This is the initial post for the Founder’s Corner Series. It is fitting, because this is what we use as our core set of principles. Almost every decision we make can come back to this as a root set of principles to guide what the decision should be. We have had these in place since the beginning of the company, and are basically the crystallization of what I’ve experienced in the past.
There are three self-reinforcing cycles that feed each other to help a company grow.
Work – Learn – Fun – Team
The first circle describes why people wake up in the morning and come to work. It is our belief that people want to work hard – at least the people who are part of our company. People get satisfaction from doing things and seeing the results of their work.
People also like to learn and grow. We have this concept of continuous improvement, where we are all trying to get just a little better each day. Part of getting better is to be very tolerant of mistakes and to take those as learning opportunities. As an example of learning, a bunch of our developers get together for an hour and a half each Friday to just share some of the problems they have solved and how they solved them or to ask for help in solving a problem. It is an open, collaborative process where there is no judgement and just a strong learning environment.
Fun. People want to have enjoy what they are doing. Certainly work has boring parts or hard parts to it, but the ability to laugh at ourselves is a good part of our culture.
And finally, Team. First, it is better to share the first three items in a team. Working, learning and having fun with others is better then doing it by yourself. Team also means we hang together as a unit. This was demonstrated on March 13, 2020 when we made the decision to all take 50% pay cuts so that that we could try to survive together. Not a single person left the company, and we all worked harder – for each other. The result of that was a number of virtual and challenge innovations that helped save us and our customers during the pandemic.
Trust – Responsibility – Efficiency
This virtuous circle is about how a company operates. Companies are made up of many moving parts – development, support, marketing, sales, finance and the countless other things that keep things running smoothly. One of the things that slows companies down is the lack of trust between departments – “Development isn’t shipping products customers want”, “Sales is not following up on the leads marketing provides”, “I have to sell the deal and support it”, “We built this feature and sales doesn’t sell it”.
We take the opposite approach and give responsibility to people on an individual basis and trust that they will do their job well. By doing so, the individual wants to do a good job and feel proud. And since there is not the need to constantly check up on the person, it becomes highly efficient.
I worked with a brilliant software developer, Mark Nigro, our CTO at Bluestone. He introduced the concept to me that the most efficient organization is an individual. That with each additional person added, the number of communications links grew exponentially. The solution to this was that the we should treat people like API’s in a software program allowing for defined inputs and outputs and trusting the API. We culturally had an aversion to meetings, preferring to have people work on things and Get Stuff Done.
Another virtuous circle that brings employee satisfaction, improved amount of things done and improved efficiency. Of course the challenge as an organization grows is keeping that trust…
Employees – Customers – Owners
I’ve referred to this as the “Three Legged Stool”. If one leg is getting short changed or one leg trying to take too much, then the whole business is unstable.
One of the elements of this in our culture is we think of ourselves and our customers as peers. Our transaction based business model helps with this as we make money when our customers make money. This leads us to try to come up with as many ways as possible to help our customers be successful. It is why we do things like offer free email and websites – the primary marketing tools that every event needs.
Another element of the peer relationship with customers is mutual respect. This is one of the reasons we do not have an exclusive “lock-in” contract. We feel that if a customer does not want to do business with us and use another vendor, then we do not want to serve an unhappy customer. And likewise, if a customer is not treating our team with respect, we have had a few customers that we simply refuse to service.
We are also transitioning from being an entirely employee owned company to having outside investors. I will write more about this in later posts, but investors are an important part of providing a company with the resources to continue to grow and meet the needs of customers. All of our employees are option/shareholders in the company. That means when you talk with anyone here, they are a co-owner. It also means that the success of the company is shared in terms of value creation. For outside investors, we respect their right to grow a successful company, generate profits and growth that provide an increasing value to the business. We have great Series A partners with Payroc, Randy and Sacha. As we discuss potential future investors, we are going to be most careful about aligned objectives for the business. For example, we do not want to “private equity shark” type of investor who is looking for a quick buck or to load up a bunch of debt on the company like Sears. We want a financial partner who shares our vision of the future in helping events grow.
These Guiding Principles have served us for the past dozen years and we hope will last many dozens of years more.