Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast: A Comedy Culture Primer

source: Second City

I am a huge believer that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (Peter Drucker). So growing and nurturing a culture that will help you be successful at a startup is essential. There are three things I know about culture:

  • Culture is the shared values amongst a group of people
  • Culture cannot be dictated to an organization, it is what people do everyday
  • Culture is supported by the stories that are told

The topic of culture came up recently in an exchange with a past colleague of mine Marilyn Cox, who just left her job at Oracle Marketing Cloud, and started in marketing at Second City.

I was interested to find out how her experience had been moving to such a different industry, and here was her reply:

“Ah, this place is a trip. I’ve attached the ‘onboarding’ doc I received when I started. This is all I was given, and honestly, this is what all onboarding docs should be. Who to know, who has influence, and how to avoid stepping in shit.” – Marilyn Cox

I opened it up and immediately realized this is what we needed at Nudge. The title was Second City Cultural Primer or Don’t Call Them Skits, and the very first line was “we perform scenes and sketches — never skits“.

The document then outlines all the things they care about and why, and the things that people have tried to change, but didn’t work. It also reviews who does what, and more importantly who they are, and their history at Second City.

One of my favorite lines in the doc:

“2000 wallet size cards were created entitled The Second City Core Values. The idea of creating and distributing such an item is anathema to the culture of The Second City.”

I am so tired of the overused startup culture mantras of:

  • INTEGRITY
  • INNOVATION
  • HONESTY
  • ACCOUNTABILITY
  • ETC.

And was so refreshed to read something that actually told me what the culture is like at Second City, and how as a new team member I can exist, contribute, and expand that culture. This is the real onboarding every new team member needs!

So I went ahead and wrote our first Nudge Cultural Primer for the existing and new team members that will be hopefully joining soon. Have a read (it’s long, but the real thing), would love your thoughts, and hopefully you may even write one of your own.

Nudge Cultural Primer — “We Are Going to Bet on People x2″

Last Updated: May 12, 2016

Our culture is formed from a shared set of values of the team. It is not dictated by the founders, although we help shape it. It is what we live and do everyday, and the stories we tell others about what we live and do.

We Are Going to Bet on People x2

We are betting that business is done through relationships, and trust trumps content. Technology can certainly help, but never replace trust. We also are doubling down on the people who have joined Nudge, making sure they have every opportunity to fail, learn and grow. Sometimes bringing in someone who has done it 10 times doesn’t work, because they don’t really want to do it the 11th time.

We hire people who are motivated to be in a startup over the skills they have. They need to want do something big that will change a customer, a role and a market for the better, and work hard, but learn harder.

We believe your network is your net worth. We expect everyone at Nudge to spend time growing their personal and professional network. It is an absolute must. If you don’t value your own network (no matter how small it is), probably not the best place to work.

We value trying something over talking about doing something, but also realize as we grow, more communication and structure is needed over time. Org structure and titles can matter, if the company really needs that org structure and role.

We love our customers and the people who use our product, but understand that their feedback is input and not votes. We have to make hard decisions every day to ensure we are building something that adds value, today, tomorrow and in the long-term future.

We are taking a “product-first” approach to the market. The product is the go-to-market plan, our product marketing, and is the way we can grow the business.

We like poking fun at each other, so if you don’t have a thickish skin or enjoy banter, you may not love it here. But we are professional. We try hard never to cross the line on being inappropriate — exception is probably between the two founders. If you see Steve and Paul making fun of each other, it’s okay. It is one way they deal with tension, but also to challenge each other in a way that isn’t negative.

We have one recurring-scheduled-all-company meeting per week on Thursdays as our “stand-up”, and probably should have more…nah, maybe not.

Work-life Balance: many of us have families, but many don’t. Both are good. Go home have dinner with your family, you can always work after the kids go to bed. Go out and see your friends, you can always work when you get back home. We trust you to manage your time, but also know that you know, this is a startup and working hard counts.

We believe that the startup scene in Canada is starting to explode. We want to help and support the ecosystem — especially in Toronto, our hometown. If you have an idea on how to help the ecosystem grow, bring it forward, we may invest time to help.

Things We Don’t Like

We don’t love waterfalls, unless they are made of water

We don’t like too many meetings, unless they are necessary to move things forward. Once we worked with an agency that kept having meetings to discuss the same thing (basically). We no longer work with them.

We don’t like micromanaging deliverables and dates, but every once in a while there is a clearly communicated “unmovable date”. We need to hit those dates.

We don’t like people who don’t want to help others in the company. If we find you are the type to want to go it alone, you may get that wish.

People

Steve and Paul are the co-founders and have worked together for the last 18 years at three different companies. They bring different skills to the table, which provides healthy tension in the business. Talk to them, question them, make fun of them, and know they are in it for the long haul.

Steve is the tech visionary. He writes code fast and loose, but makes good bets on where the market will be. He hates meetings, but loves baked goods — which can lure him into a meeting, and has the mental discipline to run a marathon without training and lose all of his toenails in the process.

Paul is the business guy, but likes to think he knows tech, but probably doesn’t. Always will to do whatever it takes, he is the consummate jack-of-all-trades. Paul has managed large teams before, but feels Nudge can succeed without an army of people. Paul loves good food and wine, and has been falsely accused of having disproportionately short arms.

Andrea Corey is a VP of Product and worked with Steve and Paul since the beginning at their last big success (Eloqua). She understands databases, scale and tons of other stuff. She one of the best of tackling a hard problem and not giving up until she solves it, but has been known to get hangry in the process.

Andrew Robinson (a.k.a. AWR) is our chief architect and needs everything to be abstracted. You will find the rest about Andrew here: table_ref_8723

Anna Mackenzie is a Front-End Developer. Before Nudge she worked in marketing and majored in literature, so she is “somewhat” well rounded. Anna loves javascript, and has worked on our most adopted feature to date: the Nudge Daily Outlook. The ultimate hipster, you may find she disapproves of the coffee you drink, or St. Patrick’s day in general.

Collin Sauve is a Senior Developer who works on content processing (CP), twitter integration, and other stuff. Collin is wicked fast, and sometimes prototypes things not on the roadmap for our benefit. An avid gamer, he has hosted several Nudge games nights, and also is pro-Manic-Mondays.

David Nichols is a Senior Developer. Dave can get stuff done, and learn while doing it. He loves tackling hard problems, especially if you can test the solution. Dave sometimes dabbles in design (Design Dave), but only does it to bug Tony and Farwa. Dave used to dress well, but after having his first kid only sometimes dresses well.

Farwa Kazmi is our lead designer. Farwa is great at making trade-offs between function and form. She works closely with Tony, and is an active user of Nudge itself to ensure she is on the pulse of our use cases. She also is an expert photographer, and has never met a dangerous vacation she didn’t like.

Kevin Hurley runs everything marketing and growth. SEO, website, Ads, blogs, martech you name it, and Kevin does it. His love of purchasing a new marketing system is only surpassed by his love of Toronto Island. He also got drunk once, beside a unicorn bus, with a silent dance party going on.

Menaka Raman-Wilms is our Data Science Specialist ensuring our product learns better and better. She also writes some of our most successful blogs, and is editor-in-chief for words in our product. Outside of work she is an Opera singer, writer and did a year abroad in Germany while still working for Nudge. Menaka is too nice to make fun of, so we don’t.

Michael Guissine is our Director of Product Operations. He has seen more fires and put them out, than most fire halls. Michael loves analyzing our environments and finding ways to make them better, faster, cheaper. Paul likes cheaper. Steve likes better. Michael also takes the same approach to scotch, (without the cheaper).

Rebecca Hall is a Data Science Specialist. She works remotely so we don’t see her as often as we would like. She has looked at more news articles than most managing editors of newspapers and is extremely good at her job. You can find her hanging out on the #curation-team channel if you want to engage her in some lively banter.

Sandy Fernando is a Senior Front-End Developer. He has been a front-end developer for many years, and started with Nudge in the very early days when Steve was our lead designer. Sandy sometimes still has nightmares about that time. Sandy has big arms, because he is a world class Dragon boater. Don’t anger the dragon.

Scott Hill is a VP of Product. He worked at Eloqua with Steve and Paul for a long time, and managed a big team of developers. Scott handles lots of stuff, which includes our integration with email and calendars. Scott has OCD with regards to our product, which is great, because there is always something to clean up. Scott played guitar in a band for a long time, and is forcing his kids to only like the Beatles.

Siyaman Sadagopan is a Front-End Developer, and codes fast. He has worked in many areas of the app, but he first took on the onboarding experience for new users, and made it work seamlessly. He generally is always happy, except when he once fell asleep on the TTC and went to the end of the line and back twice.

Tony O’Donoghue is our head of Experience Design, and is passionate about doing things the right way. He is a UX person, who actually does UX (which is rare) and sometimes will “anger the dragon” during the weekly standup. Tony thinks he is better at ping-pong than he actually is. He also feels the word “cache” is a French word pronounced “c-ayy-shh”.

Dr. Zoe Katsimitsoulia is our Senior Data Scientist, and came from a successful career in academia. She gives tech deep dives that are both interesting and hard to understand. She likes her privacy and would rather #slack talk than actually talk to you. In fact I am sure she will demand to be removed from this doc. But if you do read it, know that she has finished all levels on Candy Crush without spending any $$$, which is perhaps her greatest life accomplishment to date.

Nudgisms

Bieber: Justin Bieber, renowed Canadian pop singer. Everyone loves the Biebs, everyone

Book Club Redux: We started a book-club, but no one read the books. Now we have an article club, and it works — everyone reads the article, and we get together to discuss it on the 3rd week of every month.

#coffee: our Slack channel for coffee, if you want to get coffee with others, set notifications ON. If you want to mock others for paying for coffee when we have free coffee in our office, keep notifications ON, and apply mocking in said channel.

Disappointment Dog: this will hang over your head, if you are responsible for breaking prod

Full-stack sandwiches: we love eating, especially sandwiches, bring your favourite sandwich food on the 3rd Thursday of every month. Make sure someone has La Bomba — it’s the best.

Getting Cake: phrase for reaching any important milestone (Steve would actually want the cake as well)

Nudge Social: let’s get together, but not so often we get sick of each other. Once per month we go do something fun, it can be relaxing or as injury prone as Trampoline Dodgeball

Nudgeons: that’s us, people who work at Nudge, use Nudge, and also people who really get what we are trying to do

Nudgeworthy: something that is the perfect reason to reconnect and grow a relationship

Nudge Music: we share a Spotify playlist, if you are on Spotify, follow it and contribute — we like learning about each other through the lens of music

Shreddy-Eddy: any consultant who helps us prepare our SR&ED report. One time the consultant’s name was Ed.

Sleepy Bear: this will hang over your head, if you are responsible for breaking a build going to QA or Prod.

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