates, a cost-of-living crisis and geo-political issues like Ukraine and Gaza. All these areas have had a massive impact on the global economy, and clearly, businesses have little to no control over them and find themselves fighting battles every day, constantly refocusing, pushing forward and adapting in order to survive.
But if you are a virtual company, you have other important day-to-day issues that need to face, especially if you are running a company like GRV which has people working in countries around the world – from the United Kingdom where the company is based, the United States, India and Brazil.
“Motivation and communication” are the two key areas that Daniels highlights as the biggest day-to-day challenges he has faced since founding the company – and these are ongoing issues.
“In terms of motivation, we try to overcome that by rewarding and respecting, developing our people, and providing them with the opportunity to progress within the company. We’ve got a generous compensation and bonus package that rewards success and recognizes achievement,” he said. “We also treat people with respect, I think we’re fairly flexible – we treat our people like adults – provided they continue to act like adults, of course!”
As many people will have found out during the Covid-19 lockdowns, communicating with remote workers largely takes the form of video calls, emails or instant messages and this is the same in a business that has been operating for more than two decades.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s a big issue,” Daniels said. “Most people, especially after Covid, are now used to communicating via calls like Google Meet, Zoom and Microsoft Teams, etc. I think you just get used to it.”
“We do a lot of communications via Slack, shouting out our successes. That’s very important; it’s important for leaders to be visible and accessible,” he added. “And, you know, there are plenty of bosses out there who may well be physically present in the office, but they are not leaders – who couldn’t manage, lead and motivate if their lives depended on it!”
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An eye on the future
The world of news publishing has transformed immeasurably since the early 2000s when GRV Media was founded, so looking ahead to what the future might hold is hard to predict, but Daniels picked out several areas that could cause further shifts in the industry.
“I think things are evolving and changing very quickly,” he said.
“You’ve got artificial intelligence – I think it’s a worry if people are ripping off content that publishers like us pay for,” he continued. “It’s not something I lose any sleep over though – because I think there will be regulatory and legal actions that will ultimately control how this will all play out.
“We’ve got a lot of regulatory changes and new consent frameworks coming down the track too, and the deprecation of third-party cookies are all going to have an impact on businesses and their revenues,” Daniels added. “You’ve got Google, Facebook and Twitter all evolving as well and algorithm changes that will impact businesses like ours.”
“But I never worry about all that stuff – because I never worry about things that I can’t control,” Daniels said. “All we can do is our best. I think our quest is to continue to deliver, as far as we can, good-quality content that people want to read. As long as we do that, and as long as we’ve got an audience – or we can build an audience – then we are in with a chance. But you can never stay still – the moment you sit back and think you have made it is the first step on the slippery slope to failure.”