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14 Revealing Signs You Love Your Startup Job

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Thu, May 23, 2013


You may not be frequently giving out an embarrassingly gushing smile and you might not write little love notes during your lunch break. But, there are ways to tell if you love your job.

Of course, no job is perfect -- even the best of relationships have their down days. We all have to do things we don’t like. I love working at HubSpot, it's the best job I've ever had (but, that's by design). But, even I have “off” days where I'm not spending all my time doing things I absolutely my job small

So all of the following may not be the case all of the time.  But when you love your job, many of the following should be the case much of the time:

1. You don’t talk about other people; you talk about the cool things other people are doing.

“I hear Michelle has really improved our customer happiness scores.” or  “I’d love to know how Mike managed to rescue that sale.” “Sherry developed a new tool that's made our lives so much better.”

When you love your job you don’t gossip about the personal failings of others. You talk about their successes, because you’re happy for them – and because you’re happy with yourself.

2. You think, “I hope I get to…” instead of, “I hope I don’t have to…”

When you love your job it’s like peeling an onion. There are always more layers to discover and explore.

When you hate your job it’s also like peeling an onion – but all you discover are more tears.

3. You see your internal and external customers not as people to satisfy but simply as people.

They aren't numbers. You think of them as real people who have real needs.

And you gain a real sense of fulfillment and purpose from taking care of those needs.

4. You enjoy your time at work.

You don't have to put in time at work and then escape to life to be happy. You believe in enjoying life and enjoying work.

When you love your job, it’s a part of your life. You feel alive and joyful not just at home – but also at work.

5. You would recommend working at your company to your best friend…

In fact, you can't stop talking about how cool your company is and the awesome work you're doing even when you're away from work. Your friends and family are envious.

6. You enjoy attending meetings.

No, seriously, you enjoy meetings. Why? Because it’s fun to be at the center of thoughtful, challenging discussions that lead to decisions, initiatives, and changes – changes you get to be a part of.

7. You don’t think about surviving. You think about winning.

You don't worry much about losing your job. You're more worried about not achieving your potential. Not being as impactful as you can be.

8. You see your manager as a person you work with, not for.

You feel valued. You feel respected.

You feel trusted.

9. You don’t want to let your coworkers down.

Not because you’ll get in trouble or get a bad performance review, but because you admire them – and you want them to admire you.

10. You hardly ever look at the clock.

You’re too busy making things happen. When you do look at the clock, you often find that the time has flown.

11. You view success in terms of fulfillment and gratification – not just promotions and money.

Everyone wants to be promoted. Everyone wants to earn more.

You definitely feel that way too… but somewhere along the way your job has come to mean a lot more to you than just a paycheck. And if you left this job, even if for a lot higher salary… you would still miss it.

A lot.

12. You leave work with items on your to-do list you’re excited about tackling tomorrow.

Many people cross the “fun” tasks off their to-do lists within the first hour or two.

You often have cool stuff – new initiatives, side projects, hunches you want to confirm with data, people you want to talk to – left over when it’s time to go home.

13. You help without thinking.

You like seeing your colleagues succeed, so it’s second nature to help them out. You pitch in automatically.

And they do the same for you.

14. You can't imagine being somewhere else.

You're having too much fun.  Learning too much.  

How many of the above statements apply to you and your job?

If you said:
0-3: You may want to find a new job. Life is too short.
4-6: You don't hate your job... but you don't love it either. What can you do differently?
7-10: You really enjoy your job and the people you work with
11-14: You are deeply, madly in love with your job! (and your friends are definitely jealous!)

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5 Startup Hiring Mistakes That Can Crush Your Culture

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Apr 29, 2013

Remember your first business loan? Or, if you're like many entrepreneurs, you may have initially bootstrapped your startup by buying some stuff on your credit card. You were excited and apprehensive: Excited because now you had the cash to invest in your business, apprehensive because you had just taken on a debt you would have to repay.

But that was okay, because you were confident you could create more value than the interest you would pay. Even though you eventually have to pay off a financial debt, gaining access to the right resources now often marks the difference between success and failure.

That’s true for financial debt – but it’s almost never true for culture debt. describe the image

Culture debt happens when a business takes a shortcut and hires an employee with, say, the “right” the skills or experience… but who doesn't fit the culture. Just one bad hire can create a wave of negativity that washes over every other employee, present and future – and as a result, your entire business.

Unfortunately the interest on culture debt is extremely high: In some cases you will never pay off the debt you incur, even when a culture misfit is let go or leaves.

Here are five all-too-common ways you can create culture debt that can keep your startup from achieving its potential:

1. You see the ivy and miss the poison

The star developer who writes great code… but who also resists taking any direction and refuses to help others… won't instantly turn over a new interpersonal leaf just because you hire him.

The skilled salesperson who in the short-term always seems to outperform her peers… but who also maneuvers and manipulates and builds kerosene-soaked bridges just waiting to go up in flames… won’t turn into a relationship building, long-term focused ambassador for your company just because you hire her.

The interview process is a little like a honeymoon. You see the best the candidate has to offer. If a prospective employee doesn't look like a great fit for your culture before he is hired, he definitely won’t be after he’s hired.

Never risk making a deal with the culture-fit devil. The soul of your company is at stake. Seriously.

2. You discard the attitude and play the skill card

Skills and experience are worthless when not put to use. Knowledge is useless when not shared with others.

The smaller your company the more likely you are to be an expert in your field, so transferring those skills to new employees is relatively easy. But you can't train enthusiasm, a solid work ethic, and great interpersonal skills – and those traits can matter a lot more than any skills a candidate brings.

According to this study only 11% of the new hires that failed in the first 18 months failed due to deficiencies in technical skills. The majority failed due to lack of motivation, an unwillingness to be coached, or problems with temperament and emotional intelligence.

Think of it this way: The candidate who lacks certain hard skills might be a cause for concern, but the candidate who lacks the beliefs and values you need is a giant culture debt red flag.

3. You try to sell a used car

It’s tempting to over-sell a candidate on your company, especially when you desperately need to fill an open position and you've been recruiting for seemingly forever.

Don’t sell too hard. Great candidates come prepared. They've done their homework. They already know whether your company is a good fit for them based on what they've read about you online. The really great recruits might have been stalking your company for many weeks or months -- seeing what the company feels like.

Describe the position, describe your company, answer every question, be candid and forthright, let your natural enthusiasm show through… and let the candidate make an informed decision. But, don’t oversell.

The right candidates recognize the right opportunities – and the right cultural fit. If you have to try too hard to convince someone, and the love is unidirectional, it's not setup for long-term success.

4. You mistake the rumblings for hunger

Nothing beats a formal, thorough, comprehensive hiring process… except, sometimes, a dose of intuition and gut feel.

At my company HubSpot (grew from 0-500 employees in 6 years) there are five key attributes we value:

· Humble. They’re modest despite being awesome. They’re self-aware and respectful.

· Effective. They get (stuff) done. They measurably move the needle and immeasurably add value.

· Adaptable. They’re constantly changing, life-long learners.

· Remarkable. They have a super-power that makes them stand out: Remarkably smart, remarkably creative, remarkably resourceful…

· Transparent. They’re open and honest with others – and with themselves.

In short, we look for people with H-E-A-R-T, because they help us create a company we love. So we always weigh our impressions against more qualitative considerations. You should too. Think of it this way: The more experience you have – the more lumps you’ve taken and hard knocks you’ve received and mistakes you’ve made – the more “educated” your “gut.” While you should never go on intuition alone, if you have a funny feeling about a candidate… see that as a sign you need to look more closely.

And look more closely.

For a detailed insider’s peek into how we think about culture at HubSpot, check out our Culture Code slides (embedded below for your convenience).

Bottom line: Define the intangibles you want in your employees and never compromise by hiring a candidate who lacks those qualities.

5. You decide to double down

There are two basic kinds of risk you can take on a potential employee.

First the worthwhile risks: Taking a shot on a candidate you feel has more potential than her previous employer let her show; taking a shot on a candidate who is missing a few skills but has attitude in abundance; taking a chance on a candidate you feel certain brings the enthusiasm, drive, and spirit your team desperately needs. Those are good chances to take.

Now the foolish risks: Taking a shot on a candidate with a history of performance issues that you hope will somehow develop a strong work ethic; taking a chance on the candidate who left his last two jobs because "my bosses were jerks;" taking a shot on the candidate who has no experience yet only wants to talk about how quickly and often she will be promoted.

Why do you rationalize taking foolish risks? You're desperate. Or you're lazy. Or you have "other issues to focus on." Or you figure your culture is strong enough to withstand the impact of one ill-fitting employee.

Don't take foolish risks. They almost always turn out badly. Occasionally take potentially worthwhile risks, because they can turn out to be your most inspired hires and, eventually, your best employees.

And never, ever take a chance that creates high-interest culture debt.

The cost to your organization is just too high. And, life is short.

A variation of this article was also posted as part of my participation in the LinkedIn Influencers program

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Does HubSpot Walk The Talk On Its Culture Code?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Thu, Apr 11, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, HubSpot shared our culture code deck ( — a document that describes what we believe and how we work. 

The presentation, despite being 150+ slides long and on a topic that doesn't involve celebrities, cat photos or currently trending topics has been remarkably well received. It has had over 340,000 views.  It's one of the most viewed presentations on slideshare in the past year. I've received many, many emails and tweets with positive comments about the culture code deck (thanks!)

Deck is included below, for your convenience, in case you haven't seen it yet.


describe the imageNow that the deck is out there and has garnered so much interest, I thought it might be valuable to dig into some of the core tenets of the HubSpot Culture Code and try to do an honest assessment of how well we live up to the tenets. Or, stated differently, how well do we "walk the talk"?  In the deck itself, when a particular tenet was more aspirational than descriptive, we tried to call it out.  (I think this candor is one of the reasons people like the deck). But the call-out doesn't always capture the degree to which we live up to the ideal, so we're double-clicking here.

So, here are the core tenets with a self-score on how well HubSpot lives up to the tenet. Of course, even this take is biased (I'm a founder, and all founders are naturally biased about their startups) and it's a qualitative judgment call. On my list of things to do is to see if we can make this more measurable. But, that's a topic for another day. 

1. We are as maniacal about our metrics as our mission.

Score: 9.5/10

Lets break this one down a bit.  First of all, we are very passionate about our mission to transform marketing and move the world towards more inbound and creating marketing people love.  It's a noble vision, it's a big one — and we invest in it and mostly live up to it.

Mission score: 9/10:  I dock us a point because we do have some outbound marketing in our mix of marketing spend.  We're not pure inbound marketing. We spend some money on PPC, some telemarketing and some paid online channels.  Not a lot — but enough to deduct a point.

Metrics score: 9.5/10:  We really are maniacal about our metrics.  We pore over data.  We slice and dice things like customer cancellation data, SaaS economics metrics, employee happiness surveys, marketing channel data.  I've talked to many, many startups and fast-growing companies.  Of those, HubSpot is one of the most data-driven and metrics-obsessed companies I know.

2. We obsess over customers, not competitors and “Solve For The Customer”

Score: 8/10

The statement itself is mostly true (we spend 99% of our time worrying about customers and very little time worrying about competitors), but the underlying mantra of “Solve For The Customer” is not yet as true as we'd like it to be. 

We get points for the way we have handled pricing and packaging over our 6+ year history.  We have raised prices almost every year, and each time, we go out of our way to grandparent our existing customers and reward them for putting their belief in HubSpot.  So, on this front, I think we do really well.

We deduct points because the overall experience of HubSpot is not as smooth as it could be.  It's not customer-friendly enough.  We sometimes make decisions that are for our self-interest or convenience rather than customer happiness.  We're working on this.

We're getting better at having people call B.S. on decisions or directions that are not in the customers' interest.  People will speak up with questions like “What's in it for the customer?” or “How is this solving for the customer?” or “Seriously?”.  On the one hand, it feels good that people can be open and candid when they don't think we're living up to the SFTC (Solve For The Customer) credo.  On the other hand, in an ideal world, these non-customer-happiness focused things wouldn't have to be called out, because we'd always be acting in the customers' interest.  It would be natural and second-nature.  But, we're a metrics-obsessed, goals-oriented, for-profit company — so it may take some work and practice to have SFTC be natural, 100% of the time.  In the meantime, we'll continue to try and catch ourselves before we make decisions that don't make sense for the customer long-term.

3. We are radically and uncomfortable transparent.

Score: 9.5/10

We are super-duper, hyper transparent — and our transparency level has moved up over the years, not down.  We share all sorts of crazy things with every employee.  For example, one of the posts on our wiki goes into detail on every funding round we've done.  Details include the What the valuation was, what the common strike price was, how much money was raised, how much dilution there was, etc.  

We share just about everything.  And, the things we don't share (like individual salaries), we're deliberate and clear about.  Deducted half a point simply because nobody's perfect and we can always be better.

4. We give ourselves the autonomy to be awesome. 

Score: 8/10

We're good, but not great in terms of giving ourselves autonomy.  HubSpotters have a fair amount of freedom.  You can run with an idea.  Most things don't require permission.  You can talk to anybody in the company, including the founders about whatever you want.  We don't have formal policies and procedures for most things (our default policy on most things is “use good judgment”).

So, why the lower score?  A few things:  First, although we philosophically believe in the “work whenever, wherever” idea, this is not universally enjoyed to the same degree by every HubSpotter.  We trust our team leaders to do what is right for their groups and use good judgment.  We're also a bit conflicted because the data overwhelmingly shows that working together in the same office leads to more creativity and productivity.  So, we understand the importance of co-location, but don't want to force it and take away freedom.  For now, we've straddled the issue.  Bit of a cop-out.

Our unlimited vacation policy has been a good thing (it's been in place for over 3 years).  But, there were a couple of issues.  First, some of us didn't really feel like they could take vacations without negatively impacting their work.  Second, we had growing suspicion that on average people might be taking less vacation than they should.  We didn't know if this was true, since we don't track vacation days — but we wanted to make certain that “unlimited vacation” didn't turn out to be “no vacation” for anyone at HubSpot.  So, we made a tweak: Everyone has to take at least two weeks of vacation a year, or face ridicule by their peers.  We've also tweaked some things to make it more likely that people do the right thing and take regular vacations. 

5. We are unreasonably picky about our peers.

Score: 8.5/10

This is true. We are really, really picky about our peers.  We're fortunate to have a lot of interest in the company, and for every open position we get many (often hundreds) of candidates.  So, we can afford to be picky.  It's actually harder to get a job at HubSpot than it is to get into MIT. Our acceptance rate is lower.

The reason for deducting a couple of points is related to the attributes we look for (Humble, Effective, Adaptable, Remarkable and Transparent). For the most part, HubSpotters manifest these attributes — we try to make sure of this during the recruitment and interviewing process.  But, we don't always get it right.  So, we get a negative point for that. 

Also subtracting a half point because not only do we make hiring mistakes sometimes (despite our best efforts), we're not as good as we should be at calling people out when they do un-HubSpotty things.  For example, we have being “Humble” as a core attribute (it's actually been an attribute from the beginning).  But, not everyone acts in humble ways, and we often fail to call it out. Part of having a great culture is defending it.

6, We invest in individual mastery and market value.

Score: 8/10

Though we've always believed in investing in our people and wanting to “build not just a company we're proud of, but people we're proud of”, this hasn't been explicit in our culture code until recently. So, we have some work to do here.

First, we're going to take a hard look at where our “discretionary culture spend” (aka “employee happiness expenses”) — which, incidentally is over a million dollars a year.  We want to shift our budget to things that help increase mastery and market value. Things like education and leadership training.  Yes, we enjoy parties and celebrations too (and those are important), but all things being equal, we want to invest these dollars (in our people), not spend them

But until then, we still get an 8 on this front.  We can do much more.

7. We defy conventional “wisdom” as it's often unwise.

Score: 8.5/10

This culture attribute goes towards how much we question the status quo and do things differently.  We're actually pretty good at this.  Good, but not great. We get points for things like not having offices and executive perks.  Our radical transparency and openness defies conventional wisdom.  We're one of the few private companies that publicly shares its key financial data (like revenues) every year.

8. We speak the truth and face the facts.

Score: 9/10

We have a very strong culture of facing the facts and reality.  Nobody is allowed to walk around with rose-color glasses on. We don't brush problems under the rug. We don't hide from issues. If anything, we can be faulted for being too critical sometimes.  We also do a great job of speaking the truth and being candid about the problems we see in the organization.  This happens in meetings, in hallways, over email and on the wiki.  When problems show up (as they do regularly), we are usually quick to react.

9. We believe in work+life, not work vs. life

Score: 8/10

This one is a bit squishy and hard to measure.  Generally, we do a really good job of work-life fit.  Mostly flexible hours, unlimited vacation, centrally located and relatively easily accessible office.  All of those things help.  Things that fall into this bucket that we're not great at is diversity — particularly gender balance and getting more women into leadership roles.  We're “leaning in” on this, and hope to get much, much better at this over the next few months.  Stay tuned.

10. We are a perpetual work in progress.

Score: 9.0/10

This one's a bit of a gimme (note to self: We need to replace this tenet with something that's more substantive and less platitudinal).

We don't sit on our laurels.  We celebrate victories big and small — but celebrations are short-lived.  Though we are pleased with our modest success so far, we recognize that there is still much work to be done.  We're constantly trying to improve how we run the busines and ourselves.

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Some Heart-felt and Humble Advice For Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Thu, Jul 07, 2011


Dear Rand,

Really enjoyed the recent article on your personal blog, “Inflection Points: Bravery vs. Foolishness”. Very few entrepreneurs have the courage to be that transparent. On behalf of entrepreneurs everywhere, thank you!

We've known each other for many years now and have had many a late-night conversation, and many dinners. I'm honored to call you a friend.

Though our direct chats are always fun and useful, I thought it might be interesting to have a longer, “in written form” response to your article. I was inspired to write this article a bit by Brian Halligan, my co-founder at HubSpot (who you also know), who left an exceptionally detailed comment on your article. I'll be borrowing liberally from Brian's comment (it won't be the first time I've borrowed from Brian's wisdom and used it to make me look smarter than I actually am).rand fishkin

1. It's great to have options. Raising capital is always a bit of a scary thing for an entrepreneur. And, for right reason. It not only changes a lot about the business, it also changes you. SEOmoz is now at the stage where outside capital is not a “necessity”. That's awesome. It takes away one of my biggest concerns with raising capital: When the entrepreneur doesn't have a choice, she doesn't have any leverage. Having the option to raise capital is a big amount of leverage and dramatically increases the odds of both getting a fair deal and making a rational, thoughtful decision.

2. If you're going to raise, raise now. If you're thinking about raising capital, this is a really good time to do it. The markets are nice and frothy, making for a great time to be a seller of equity. The timing question is always hard (both in terms of M&A, which is selling all of your equity or a funding round, which is part of your equity). I've been through this particular calculus before. When things are going really well (as they are for SEOmoz), it's tempting to think: “Hey, the market is valuing us at X times revenue — our revenue is going to go up by Y, so our valuation will be going up by X*Y in the next year.” I've made exactly that argument to myself in the past (not at HubSpot, but my former company). As it turns out, up markets go down and frothy markets get less frothy. So, if the market took a downturn, it could have two potential impacts on your company valuation: 1) your revenue multiple goes down (thereby decreasing valuation). 2) Your actual revenue could be lower than you expected — because people are not buying as readily or cancelling more often. So, it's entirely possible that despite having a “good” year coming up, the company is valued less. So, our advice would be: If you're considering raising at all, don't try to wait until you drive your revenue up further. Raise now.

3. Take some freakin' money off the table! I recognize that you have concerns. And that you lead a modest and happy lifestyle. And that you don't want money to mess things up. I get all that. But, it's not only irrational to have such little diversification of your personal funds, it's outright irresponsible. In terms of how much you should take — that's a personal decision. If it were me (I don't have a particularly lavish life either), I'd shoot for several million. Enough to where you didn't have to worry (or think about) money at all for the next 10 years.

Bonus argument: Even if you kept your lifestyle exactly the same, here's one more phenomenal reason to take some cash off the table: You could become an angel investor and help other up-and-coming entrepreneurs get started. Trust me, you'd have a blast! Though this doesn't completely solve the “lack of diversification” problem (you'd still have your money tied up in startups), at least it's not all the same startup.

Oh, and by the way, I know you kids these days like living on the edge and all, but having just $25k in savings is unwise — especially if it's unnecessary.

It is not about the money. It's about having options.

Finally, as Brian said: Just because you have millions in the bank doesn't mean you have to stop working crazy, ungodly hours. My suspicion is that you have the startup gene that means you're going to work crazy hours regardless.  (Besides, who wants to work godly hours, anyways?)

4. VC will definitely change things. I'll just take Brian's words directly on this one: My personal sense of the thing that will be most uncomfortable for you is if a good quality VC joins your board is the scrutiny she will give your team and other board members. She will constantly be testing your conviction about team members and constantly looking to hire one of her crony outside overpriced headhunters to replace the folks that you rely on and who built your business with you. I have no idea whether you think your team is the right team that will scale or not, but if you do think they are the right team that will scale, be prepared to defend that position for a long time. VCs can never know your business that deeply and chapter 1 of their playbook where they think they can add the most value is on the “team.” It is low risk for them and their network is where they perceive their biggest value is. Sometimes they are right here and bring in just the right person, other times they don’t.

5. Its about the people. Also from Brian: Your hierarchy of investor priorities is right. I have gotten to know a lot of VCs over the last few years and many of them are not as good as I expected. There are some of the really top dogs that I’m convinced are far more lucky than good, so don’t be dazzled by their investment record. In my mind, there are two “types” of VCs, ones that are more like Wall Street equity analysts that are great with spreadsheets and picking trends and others that are former CEOs. Like you, I’m a first-time CEO, so part of my criteria was to find the ex-CEO type who I could turn to for advice and this turned out to be a really good decisions for me. When an equity analyst type or an ex-CEO type, I’ll give you my VC test: When I meet with them to talk about the business, do I take any notes or any action items? About 80% of the time when meeting VCs, I don’t take any notes or any action items — once in a awhile I meet someone that is sharp and changes my thinking or gives me great advice. Go with one of those ones, even if the terms are much worse.

6. Protect the culture. One thing Brian and I have learned in building HubSpot is that culture counts. Industries change, markets change and products change — but amidst it all, great cultures endure. You've built a great culture at SEOmoz and you should fight to defend it. But, raising a round of capital doesn't necessarily mean you'll screw your culture up. I like to believe we do a pretty good job at HubSpot when it comes to culture (many would argue that it's one of our biggest advantages). We've raised over $50 million across four rounds of capital and 6 investors and have managed to maintain the core of our culture. Brian notes: The act of raising money and having a new board member is not what will screw up your culture. It is when you bring in new team members that things can go awry. Every time you bring in a new exec, the exec team sort of needs to re-form itself and re-gel. If you bring in a crony of the VCs that doesn’t fit and who isn't TAGFEE, that’s where the culture blows up. [This last point is something I haven't personally experienced, but saw through other CEOs I know through a CEO group I joined]

We both are super-impressed with what you've done and that you've done it without being (or becoming) a jackass — quite the opposite. We look forward forward to watching your continued success.

Warm regards,

Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah (the HubSpot guys)

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Anything You Want: 21 Inspiring Ideas From Derek Sivers

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Wed, Jun 29, 2011


I first met Derek Sivers at the Business of Software conference. I'd heard about him, but I hadn't actually met him.

Derek has done at least two remarkable things:

1. He created a successful business, from scratch.

2. He gave the business away to charity when he was done.

Derek recently spoke at the Business of Software conference.  You should go watch his presentation.  Inspiring.

Derek just came out with a simple, highly readable book called “Anything You Want”. It's short, to the point and inspiring. Also, the book is published through "The Domino Project" by Seth Godin.anything you want

Before I could get this article published, the book has climbed from a 12,000 ranking on Amazon to about 1,000. [Update it's all the way at #6 now]

Inspiring Ideas From “Anything You Want” By Derek Sivers

1. Business is not about money. It's about making dreams come true for others and for yourself.

2. When you make a company, you make a utopia. It's where you design your perfect world.

3. Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently promoting what's not working.

4. A quick glance and common sense should tell you if the numbers will work. The rest are details.

5. “Revolution” is a term that people use only when you're successful. Before that, you're just a quirky person who does things differently.

6. When you're on to something great, it won't feel like revolution. It'll feel like uncommon sense.

7. If you're not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no”.

8. Start now. No funding needed.

9. After we grew to 50 employees, people started pitching me on how I needed an official employee review plan, sensitivity training, Terms and Conditions postings, and all this corporate crap. I got such joy out saying no to all of it.

10. In a perfect world, would your website be covered with advertising?

11. Resist the urge to punish everyone for one person's mistake.

12. If you find even the smallest way to make people smile, they'll remember you more for that smile than for all your other fancy business-model stuff.

13. Don't try to impress an invisible jury of MBA professors. It's OK to be casual.

14. No matter what business you're in, it's good to prepare for what would happen if business doubled.

15. In the end, it's about what you want to be, not what you want to have.

16. When you sign up for a marathon, you don't want a taxi to take you to the finish line.

17. There's a big difference between being self-employed and being a business owner.

18. Never forget that you can make your role anything you want it to be.

19. Anything you hate to do, someone else loves it. Find that person and let them do it.

20. Why he gave his company away to charity: I get the pride of knowing I did something irreversibly smart before I could change my mind. Most of all, I get the constant, priceless reminder that I have enough.

21. Whatever you make, it's your creation, so make it your personal dream come true.

So, what do you think? Are you working towards being happy?  What's your favorite idea from the list?  Tweet it out and tell the world.  Thanks.

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Startup Culture Memes: Do You Have A Duck Of Awesomeness?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Wed, Feb 16, 2011


The following is a guest post from Tom Critchlow. Tom is head of search for Distilled, a London and Seattle-based SEO company. 

Have you noticed how as people spend time together they develop certain attitudes and practices unique to them? That's culture.

"The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group" - Culture defined at wikipedia

Working environments force people to spend a lot of time closely interacting with each other and startups even more so! This close interaction leads to the emergence of culture.

In my eyes there are two ways of identifying the emergence of culture within your business. Behaviour and language.

I'm no linguistic scholar but I believe the two are very closely related. Behaviour affects language and language affects behaviour. A feedback loop that is constantly molding the culture within your business.


Within Distilled there is a rich set of language that’s unique to us. Here’s just a few:

  • breakfast of champions
  • getting shit done
  • delivering change
  • the duck of awesomeness
  • getting close to clients
  • phone ninjas
  • the skiing trip
  • labs
  • you can't outsource giving a shit
  • actionable insights
  • communication solves all problems

Within our company these are used often and with a rich history of experience behind them. Here's a brief explanation for a few of them:

Phone Ninjas: About 6 months ago I wanted to persuade our consultants to spend more time on the phone to clients so I implemented some game mechanics internally to give out points everytime you made a phone call to a client. Simple and effective. I believe it took off however because the highest level you could reach was called "Phone Ninja". Over time, the points system became less used but I'm not so bothered about that because the concept of spending time on the phone and the phone ninjas term has stuck around. Here's a few pics of @PaddyMoogan (Distilled) and @SamuelCrocker (ex-Distilled) as phone ninjas:

The Duck of Awesomeness: We've had various schemes within Distilled aimed at recognising and rewarding exceptional behaviour. Unfortunately, none of the schemes really caught on. People would forget about nominating others for good work or we'd suck at feeding back to everyone who had done what. All of that changed when we bought a blue duck with stars on and called it the duck of awesomeness. It moves from desk to desk as people do good things. The combination of the duck and the name has been a huge success and the duck often moves between desks once every few days. It's a fantastic way of keeping people motivated and providing recognition to people who do good work.

Hopefully you can see how the language here is more than just words. The rich culture that goes along with the language shapes behaviour. These words and phrases mean more to us than they do to an outsider. They have become memes.

‘Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passed it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain. [...] When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme's propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn't just a way of talking -- the meme for, say, "belief in life after death" is actually realized physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over.' - Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene

The power of these memes lies in the feedback loop between language and behaviour. Sure, the concept of breakfast of champions hasn't changed the company that much, but the concepts such as getting shit done (more details here), or the duck of awesomeness most certainly have.

Let's take another example. SEOmoz. They have a wonderful set of beliefs laid out by Rand eloquently in this blog post. That's all very well, but is this set of beliefs simply empty promises or a half-forgotten blog post? How do we tell how strongly SEOmoz believes in them?

We know this set of beliefs has been deeply ingrained in the SEOmoz culture because of language. The single word TAGFEE is part of the SEOmoz vocabulary. The staff use the term all the time and it's come to mean something very important. You'll often overhear an SEOmoz employee say something like "Should we do that? Doesn't feel very TAGFEE".

There's no specific reference to Rand's post and the wording of the specific beliefs. In fact, if you did a spot survey of SEOmoz and asked "what does TAGFEE mean", I bet you'd get many different answers. But that doesn't matter, because it would mean something to everyone. TAGFEE has evolved. It's a meme.

Actionable Insights

One of the up and coming memes within Distilled is “actionable insights”. As with all memes, it’s a part of our culture rather than a clearly defined rule. I apply “actionable insights” to all kinds of things from meetings to presentations I give (aside: I wish we were big enough to afford a meeting fairy).

For example I’m putting together the slides for our upcoming Link building conference and as I’m building my deck I’m constantly trying to ensure the audience will get actions out of my talk. The phrase “actionable insights” bounces around my head over and over again. The language is influencing my behaviour.

I also apply actionable insights to blog posts. The takeaway message from this post is as follows:

Pay close attention to the language used within your company. Any behavioural change within your company will have an associated change in language. And vice versa: Any language change within your business will have an associated behavioural change. Think carefully about how you name initiatives, present training or what you call your internal tools. Language is powerful.

There’s a corollary to this insight as well. Language is powerful and this works both ways. Negative language can shape negative behaviour and negative behaviour can shape negative language. You’re likely already watching out for negative behaviour but make sure you watch out for negative language too, this can be just as dangerous.

Language Envy

Memes are difficult beasts to tame. Trying to control them is like herding cats. I’ve had some success with creating and shaping internal memes to best suit the behaviour I want but there’s always room for improvement. Here’s some language I’m envious of from companies and communities I’m closely involved with:

  • Fail fast - from Reevoo, a developer heavy startup. I’d love to ingrain this in our culture, a wonderful phrase that symbolises at once innovation and determination.
  • TAGFEE - mentioned above from SEOmoz, although we have a manifesto internally at Distilled it’s not become a meme. We need an idea internally that defines our ethics.
  • Hustle - the Hacker News community always talks about hustle and although we have a very similar meme with “getting shit done” I’d love the single word hustle to make it into our lexicon as a way of persuading people to constantly step outside of processes to get things done no matter what.

What’s the lexicon of your startup? What internal memes are there? Which memes are you most jealous of? I'd love to discuss in the comments or on twitter.

If you liked this post, follow me on twitter or book tickets for our upcoming Link Building Conference in London 18th March, New Orleans 25th March.

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