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Scaling the Small-Startup-Get-Things-Done Mentality @ JoyTunes

Why we started working in pods, and what we found out along the way

Yuval Kaminka speaks with Aleph portfolio companies about Working in Squads @JoyTunes

Maximizing Impact Velocity

In the past, at JoyTunes and in other companies, many of us have often experienced the frustration of feeling sluggish, as if everything in the company was moving annoyingly slowly. Every feature and/or decision required an endless cycle of approvals, jumping up and down the hierarchical pyramid along with countless meetings (sprinkled with some fun office politics, gotta love those) that were missing context and a clear goal.

https://www.assignmentpoint.com/arts/law/law-diminishing-returns.html

Pods Perspective 1: declaring war on diminishing returns

Edge of a Cliff

Reflecting on JoyTunes’ history, we started by pinpointing when we ‘crushed it’ and when things were quite bad. An (extreme) example of this happened just after downsizing our already small team. The resulting core team, while 30% smaller, moved much faster than before and achieved incredible(!) impact.

  1. Lots of passion
  2. Intense teamwork and ownership
  3. Doing whatever is needed, no ego

Pods in a Nutshell

The pods are small, focused startups, composed of roughly four to ten strong and resourceful people sharing a clear goal and lots of ownership. Pod members ideally possess all the disciplines and resources needed to make a (mind-bending) dent, and have the ownership needed to do whatever it takes to get it done. They must be able to move fast, make smart (and hard) decisions, work closely with each other and deliver loads of impact and value to our many users.

  1. Hands on, do whatever is needed, no ego.
  2. Focus! Every pod has a goal on which to focus, and, more importantly, a list of all the things they’re NOT working on.
  3. Ownership, independence — in pursuing its goal, the pod owns its own fate. There are no top-down plans forced on the team. The pod decides on a plan for achieving their goals and executes it accordingly.

Pods Perspective 2: small startups within a startup

Guilds as a Crucial Complementary Element

To complement the pods, we started to define our professional guilds. This approach is not unique to JoyTunes, but it’s important to highlight the guilds as a crucial part of the pod structure, enabling its growing scale.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matrix_management

Pod Perspective 3: transpose (management_matrix)

As an example, the dev guild at JoyTunes is all about learning new tools, code review, training sessions, dev conferences, deciding on dev issues across the company, talks, syncing release cycles, etc.

Does this scale?

The short answer is yes. The ability, or lack thereof, to scale the small startup mentality was the main reason for insecurity when moving in this direction. This was the issue we explored the most. What we learned from other companies, like Spotify and Netflix, is that, basically, such scaling can be done, but that it requires additional guidelines and adaptations which we implemented immediately. I will cover these in a separate post.

Training

As with other small startups, people are expected to learn on the job, and quickly. While this creates a high bar for hiring in general (described below), it also means that the pods must be structured in a way that there needs to be a mentoring mechanism for decision making, product-market fit, leadership, and even getting-shit-done attitude. We used to throw people off the deep end, only to see some drown miserably. Throwing in some floaties helped, but lacking swimming guidance, 4 out of 5 people will continue to float around after a year. Floating means being stagnant, and for what we’re trying to build, being stagnant means, well, the end of life, universe and everything.

Pods Perspective 4: a crash course in startup building

Known Bugs (Features?)

We discovered quite a few challenges while working this way. Some were tagged under ‘known issues’ while others were flagged to be mitigated (work in progress). Here’s a selection of some bugs:

  1. Very(!) high bar for hiring — the impact of each person joining is equal to or even greater than that of an early employee in a small startup. This means we require strong thinkers who enjoy having a strong impact on the product and the users’ experience.
  2. Doesn’t work that well with occasional/part-time work. Creative solutions are needed to address this issue.

Pods are the Best Thing Ever Invented

No, they are not. In fact, they are not even a sufficient nor necessary structure for attaining amazing velocity. But we found them to be very (!) helpful in optimizing what we care about most, while dealing with disadvantages, as discussed above. As an agile coach from Spotify once told us, “All structures are bad by definition. You need to choose what’s really important for you and optimize for that.”

Yuval Kaminka

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Yuval Kaminka

Extremely passionate about working on things that matter. Co-founder of JoyTunes, making it possible for anyone to play a musical instrument