Welcome to Puppy(dot)io — Or why management disrupts a startup’s culture. 🧐
The Monocle — Episode #1
👋 My name is Adrien. I’ve never worked in a company with more than 6 people (Tinbox team unite! cc David, Samuel, François, Lucas & Miguel) or had a boss. But with Spot.coach, the company I founded with Eric, former CEO of Wanadoo and Victor, my college roommate (I did go to college for a bit), I’ve helped hundreds of managers, interviewed countless HR & talent management teams and listened to successful startup founders talk about their management scaling issues.
Long story short, Spot.coach has given me a unique view of “Why management“ and I want to share it with you in this “The Monocle” series.
So put your monocle on and let’s theorize.
🧐 [monocle → on]
Management is everywhere. If you think of it as something boring, or as a “big company thing” — take a step back.
Even if you work in a startup with 2 people, you are managing and being 24/7.
For this first episode of The Monocle, I created Puppy.io, a fictional early stage startup with 3 founders & 6 employees.
It mirrors a company I had the chance to interact with this past year.
With Puppy.io, I want to show you how management impacts an early stage company’s culture.
As companies scale, good founders will always talk about how worried they are about maintaining their “company culture”.
Was ist das?
Culture is a code of conduct. It’s how people in your company choose to behave, communicate, dress, work, have fun, etc. Every company has one.
Yes, some “look cool” while others look “depressing” — but the key here is that a culture isn’t good or bad. Culture just is. As long as you have a group of people, you have a culture.
Example: You’re invited to a fancy cocktail party. You know how people will greet each other, how people will dress, what kind of food they will eat, what topics of conversation they might bring up, what to say and not to say, etc…
The birth of a company’s culture 🐺
Orginally Puppy.io was called Wolf.io. The founders thought it best illustrated what they all had in common: their entrepreneurial drive, alone against the world — a lone wolf idea. Yes, they had grouped into a pack, but each with their freedom and individuality.
This translated into an interesting management system:
- Reporting & Communication: Founders expected each other to let the others know if something was wrong or if they were having doubts about a decision.
- Ownership & Responsibility: Each of them was responsible for making sure they were able to deliver. Collaboration was key in that effort, and if you didn’t ask, it was your fault.
- Scope decision making: Each founder could call their own shots unless they felt it would impact the work of the pack.
Long story short, everything you expect from a management structure was somehow ingrained in each of the founders without each founder having a manager.
But that became a challenge as the founders started bringing in new people. They wanted to keep the self-management culture they had established.
One of my favorite moments in the TV show Silicon Valley:
Richard (CEO): I'd like for this company to be different than Hooli and Goolybib and all the rest, you know? Like, let's like not turn this into a corporate cult with bike meetings and voluntary retreats that are actually mandatory. And claiming to make the world a better place all the time. Let's, uh, let's just think different.Richard (CEO): Don't think different. That's Apple.Richard (CEO): Uh, umm Let's just Let's just do it.Big Head (Early Employee): That's Nike, man.Richard (CEO): I know that's Nike.Big Head (Early Employee): Yeah.Richard (CEO): Uh Fuck it. I don't know. Let's just make it... Let's just make it happen!
The Birth of a Dictatorship
As soon as Wolf.io’s first employee stepped in, things started to change.
From Self-Managed (t=0)…
At t=0, the company culture is the one we described above: self-managed.
Wolf.io was therefore looking for people who would fit their culture — other self-managed “lone wolves”. 🐺
… to Dictatorship (t+1 employees)
The experience for the newly hired lone wolves however, was very different.
Startups are a dictatorship — not a democracy or an anarchy.
The lone wolves were put under a cage: the founders’ management (and even the founders’ micromanagement).
Week after week, the lone wolves became cute puppies. They relied on founders for direction (and 🧠 food).
⚡️ Culture Clash ⚡️
A couple of hires down the line and you have the founders’ vision of a self-managed lone-wolf culture vs. the real team of cute puppies.
It really hit home when the first major problems came up.
“Why are we finding out about this just now?”, “How did this happen?” & “Who’s responsible?”
“At Wolf.io, this shouldn’t be happening.” — Howdy, Pack Leader
Everyone was kind of looking around thinking… “I just did what I was told — I was following the Pack Leader.”
This is when the company decided to rebrand as Puppy.io. They realize how different their organization had become compared to Wolf.io.
Teach your team to self-manage.
There will always be strong leadership from the founders.
Startups are a dictatorship by design, you won’t change that.
But what you can change is the behavior your employees have in that dictatorship. How they help the founders make decisions, inspire the CEO’s leadership.
“The greatest people are self-managed.” – Steve Jobs
The best founders I’ve met make sure that each individual feels responsible for their work and its impact. They make sure information is shared in a proactive manner. They tell the dictator how to make their lives better.
Pro Tip 💡
Founders, start by telling your team the secrets to how you manage yourself.
How do you know if you’re doing a good job? When do you get help? How often to you talk with other people about what you’re working on?
Great employees make great managers, not the other way around.
[monocle → off]