It is with great pride and satisfaction that I’m announcing I’ve wrapped up my time as a partner at Modern Tribe. It’s been a truly epic 15-year journey. This company has been such a huge part of my personal identity that it was hard to even imagine a day where I’d be writing this.
However, somewhere along the way, I started to crave a different kind of adventure. I’m still not entirely sure what that looks like, but I know I need to chase it. That being said, I thought I’d take a moment to share what these last 15 years have been for me.
In the Beginning
On the fourth Sunday of July in 2006, Shane Pearlman and I walked alongside the annual Santa Cruz, California Wharf to Wharf race and agreed to go into business together under the moniker Shane & Peter, Inc.—a decidedly personal brand.
I remember well our mutual enthusiasm and forming this idea that we’d build a boutique remote company, leveraging the entrepreneurial spirit in Santa Cruz without limiting ourselves by geography. We would build the company around prioritizing life over work, adventure over profit, and intention over impulse.
Shane outlined a personal plan, including having two kids with Julie, who he’d recently married, moving to a non-English-speaking tropical country when the kids were old enough to navigate it, and, ultimately, his retirement goals.
I was taken aback by how clearly he envisioned his future. He challenged me to document my dreams and aspirations. As he often says, this company is a vehicle to build the lives we want to live.
I had met Shane a couple years prior, around the time I lost my mother to cancer. It was a rough period for me, and he helped keep me on a productive track.
He was running his own business. I was constantly switching back and forth between freelancing and full-time jobs. He had plans. I went with the flow.
I had only recently learned to surf when Shane started calling me at work, telling me how epic the waves were and how I should quit my job. He lobbied me to freelance again so I could surf whenever the tide was low and the swell was high.
So at the end of 2005, I quit my job.
And for some crazy reason, also bought my first house. At the top of the market. Against Shane’s advice. A luxury condo that I couldn’t afford. It was lovely… but dumb. But that’s a whole other story.
Innovation for Days
We started growing the business, blogging, and finding wonderful people to work with. Shane’s M.O. has always been to pitch the vision as if it was already reality. We like to say he lives in the future.
He had clear visions for our team, our capabilities, and our clients. Everyone believed him, and soon it all came true. We found ourselves working with world-famous brands and extremely talented people, designing and building things that exceeded our own skills. It was amazing.
Shane met our soon-to-be partner, Reid Peifer, online in 2008 through a comment on a blog post. We got to talking and then working together. Shane dropped some tricky projects on Reid and, eventually, even the most challenging client: Shane’s mom.
Reid, being helpful to the core, quickly made himself invaluable. It didn’t take long to recognize that Shane, an eccentric visionary, and I, detail-oriented and hyper-empathetic, were well matched with Reid’s broad spectrum creativity and pragmatism. So over the next couple years, we formed a partnership.
Of course, when Reid would enter a sales pitch saying he was a partner at Shane & Peter, they’d always ask if he was Shane or if he was Peter. So we rebranded as Modern Tribe.
Looking back, I’m amazed that the business ever existed without Reid. Reid has been so deeply instrumental in defining our brand, our quality of work, and our culture, that Modern Tribe would be inconceivable without him.
Over the following years, we scaled the team from just us to, at our height, 140 people. We did this while always holding a core belief that people should be afforded flexibility, especially in terms of location.
Freelance Camp was specifically designed to bring independent remote business owners together to discuss how to succeed in an increasingly fluid knowledge economy. It turned out that many people had an appetite for this conversation, and Freelance Camps were subsequently launched by people all over the world.
At one point, we invited a bunch of our colleagues to attend one of our Freelance Camps in Santa Cruz. Most of them camped out in my condo. (Reid still likes to rib me about inviting him and Darcie to stay over only to realize I’d invited too many people, whereupon I sheepishly asked him to go find a hotel.)
Naturally, when everyone attended Shane’s presentation about raising your rates, each person on our team immediately notified us that their rates had gone up.
Around 2008, we started to focus on using WordPress. It was a pretty young technology but had the benefit of an extremely engaged and rapidly growing community. Looking back, I feel immensely lucky about this. Like we landed at just the right place to ride a modern-day gold rush. Our company was born and grew along with our peers, many of whom are still leaders in the enterprise WordPress agency domain.
Often we’d produce WordPress plugins for our agency clients only to realize that we’d just innovated something that many others could benefit from. So, in the spirit of commodifying our byproducts, we started exploring packaging and selling our plugins.
What felt like a distraction at the start became, arguably, the most valuable part of our business over time. Eventually, The Events Calendar became our most successful product line and formed the brand we love today.
And still, we scheduled our meetings around the surf and the tide. In another instance of commodifying our byproducts, we hacked an API for tides and wave cameras and built a mobile app, which we then sold to WaveWatch and later to Surfline. I still feel a tingle of glee whenever I check the surf. (Though I wish Surfline had kept our innovative tide, swell, lunar phase, wind graph. That thing was awesome!)
We always believed that empathy is essential to high-performing teams. But it can be hard to understand and share your colleagues’ feelings when you aren’t working in the same office. So we decided to invest in an annual team trip.
At first, the trips were more work than play. Over time, we realized that most of what brought us together was the play part, so the proportions gradually shifted. We took our team to Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Belize, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Iceland, and France—not to mention a number of interesting cities in the U.S.
These experiences occupy a disproportionate amount of my memories from my time at Modern Tribe. That’s because these adventures succeeded in anchoring my experience of our company to the physical locations we visited.
El Salvador in 2009 was our first trip with team members. We also invited a client and a friend.
The bartender made us piña coladas at the beach bar in front of a rack full of surfboards and a shotgun.
In 2010, we showed up in Hanalei Bay and ran together into the warm ocean waves as the last glimmers of sunlight gave way to the stars.
In 2011, Shane brought his new baby girl as we convened in Panama. Our entire company, and some of our families, were crammed into one tiny, rickety propeller plane scaling the mountains between San Jose, Costa Rica, and our destination in Bocas del Toro, Panama. It crossed my mind that if the plane went down, there’d be no one left to tell our clients.
Our visit to Sayulita, Mexico in 2012 was delightful. We filled up a small group of apartments on “Gringo Hill.” I had the best churro of my life while wandering through town. Every day yielded a new fiesta.
We held a potluck on the last night. Reid made homemade beer batter sourdough bread! I’m pretty sure Jonathan Brinley still has a living yeast culture from that trip.
By 2013, many of us had kids. We had our last team trip with our families in Cabo, Mexico. Our relationships gained dimension when we met each other’s partners, and our kids sat in the sand and played.
Sadly, that was the last family team trip. It was also the last year we awkwardly held annual performance reviews in poolside cabanas.
Then there was that time in 2014 when we stayed in Manual Antonio, Costa Rica, with at least three species of monkeys running through our house. I’ll never forget that day Rob La Gatta said he doesn’t believe in sunscreen only to turn as red as a cooked lobster.
2015 landed us in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. By this time, our team was starting to really grow in size. We took over an entire hotel. Some of us endeavored to take up kiteboarding lessons. (To this day, I have yet to stand up on a kiteboard.)
In 2016, we stayed at a remote fitness camp in Nosara, Costa Rica that included an epic obstacle course! This was also our first year with a drone, so our team trip videos started getting a bit fancier.
I have this thing I like to do when dining out with friends. I secretly tell the waiter that it’s someone’s birthday even though it’s not. Then, I always laugh when the waitstaff comes out singing “Happy Birthday” and bearing a treat for my stunned “victim.”
In 2017, the team took their revenge on me during our trip to Rancho Santana, Nicaragua, when they surprised me with a real birthday celebration! It’s also the year we kicked off our short-lived annual soccer game. We had people playing at all levels on a dusty pitch with dogs and cows wandering through the action.
This was also our last year of mandatory storytelling for every team member. I’ve always loved hearing these tales, even when some of them were a bit edgy, and learning from my colleagues.
Over the years, we heard about lock picking, horse grooming, and Scottish profanities, as well as awkward stories about exes. We watched an HR fail live reenactment. People have broken into song. There was even an account of an Ayahuasca transformation. (Okay, I admit… That last one was all me.)
But it turns out that if you build a company of remote workers, you’re likely to attract introverts. For some folks, presenting to an increasingly large group of people resulted in an extraordinary amount of anxiety. But if you don’t make it mandatory, then the whole thing falls apart because only a handful of people who already get a lot of time in the spotlight are the ones interested in getting back into it.
Not coincidentally, this was also the year that we began to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Reid organized a small DEI work session at our company retreat, and over the next few years, Carly Strelzick, Kyle Unzicker, and Daniella Rosenthal led a concerted effort to create a more fair and welcoming workplace.
Among the many things that my colleagues have taught me, I feel like putting an emphasis on how to be inclusive, how to systematically foster equitability, and ultimately build diversity, has been one of the more meaningful and enduring lessons in my journey at Modern Tribe.
In 2018, we landed in Belize. I can’t believe it took that many years for us to have a karaoke night! Now, being a rather sizable group of 73, we replaced our storytelling tradition with a sort of hackathon that we dubbed Heart & Craft, where people formed groups, built something in a day, and presented it.
Toward the end of the trip, we boated everyone out to our own personal island for a day. Then we wrapped up with another soccer match. The local kids randomly joined in and schooled us.
We got one more pre-COVID adventure on the books in 2019, when we went to Panama City, Panama, and kicked it with some sloths. This was our biggest team trip and it was a busy week.
Bringing together nearly 100 people from all over the world was no small feat. Trying to keep it intimate was nearly impossible. Even so, there was space for people to connect. Like that time that Ashley Flynn-Corbin and I teamed up to destroy Matt Batchelder and Barry Hughes in a late-night game of “full contact” outdoor garden chess.
On top of these team trips, we also had smaller partner retreats and a few leadership gatherings held in Iceland, Senegal, Japan, South Africa, England, Barbados, Argentina, and France. When I think back on the last 15 years, I’m stunned by how much we managed to fit in.
Of course, then came the pandemic. I’ll probably never forget sitting in Shane’s parent’s house in Seattle in late February of 2020, looking out over the bay. I was in charge of orchestrating our 2020 team trip where we had booked an incredible converted monastery in Italy—our first European team trip.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 dominated the news, and Seattle and Italy were being called hotspots. Obviously, we canceled our trip. I’m glad we were all able to safely fly home from Seattle.
The world adopted our remote workstyle. We all locked ourselves away as we isolated. Restrictions eventually lifted, but even now, it’s been over two years since our team has gotten together in person.
The tax on empathy has been heavy. But I continue to be impressed by our culture. I see it every day. People at Modern Tribe care about each other. It’s beautiful.
In late 2020, we parted ways with half the company when The Events Calendar, our WordPress product suite, was acquired by Liquid Web. It was exciting, exhausting, and at times melancholy. Personally, I was very sad to see the end of an era, but after all we’d been through with the pandemic, I was relieved to narrow our focus.
This is about the time I let my best friends, Shane and Reid, know that I would be stepping down and that we needed a game plan. I’ve always said that I’d never leave them hanging, and at that moment, we had a lot that needed to be done. So the plan was that I’d stick around to help right the ship.
We spent much of 2021 stabilizing the remaining agency and restructuring our leadership to better support our new company. We had spent years grappling with how to organize teams. We finally nailed it in 2021.
I won’t get into detail, but in short, we moved from discipline-specific leadership to team leadership. In other words, every team has a leader who’s responsible for the work output, the client relationships, and the team’s well-being. It feels right.
Then a really funny thing happened. We got another offer from Liquid Web for the other half of the company. This worked perfectly because it gave us some space to redefine the two halves and afforded us the opportunity to rejoin our friends. I committed to seeing Modern Tribe through the transition, which also handed me the perfect moment to wrap up.
So Much Love
So this is my moment—the culmination of a 15-year journey.
Fifteen years of adventure, friendship, innovation, and home office tax exemptions. My heart is full, and I can’t say enough good things about the people I’ve been so lucky to work with. (I wish I had the space here to write about each person.) Thank you all so much. Keep living well and doing good work, my friends!