Our culture and the people who define it, is our special sauce.
YunoJuno’s company culture is incredibly important to me, as it is with my co-founders. When we started YunoJuno in 2012, we selfishly wanted to build a company that we ourselves wanted to work for. We had each been in companies that not only made the day-to-day experience enjoyable, but also empowered people to collectively achieve a common goal. We thought that was a pretty decent place to start in recreating that same environment for YJ. (That and Brian Chesky’s brilliantly simple advice on company culture.)
As we started to venture down this road, one of our earliest learnings was that there are two big factors that affect the culture of a company:
1. The company’s vision and mission (ie. can I believe in where this company is going?)
2. Are the values visible in the company’s founders/leaders?
Seems pretty obvious but left unchecked in any company and you wake up one day with an uphill battle in trying to claw back the common ambition that united everyone in those early days of formation.
Fortunately for us, it’s something that’s always been front and centre, and we’ve continually dissected how others have approached the subject. However, this hasn’t meant we’ve always got it right! There have been plenty of occasions when we could’ve done things differently and certain things might have turned out better than how they did. Hindsight is both a wonderful thing and also sometimes just a proper kick in the teeth.
Recently, we knew it was time to take stock of the things we value and why they are important to us in delivering on our big vision. Earlier in the year we had completed a full rebranding exercise and we were really happy with the outcome and excited about what it could do for us and how we present ourselves and mission to the wider world. However delighted as we were with this rebrand, we knew we couldn’t just be about our outward-facing appearance. It was a matter of authenticity that we just couldn’t shake.
The big vision of YunoJuno is to be “the best workplace in the world”. The way we envisage doing that, or our mission, is to “unlock the true potential of freelance”.
Our brand strap line is “Freedom”. We believe freelancing = freedom. That’s what we stand for. Whether that’s freedom for a freelancer or an employer of freelancers.
If you want to read more on our vision, mission and strap, click on the tinternet link here.
After spending some time on thinking about the things we as founders value and believe for our company, we asked our employees (50 or so people in London and New York) how we rated against them — both as a company and as founders. It’s a bit pointless if one of YunoJuno’s values is curiosity if its leader/s aren’t themselves curious people. (Early spoiler alert — one of our values is curiosity.)
So here’s the end result of the work. The things we value at YunoJuno. And as things started to coalesce, we realised that the following ideas fit neatly into three major areas when describing the type of people we gravitate towards: 1) Who you are; 2) How you work; 3) How we work together. I’ve purposefully not extrapolated too much on each value’s definition in favour of (and unashamedly) bigging up some of our team who I believe to be the personification of each idea. Show vs Tell and all that.
1. WHO YOU ARE: HONEST & RESPECTFUL
Our definition of honest: open, truthful and sincere in everything we do.
I know the first thing anyone reading this post would say is “honesty — duh — of course you want honest people!” To that I would challenge the “of course” part — i.e. in business there’s too many examples of the opposite. If this work is all about YunoJuno’s stake in the ground, we want it to be front and centre of the things that are non-negotiable for us.
One of the ways honesty is evident YJ is in the way we communicate with each other and our customers. When communication is honest, open and sincere, we believe it’s in its most productive form. It removes hidden agendas, subtext and ambiguity. And when coupled with things like ‘respect’ and ‘collaboration’, honest communications simply makes everything sooooo much easier.
I’m in somewhat of a constant jet lagged infused coma these days. And it seems that every time I’m back in our London office, where our product team reside, I hear another story of our Lead Product Designer, Daniela, challenging my co-founder and CPO, Hugo, about how our UI could be improved and challenging various ‘experience’ related things on our platform. My reaction is always the same: nod, smile and think how wonderful it is that Daniela feels comfortable to not only voice her opinions but also debate with her colleagues in getting to a better-informed solution. Has Daniela been with us long? Did she have any long-standing relationships with people at YJ so that she had some ‘allies’ within the company before challenging the status quo? The answer to both questions is no. She just has an opinion and she is free to say it. If our culture and environment doesn’t audibly and inaudibly communicate that this is ok, then it’s only a matter of time before this enthusiasm/transparency is gone.
Our definition of respectful: you are aware of the impact of your actions on others.
The above definition might seem a little abstract, but things like empathy and being mindful of others and what they bring to YunoJuno is what we want to convey here. Simply put, do people care about you? Both for you as a person and your perspective on things. Conversely, do you care about others?
The YJ respect prize for me goes to that man again, Hugo. Hugo knows a lot of stuff across a wide range of topics. But where he is a borderline savant is in the area of technology — in a technical sense as well as a “what’s-the-point-of-it-all” perspective. And the one thing that’s always astounded me about the man, is that regardless of how much he knows, he encourages everyone on his teams to think for themselves, challenge him, and to make a decision even if it turns out to be a mistake. Because to Hugo, failing is ok. Failing makes the next attempt better informed. And his conscious decision to take that approach has an incredible impact on his team. I in turn, respect that.
2. HOW YOU WORK: CURIOUS & COMMITTED
Our definition of curious: Eager to know or learn.
The word curious came about because we thought the word ‘intelligent’ or ‘smart’ didn’t adequately describe the sentiment we were going for. Why? Because intelligence comes in many forms — whether that be book-smart, or being emotionally intelligent.
The term we prefer is ‘curious’. Because we want people who look for answers. People who embrace a challenge and truly think situations through (even the most complex ones) to their simplest answers. People who have the courage to challenge past actions and continuously seek to improve their work or environment.
For us, being curious at YunoJuno also means the ability to understand others. And in that understanding, making those around you feel heard and valued — even if what you’re hearing is a very different opinion to yours.
The two most curious people at YJ are a dynamic duo by the names of Emma and Jack. They run our customer service team. Every day their job is to understand a problem and work towards resolving it. Every day they combine technical knowledge with real emotional intelligence in helping people. Our business, our freelancers community, and our clients hitting the site day-in day-out would be all the poorer without them.
Our definition of committed: You believe in what YJ is trying to achieve and want to play your part.
Initially, we were big on the word passion to convey the appropriate sentiment. I.e. deeply caring about something. I went on to say that that passion didn’t have to specifically related to YunoJuno and if you came to an interview at YJ and said “I have only one passion in life and that’s unlocking the true potential of freelance”, I might think you need to get out more. However, between v1 and this post, Reid Hoffman and Simon Sinek have changed my mind.
Hoffman asks “why is it so ridiculous to ask if someone is passionate about what you’re doing?”, and Sinek eloquently argues that serial killers are technically ‘passionate’ people as well. Sinek also argues that passion is a result of an environment rather than a directive. The two thoughts resonate with me because I do want to work with passionate people coming together because of the thing we’re building together.
So our word is Commitment. We want people who believe in what we are doing. People who care about the impact their creative energy, enthusiasm and quality of work has on the thing we want to achieve together.
When I think about the word ‘commitment’ I think of Giles. Apart from being the coolest cat at YJ, he also embodies what we stand for. Giles was one of our very first employees at a time when, quite frankly, we were still a 50/50 bet. I still remember our first conversation with him, explaining what we were trying to achieve, why we thought it was a good idea and how we believed we had a Giles-shaped hole. Giles didn’t just ‘get it’, he was all in. He’s been an integral part of the team ever since, and plays a big part in how we continue to build and shape YJ. I don’t ever have to enquire of Giles commitment, it’s simply self-evident.
3. HOW WE WORK TOGETHER: COLLABORATIVE & PROACTIVE
Our definition of Collaborative: Two or more people working together.
By collaborative we mean embracing the act of working with others without thought of personal credit or when the idea isn’t your own. Collaboration and Teamwork are very popular words when talking about company values. It’s hard not to picture a 90’s style inspirational poster where a frog is in a jar and he can escape if his friend the cat were to fashion a ladder out of some nearby spaghetti. The poster neatly finishing on the word ‘Teamwork’ at the bottom.
I get it — everyone says “we collaborate”. I‘m not fussed. Ever since we started the company, working together with lots of people from a vast variety of backgrounds, all with very strong opinions, has got us to where we are today. And if we chose to ignore all opinions outside of our own, YunoJuno would have been pretty one dimensional.
In 2015 we hired a young woman by the name of Greta. Greta had recently moved to London from Lithuania to study finance at university. She started part time as a finance assistant and it quickly became clear to us that she was/is special. She jumped at the chance to move into a full-time position (without reducing any of her course load) to oversee all of our freelancer payments each week. This meant she needed to work with almost every single department within YunoJuno — both to understand how the machine worked but also why we prioritised things like making sure freelancers were paid on time and how we could improve it even further. And I know for a fact that there is not a single person at YJ who wouldn’t do anything for Greta because they know Greta would do anything for them.
Our definition of proactive: Someone who is self-motivated; who views particular problems from multiple perspectives; someone who is adaptable (with tasks or surroundings); and someone who wants to take ownership of a task and is free to push what they do at YJ forward, autonomous of anyone else directing them. And, by virtue of the size of company we are, not afraid of change.
As an internet company, there’s not a lot we don’t measure. And at times, we have more data points and insights than is emotionally healthy for any one person. Each bit of insight and analysis informs so much of how we improve and build the next thing to help our users. But sometimes it can also be hard to see the wood from the trees.
Enter, Leo. He leads our data and insights team. Behind his back we call him the-smartest-guy-in-the-room.
A few months ago, Leo noticed some peculiarities in the mechanics of our marketplace. Peculiarities is a nice way of saying things didn’t work as well as they should. After a few weeks of investigating, testing and putting himself in the shoes of freelancers and employers, he not only presented the problem and why in fact it was a real problem for our growth, he also laid out a clear path to solve said problem. No one asked him to do this because frankly, no one else would’ve spotted the issue. But Leo did and knew he was best-placed to suggest a solution — a suggestion that’s turned out to be a major overhaul in how our search and matching mechanics work.
The law of averages dictates that a ‘peculiarity’ like this won’t be an isolated event. But as long as we have people like Leo, I’m not afraid of the dark as much.
So these are the human attributes we value at YunoJuno. And even though I’ve only mentioned a few examples from our team, these are the traits we gravitate towards. It makes where we’re going and how we get there that much more purpose-driven and simply more enjoyable for everyone involved. It also makes someone like me super excited about the future and YunoJuno’s place in it.