What kind of company culture are we building?

Over the past few weeks Chad and I have been recruiting engineers to join our Card Gnome team. It has forced us to be introspective and verbalize our company culture to prospects. It has been illuminating to look at how our personal belief systems have manifested themselves into an operating entity. It comes down to 4 core tenants:

Passion/Motivation: Life is short so we believe it should be spent doing things we are passionate about. We truly believe that intrinsic motivation produces the best long term value and we foster that in ourselves and others. Money by itself is not a motivator, only an indicator that your business has added value. We are trying to build an amazing organization of passionate individuals, therefore acceptance of mediocrity is unacceptable.

Independent Debate: Chad and I are both fiercely independent thinkers with nearly opposite personalities and core skillsets. Our debates are epic but always respectful. We put all the details on the table and force each other to justify our thinking. It has given us a deep appreciation for how the other person thinks, which only serves to make the debates more honest. At the end of each debate though we come to a conclusion and agree on a path forward. I cannot, at this moment, think of a situation in which we were not in complete agreement on the correct decision. There is very little grey area, we both agree that a decision is the correct course or we keep talking. Compromise has its place, but it generally doesn’t build a compelling product.

Experimentation: We  are wiling to implement our ideas purely to learn what will happen. In fact, adding printed cards was originally one of these ideas. A few people had asked whether we could print our eCards for them and so we decided to give it a try. A week later, after receiving amazing feedback from consumers and artists, we decided to change our core business. Other trials have been failures, but the freedom to try something new is what makes us entrepreneurs, and heck its fun.

Respect for others: Our company is not just about profits, its also about meaningfully improving the lives of our customers, employees, partners and ourselves. When we make decisions we think deeply about how the decision will effect our stakeholders.  Making them happy and treating them fairly is the only way to build a great company.

We haven’t written a formal values statement yet, and there are certainly things I’ve left out, but this post is a good start. Use the comments below to let us know what you think about it.

What kind of company culture are we building?

6 thoughts on “What kind of company culture are we building?

  1. Adam W says:

    You have often talked about “green cards” , charitable organization and the contributionto to the artist community
    Those are importent points to keep in mind and should be included in your value statement.

  2. Sebastien says:

    No doubt those are great core principles. It’s great that the start-up environment allows those to exist as many of those are lost in the big business world.

    Also, I just came across another good post on company culture. It’s a bit long but a good read: http://www.blognewcomb.com

  3. Sebastien –

    The big business could really add value to their stakeholders by embracing more progressive cultures that foster intrinsic motivation. Our principles are certainly not right for everyone, but the top-down, bureaucratic management styles that are currently in place only serve to gradually erode the value of those businesses.

    I want to be clear that we are not thinking small here. This is the basic principles that we want in the large organization we expect to create. Certainly things will change, but motivating people through engaging their passion and truly giving them ownership of the company will not.

  4. Great post. Honest debates in person are the best way to clarify thinking. You’re lucky that you two have an equitable relationship where you can feel comfortable doing that. It’s common to find startups that were founded by an individual who then went out and looked for cofounders. Those startups usually have a big difference in power between the CEO and the rest of the team and it can be hard to have frank conversations.

    Intrinsic motivation is much better than cash incentives for creative work. Cash incentives can even hamper performance when people are thinking about the cash and not the challenge they’re trying to solve. Daniel Pink has a great book and TED talk about this. He makes a very convincing argument that the keys to professional fulfillment are Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

    1. Thanks for the words of encouragement Eric, we really appreciate that!

      One of our mentors handed us “Drive” a few week ago, I’m in the middle now. Its fantastic! It really sums up my own feelings so well while giving a ton of real-world experiments to back it up. It reminds me of “The Third Chimpanzee” in that way.

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