Our Startup’s One Guiding Principle
July 5th, 2011 by Rick Morrison
One prerogative that founders have is that they get to set the company’s culture. It’s particularly important for founders to be cognizant of this phenomenon, because once a culture is set it’s very difficult to change. It’s best to carefully construct the culture of the company from the beginning.
From our experience, the company’s culture comes from the top. If the founders are disrespectful to customers, for example by referring to them as “idiots” behind closed doors, then it permeates the culture and negatively affects the way all employees think about the customers. If the founders talk about coworkers behind their backs, then that trickles down as well. If they live it and expect everybody else to do the same, then it becomes the culture.
When forming Comprehend Systems, Jud and I didn’t want to develop a long list describing the traits of our desired culture. Long lists get unwieldy and difficult to practically implement. The culture description needs be short so that it’s easy to remember, easy to convey, and easy to follow. It should be indisputable, and everybody at the company should understand and believe in it.
At Comprehend, we distilled our culture description to one sentence. In fact, it’s just two words, and from these two words, our whole culture falls into place. It’s our one guiding principle.
We want to make sure that every person at Comprehend does not have an ego. Specifically, we do not want them to let their ego get in the way of their work. If somebody doesn’t understand something, they shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask. Nobody knows everything, so there’s no need to pretend. Most likely, it’s easier to find somebody who knows the answer to a question, instead of covering up or spending too long without the answer. Everybody makes mistakes. We have, and we’ll make many more. Instead of dancing around admitting there’s a problem, we’d rather find a remedy.
We’re not saying not to be confident. Or to be proud of being wrong. Or not to share opinions. We simply believe that it’s important to remain humble and not let silly problems get in the way because of ego. We’ve heard about a related motto that is in effect a corollary of No Egos: “strong opinions, loosely held”, meaning that everybody bring their strong opinions to the table, makes their case, but then group decides on one and everybody moves on.
At Comprehend, we’re all on the same team and we all have a common goal: to grow this company into the amazing business that we know it can be. When somebody is following this principle, it’s impossible that it’ll lead us to think they’re dumb, or to hold it against them. There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Let’s work as a team, and get to where we know we can be as quickly as possible.
Comprehend Systems makes next generaton reporting and visualization software which works across multiple, disparate datasets. Also, we’re hiring engineers! If you’re interested, you can read more about the positions here, or submit your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.