What I learnt from Pollenizer…

Pollenizer’s version of an Australian map

Yesterday, my old boss Phil Morle spoke at CeBIT and he spoke about Epic Flearn and lessons learnt from Pollenizer (I highly recommend you have a listen).

Since Pollenizer closed its doors on it’s 9th birthday, I’ve had time to reflect on my time there (four years and 51 weeks to be exact) and my own lessons learnt.

Pollenizer gave me the foundation for everything I know about startups and I still use those skills everyday.

However, the biggest lesson I learnt was the importance of team culture. Despite the hundreds, if not thousands of startups and founders Mick, Phil and Clare helped, I believe their biggest legacy is the team they built, grew and nurtured and is something that isn’t spoken about nearly enough.

Company culture is a strange beast. An effort has to be made to encourage the right kind of culture but it can not be forced. Many have studied it in an attempt to find the secret formula. Many more have written articles about what works and doesn’t work for them. There are success stories like Netflix and there are horror stories like Tinder.

If you get company culture right, it can make all the difference to your eventual success by ensuring you have higher levels of engagement and employee satisfaction, less churn and attract greater talent.

I believe that the culture that existed at Pollenizer during my time there was a by-product of the company values.

Company Values

Each Friday afternoon we had X-Poll where we would all discuss the previous week we’d had, lessons learned and often brainstorming (there was also a lot of red wine, fancy cheese and ‘twigs’ aka muscatels). During one of these sessions we spoke at great length about what motivated us as an individual and why we chose to work at Pollenizer. Each one was written down on the whiteboard and then we condensed the list and then shortlisted into our company values. By forging our company values this way it meant we were as engrained in them as they would be in us and in order to make a shortlist, we had to agree and be aligned as a team.

Below I’m going to discuss the values that I believe specifically shaped the company culture.

#Clarity — Be understood

“Our world moves so fast, we communicate with crystal clarity. We seek to prove our hypothesis and share what we believe and know with the team with evidence.”

A lot of time we can’t work at our full potential without clarity. Clarity with our role, clarity on a task, clarity on how we’re performing. Clarity can only achieved from honest conversations where each person’s perspectives are listened to and respected.

On the back of this, the team as a whole must have clarity from the leadership team. Leadership can clearly demonstrate their respect for the team and produce clarity with open communication. This can be by having regular updates to the whole team or by announcing major decisions and changes without any of the fluff.

#flearn — Don’t be afraid

“We believe that speed of learning is the most important tactic for survival and eventually success. We seek to turn hypothesis into fact. We will take risks to do so because a failure is a small price to pay for learning. We are addicted to learning.

Flearn is an conjuncture of ‘failure’ and ‘learn’. It means to celebrate failure by learning from it rather than focusing on the negative. Flearning doesn’t come naturally and takes time to become comfortable with. It does becomes easier every time you share your story and listen to the flearns of others.

Everyone as a collective becomes better when knowledge is shared.

#JFDI — Don’t wait, you are on fire

“Our platform is burning. We cannot wait. We must act while there is still time. We like the challenge of that. No job is beneath us. Stop dreaming. Start doing.”

For those unfamiliar with the acronym ‘JFDI’ it stands for ‘Just Fucking Do It’. This phrase is often confused with ‘just go and do whatever the fuck you want’ but when done right it is more aligned with, ‘here are your boundaries, now go run into walls’.

This can not work without an immense trust not only from your manager but your co-workers — Trust that you are capable to make an executive decision, execute and handle the consequences.

Then

All too often company values are purely aspirational and difficult to understand their relevancy, let alone how to incorporate them everyday.

The best example of how the company values were lived day to day within Pollenizer was the pods. A pod consisted of a technical developer, a business development manager, a product manager and a designer who worked on a startup together. They demonstrated the values by:

  1. Having clear outlines for who was responsible for what based on their role and area of expertise as well as constantly communicating as a team and making decisions as a whole
  2. Having a weekly WIP to reflect on the previous week, share their progress and support one another by celebrating each others flearns
  3. Respecting that each person had their role and speciality within the pod and trusting them to get on with the job

The pod structure in conjunction with Monday morning all-ins where every member of Pollenizer would discuss what they were working on and any blockers (that someone else might be able pitch in on) as well as Friday X-Poll created a deep and long lasting feeling of camaraderie. So when times were tough (yes, startups are hard) we would all come together to help all however we could and when times were great we would celebrate as a whole and even spend together outside of work because we genuinely liked one another. The best way I’ve heard it described by an ex-teammate is like being in the trenches. You know that you’re all in it together, you have a common cause and you can depend on the person next to you.

So let’s fast forward to today and how the Pollenizer culture still lives on:

  • Personally, I count some of my ex-workmates as my best friends
  • We have an active Facebook Group with 64 members of Ex-X-Pollers. We still share our updates, what we’re working on, reach out for help and share golden memories
  • Approximately every 6 months the majority of us get together for beer and pizza at a pub in Surry Hills (where it all began)
  • Several of us have gone on to collaborate together on new startup ventures and as co-workers again

The value of company culture is something that I will take with me to every role and I will strive to create and foster something even close to what I experienced at Pollenizer. Company culture can make or break a business and I cannot emphasise its importance enough.

Now