September 10, 2014

Company Culture Matters -- Here's How We're Building Ours


In the Beginning...

In Contactually's early days (say, the first year and a half or so), we never really paid much attention to "culture". To me, in fact, it was a foreign word. It's an intangible, not a task or thing that can just be "done."

Culture doesn't sell a product. Culture doesn't build a product. The online discussion around startup company "culture" was brewing, but without any clear path to implementing it as a to-do. We worked the way we worked. We had our beliefs. Most of it came from the founders. Because early employees had such a close connection with the founding team (most of our first ten employees were interviewed by all three of us), it was clear what we cared about, how we worked, etc.

Sometimes a small team can create and protect culture all by itself.

Over time, our culture was bound to change and evolve. As we bring on more employees, not only do they add their own personal habits and values to the overall company mindset, but their connection with the torchbearers of the original company culture becomes further removed, with less opportunity for face-time. And as the company moves along (survives!) the early days and moves into more of growth stage, priorities may change.

Codifying Contactually's Culture

We wanted to in some way codify our culture, to both align our current effort and fast-track the onboarding of new hires, so they could quickly be brought up to speed on how the company operates.

In May 2013, we sat down and came up with our initial set of values. Admittedly, it was a bit of a challenge. How do you capture something that has never been spoken before? It was a hard process, but we were pleased with the results. The eight core values we came up with initially exceeded expectations in solidifying what was important to the company, and what wasn't.

When interviewees are asking about the company culture, or new hires are starting their first day, the values always come out. Why? Let's take two of them:

Focus on the user - both today's and tomorrow's.

Everything in the company is focused around helping end users. You'll never be asked to do anything that is not of ultimate benefit to users, nor will anyone give you nothing but praise for assisting, thinking about, and going the extra mile for just one of our customers. We even do crazy stuff like send mariachi bands and sunglasses to our users, just because we love them so much.

Progress over process.

Relentless improvement and progress is the only way we will win. We don't want drones who come in and just come in and follow instructions for eight hours a day. Nothing is sacred, and you should always be challenging the status quo.

Now that we're nearing our third birthday, the company has grown quite a bit -- not just in headcount, but in maturity and focus as well. We knew that our culture would change a bit too, and the best route to reflect that was to revise our values every year.

Boy, that escalated quickly. And we're not even all in here!

So in late April 2014, we pulled up our values on a big screen, and talked about them. While we didn't have the difficulty we had the year before of writing something from scratch, we had a new challenge - coming to terms with what had changed, or had to change.

So while we've always valued "Progress over Process", we know that process is still really helpful, and in fact, can encourage progress. If we had no standard process for our sales team to use for coaching users in their first weeks, we couldn't be able to help as many users, and we wouldn't we see much progress in our sales growth. While we're "Never Afraid to Innovate", the product team could not abide by the popular mantra of "move fast and break things". When a "thing" is central to a customer's life, "breaking" it is a no-go.

Take a look at our core values, and you'll get a good sense of what it's like to work at Contactually.

What are your values?