Happy 3rd Anniversary, T-Me Studios!
[Short background on T-Me, or skip ahead to the recipe]
Matt (Matei Pavel) and Lawrence don’t exactly remember the date they got together at Starbucks to strike up a new business venture together — but, when I asked, the very day I came on board back in February 2015, they could agree on ‘late November 2013,’ so I slapped a round 11/22 on our Facebook page and got on with the business of curating T-Me Studios’ web 2.0.
It’s three years later and the startup they set up back then has flourished into a leading European ‘scale-up’ and a top developer of personalization apps with 6,000+ of them on the Play Store, and counting, doubled by a steadily growing presence on the App Store.
To give you an idea of just how fast T-Me’s ideating and iterating, and how adept it’s become at picking the best app to throw its full weight behind, its most recent app phenom, Redraw Keyboard, is just one of three portfolio apps kicking around our meeting rooms this year.
While Redraw’s arguably the bet that’s paid off — with over 3 million installs in just under three months from launch and a 4.6 rating that outscores any other 3rd party Android keyboard around — we’re also gearing up for another big launch of a wholly different app, more social than perso, now enjoying a successful run in Beta. The third app that hogged our whiteboards at the beginning of 2016 and is currently on the back burner somewhere between SWOT and KISS, will mark another departure from T-Me’s core perso business, and will see us dipping a toe into the sharing economy market.
The point of all this isn’t to boast of our apps, so much as to boast of their makers — that is, all 70-odd people, designers, developers and marketers, all ready to roll up their sleeves every day, right alongside Matt and Lawrence.
The secret is everyone brings it!
The collaborative effort that has made T-Me into the full-fledged company it is today dates back to those late autumn days in 2013, when Matt and Lawrence and a handful of equally wide-eyed fellow millennials put their heads together to create, from scratch, the automation engine that propelled T-Me’s first output of keyboard skins, launchers and locker screens to the top of the Play Store.
But a well-oiled machine of five is one thing — how does one get a team of seventy to work just as efficiently together? I’ve now been here long enough to reverse-engineer a recipe, so here goes, a 7-step tutorial on building a kick-ass team like T-Me Studios’:
1. The team leaders/company founders/CEOs etc. should always aspire to learn more and keep the team in that same, hungry frame of mind. The growth of each and every one on the team should be the first thing on true leaders’ minds, as such the access to books, conferences and classes must be made readily available to all. This year alone, Matt and Lawrence took some of us to conferences abroad or to visit the offices of companies we look up to — and that we strive to emulate — all on the company’s dime, of course :)
There’s so much that I’ve learned in the few months I’ve been here — but, crucially, it’s not all been through our co-founders’ intervention. All of us at T-Me share the knowledge (face to face or on a dedicated Slack channel called, you guessed it, ‘Knowledge’) and, as the saying goes, none of it is ever lost, it gets transformed and re-purposed until it reaches the right person at the right time.
2. The team that plays together, works better together. There’s not much to draw young people to a regular 9-to-5 office-bound job anymore — so company founders should actively engage in creating and stoking the team spirit at work. From the odd parties and outings to weekly get-togethers, every second of quality time spent together is key to building a sense of community that will pay off in the long run. When people care about each other and about the place that brought them together, they’ll do their bit to keep it all going.
Office warming #party A #NonHalloween Party with Pumpkins!: by T-Me Studios on @stellerstories
Office warming #party A #NonHalloween Party with Pumpkins! #boo We had a blast welcoming our friends to…
3. Try and try to disabuse people of rigid corporate mindsets, as well as of other bandied-about concepts that might do just as much harm to the sort of mood you’re aiming to create at the office. Let’s take the notion of maintaining a ‘work-life balance’ — by pitting ‘work’ versus ‘life,’ it implies, wrongly to my mind, that one’s less alive at work. That’s very much at odds with the kind of space we’re fostering at our office — where work time dovetails with play time, where there’s no clocking in or out, where one’s encouraged to decompress when the mood strikes.
At any given moment, you’ll see devs whirring about on Segways or hear peals of laughter erupting from one of the closed spaces dotted around our open-space office. And, whatever your mood, there’s simply no resisting the warmth and joy brought on by the arrival of Happy Friday treats — there’s a reason we call it a ‘social breakfast.’ All of which, granted, is easier to get accustomed to, perhaps, than T-Me’s other anti-corporate ways (like, say, owning one’s successes as well as one’s mistakes, or speaking out even against someone one perceives as ‘superior’ in role) — but all the rewiring, as a whole, makes for a healthier office in the long run.
4. Keep a finger on the pulse of the overall mood and also make a point of checking in with people one-on-one. There’s no better way of nipping grumbling in the bud — be it issues that pertain to office workings that no longer… work, or office drama that could result in stalemates down the line. I’ve seen many such potential pitfalls avoided during my time at T-Me, just through the nurturing of people’s voices and senior team members’ insisting that new arrivals speak their mind. Because the key to good leadership is getting core tenants like these to rub off on others.
The cool-headed pair at T-Me’s helm as well as other team leaders at T-Me make the time to entertain and address every concern that naturally arises in a team as large as ours. Through regular and even impromptu one-on-ones, people who might be coy about raising sensitive matters outright — e.g. wanting to work remotely a few days a week or feeling adrift due to personal matters or friction at the office — don’t have to let their frustrations fester. They instead get a fix to their problems, even if it’s just the friendly ear they need.
5. Let people chart their own course within the company, even if that means you’re losing a senior marketer and gaining a junior developer. Unhappy employees are no use to anyone, and if people’s growth is truly a priority for you as a leader, you should stand by your word and let them soar with the knowledge and self-confidence you’ve helped them gain.
Don’t curb your employees’ enthusiasm and interest in other areas, let alone when their flight path doesn’t need to diverge from your company’s. While recruiting is grueling, particularly for a mobile app developer (sheesh, talk about an understatement!), the effort is always worth it when it’s about keeping a longtime team member happy.
6. As a leader and someone people look to in times of confusion or even crisis, one should be transparent, open and approachable, not least of all when the issue of communication itself is raised. While it’s crucial that leaders be available to talk to people individually, there’s also a strong case to be made for regular status report meetings, where everyone’s looped in on the newest developments across all the departments. At any one of these, everything can change on a dime too — it takes just one voice pointing out something that needs changing, and arguing convincingly for it. It’s here that you realize that nothing, no ‘do’ or ‘don’t’ is set in stone, everything is in flux and our fates are bound together. And we’re all the better for it.
Here’s Matt for instance, at our latest monthly meeting, addressing the question of people leaving T-Me out of the blue, without them letting their coworkers know, or indeed the company making a point of announcing their departure.
7.If you attend any of our monthly meetings (which, incidentally, we jokingly call Koinonia, from the Greek meaning ‘communion’) you’ll often see this aspect of being a leader taken to an extreme that many old-school employers would balk at even considering: openness about the company’s status quo and its future. But, there’s also an element of care in packaging the news that speaks to a leader’s responsibility to choose his or her words and demeanor in such a way as not to transfer undue stress onto employees’ shoulders. It’s important to clear the air when the team has been feeling the effects of a change in direction, and leaders should master the optimum ways to deliver news, be it good or indeed bad, to their team.
Unlike their stick-in-the-mud counterparts in corporate high-rises, both Matt and Lawrence cringe at being seen as apart, aka ‘the boss,’ and so, no topic the team might bring up is off-limits — their down-to-earth, funny, unaffected tone strips any prickly topic of its perceived sting and further drives home the point they keep making: that we are all family here and, as such, gossip or secrets have no place here.
As the two 20-something-year-olds would surely argue, T-Me Studios is more than the sum of its apps, or its freebies — it’s the people, the culture, the idealism and the no-BS willingness to talk every issue through until the situation, and the system itself, is improved.
T-Me Studios has become a beacon of change in the Romanian landscape as far as its emphasis on company culture as the be-all-end-all of a thriving business.
Why does the country’s top talent flock to us? Every new hire I ask credits either our leadership status, or our cool-looking digs and fun-loving office dynamics that they see plenty of on social (toot-toot!). But that all comes at a price, and it’s to our two co-founders’ credit that they’re happy to pay it every day — i.e., live in constant worry about the well-being of the T-Me team.
That relentless focus on the team is, as I’ve come to learn during the year and a half that I’ve been a part of it, impossible to overstate. It’s the glue and the fuel that pulls us together and drives us to scale new heights. It’s what sustains the spring in my step every morning when I come in to work and what keeps me here — in spirit — when I tweet from our accounts late into the night :)