Remote Interviews with Jason Thompson @ 33 Sticks

CEO of 33 Sticks Jason Thompson

First and foremost, please tell me a brief background about yourself and one interesting fact.

I’ve been working in the digital analytics space since 2004, having given up a career as a software developer when I joined a relatively unknown company called Omniture that then went on to be acquired by Adobe in 2009. Over the span of my career, I’ve ran analytics for an online dating company and have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of interesting brands as a sought after analytics expert. While my day-to-day is often consumed with data analysis and the challenges of building a business, I have a passion for playing the bass guitar and piano, I am an amateur chef, and I enjoy spending time with my family exploring the mountains of Utah. Oh, and I can consume large amounts of sushi.

Jason Thompson 33 Sticks
Where I usually work when the weather is good.

 

Prior to being the CEO of 33 Sticks, what have your experiences been working remotely? 

A lot of how I have built 33 Sticks has come from my previous work experience. In 2001, I started keeping a notebook of all the experiences I had working for other companies. The notebook contained a list of things that I either wanted to replicate or more often, things that I never wanted to do if I had the opportunity to run my own company – the common theme in the notebook was centered around trust of employees and without trust, successful remote work is not possible.

 

The first time I was exposed to the concept of remote work was in the early 2000’s when my then boss, and now mentor, Paul Bartholomew, introduced the concept of flexible work environments including a work from home program and flexible work hours. Paul got a lot of push back from other executives in the company but that is often the case when you are ahead of your time. Prior to 33 Sticks, I worked fully remote for two other companies, that experience made it clear to me that remote, at least for me and the type of company I wanted to run, was the only really path forward.

 

So what exactly is 33 Sticks? What have you accomplished, what are you accomplishing now, and what are you planning to accomplish in the future?

33 Sticks is a high-end, luxury analytics services company. We partner with our clients to solve complex business challenges, generate higher revenues, and provide direct mentoring of key personnel. While providing analytics expertise to our clients is central to what we do, we have also been able to challenge two long standing beliefs about professional services: 1) Services have to be done on-site and 2) Services have to be billed by the hour. We have proven time and time again that we are more than capable of providing high-end services remotely in a quick, efficient manner, and most importantly in a way that creates maximum value for our clients.

 

As far as the future goes, we plan to continue doing what we do. We will continue challenging outdated business norms, we will continue to create a work environment that attracts the best and brightest talent the world has to offer, and we will create a $100 million company along the way.

 

33 Sticks is a pretty interesting name, what’s the story behind it?

When my co-founder, Hila Dahan, and I first started working together back in 2007, she worked in LA and I worked in Provo, Utah. As a fun way to communicate between our offices, we started sending popsicle sticks back and forth in the mail. The sticks would have random messages written on them like “soup with jalapenos” or the “rose that grew from concrete” or “refraining from name-dropping at all costs”, just little notes or observations we would make and document on sticks.  We stored the sticks in jars on our desks and when we needed something to brighten our day, we would reach into the jar, grab a stick, and read it. When we created 33 Sticks, we wanted to select a name for our business that was personal to us, that reflected the way we view the world and business, and something that we could ultimately share with our customers. ‘Sticks’ was the perfect word for us to use. It had meaning. It was unique. It was something a thousand business buzz words could never accomplish. As far as the ‘33’, I’ll leave it up to your creative minds to figure that one out.

33 Sticks "Office"
My Utah “Office.”

 

Why did you decide to make 33 Sticks a company that works 100% remotely?

High-end talent in the analytics industry is very, very limited. So with very few top end people to choose from, building a company with “local” talent only would further limit an already limited supply. It was a no brainer to go 100% remote – it allowed us to select the most talented people in the world, regardless of their location.

 

How has the 33 Stick’s remote work policy helped the performance of the company and the satisfaction of its employees?

As we are able to hire the most experienced analytics people in the world, the proof is in the value we are able to deliver for our clients. With an impressive client roster that includes companies like Princes Cruises, Hallmark, The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard Business Review, and Dixons Carphone, our work speaks for itself. From an employee perspective, being remote, and having the trust to design your own work environment, has been key to attract top-end talent that is highly motivated and highly satisfied.

Jim Driscoll 33 Sticks
33 Sticks Principal Architect, Jim Driscoll, enjoying the freedom and flexibility of remote work running a super hero themed marathon.

 

What are qualities you look for when you hire new remote workers to your team?

JBeing a successful remote worker requires a unique skillset. For us, there are three critical things we look for when hiring a new employee, above and beyond a mastery of analytics:

 

  • Results Driven: When you work remote, it’s not about “asses in seats”, you aren’t graded on the number of hours you work, the percentage of time you are at your desk, you are evaluated on the results you are able to deliver. A person that is results oriented will be a natural for remote work.

 

  • Organized: Often times an office adds the value of organization. You have a designed place to sit, your desk is laid out for you, often your day is organized for you. With remote, that isn’t always the case. A successful remote worker knows how to take abstract ideas and thoughts and organize them in a way that they can successfully complete complex projects within an abstract space of time.

 

  • Communication: One of the primary arguments against remote work is that you can’t communicate/collaborate/bond/etc remotely. This highlights the importance of being a world-class communicator. Being remote, you must possess strong written and verbal communication skills, know how to communicate often, and know how to get your point across without resorting to non-verbal cues.

 

In your opinion, what are most candidates looking to work remotely lacking? Is it the soft skills, hard skills, or simply LinkedIn/resume skills?

 

Honestly, most remote candidates are lacking vision of what they offer outside of a desire to work remote. I’m approached at least 10 times a week by people who want to work for 33 Sticks, not because they are passionate about analytics or data but because they want to work remote. On one hand, it’s great that we are building a reputation of being a remote friendly company, on the other hand “remote” isn’t a job function, it’s a philosophy of how work can be done, you still have to possess domain expertise. Rather than seeking out remote first, find what you are passionate about doing and then figure out how to do that remotely or go to work for a company that will support you as a remote worker.

 

I’m sure you’ve seen all the talks about the gig, freelance and remote work economy being the future of work. What’s your thoughts on the future of work? Are these just trends or sustainable realities?

In no way is remote just a trend, this has been building for at least 20+ years and will only continue to grow as an ideal way of doing business. With that said, it’s not the only option, it’s just an option. It’s one I’m passionate about but it doesn’t always work for every company. That is true for 100% remote or a blend of remote and onsite. I’m not advocating that every company go fully remote, what I am advocating for is that companies take the idea of remote seriously, integrate it into their plans as an option where applicable, and move on from the tired narratives that everyone has to be in a centralized office, all the time, in order to create anything of value. It’s a lie.

Jason Thompson - 33 Sticks 2
Me getting some work done poolside, while out of town attending my son’s soccer tournament in St. George, Utah.

 

Fun question: Describe the best restaurant you’ve ever been to during your travels.

I’ve had the opportunity to eat in a lot of amazing restaurants but honestly, one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at is right here in my own back yard – Takashi in Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

But…in order to not dodge the question, my absolute favorite place to eat when I travel is Urth Caffe in Santa Monica, California. Not because it’s some fancy, high-end restaurant, it’s not, but simply because it embodies everything that I love about South California. And, I’m highly addicted to their D’Lox Pizza – seriously, it’s so delicious.

 

Any final bits of advice for our audience wanting to work remotely or live the digital nomad lifestyle?

If you want to work remote or if you want to be a digital nomad, do it. The opportunities are out there but as I mentioned, just because you are remote or a nomad doesn’t mean that you aren’t also an employee, a founder, and leader, etc. All too often people get caught up in being remote or being a nomad without any focus or direction for what they actually want to do for a career.

Learn more about 33 Sticks or follow Jason Thompson on Twitter

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