How these 5 startups are using transparency to become global success
Do you know the salary of your peer? Probably yes, because she earns almost equal and you may have exchanged your salary number after a recent raise. Do you know the salary of your boss, Director,VP, or CEO? No, not unless they have to disclose the number by a mandate of Public Companies Act.
If you ask your sales director how he closed the last deal or your marketing head how he attracted so many customers, then you will be advised to focus on your work rather than ask these questions. These are company growth secrets, so why should they disclose?
If you ask your company CEO to share the company growth strategy, salaries and marketing internals then all you will get is 'baba ji ka thullu.' Don’t try that at your company.
But increasingly, there has been a steady rise in the number of startups which are radically transparent about the way they are doing business.Internal details about product development, design, sales, marketing, hiring, income & expense reports, funding, and even equity allocation information is shared openly.
I started learning about the transparent culture since I started using Buffer, a social media scheduling app. Buffer has set a benchmark of transparency that new startups claim to build a transparent company,“the buffer way”.
They have openly disclosed salary and equity formula of the company (including founders), which is extremely useful for startups. Early stage startups will not want to miss out how Buffer raised $3.5M funding section where they disclosed how they found investors, their pitch deck, key matrices and even the term sheet after funding. I want to talk a lot more about Buffer but let’s see what other companies are doing.
Groove founder Alex Turnbull, shares his company growth moments from ‘aha’ to ‘oh shit’- everything on their journey from $0 to $500K in month revenue. This is the best place to start learning if you are building a SaaS company. They shared on their blog, how they won first 1000 beta customers when they started Groove.
You will find everything you need to know if you are selling cloud-based software products. They write about product features, investors, design, marketing, revenue, growth strategy and learning from their failures.
Recently, they offered startup tools worth $20,000 from more than 50 companies. Early stage startups can grab this offer before it expires. Normally these benefits are available only for accelerated and funded companies but Groove made it possible for anyone and everyone who wants to grow their startup.
If you are a digital company then you can’t ignore the power of SEO. You have not learned enough SEO if you don’t know about Moz. They will teach you SEO and Search Marketing free of cost.
This Seattle-based startup became a $35 million company without employing any sales person. That’s a true story. Moz CEORand Fishkin believes in a transparent and sharing culture, so you can learn from their insider story of $18M venture funding, metrics & future plans.
Rand shared his experience of open culture at his company –
At Moz, there’s a woman I work with on the product team, and she’s absolutely one of my favorite engineers. She’s a transgender woman and during one of our Lunch and Learns, she went up and shared a powerpoint presentation explaining her gender reassignment surgery, and the process, and what happens and all this stuff. And that was one of my best days at Moz, because I felt like "wow, if she feels comfortable enough with all of us to share that kind of thing, and if this is the kind of company where everybody goes and eats their lunch and learns about gender reassignment surgery, then I want to live in that world."
Moz runs a popular series of Whiteboard Friday where they share valuable SEO insights every Friday. The learning you can expect from their transparent culture is about – SEO, social media and content marketing.
They are advocates of transparency and startup culture since their inception nine years ago. You can explore more about hubspot startup culture and how they measure if they are following what they preach. You will also find their startup culture deck at the same link.
If you want to start digital marketing, then HubSpot is the right place to begin with. Their blog is a Bible of digital marketing where you can find free e-books, marketing templates, step by step guides, info-graphics and free images.
Apart from learning marketing and sales from gurus, startups can also learn how to build a company which is loved by its customers, employees, vendors and investors.
They started as a web design company in 1999 and became popular after 2004 when they released a simple task management tool – BaseCamp. They are the creator of open sourced development framework Ruby on Rails. They also wrote popular books – ‘Getting Real’, ‘ReWork and Remote’.
You can grab your free copy ofthe book ‘Getting Real’.
They contributed tremendous value in startups by staying open and transparent. For example, Basecamp was down once for a few hours in the middle of the night. Ninety nine percent of the customers never knew that, but they still posted an "unexpected downtime" notice to their blog.
Here's what they posted: "We apologize for the downtime this morning — we had some database issues which caused major slowdowns and downtimes for some people. We've fixed the problem and are taking steps to make sure this doesn't happen again...Thanks for your patience and, once again, we're sorry for the downtime."
I loved this lesson on transparency from their book ‘ReWork’.
All top chefs publish their recipes in cookbooks but no one ever became chef like them by following their recipes. It is the cook who makes delicious food not the recipe.
I still wonder why people are so afraid of sharing ideas! Learn from the story of Basecamp.
Benefits of transparency
We have not witnessed ‘transparency culture’ in Indian startup ecosystem yet, maybe because it is still evolving. I believe transparency is the future of companies. One day, big companies will start following this or will perish.
This is the rule of evolution that the strongest and adaptable survives when the environment changes drastically. And the business environment is changing.
Transparency can help startups sail through storms because of fundamental benefits of community and openness.
# Greater trust
People trust you more when you walk the talk. People trust you even more when you don’t hide anything. People love you when you have only one face and that you can become by being transparent.
This is equally applicable to your family, employees, customers and investors. When you don’t keep secrets, they trust you and they will stand by you in good & bad times.
You are working with people who are bound by a set of values not the stack of policies. It’s natural that they will become more efficient in whatever they do.
Company culture is not what is written in documents that you have signed on your appointment day. Company culture is what you do when your boss is not around.
To whom you will be more loyal? The person you trust, right?
You employees, investors and customers will stick with you forever till they trust you. They will forgive your silly mistakes because they know internally that you will work hard till the issue is resolved.
You paint a different picture to your employees, executives, customers and investors. Now you have to recall in every meeting what you promised to whom. That causes stress.
You will sleep peacefully when your plans, promises, commitments and actions are like an open book. You can focus more on product and leave worrying about playing politics.
Transparency is sexy but it’s not for everyone. Half way to transparency culture can be like the sip of cobra-toxic.
Your company culture is an extension of yourself. If you are not transparent at home then how can you build a transparent company? You can’t say that I will disclose my revenue numbers but not the channels of revenue. You have to otherwise people will fill the gaps by their own assumptions.
You can’t just blindly follow companies who claim their success by being transparent. You should work on yourself with awareness,and you will find out how to raise a company “the buffer way”.