Starting From Scratch: Building a Culture
This article first appeared in Modern Law Magazine.
My co-founder, Jack, and I were by ourselves for the first 14 months of Thirdfort’s existence. On hiring our CTO, Udi, we built and launched our first product five months later. Since then, everything has changed – we have hired 14 people in 14 months and opened offices in Manchester and Sri Lanka.
As first time founders, the learning curve in creating an exciting and productive work environment was steep, but having spoken to other founders and picked up many lessons along the way, I’ve observed two key things that I believe help foster a dynamic and inclusive culture.
Firstly, we encourage everyone, no matter what role, to challenge ideas across the organisation. This leads to better business decisions with the benefit amplified from a team with diverse backgrounds and skills (we have seven nationalities in our team of 17 spread across the business). I want the most junior team member to challenge ideas with as much rigour as me or Jack.
In the early days, Jack and I wore 100 hats. From BD to accounting to client setup and support, it was dynamic but we quickly learnt that we couldn’t be experts at everything. In scaling, the priority became about hiring quality people and getting out of their way. As Steve Jobs remarked, ‘It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do’. I’m a firm believer in this approach – giving the right person autonomy frees them up to rapidly grow and exceed expectations. A collective operating this way is paramount and is why we work hard to hire and retain exceptional people who champion our core values.
Secondly, I’ve observed the power of giving all employees access to what’s going on in the business (except for sensitive areas like compensation). This is harder operationally than one might imagine. Individual quarterly targets, weekly progress and cross function company folders are all open and we encourage new joiners to have a snoop around. Companies such as Monzo are particularly impressive here – their meteoric growth, from 300 employees in 2018 to 713 in 2019 whilst keeping a strong, cohesive culture (voted #1 LinkedIn employer 3 years running) is a testament to the benefit of investing in transparency.
Obviously, there are many intangible factors that help create a great culture but we’ve found constructive debate and letting capable people have visibility of 99.9% of the business crucial to us forming a strong, cohesive team of people without which Thirdfort would be impossible.