What Can Smart Founders Learn from The Office?

Ankur Capital
Apr 15 · 3 min read

By Team Ankur

The Office ran for 9 seasons and showcased many nuanced and maybe exaggerated scenes that happen in workplaces around the world all the time. It left us with many sweet, sweet nuggets of wisdom, and these takeaways are specifically for founders building world-class companies.

On communication — verbal and non verbal cues:

Watch your words — Do you remember Kelly and how annoying she was at Dunder Mifflin? Being a customer service representative does require someone to be a chatterbox I suppose, so let’s give her that! In one scene, she tells Michael, “I talk a lot so I have learned to tune myself out.” Don’t ever be that founder! Talking less is better than talking more, and what you can say in 3 mins should not be said in 5 mins. This is particularly important when one is pitching or fund-raising — hyperbole does cause ear damage. However, when as a founder, you are trying to bond with a teammate or lend a sympathetic ear, share everything you got.

Not all meetings are useful — How many times did Michael call for meetings? And how many were productive? In today’s overdone Zoom meeting culture, founders really have to ask themselves if there are clear takeaways and action items from a meeting. If a 5 min call will douse the fire or give an update, go for it. Do you remember how bored Stanley looked in half his meetings? If there is even one person looking that bored, then something is not right.

Make them short and crisp, with clear takeaways from every meeting!

On building a kickass culture:

Collateral beauty — The final scene of Season 9’s Finale cuts to Pam Beesly’s drawing of the (Dunder Mifflin) office and she says, “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”

For busy founders, this implies taking out time daily to celebrate the most amazing thing that happened in the company that day. Make it a practise and applaud who did it. On big days, it could be as amazing as a huge contract that your sales guy won. On bigger, a $100m raise! But on most days, it will be the everyday, non-glamorous things — say an interview conducted well by your HR, or a contract sent on time, or a delivery made despite the traffic.

Do it for 5 mins daily, publicly or privately, and see where it takes you. Happy employees are your ticket in this startup world.

The best ideas can come from unexpected places — Who would have thought that Warehouse Foreman Daryl would be a source of great ideas? When Dunder Mifflin gets acquired by Sabre, she gets a great idea by spending time with Daryl. It’s then that he’s brought into the office for regular meetings and asked for his opinion. Talk to your customers — not the person who bought it but the person who uses it; speak with different functions at multiple levels on what they think. Everyone’s voice matters if you choose to make it count.

Your priorities are not their priorities — Perhaps a hard one to swallow and probably one of the nice things Michael taught us was this: When Dunder Mifflin is acquired by Sabre, their founder spends a lot of time at the branch. This compels Michael and his team to stay late. After a few such late nights, Michael takes one for the team and starts staying late alone. And lets his team off the hook. Unlike a founder, most people work to live, they don’t live to work.

Most of the people who join you have different priorities than yours, and everyone is entitled to their own path to joy. Even if it’s something as simple as Pretzel Day, or the free food that Michael organises for his office on many social events! Recognise and respect their priorities.

If you are innovating for the next billion and are waiting for Season 10 of The Office as eagerly as we are, please write in to us at info@ankurcapital.com.

Ankur Capital

Venture Capital — Seeding Startups, Building India