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2 posts tagged team

Stop hiding who you are

One critical lesson that we’ve learned the hard way, is that we shouldn’t hide who we are. Today we try to be open and honest about the size of the company and our goals, but things haven’t always been this way.

A strong start
When Brendan and I first started Wistia, it was pretty darn clear how big the company was. This was easy because there were two of us, we had no website, and we were 22 and 23 (Brendan was the old man). We didn’t think to hide who we were or what we were doing. When we went to startup events, it was two dudes working on a problem. When we first met Ben and Adam, it was just Brendan and I working out of Brendan’s bedroom.

Did our first investors know that it was just the two of us? Yup. Did they come to meetings in our house and sit on a couch at the foot of Brendan’s bed? Yup. Did our first customers know that Brendan slept six feet from we built Wistia? Yup. Okay, cool.

Being over-excited about becoming a “real business”
Shortly thereafter, a very unfortunate thing happened to us: We closed our first round of funding, got an office, and set out to build a “real business.”

Can you guess what happened next? It was time to start having real business meetings. We got fancy titles. We even bought a conference phone for our CONFERENCE ROOM.

Just look at that shitty conference phone. Does it look like we’re running a “real business” yet?

Brendan and I started commuting 25 minutes to our brand new office in Lexington, MA. It was a stupid commute. But we did have our own parking lot! It was boss. There were many times that we would actually have to dig ourselves out after a night’s snowfall so that we could race to beat Adam and Ben to the office, just to show them how serious we were about building a “real business.” 

It should come as no surprise that we stopped referring to the company as a small business being run out of Brendan’s bedroom. Here is our team page from that time:

What do you think when you look at this team page? Do you think that Wistia looks like a huge, successful “real business?” There are probably a slew of other employees not important enough to make it onto this page, right? Wrong.

Get it right
It took us too long to figure out that people could see right through this. What does our old management team page look like? It looks like a very small team pretending to be a big company. It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that if people think you’re a big company, they’ll treat you with more respect.

The reality: everyone wants to do business with people they trust. Customers want to know what they are buying. Partners want to know who they are dealing with. Investors want to believe in the team and opportunity. But if we are being deceptive with our team page, what else could we be being deceptive with?

Raising money made us think that in order to be successful, we needed to be a “real business” when in reality we needed to be true to ourselves. It’s funny to realize that everyone sees through your ruse. It’s even funnier to realize that when you present the honest truth, that we were four dudes working together on a problem we cared about, that people would actually respect our small beginnings.

The first time we were transparent about our size, I was nervous. This is what our team page looked like at that time.

The current rendition of our team page looks like this:

Type d-a-n-c-e on the team page you’ll learn even more about us. Like that we can’t dance.

The more you put forward who you really are, the better people will understand you and the more they will want to get to know you.  They will be more likely to invest in your growth, and even cut you some slack when you fall short.

So when you’re talking to the press, launching your website, editing your Twitter profile, or chatting someone up at a party, cut the shit and be your real self. You will be surprised how much better your crazy idea will be received.

What’s in a name?

People frequently ask us why team members at Wistia have formal titles even though we’re such a small company. This is a great question and something that I’ve asked myself. Let’s see how we decided to go with the titles we use now.
Over time, through trial and error, I’ve discovered the secret to a team getting tons of work done: give people autonomy, ownership, and the power to make change.

Autonomy - freedom from external control or influence; independence

Are you more excited to do what you want to do or what you’re told to do? What kind of problem do you find more motivating? Giving people autonomy to find the problems that they think deserve to be solved and to solve these problems their own way is incredibly motivating.

We want everyone who is at and will be at Wistia to have the freedom to solve problems the way they see fit.  One reason we opted to “round up” on titles instead of “rounding down” is so that everyone understands that each team member has this autonomy.

Ownership - the state or fact of being an owner

The biggest challenge of running a startup is deciding what to do next. What should we do tonight, tomorrow, next week, or next year? We’ve handled a part of this decision making process by making sure that one person has ownership over each critical part of the business.

When we make decisions about which feature, partnership, or marketing strategy to pursue next, we always have someone fighting from the perspective of each aspect of the business. This helps us keep all the parts of the company balanced and make smarter decisions. Using this approach, people end up fighting pretty hard for what they believe in.

Power to make change - the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events

Our approach would not work if we had a crew of people generating ideas and one person enacting them. We need everybody to have the power to make change. This can mean having the authority to push “send” on a newsletter, sign a partnership, or commit code. (Side note: Jeff, our Director of Customer Happiness, decided it would be a good idea to commit his code in his first week on the job helping people with support. He wanted to fix a recurring support issue by improving the product instead of creating a canned email.)

Where does this leave us?
We have a team of people fighting to get things done, make the right decisions, and having fun. If that means that our titles are a little more formal than you would find elsewhere, that’s fine with me.