How Anova Works
Anova is quietly outpacing and outperforming our smart kitchen rivals to become the leader of the category. We generate more revenue and / or have better growth prospects than any other smart kitchen brand. This year we’ll ship ~400,000 systems. Next year, we’ll ship more than 1,000,000 units.
After spending some time with us, I’ve heard a few people say that it doesn’t matter what we do. We could be successful with any product on the planet. Of course it REALLY matters to us what we do. We’re incredibly passionate about what we do. But the point is that we’re a very effective team. I’m most proud of the team we have at Anova and how we work. Below is an outline of how we’re beating everyone else in the smart kitchen. ;)
People and Team
It starts with the great people we have at Anova. We have people who are trustworthy and dedicated to each other and the mission. These people have come together to become a great team that produces results. And, there’s absolutely no other point to having a team than for it to produce great results.
Many people make the mistake that a team must get along and be harmonious. That’s not true. We frequently argue and sometimes get upset with one another. But in the end, we have each other’s back. A great team isn’t a group that simply enjoys being with one another. A great team is a group that produces results. We get results. (It just so happens that we really enjoy working with each other).
While great people alone don’t necessarily create a great team, a great team always has great people. At Anova, we know exactly what it means to be great and we know the characteristics people must possess to be successful with us. The following comes from our playbook and outlines what we look for when we hire new people:
The values below are minimum standards for new hires:
Passion. We’re passionate about what we do.
Fun. We are awkward and don’t take ourselves too seriously.
We engage in constructive conflict. Rigorous, passionate debate is essential to having a great team and only takes place when people are practicing candor and engaging in constructive conflict.
Commitment to team and process. It means that after input is given we are able to commit to helping the team achieve its goals and the process that guides us. This shouldn’t be confused with blindly committing to a process in which people don’t believe. We value the success of the team over individual success.
Tolerant and inquisitive. We ask each other questions and we’re willing to take extra steps to explain our positions.
Additionally, I’d say that our team has people that exhibit three important characteristics: (1) they want to be successful as a group; (2) they don’t want to let their teammates down; and (3) they’re trustworthy.
Our team is unique in that I don’t think we have a single person on our team that puts his or her own success over the group’s success. For example, Bill Clark runs customer success for us. During times that the company or one of the departments is struggling to achieve its goals, but Bill’s group is doing well, Bill will do whatever he can to help the other groups improve. It doesn’t mean that Bill jumps in and starts working on retail deals. It means that he’s thoughtful about how he can reallocate resources to help us achieve our collective goals. It’s not just Bill that does this. It’s everyone. (I just like Bill’s picture).
We have people that don’t want to let their teammates down. I can see this and feel this at meetings, after work, and throughout the day. We have people that do what they say, because they know the team relies on them. (They also know they’ll hear about it if they don’t do what they say). At Anova, we depend on each other.
Each member of the team has proven to be trustworthy. Trust is the cornerstone of any great team. Trust enables us to have open, passionate debate. We don’t have to worry about politics. We just get stuff done and work on hitting our collective goals.
Each quarter we spend a day discussing why we exist. We keep asking “why” until we get to the truth as to why we’re so focused and passionate about what we do. Here’s what it says about why we exist in our playbook:
We exist to be a team focused on the greater good, enabling everyone to kick ass in the kitchen. Because FTG. — Anova Playbook
“Because FTG” probably requires some explanation. One of the reasons I get excited about Anova is because of what it does to the establishment. Many people feel that to be a chef means that you’re in an exclusive club and that you can do something ordinary people can’t. When we think about the guy that thinks this is true and looks down on people who are learning and experimenting in the kitchen, we say “f@#ck that guy” (FTG).
While admittedly FTG may sound crass and petty, it’s not. It’s a rallying cry for us. It gives us a chip on our shoulder and tells us that we’ll beat competitors with more resources and we’ll take down incumbents. It also means we appeal very genuinely to people who aren’t hipsters from Seattle, foodies, or professionals. It aligns our culture with our brand.
Is it working? Check out the unscripted video testimonial below from one of our favorite customers, Noah Salzman, or look through our social feeds and judge for yourself as to whether our brand is resonating.
For us, our statement as to why we exist is very powerful. It’s not limited to “why.” It also captures a lot about who we are and forms the basis from which the following values flow:
Everyone has a seat at the table. Our products should be accessible and affordable.
We are Genuine. We’re casual and don’t pretend to be something we’re not. We speak to our customers like we’d speak to one another. To us, being genuine means we’re practical, rational, and we admit when we’re wrong.
We constantly ship
What do we ship? We ship works of art. Art, to us, is anything that’s (1) passionate; (2) creative; and (3) connects with someone. For example, spreadsheets can be works of art.
We’re effective shippers. We ship often and understand that shipping is our default state. We strive to build autonomous teams that find the balance between “just right” and shipped.
Transparency. We strive to be completely transparent with each other. We strive to be transparent with our customers.
Accountability. We strive to hold each other accountable to adhering to the behavior outlined above.
But it’s not enough to talk about and document your values. I’m extremely proud that we walk the walk at Anova.
Systems should create habits that reinforce values and allow great teams to flourish. Our system provides a framework for how our great team executes, helps us find great people, and helps us live our values. Our system is built on a few tools and regular meetings, which I’ll outline below.
Quarterly Review and Planning
We spend four days each quarter reviewing our performance from the previous quarter and planning for the quarter ahead. After a full retro, where, among other things, we conduct 5-why analysis into objectives we didn’t achieve, we ask ourselves “the six critical questions:” (1) why do we exist; (2) how do we behave; (3) what do we do; (4) how will we succeed; (5) what is most important, right now; and (6) who must do what. We document the answers to these questions in our playbook, updating prior responses from previous quarters where appropriate.
We then develop company-level OKRs. After company-level OKRs have been set, departments break out to set their own OKRs, which will establish how they’re going to help the company achieve its goals. During the final day of planning, we gather for the presentation of OKRs by department heads. Then we have dinner as a team.
Roadmaps and Company Scrum
We use Trello to create departmental roadmaps. Not by fiat, but everyone does the same thing — we outline long-term themes that provide us with the vision for the department and then we break down OKRs into milestones and epics. Each epic is broken down into tasks or user stories. On a weekly basis, new batches of tasks are moved onto a main Trello board. The model below shows how we keep organized:
Roadmaps enable us to plan and stay focused on what’s important. They’re flexible enough for us to be able to take advantage of opportunities and to manage things that come up for which we didn’t plan. We’re not reactive, but we’re capable of reacting.
On Monday’s we meet and quickly score our OKRs as red, yellow, or green. OKRs that are red get special attention during the week.
Every Friday we meet and review KPIs for the company. People present their numbers and give analysis. We then review the previous week’s retro and conduct retro for the week. We create a list of potential discussion topics grouped into three buckets: (1) keep; (2) watch; and (3) improve. Team members are then given 10 dots each and mark the items they think warrant discussion. The top five items receive 5–10 minutes of discussion each.
Freedom within a Framework
Our system works because it gives people freedom to “own” their work, while creating alignment with everyone else in the organization. Everyone has a voice and there are plenty of opportunities along the way to say, “Stop. Something isn’t working.” Everyone helps shape the culture and ultimately the direction of the company.
Repetition Creates Habits and Discipline
We consistently repeat the same set of meetings and practice the same behaviors every day, week, and quarter. This creates habits. What may seem like discipline, is actually the power of habit. When habits take root, life becomes exponentially easier. Finding habits that will make the organization successful is what we’ve focused on at Anova. As a result, we’ve seemingly had immense focus on what’s most important. This has allowed us to accomplish much more than our funded peers.
Happy to Help
I couldn’t possibly cover every aspect of how we work in this post, but I’m hopeful some people find this outline helpful and interesting. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. If you found this story compelling and are interested in learning more about the company and potentially joining the team, please consider …