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I’ve written before about hiring for cultural fit, and about the importance of prioritizing cultural fit over competence when hiring at startups. I started thinking about it again when I saw this Dilbert comic, because it pokes fun at the culture of startups and their propensity only to hire people who fit into them. But what are we talking about when we talk about cultural fit, anyway?
You’re probably familiar with some of the stereotypes around startup culture (free massages and dry cleaning, craft beer, cool art on the walls and dogs at the office, pulling all-nighters to ship on time) and the kinds of people who work at startups (according to Dilbert, “self-conscious hipster” types with “an earring and headphones.”) Stereotypes like these give you a picture of what startup culture might look like to an outsider, but they don’t reflect the intrinsic values that define startup cultures.
Gnip CEO Chris Moody explains this distinction really well when he talks about values vs. vibe. He defines values as “the guiding principles or code-of-conduct” that inform a company’s daily operations, whereas vibe is “the emotional side of the company … highly influenced by outside factors.” To figure out whether an aspect of your startup culture is a value, he says, try asking yourself these questions:
- Is this aspect of the company important to our long-term success?
- Does this aspect need to be maintained forever and is it sustainable?
- Does this aspect apply to all areas of the company and to all employees?
- Will establishing this aspect help us make important decisions in the future?
So, for example: riding your fixi to the office or playing foosball between coding sessions are vibes. Treating people with respect or being passionate about your work? Those are values.
Your company values should be clear, accessible, and pervasive – take, for example, Zappos’ 10 core values. Having clearly defined values is important because they drive your company culture, not the other way around. It’s also important when you’re hiring for cultural fit, because without clear company values you run the risk of making poor hiring decisions: hiring people because they look or act or talk like you, and not hiring people because they don’t.
Here’s an example: Businessweek says hiring managers are now asking candidates questions like, What’s your favorite movie? Or, What’s the last book you read for fun? If you’re asking interview questions like these at your startup, you need to make sure you’re screening for values and not for vibe. Just sharing your love of The Big Lebowski doesn’t make someone a good cultural fit for your company: in fact, it’s often the people who give unexpected answers who end up being your company’s most creative problem-solvers.
I chair the board of directors for the National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT), whose Entrepreneurial Alliance works with startups to help them recruit and retain more women in tech roles. There’s strong ROI for including more women on technical teams: women improve collective intelligence, make startups more capital-efficient, and bring the perspectives of half the population. But if you’re a “dude brew” startup, you may not even know why you don’t hire more technical women, and you might need help from NCWIT removing gender bias from its portfolio companies’ job ads.
Gnip recently told NCWIT that they added three women to its engineering team. They credited this in part because the VP of Engineering, Greg Greenstreet, attended every local women-in-tech networking event, recruited on campus, and talked to as many female candidates as possible. But fundamentally they succeeded in hiring more women because, like Etsy, they made diversity a value. Gnip assigned strategy, money, and resources to their recruiting efforts, and factored diversity into evaluations of cultural fit.
Every startup is going to have a company culture, by design or by default, so you might as well design yours with values that attract and keep the best possible talent. Once you’ve distinguished between your values and your vibe, hiring for cultural fit won’t just be easier; it will give you better – and likely more diverse – employees.
If you’re interested in more information about joining NCWIT’s group of startups, let me know.
Our investment in Gnip keeps getting better and better. While the company is growing like crazy and the financial results would make any investor giddy, what really gets me excited is to see how Gnip is disrupting how business decisions are made. Gnip believes that someday every significant business decision will include social data as an input and they’ve been working hard for the last five years to make this vision a reality.
Last week, Gnip made another significant step forward towards their ultimate vision. Foursquare and Gnip just announced an exclusive partnership that allows Gnip to provide full coverage of anonymized Foursquare check-in data to Gnip’s extensive network of customers. Gnip is delivering over four billion social activities to their customers every day and their distribution network is delivering insights and analytics to over 95% of the Fortune 500. As much progress as they have made, location-based activity is one area of social data where the ecosystem has lacked significant coverage. Companies wanting to analyze geo-based activities around locations have been begging for more location-based activity. With the partnership between Foursquare and Gnip, the entire social data ecosystem gets a big win with this key signal of physical presence.
I’ve been a user and believer in Foursquare from the earliest days. It will be fascinating to see what types of analytics are built upon this new data. Both Foursquare and Gnip discuss some examples in their blog posts. It doesn’t take much imagination to think about how businesses can capitalize on this unique data set. And with this partnership, we no longer have to imagine!
Following is a guest post from Chris Moody. Chris is president and COO of Gnip, one of the silent killers in our portfolio. Once the main stream tech press starts noticing Gnip, they will be blown away at how big they got in such a short period of time by just executing. Chris is a huge part of this – he joined Gnip when they were 10 people and has been instrumental in working with Jud Valeski, Gnip’s founder and CEO, to build a mind blowing team, business, and market leadership position.
Following is a great email Chris sent me Friday night in advance of the Foundry Group “Scaling Your Company Conference” which we are having this week for CEOs of companies we are investors in that are on the path from 50 to 500 people.
Startups that experience success are typically built upon a strong foundation of trust among the early founders/employees. This trust has been solidified through long days/nights in small offices working on hard problems together. The amazing thing is that the founders don’t always realize that their company is even operating under an umbrella of trust or that trust is one of their core values. Instead, they just know that it feels easy to make decisions and to get shit done.
When companies try to scale, one of the biggest mistakes they make is trying to replace trust with process. This is rarely a conscious decision, it just feels necessary to add new rules in order to grow. After all, there are a lot of new people coming into the company and it isn’t clear who of the new people can be trusted yet.
A startup obviously needs to add process in order to scale, but if you replace trust with process, you’ll rip the heart right out of your company. When adding processes, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this new process help us go faster?
- Does this new process help us be more efficient?
If the answer to these questions is “yes” you are off to a great start.
Now ask yourself “Are we adding this process because we don’t trust people to make decisions?” If the answer to this question even has a hint of “maybe” you need to stop and really consider the cost of that process.
Replacing trust with process is like a cancer that will spread quickly and silently throughout the company. One day you’ll wake up and think “this place doesn’t feel special any more” or ask yourself “why is it so hard for us to get stuff done.”
Trust could be one of your most valuable company assets. As a leader, you need to fight like hell to protect it. If you are successful protecting trust, you’ll actually grow much faster and you’ll still have a place where people love working.
I’ve seen trust work at a 700 person company. Trust can scale.
I’ve written a lot in the last year about how fast Gnip is growing and how they continue to lead their industry. Many of Gnip‘s customers and partners are in the bay area and they have decided to begin adding people in San Francisco to better support those clients.
They’ve just posted their first position in San Francisco to help manage and grow existing customers. If you have the appropriate skills and want to join a truly incredible company, I encourage you to apply.
Today’s guest post from Chris Moody, the COO of Gnip, follows on the heels of the amazing Big Boulder event that Gnip put on last Thursday and Friday. To get a feel for some of the speakers, take a look at the following blog posts summarizing talks from leaders of Tumblr, Disqus, Facebook, Klout, LinkedIn, StockTwits, GetGlue, Get Satisfaction, and Twitter.
- Transition at a Massive Scale with Ken Little of Tumblr
- From Monologue to Dialogue with Daniel Ha and Ro Gupta of Disqus
- Measuring Engagement on Facebook with Sean Bruich
- Measuring Influence Online with Joe Fernandez and Matt Thomson of Klout
- Data Science at LinkedIn with Yael Garten
- Industry-Focused Social Networks with Howard Lindzon of StockTwits
- Distributed vs. Centralized Conversations with Jesse Burros of GetGlue
- Engaging with Customers Online with Wendy Lea of Get Satisfaction
- Creating the Social Data Ecosystem with Ryan Sarver and Doug Williams of Twitter
The event was fantastic, but Chris sent out a powerful email to everyone at Gnip on Saturday that basically said “awesome job on Big Boulder – our work is just beginning.” For a more detailed version, and some thoughts on why The Work Begins When The Milestone Ends, I now hand off the keyboard to Chris.
We’ve just finished up Big Boulder, the first ever conference dedicated to social data. By all accounts, the attendees and the presenters had a great experience. The Gnip team is flying high from all the exciting conversations and the positive feedback. After countless hours of planning, hard work, and sleepless nights, it is very tempting to kick back and relax. There is a strong natural pull to get back into a normal workflow. But, we can’t relax and we won’t. Here’s why.
As a company it is important to recognize the difference between a milestone and a meaningful business result. Although it took us almost nine months to plan the event, Big Boulder is really just a milestone. In this particular case, it is actually an early milestone. The real results will likely begin months from now. All too often startups confuse milestones for results. This mistake can be deadly.
Milestones Are Not Results
Milestones represent progress towards a business result. Examples of milestones that are commonly mistaken for results include:
Getting Funded. Having someone make an early investment in your company is positive affirmation that at least one person (and perhaps many) believe in what you are trying to accomplish. But, the results will come based upon how effectively you spend the money; build your team/product, etc. Chris Sacca has tweeted a few times that he doesn’t understand why startups ever announce funding. Although I haven’t heard him explain his tweets, I assume he is making the point that funding isn’t a meaningful business result so it doesn’t make sense to announce the news to the world.
Signing a partnership. Getting a strategic partnership deal signed can take lots of hard work and months/years to accomplish. Once a partnership deal is finally signed, a big announcement usually follows. The team may celebrate because all the hard work has finally paid off. But, the obvious mistake is thinking the hard work has paid off. Getting the deal signed is a major milestone, but the results will likely be based upon the amount of effort your team puts in to the partnership after the deal is signed. I’ve never experienced a successful partnership that just worked after the deal was signed. Partnerships typically take a tremendous amount of ongoing work in order to get meaningful results.
Releasing a new feature. Your team has worked many late nights getting a new killer feature in to the product. You finally get the release out the door and a nice article runs in TechCrunch the next day. The resulting coverage leads to your highest site traffic in a year. But, have you really accomplished any business results yet? Often the results will come after lots of customer education, usage analysis, or feature iterations. If no customers use the new feature, have you really accomplished anything?
Is it okay to celebrate milestones? Absolutely! Blow off steam for a half-day or a long celebratory night. Take the time to recognize the team’s efforts and to thank them for their hard work. But, also use that moment to remind everyone that the true benefits will happen based upon what you do next.
Results Increase Value
Unlike milestones, results have a direct impact on the value of the company. Results also vary dramatically based upon different business models. Examples of common results include: increasing monthly recurring revenue, decreasing customer turnover, lowering cost of goods sold (increasing gross margin).
Announcing a new feature is a milestone because it adds no value to the company. On the other hand, having customers actually adopt a new feature might increase customer retention, which could be a meaningful business result.
The Work Begins When X Ends
When I worked at Aquent, there was a point in time when we were doing lots of tradeshows. We noticed a pattern of team members taking months to prepare for an event and then returning from the tradeshow declaring the event a success. They would put a stack of business cards on their desk and spend the next several weeks digging out from the backlog of normal work stuff. The business cards would begin to collect dust and the hot leads from the show would eventually become too cold to be useful.
In order to avoid this phenomenon, someone coined the expression “the work begins when the tradeshow ends”. This simple statement had a big impact on the way that I think about milestones versus results. Since that time, I’ve used the concept of this phrase hundreds of times to remind my team and myself that a particular milestone isn’t a result. You can substitute the word “tradeshow” for whatever milestone your team has recently achieved to help maintain focus.
The most recent example? The work begins when Big Boulder ends.