When your company doubles in size over the course of a year, spreading your product org across four offices and three timezones, you spend a lot of time talking about culture and how to maintain it. Yet, if you asked ten people to describe our product culture, you’d get ten different answers.
I often compare startups to people and we were enduring our awkward teenage phase. To reach a higher level of maturity, we knew we needed to document our culture through a set of product principles.
There are a lot of definitions out there, but in its simplest form, principles are a way to scale culture. As companies grow and become more cross-functional, pushing your original culture drivers further away from the day-to-day, principles help ensure past lessons are not forgotten. In an effort to constantly improve, they are a mechanism to repeat success.
To develop our product principles, we held an offsite with representatives from product, design and engineering, as well as our CEO. Through a series of design thinking exercises, we brainstormed, presented and evaluated themes based on written prompts. In doing so, we kept the following in mind:
- Principles should be collectively unique. If you want your product to be differentiated, so too should your principle stack.
- Principles should not be truisms. They should be subjective, biased and cognizant of the alternatives.
- Principles should not be etched in stone. They should represent the lessons you’ve learned to date, which expands over time.
- Principles can be aspirational. While they must be obtainable, they can be something your product org grows into.
The output was the list below. We hope you find them useful as you begin to define your culture and how you’d like to operate.
1. Live and die by the tripod.
We believe success has three key ingredients: product, design and engineering. We’re at our best when they’re equally represented.
As a platform that pairs production and analytics services, VidMob requires both left and right brain thinking. Because of that, no one person or discipline has all the answers. While everyone should respect each other’s expertise, it’s equally important for disciplines to welcome cross-functional partners into their process, allowing them to co-own it. We spend extra time to ensure team alignment because without it, the platform suffers. An imbalanced approach leads to imbalanced outcomes.
2. Start with real problems from real people.
We are committed to building what users want, not what we think they need. We approach every problem assuming we know nothing.
The temptation that exists at any disruptive startup is assuming users don’t know what they want and building based on intuition. That may have worked for Apple, but that’s not the case here. While product development will always require some liberties to be taken, we’re driven more by fact than feeling. We promote a culture where assumptions must be challenged because our success directly correlates to our willingness to fight for users.
3. Big things have small beginnings.
We articulate the dream and work backwards. We strive to find small, familiar solutions that allow us to ship sooner.
While we subscribe to “MVP thinking,” we’re also acutely aware of its pitfalls. When solving a problem, we strive to find whole solutions, unburdened by scope. It’s not until the dream is realized (and validated) that we break it down, defining incremental steps to get there — leaning on our design system as much as possible. This allows us to ship and learn sooner, while avoiding band-aid solutions.
4. If you fail, do it quickly.
We understand product development is a learning process. When things don’t go as planned, we diagnose the cause and pivot quickly.
To steal a saying from the baseball world, product development is a game of failure. Even the greatest players strikeout a lot. Because of that, teams are not measured based on their immediate success rate. Rather, it’s their ability to solicit and act on feedback. They’re measured based on their resilience. While we’re careful not to overreact, we’re more than willing to sunset ideas if we cannot will them to success.
5. If it’s not functional, it’s not well-formed.
We’re dedicated to our craft, but we don’t let it compromise practicality. We make sure things works before we make them dazzle.
We understand that product development is a never-ending tug of war between speed and quality. While we firmly believe that every detail counts, we draw a clear line between mandatories and nice-to-haves when building a new feature. It’s not until we’ve validated success that we apply the polish needed to make a good feature great. As hard as it is at times, we know when and how to embrace imperfection.