After spending almost a decade in finance and banking, where I have managed all sorts of other people’s money, ranging from pension funds to a bank’s treasury, I decided to come back to my original passion for data and IT.
Although I haven’t really experienced the culture that is prevalent in the largest banks and corporates, I have brushed past it close enough to see how things are done there. I was longing for some fresh air and a more hacker-like environment. Vinted is where I ended up.
I do realise that one needs to run a large organisation very differently from a tiny agile startup — procedures, formalised processes and hierarchy become much more important when you achieve a certain scale. I have witnessed a very similar organisational growth path in one financial institution I have worked for, as it grew tenfold from 20-ish employees, in just a few years. I think IT startups in general and Vinted in particular have some special culture traits of their own: a huge appetite for experiments, a much lower amount of corporate politics and a “sure, I can do this” attitude.
I have experienced my largest cultural shock right on my first day at Vinted. The marketing team has asked for some data and I was about to fire up my spreadsheet, do some data retrieving, crunching, formatting, charting and vlookup’ing to wrangle the numbers into a format that would be comprehensible to an average mid-level executive.
I prided myself in coming from a really hands-on culture at my previous employers: we gloated about the fact that our board members needed their data in spreadsheets that they could examine themselves and snubbed at the executives who demanded glitzy powerpoint presentations instead — in order to really understand the data you need to tinker with it, after all.
Imagine my astonishment when a colleague of mine typed a few lines of SQL and sent them to the marketing department — they needed the data in its rawest form, and there it was. The exchange was fast and the problem was solved within minutes. The marketing crew were happy to receive a few lines of code instead of a sleek powerpoint presentation that may take hours to prepare. I was flabbergasted. It was difficult for me to imagine an executive in a large corporate organisation hacking on an SQL query to dig for data, but these are common at Vinted.
What matters is getting data that does the job (and fast!), not the font it’s written in. No clutter, no unnecessary baggage.
In fact, data rules supreme at Vinted. Data is accessible to everyone, there are very few secrets- as opposed to a “you don’t need to know this“ default-mode at more corporate cultures.
When everyone has access to all data, the decisions become much more transparent and the smartest person’s opinion prevails. In a big corporate organisation, it is not uncommon for the smartest voice to be drowned out by hippos — the highest-paid people, and their opinions.
Sure, there are limits to worshipping data: not every problem can be solved by looking at the numbers, but we can at least use it to minimize decisions made on a hunch.
A strong data culture leads to other traits of Vinted culture that I really love: being open about data is also being open about yourself.
Data is there to figure out a problem and find a solution to it, not to cover up your mistakes, which may be tempting if your corporate culture does not tolerate failure. If you torture data hard enough, you will find a way to spin it in a positive light, but that doesn’t help to solve the original problem in any way.
I am proud to say that at Vinted you don’t get blamed for honest mistakes, especially if there’s something you can learn from it. This focus on solving the problem rather than finding someone or something to blame is extremely liberating.