In the early days of ClicData, when I was knocking on doors in and around San Francisco, talking to investors about our data and cloud BI platform, I got many questions about our business plan, our financials, and our differentiators.
At some point, I was asked what our “secret sauce” was. I hadn’t heard the phrase before, and I guessed that it was a reference to McDonald’s hamburger sauce—which I suspect to be some sort of mix of ketchup and mayo—a recipe that had been kept secret for many years. I found the expression quite humorous, and I still use it from time to time when I talk about what’s unique about ClicData and who we are.
At the same time, I was working on optimizing our development process to make it more efficient. I realized I wanted to infuse some structure into the entire organization—as small as it was back then—and make sure it was ready for the growth I knew it was destined to have in the future.
Building A Company Culture Around Manifestos?
Then the 37Signals Manifesto caught my attention. 37signals was the company that created Basecamp. Founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson collected 37 “nuggets of online wisdom” that guided their philosophy of building the company and their software. It was their attempt at putting down in words what they did, how, and with whom. Here are a couple of examples:
37signals does not enter award competitions. We believe that the marketing and communication awards “industry” encourages agencies to misplace their priorities on the opinions of their peers rather than the needs of their clients’ customers.
We’re not fond of salesmen. That’s why we don’t have any. Call us and you’ll talk with someone who’s an expert at building websites, not at selling you something you don’t need. At 37signals, we keep it real. No used cars. No snake oil. No miracle cures or fad diets. Just an honest take on what your web site should be and what it will cost. Refreshing, isn’t it?
Now, if you are an entrepreneur or a founder of a new startup, regardless of what you offer, you can surely relate to this type of “anti-establishment” thinking, right? It is why you are who you are. If you were doing what everyone else is doing, why would you even start a new company?
There must be something in you that wants to do something different, something that changes the way things are—even changes the world.
So, on my flight back to Lille, France, from San Francisco, I wrote something similar for ClicData, and I wanted to show it to the team and see if it resonated with them.
I didn’t want to put together a company “manifesto,” but I did want to generate a vision. It seemed to me that the dynamics of a startup, and even the people in it, were moving way too fast and flexibly for us to even try to describe how the whole is more than its parts at that time.
Yet, it is simply within our nature is to categorize things and people, to pigeonhole employees into what they are best at, to try to make things easier to understand, to see if a part fits the rest, to measure ourselves against something—to create some sort of benchmark or even a manifesto. So that’s what I did.
All manifestos that are worth their salt dissolve when money gets involved. Is Google doing evil things now? Is Facebook really connecting people? Or are these two companies just a collection of the people that work there—just a blend of honest, ethical, hardworking people along with hacks, cheaters, and simply bad people?
It is the nature of the mix that we call “humankind.”
But I still wanted to put something together for my company. Here is what I came up with in 2012 to get our engineering team focused and motivated:
- Have a clear vision of what we are building together
- Your passion—or lack of it—will come across in everything you do
- Don’t waste time on problems that don’t exist
- If you build it, they will come
- Be ready to pivot at any time, but take it to its conclusion at the same time
- Resentment of customers or employees will lead to failure
- Trust the team.
As I read it now, almost a decade later, I am not sure if all of it still rings true for me. For one, I have built many things—yet they “never came.” So, of course that’s not true. But I did fulfill my obligation as a founder to put a manifesto together, even though it wasn’t perfect.
The Significance of Trust
Still, I believe some of the other points even more today than I did back then, especially the last one. Trusting the team is golden. I found that, when you train your first employee, you can’t help but think that you know more than they do and you always will. But it’s simply not true. After a time, they will probably know more than you do in certain areas, and you need to trust them to do their job better and more efficiently than you did it.
So, trust needs to embrace more than just what people do; it needs to include how they do it. Being a micromanager usually means that you enforce your way of doing things on your team. Trust means letting go of that, too. And trust means that, even if you are not around, you count on your team to get the job done and do it well.
Trust is the foundation of ClicData’s success
ClicData is able to keep its customers happy because we are made up of awesome, passionate, and intelligent people working together as a team. If you were to ask me what makes it so successful, I don’t think I can quantify it or even articulate it. But one thing that feeds it, without a doubt, is trust.
I trust everyone to do their job, whenever and wherever they work. Many of us have been working from home for many years, even before COVID-19. We still enjoy working at the office from time to time. We have fun, and we eat together. And every now and then we organize a special after-work meal or drinks. But we manage to keep the spirit of our team even if we were not together.
Working with offices that are in different time zones can be challenging, but what makes it easier is our bond of trust. It has helped us turn the time difference into an advantage. Now, we can extend the workday across multiple time zones, as it were, which means we resolve issues faster—nearly 24/7.
However, we have also suffered from the lack of office-to-office contact during these restrictive times. Slack, emails, and video conferences help to keep us in touch—but not connected. There’s just something to be said for establishing trust by first engaging face-to-face.
As CEO, I made a point of visiting teams across all of the offices on a regular basis. Since we can no longer have global company meetings every month due to restrictions, I bridged some of those connections and cultivated trust among us via the relationships I already had with people.
Whenever possible, I encouraged employees who are traveling to other regions (when it was still possible…) to visit some of our other offices there to build connections with the rest of the team.
And yes, we also do global physical events. There are costs associated with doing them, of course. It takes resources of time and money for many of us to leave several continents and meet in some location in the world. But it is worth it. It all works to build trust.
What happens when there is no trust?
As blunt as this may sound, if there is no trust, it just might be time for a separation.
You see, lack of trust turns into resentment, and resentment turns into disagreements and fights and unhappiness. That results in a poor work environment, and frankly, life is too short to have to contend with that.
Many people believe being the founder and CEO of your own company has a lot of benefits; after all, you’re your own boss and you can make your own rules. But that is far from the truth.
First, your team picks up your habits—good ones and bad ones alike. If you demonstrate poor habits, you’ll soon find them replicated around you.
Secondly, you still have bosses. Your customers, your investors, and your employees dictate a lot of what you do.
Thirdly, in my experience, company CEOs must work twice as hard at doing countless tasks across all parts of the company in order to fully understand how to improve and grow the company.
But there is one thing a CEO and founder offers that people that work for companies don’t get. They chose who they want to work with. At my stage anyway, I still get to handpick the people working at ClicData—and that means that I should trust them.
The minute that trust is no longer there, it is time to do something different elsewhere.
In Conclusion: Remote Work is Easy, If You Have Trust
Today, many ClicData people work from home. Of those that do, some prefer the social aspect and the focus that office life brings to their daily routine, so they spend some days at the office and other days at home.
New hires work in the office, so they’re able to build trust in their colleagues just as their colleagues learn to understand their strengths. After a while, they, too, can benefit from the flexibility of working from home.
In fact, “going to the office” doesn’t mean going to the office anymore. In the same way that we enjoy going to a co-working facility for the coffee, ambiance, environment, and social connections, our headquarters office in France has become more of a meeting place.
In the U.S., our co-working location is filled with people from other companies enabling the team to both socialize and communicate ideas.
I am hoping that the lock-down in Canada comes to an end soon so that we can return to a co-working facility there, and the team can engage more often with each other and with people from outside the company.
Working from home can be the norm for some, while for others, it’s the exception—and that is fine. I hope you can work wherever you are happiest, relaxed, and focused without sacrificing communication and productivity. Trusting each other to do our jobs from anywhere in the world is the first step to accepting where in the world people are working.