How We Defined Our Company Values
The story of how we defined our company culture and values.
This September, Powder had its first seminar in Spain, which brought us together as a team! After a long COVID spell, we looked forward to gathering, and what a better place to do so than the sunny Mediterranean?
There, over three days, we made truly unforgettable memories: from kayaking in the open sea to exploring local landscapes, playing pool volleyball, and raising a glass to the community our project brought together: us!
The importance of the first company seminar
It’s been a year and a half since Powder officially launched, and since then, our community has grown to 2.5m users; we raised $20m in funding and are growing fast — since January 2021, our team has nearly doubled in size, going from ~15 members to high 30s.
In light of this, it felt important to take some time to bond and reflect on what brings us together: the organization we work in, and our shared values, our culture.
Caught up in the day-to-day, we are laser-focused on user feedback and on key performance indicators (KPIs) we’re looking to surpass — less so on the more qualitative aspects of our operations, like shared values.
Specifically, we believe that a company without a shared culture is like a state without a constitution — a community that’s likely to fail as it scales: not something that will happen under our watch!
So during the seminar, we set out to define our values.
In this article, we mention (1) our references, (2) our process, and (3) its outcome: the list and the definition of the values we share.
(1) Our references: in terms of company culture, we look up to Pixar and Netflix.
We’ve kicked off with an introduction to company culture, a topic on which disruptive companies at the intersection of technology and creativity inspire us.
Here, two names stand out for us:
Pixar. Ed Catmull, its co-founder, inspires us. On top of being a founding father of Computer Graphics — already quite the achievement! — with his best-seller Creativity Inc. (2014), he has contributed a LOT to defining what excellent company culture is.
Catmull’s recipe for success includes:
- a LOT of candor (honest feedback!);
- systematically aiming for quality;
- implementing processes and questioning them;
- trying to hire people that are smarter than you;
- embracing courageous deadlines;
- accepting failure in the sense that it’s a necessary byproduct of innovation;
- oh, and by the way, people matter more than ideas!!
Netflix. In No Rules Rules (2020), Erin Meyer and Reed Hastings summarize what makes Netflix unique in company culture.
“No Rules Rules” confirms many intuitions from “Creativity Inc.” in terms of:
- focusing on talent density;
- adopting radical candor around feedback.
For Meyer and Hastings, having excellent talent density means eliminating top-down rules to create a decentralized organization and enabling even newcomers to give feedback to senior executives.
(2) Our process: shortlisting our values
Following this introduction, we split into groups to list and define values we felt corresponded to us. These were then put up for general voting afterward, which we did with stickers — each team member had five stickers to vote. The groups also brainstormed mascots that best represented the group of values they listed.
Disclaimer: post-its were harmed in the process.
The exercise was super inspiring!
We brainstormed, laughed a lot, drew funky mascots with crayons, and in the end, shortlisted eight values.
We were surprised by how easy it was — it turns out, our five groups had a pretty similar vision of what brings us together!
Formalizing our values feels empowering because now we know which foundation to build on for the future.
Our next step: making sure this common DNA is reflected even more in everything we do, from product to organizational design, internal communication, growth & and content strategy.
(3) Its outcome: the eight values we came up with
Happiness — happy in life, happy at work.
We believe in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. We trust that everyone can deliver outstanding results while having the freedom to adapt their work routine to personal circumstances.
Diversity — we each have a story to tell.
We’re lucky to gather as many as 18 different nationalities at Powder — a diversity thanks to which we can truly benefit from a wealth of perspectives in our decision-making, which does require that we listen to each one of us. This patchwork identity of ours is, beyond doubt, a key driver of creativity!
Openness — shared trust inspires excellent ideas.
For a company at the intersection of technology and creativity to function well, Catmull states, everybody should interact freely within the company. We take this to heart and trust team members to communicate across the organization to create alignment on the projects they lead. To facilitate open dialogue, we organize weekly meetings where all our squads present their projects — especially when they encounter blockers that need solving!
No ego — we can have an impact without taking ourselves too seriously.
We see bragging and fake humility as harmful byproducts of social media, and we’re doing our best to keep them at bay — in our apps and at the office. We approach ambitious undertakings with a healthy dose of realism and humor! No one here would ever consider themselves ‘too good’ to perform a routine task or to receive feedback — because what matters the most to us is reaching our goals. That said, we never fail to give a shout-out to teammates for their achievements!
Empowerment — we are free to express our best selves.
At Powder, like in sports, we believe that the best teams result from making the most out of everyone’s skills and passions, rather than trying to fit people in roles they don’t like at all costs. From day one, everyone at Powder is encouraged to take the lead on subjects that matter to them. We’re not here to punch the clock but to realize our best potential! That means having the room to develop original ideas, unconstrained by rigid top-down guidelines and protocols. Regular 1-to-1s with team leads ensure that people are fulfilled in their roles and have the necessary resources to get there.
Ownership — we are risk-takers who are entrusted with the freedom to try & fail.
We love to experiment: from media assets and UX design to go-to-market strategies or features of a neural network we’re about to deploy; we believe there is always room for ‘test and learn.’ We believe that the scientific method is the operating system of successful startup projects.
Growth — through feedback, we continuously improve.
User feedback is the fuel of our product-market fit engine. We rely on systematic qualitative feedback and quantitative data to make product decisions that are most relevant for our community. We build tools for creators and devise strategies for monetization and distribution this way. And we believe taking feedback into account also applies to personal growth.
Being pop — we embrace mainstream culture and contribute to it.
We LOVE video games and all the culture that goes with it — centered on creators and studios, social experiences and soundtracks, competition, and weird achievements — and we hope to give back to this ecosystem thanks to the cool content our community creates!
Writing about values can be tricky. In the words of our Senior AI engineer, Vincent Garcia: “It’s like writing a cover letter. Even if what you say is true, you still end up sounding lame somehow.” Which probably applies a little bit to this article too? 😜
In any case, thanks to our excellent first seminar, we started to build our company culture, based on eight company values we’re proud of — and which cement our vision of what a successful workplace will look like for us in the future!
We know these values will guide and inspire us to deliver the best version of our products and ourselves as we continue to grow!