Here in the U.S. we’re celebrating Thanksgiving today. As part of our family tradition we like to talk about what we’re thankful for and spend time with each other. On the startup front, I think it’s just as important to give thanks on a regular basis.
Here are a few ideas for giving thanks in a startup:
- Have a quarterly celebration where the entire team gets out of the office together for an afternoon and does something fun (baseball game, picnic, whirly ball, etc)
- Recognize a team member as the hero of the month based on feedback from their peers
- Send a handwritten thank you note every time a client provides a referral or testimonial to a prospect
- Take time at weekly team meetings to highlight a recent success story and give thanks to everyone involved
- Volunteer as a company on a regular basis to give back to those that are less fortunate
Giving thanks is a healthy and powerful part of building a successful startup.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
What else? What are some other ways to give thanks in a startup?
Two weeks ago an entrepreneur was asking me about the amazing employee benefits offered by Pardot. Specifically, he wanted to offer more benefits in his startup, but couldn’t afford all the ones Pardot offered, so he was interested in how I would prioritize the Pardot benefits based on how much value they added. Now, we didn’t survey team members to get a precise understanding of the value of each benefit, so this is an educated guess.
Tier 1 Benefits (most value)
- Health insurance
- Dental insurance
- 401k profit sharing plan
Tier 2 Benefits
- Healthy snacks and drinks
- Short term disability
- Long term disability
- Tuition reimbursement
- Vision insurance
Tier 3 Benefits
- Catered Monday lunch
- Catered daily breakfast
- Full-time on-site massage therapist
- Wellness bucks (e.g. for a gym membership)
Note: Check out Liazon as a service to offer a marketplace of benefits for employees (e.g. standard health insurance as well as more unusual offerings like pet insurance).
Finally, amazing benefits should be icing on the cake of an awesome corporate culture. It’s important to build a strong culture first as a priority over great benefits. Once the team is in place, find out what benefits matter most to them.
What else? How would you prioritize different types of employee benefits?
Recently I was talking with an entrepreneur about a key team member of his. This individual wasn’t on the executive team but he was referred to as “the best person in the company to gauge the pulse and morale of the company” and he would tell him when things were off. I thought about it for a second and said yes, I know exactly what he means. Having a pulse of the people person is critical, especially if it doesn’t come to you naturally (I don’t have that skill, personally).
Here are a few reasons why it’s important to have a pulse of the people person on your team:
- No matter how hard you try, certain issues and challenges aren’t going to be explicitly stated and must be inferred
- Some people are inherently good at “feeling” how others are doing and can sense issues without trying
- As a startup grows, it becomes more difficult to keep a pulse on the team, making a pulse of the people person even more important
It’s hard to interview for a pulse of the people person but it’s easy to recognize when you have one on your team, and they’re a tremendous asset.
What else? What are your thoughts on pulse of the people persons?
Ev Williams, the co-founder of Twitter, has a new company called Medium where there are no managers. This idea of a leaderless organization isn’t new but it’s also far from commonplace. Perhaps the best known organization without managers is Valve Software, which published an amazing employee handbook that describes how it works. FRC Review has a new post up where they outline how it works at Medium without managers using this idea of a Holacracy approach to corporate structure.
Here are some of the key takeaways for Holacracy from the FRC Review article:
- No people managers. Maximum autonomy.
- Organic expansion. When a job gets too big, hire another person.
- Tension resolution. Identify issues people are facing, write them down, and resolve them systematically.
- Make everything explicit – from vacation policies to decision makers in each area.
- Distribute decision-making power and discourage consensus seeking.
- Eliminate all the extraneous factors that worry people so they can focus on work.
Instead of top-down, command-and-control structure, everything is composed of nested circles. A circle can be one person that owns some aspect of the business or it can be a group of people that own it. If a Holacratic organization sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a blend of two things I’m a big believer in: results only work environments (ROWE) and the value of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Only, it takes it one step further and gets rid of the concept of a traditional hierarchy and instead makes it so that circles, composed of one or more people, make any and all decisions.
Holacracy is a great idea and I’m looking forward to watching it evolve.
What else? What are your thoughts on Holacracy as a corporate structure?
One of the more interesting perks to offer in a growing startup is to provide a stipend for each team member to attend a conference of their choosing once a year. By paying for a conference, it promotes employees learning new things, meeting new people, and gaining exposure to new ideas. It also shows that the company values individuals progressing in their career and advancing their craft.
Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when offering a paid annual industry conference trip:
- Budget wise, keep it simple and offer a set allotment like $2,000 to empower the person to take a quality trip to an interesting conference (the goal isn’t to spend all the money but rather to have good options)
- Consider not having a set budget and simply expensing reasonable costs
- Make it clear that the money should be treated as if it’s their own and isn’t designed to pay for flying first class and staying at the Ritz Carlton
- Don’t have the money roll over if it isn’t used as the goal is to annually get away and better one’s craft
- Don’t require that the conference be perfectly aligned with what the person currently does, but do require that it be at least relevant (e.g. a Java developer might want to attend a Ruby conference to learn more about the language)
- Don’t put too many rules around the program as it’s important people use it and not feel it’s too much effort
When evaluating potential perks for a growing startup, consider offering an annual stipend to attend a conference. Team members value the perk and that the company is investing in their future.
What else? What are your thoughts on the perk of paying for an annual industry conference?
Recently there was a local debate around the importance of corporate culture in the earliest days of seed stage startups. From the debate, there was contention about whether or not a focus on culture at the start was important before the business had many employees and was viable. Put another way, should you spend any time on culture when it could be spent acquiring customers?
My answer: absolutely, culture matters from the beginning. Culture is more than just the founders and people hired. Yes, the people are the most important part, but culture is reflected in the core values, processes, and the way the company chooses to act. The same exact team with different core values, assuming the values are truly cared about, will act differently because the priorities are different.
The culture won’t last long if the startup goes out of business but it also won’t be nearly as fun if things are successful and the culture isn’t strong and cohesive. Culture also sets the tone and foundation for the future of the startup. Entrepreneurs should be intentional about culture from the beginning while not using it as a crutch to avoid working on the hard problems to build a sustainable business. As with anything, there’s a balance between working on the business vs in the business.
What else? What are your thoughts on focusing on culture first or finding customers first?
Earlier today I was talking to a colleague about the environment at the Atlanta Tech Village and how it was the ideal place for Millennials. It’s not that we’re anti-establishment, but more so that we’re working on creating the best environment possible for how we want to work.
Here are a few characteristics of the modern Millennial workplace and culture:
- Creative and collaborative rooms, open spaces, and multiple work options (less private space and more communal space)
- Tools to work whenever, wherever (thanks to the cloud and mobile technology)
- Strong transparency and openness
- Results only work environment
- Focus on autonomy, mastery, and purpose
Now, we’re likely in the first inning of this type of environment becoming more commonplace, but it’s going to happen.
What else? When do you think the millennial workplace and culture will become more standard?
I love talking about core values. You know, the essence of the people in an organization. At the Atlanta Tech Village, we can’t pick good ideas from bad, but we can create an environment that follows these four core values: be nice, dream big, pay it forward, and work hard/play hard. Some people don’t understand the importance of strong core values, and that’s fine. I’ll keep preaching anyway.
Yesterday I was listening to a colleague tell the story of Mindspring/Earthlink in the early days. The Mindspring founder, Charles Brewer, was fanatical about their core values, and rightly so. Back in 1994, when he started the company, the first thing he did is define the core values, before he even decided the nature of the business! At it’s peak, Mindspring had over 1,000 people, and hired in a way that kept their culture strong and customer service great.
It took me seven years to appreciate the importance of strong core values. In retrospect, core values aren’t a new concept and I just needed to experience things not working to feel the pain and search for a solution. Well, for the entrepreneurs in the audience, core values are a proven concept and they really matter. Trust me.
What else? What are some other examples of companies that have had strong core values for decades?
Recently I was talking to an entrepreneur that was excited about moving into the Atlanta Tech Village. Me being naturally curious, I asked the entrepreneur what made it so exciting. Immediately, the entrepreneur said that it provided instant community for their employees. I probed deeper and quickly found that by having a small number of employees, it’s hard to have a critical mass to do programs, events, and build community.
Here are examples of instant community at the Atlanta Tech Village:
- Weekly Friday lunches at Startup Chowdown
- Running club
- Weekly huddle groups for subjects like sales, marketing, and software engineering
- Frequent happy hours
- Regular office hours with subject matter experts
- Multiple events and programs each week
The idea is that when you join a larger company, there are so many people and resources that help create community. Startups don’t have the same luxury, until now — Atlanta Tech Village provides an instant community.
What else? What are your thoughts on an instant community for startups?
Earlier today I was talking with some colleagues about cultures at different startups. One company was mentioned and everyone promptly said they knew someone that used to work there and didn’t have a good experience. Now, the takeaway isn’t that the company doesn’t have a strong culture, rather, they bring on people that aren’t a good fit, and those people often self-select out. The stronger the culture, the more people that don’t fit because it’s so well defined and tight. Two successful companies can have very different cultures.
In a startup, and every business, it’s all about the people.
Ask anyone about their job and what’s the first thing they say? They say the people are great (assuming they like the job). Things like the market opportunity, compensation, and office environment always come after how they feel about the people. What’s the number one reason cited for people quitting a job? Answer: dislike of their manager. It all comes down to people.
What else? Do you agree that it’s all about the people?