Building a Company based on Core Values
This story was originally posted on the Zype blog and has been edited for Medium.
Every startup has that moment. Things are starting to scale. Customers are finding success with your product. The team is starting to crank and everything is moving up and to the right.
And then something unexpected happens. A piece of software fails, a team member has an issue, a curveball gets thrown at you that you aren’t quite sure how to handle. In those moments, what can you rely on to help guide you through the struggle? As a startup CEO, I have experienced the power of a values driven business. Core values provide the guidance to get us through the tough times, make sure we are prepared for the great times, and overall create the company culture that can grow and sustain on its own.
What are core values?
With thanks to my friend Lucas Carlson, who wrote this amazing book on startup success and failure, core values are guiding principles that a company can rely on to:
- make individual and group decisions
- foster team growth and relationships
- make strategic decisions about customers, investors, vendors, and employees
It doesn’t have be “all serious” — these values are meant to provide a grounding, to get everyone the same page, and generally create an environment where we can have fun. After all, all of the folks involved in a startup have many choices on who, how, and where they work. So you might as well work with those that share your values.
It’s the “How” to Our “What”
The “What” is What We Do. The elevator pitch. We rely on our core values — principles that guide us in our everyday decision making — to describe how we approach everything. Core values can help us in almost all aspects of startup growth, and eventual everlasting success.
When we first introduced the core values as team — and it was a team effort — we had to answer this question. For Zype, the time was right because:
- The company was scaling
- Many new business partners, employees, customers, were being introduced
- We need to shore up a foundation we can all rely on
- It’s never too late to introduce values.
We use the acronym CHART for our core values, partly because it’s easy to remember, and partly because it sounds right. We are trying to chart a way forward together on this awesome journey! Below each value are characteristics that exemplify that value.
We are fearless and know we are doing something no one has done before, and we are not afraid to fail.
Adventure, Fearlessness, Determination, Resilience, Integrity
We work hard everyday to help make the company better.
Grit, Integrity, Teamwork, Communication
We enjoy striving for excellence and the process to get there.
Humor, Happiness, Excellence, Freedom
We use our talents and that of our team to achieve personal and company goals.
Self-Reliance, Independence, Frugality, Bias for Action, Positivity
We emphasize listening, communicating, and collaborating respectfully amongst ourselves and our customers over all else.
Service, Accountability, Perspective, Professionalism, Accountability
We ask for Commitment
We ask our team — Zypesters — to commit to these values every day, in every decision, challenge or opportunity you face as a team member. Use them when communicating with colleagues, vendors, partners, and customers. Get them in on it — the right relationships are built on common bonds.
Core Value Stories
Core values are great to talk about as concepts, but until you put them to practice, it can be easy to roll your eyes at them. Here are a few such stories, we encourage our team to share theirs.
Before Zype had many customers, we were finding our way through the entertainment and media landscape. An investor told us about a nationally syndicated broadcaster that was coming off contract, and could potentially use our service to power a subscription destination. We put this out to our team, and our sales development rep took the initiative to find this broadcaster via social media and email, create an opportunity out of thin air, and get a meeting for our business development team. She didn’t know much about the inner workings of their business, nor did she know anyone that worked with the broadcaster. This took courage. A month or so later, we closed the business with a team effort that turned out to be one of our bigger success stories.
It was November 2014, about a month before our public launch “out of stealth” — which is another way of saying “holy crap we are about to open this thing up to the outside world and there is about 400 things to do to get there,” our team was presented with an opportunity to demo the product for the first time publicly at a video industry tech showcase. Our small team hunkered down, pull multiple all-nighters — including a few stints in a hotel room — and got a whole bunch of work done in time for the demo. Our VP of Engineering’s wife even had a baby during this time. The Zype family gave birth an awesome platform and a beautiful baby girl that month!
October 2014. A few months from public launch. Email comes in. “Apply to SXSW Accelerator” it says. Our team talks about it, says “Sure, why not.” It was about 7am when we started the process, so it may have been a decision mostly made because of lack of sleep. In any case, it started a chain of events that eventually become our “Big Rocks” — Launch Product, Win SXSW, Raise Round. Not only did our team, but also our partners, friends, and customers demonstrated amazing Awesomeness in helping Zype secure its small place in the history of SXSW and startup lore.
“We need a live streaming platform — in 3 weeks” said the customer. Our new streaming expert (who was a contractor at the time but is now a full fledged Zypester) said “No problem.” Working with our core engineering team, some great cloud service vendors that we chose that share our values, and a ready, willing, and able customer, we deployed a production grade streaming service that delivers countless hours of live video goodness daily.
We hired a sales rep. To be fair and maintain anonymity, let’s call him “Shawn.” Shawn was doing great at first. Closed a few deals in his first few weeks. But then we started noticing something. Prospects were complaining to our general contact email list that they were being spammed and otherwise annoyed by Zype. We warned Shawn and reminded him of our values — especially thoughtfulness. A few weeks later, it happened again, and this time we saw an email thread laden with expletives. We had to let Shawn go. It wasn’t easy. Even though Shawn was successfully driving business, his behavior with customers didn’t fit our values.
What are your core values?