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Thread Culture Deck

  1. 1. Thread CultureDeck
  2. 2. Hi. Let me tell you a story. Kieran O’Neill, CEO & co-founder, Thread
  3. 3. It was 2012 and myself and my co-founder Ben and I were in the process of selling our company. It had done pretty well, growing to 1.5 million users, and we had multiple companies interested in buying it. Lucky for us this was the second time we’d had a successful exit between us.
  4. 4. During the sale process we went out for a beer to discuss the future. What should we do next? Start another company? Take a break? Build a non-profit?
  5. 5. Somehow the shine of starting another company “just because” had worn off. The first time founder's dream of making the front page of TechCrunch, raising funding or “going viral” had lost its appeal.
  6. 6. Reflecting on the times we’d been most fulfilled, there were three things that were always present:
 1) Working on an idea that was audaciously ambitious, that solved a problem we had personally and could have a huge impact on the world 2) As part of a team of people who were so good we genuinely felt lucky to be there 3) Where the values of the group aligned with our own, and made us more like the people we wanted to be
  7. 7. As we finished up our drinks, we resolved that we would start another company together. Not to make money or because it’s cool to be a founder, but to create an environment that matched our idea of excellence: working on an important problem, with a world-class team, aligned by a shared set of principles that made us all better.
  8. 8. Thread is that company, and we’re loving it.
  9. 9. We decided to make this culture deck not because it’s trendy to do so, but for two reasons: 
 1) To outline clearly what we uniquely stand for as a company 2) To attract those who share our values, and repel those who don’t 
 We’ve structured this deck into three parts to align with the three key things that we found made us fulfilled.
  10. 10. An audaciously ambitious mission
  11. 11. My co-founders and I are pretty normal guys when it comes to clothes: we want to dress well, but don’t really enjoy shopping. Being honest, the thought of going to a busy shopping street on a Saturday afternoon is enough to make me shudder. The queueing, overwhelming choice, pushy sales people… Audaciously ambitious mission
  12. 12. Online is just as hard: with millions of options, the choice is overwhelming. Which things will suit me? Or fit the best? Or go with what I already have? Audaciously ambitious mission
  13. 13. We realised that some people out there loved shopping and had amazing taste—stylists—so why not connect them to normal guys so they can dress better and avoid all this pain? Audaciously ambitious mission
  14. 14. Clearly the challenge is scalability. We had a crazy idea, though. What if you combined human stylists with machine learning algorithms to create an experience that was better than a human could provide by themselves? Audaciously ambitious mission
  15. 15. Better? Audaciously ambitious mission
  16. 16. Yes, by taking the best bits of each and fusing them together. 
 Humans have taste, can understand what would suit you from seeing a photo, and can answer your questions.
 Computers, however, can look through millions of options to find the best ones, always remembers your preferences, and scalably observe and learn from your behaviour. Audaciously ambitious mission
  17. 17. If you did that, you’d be able to give every person on the planet their own stylist to help them dress well without the hassle of going shopping. Audaciously ambitious mission
  18. 18. You could create the new default for how hundreds of millions of people buy clothes. Audaciously ambitious mission
  19. 19. And in the process you’d help people to feel happier and more self-confident, which acts as a positive lever in improving all aspects of their life. Audaciously ambitious mission
  20. 20. Reshaping a trillion dollar industry using stylists and AI, and helping people to feel more self- confident in the process, certainly qualified as audacious. We were hooked. Audaciously ambitious mission
  21. 21. A team so good we felt lucky to be part of it
  22. 22. Everyone says they hire the best, right? Incredible team
  23. 23. It’s funny, then, that when you ask them how they recruit they say the same things that everyone else says. Surely if you do the same things as everyone else then you’re by definition average? Incredible team
  24. 24. One of our founding goals with Thread was to be part of a team we felt lucky to be on, so we’ve given a lot of thought to how to be different. Incredible team
  25. 25. Here are five things we do differently than most other companies. Incredible team
  26. 26. Research excellence Rather than guessing at what we think good looks like, we research who are considered to be the best in the field and meet them. We interview them to understand what makes them special. 1
  27. 27. We seek to truly understand what would make someone right for our particular role, at this particular stage in our company’s development. Research excellence
  28. 28. We then write that down into a Hiring Spec document, and boil the ideas into a short, 4-8 point list of the most important things we need. 
 (Nothing is truly understood until it can be expressed concisely.) Research excellence
  29. 29. Crucially we agree on which strengths in particular we’re looking for, and where we’re prepared to accept compromises. Nobody is a fully- formed, perfect being. You will make compromises. Smart hiring is about accepting that and ensuring you get deep spikes in your most critical areas with acceptable trade-offs elsewhere. Research excellence
  30. 30. It’s hard to judge excellence looking upwards. If you’re trying to hire someone who’s much better at something than anyone in your current team, you’ll struggle to differentiate an 8/10 candidate from a 9/10. To get around this we use our network to find someone who’s at 9/10 and embed them into the recruiting process. Research excellence
  31. 31. Beyond interviews Using the clarity attained above, we design a series of exercises that will give us a true picture of good someone is at each of our key criteria. 2
  32. 32. Few jobs actually resemble the experience had in an interview, so why do most companies use them as their primary assessment tool? Beyond interviews
  33. 33. At Thread, every role—no matter if entry level or c-level—begins with a remote exercise. You’d be surprised, but this rules out 80% of candidates, allowing us to focus our in-person time on people who are likely to be a strong fit skill-wise. Beyond interviews
  34. 34. During the interview process, every interviewer is assigned one or more of the criteria and asked to assess and then grade the person on it. These include our values (more on them later!) Beyond interviews
  35. 35. No deadlines We don’t have set deadlines for hires (“applications close by…”) but instead keep the role open until we find someone exceptional. We’d rather have an empty seat than someone who’s merely very good. 3
  36. 36. Our longest empty seat is over a year. This involves significantly tradeoffs. (Think of the impact a very good person could have had in that year?) But we think it’s worth it. No deadlines
  37. 37. Market mapping Every role is headhunted. We map the market, like an expensive executive recruiter would do, but for every position. Once we’ve determined who the best candidates are for the role, we pursue them with everything we’ve got. 4
  38. 38. You resource what you value A test of how committed you are to hiring the best is visible in your team structure: Do you have someone who’s focused on that and nothing else? 5
  39. 39. We hired our first in-house recruiter as employee 20 (most companies hire one at 75-100 employees). And as you’d expect, we went through a rigorous phase of researching excellence, bringing clarity to the assessment process, starting with work samples and waiting until we found the right person, no matter how painful (and it was). You resource what you value
  40. 40. Values that align with our own—and make us better
  41. 41. There would be nothing more tragic than building a company that succeeded but where you no longer enjoyed working Values that make us better
  42. 42. But almost as if it were a universal truth, as companies grow they usually become worse. The magic that was there at inception becomes diluted. The spirit and fire and energy that got the company started starts to fade away. Values that make us better
  43. 43. This terrified us. The worse outcome of all would be to invest ourselves into creating something special, only to want to leave when we succeeded. We needed to find a way to avoid this. Values that make us better
  44. 44. The solution we found was to clarify from the start what you stand for as a company, and fight like hell to maintain that as you scale. You’ve got to be all-in. Values need to be your bedrock, they can’t be an add-on or nice-to-have. Values that make us better
  45. 45. From the beginning we’ve had clearly defined values. Everyone we’ve hired has been assessed against them according to whether we think they’ll make us stronger. We’ve let go of otherwise strong functional performers people because they made us weaker values-wise. Values that make us better
  46. 46. Every Friday at 12pm we have a 30 minute all-hands to retrospect on whether we’re getting stronger or weaker at living them. Our regular 360 feedback sessions focus on what we do well values-wise and where we can improve. And we provide training for new hires on how they can make us stronger. Values that make us better
  47. 47. When deciding what you value as an organisation you are required to make a hard choice: which few things do you value above all else? Valuing everything is the same as valuing nothing. Values that make us better
  48. 48. For us, ultimately, what we value is impact and excellence. This is distilled into 7 values:
 1) User experience obsessed 2) Uncomfortably fast 3) Extreme clarity 4) Candour 5) Relentless self-iteration 6) Act like an owner 7) Enjoy the journey together Values that make us better
  49. 49. User Experience Obsessed 1
  50. 50. We believe the only way to scale to hundreds of millions of people is if your product is 10x better than what existed previously. There just aren’t enough adverts in the world to get there with a product that’s only slightly better. User Experience Obsessed
  51. 51. The only way we’ll get to a 10x experience is if we’re obsessed about every step in that journey. From the first time you hear about the service, the signup flow and usage, through to the delivery, unboxing and returns experience. We are obsessed about deliberately crafting each step. User Experience Obsessed
  52. 52. Rather than churning through a list of site features, we think deeply about what job the user is hiring Thread to achieve and design flows to deliver that. User Experience Obsessed
  53. 53. We experience what our users experience as much as possible. For example, we don’t offer staff discounts on clothes to avoid distorting their experience, we run regular user research sessions, and everyone in the company gets customer service tickets each week. User Experience Obsessed
  54. 54. Building a 10x experience is hard. The easy thing in most situations is usually a 0.5-2x experience. To get to 10x you need to fight for every inch. And we’re fighters. User Experience Obsessed
  55. 55. Uncomfortably Fast 2
  56. 56. In a world that changes quickly, speed wins. It’s one of the reasons startups regularly disrupt much stronger incumbents. Uncomfortably Fast
  57. 57. “A chess novice can beat a grandmaster if he gets to move twice each round.” 
 — Unknown Uncomfortably Fast
  58. 58. As a team we’re prepared to tolerate discomfort by moving aggressively to achieve more in a given timeframe. Uncomfortably Fast
  59. 59. This means constantly asking ourselves “What is the essence of what we’re trying to achieve?” 
 “How can we get that done in half the time?” Uncomfortably Fast
  60. 60. Note: This doesn’t mean working more hours or typing faster. It means critically thinking through the issues to find the uncomfortably fast way of getting the core things achieved. Uncomfortably Fast
  61. 61. During Y Combinator we set weekly stretch goals, and continue this process today, with every team setting their own stretch goals on a Monday and us celebrating or commiserating their successes in our weekly all-hands each Friday. Uncomfortably Fast
  62. 62. In the product team we often establish leading indicators to test against that allow us to learn whether a new flow is better much faster than waiting for the full results. We also separate out projects into Test and Delivery, with the former aiming to run rapid experiments to collect data, and if they succeed them moving into Delivery mode where we aim to make it exceptional. This lets us know where to save and spend time, allow us to achieve our goals uncomfortably quickly. Uncomfortably Fast
  63. 63. The astute among you may see a tension between User Experience Obsessed and Uncomfortably Fast, and there is. We see that as a feature rather than a bug. Either taken to the extreme would be a negative; the tension allows us to achieve the optimal balance. Uncomfortably Fast
  64. 64. Extreme Clarity 3
  65. 65. In a business that’s growing quickly the only sustainable way to scale is with extreme clarity. Extreme Clarity
  66. 66. You must empower people with information to enable them to make the right decision without you present. Extreme Clarity
  67. 67. This means there’s a clear line from the company’s mission, to its goals, to what you’re doing day-to-day. Extreme Clarity
  68. 68. All numbers are open to anyone in the company (the only exception is people’s personal compensation information). We even build custom scoreboards for our key metrics and display them on TVs around the office. Extreme Clarity
  69. 69. We operate an open email system, where all non-sensitive emails are CC’d to mailing lists that allow anyone in the company to follow along. Extreme Clarity
  70. 70. We view time spent syncing up on a project before it starts as an investment, not a cost. Extreme Clarity
  71. 71. It should be crystal clear who will do what by when. All our projects have one owner, the Directly Responsible Individual, who is the decision maker. (Hat tip Apple) Extreme Clarity
  72. 72. We prioritise ruthlessly. We choose a small number of areas to focus on at any one point in time. When assessing whether to do a project we build models to analyse the expected impact (confession: we’re still figuring out how to do this for brand projects). The CEO’s pet projects don’t get built if they don’t pass impact analysis. Extreme Clarity
  73. 73. Candour 4
  74. 74. One of the greatest inhibitors of success is people not saying what they truly feel. Tragically this has become the norm for most teams. Candour
  75. 75. For any one individual such behaviour is usually rational. In an environment that doesn’t value candour the risk of speaking truth to power is rarely worth it. Candour
  76. 76. What this means, however, is that the best ideas are often unsaid. Crucial feedback that would help someone develop is thought but discarded. Pushback and debate that would lead to a breakthrough is sidestepped. Candour
  77. 77. We believe it is impossible to achieve excellence within a team without culture that rewards candour. Candour
  78. 78. We would rather the bleakest reality to the rosiest delusion. Candour
  79. 79. Often problems happen slowly, creeping up on you. They are like the proverbial frog who would jump out of boiling water, but with the heat turned up slowly he doesn’t notice until it’s too late. Candour is your defensive mechanism against the slow boil. Candour
  80. 80. It requires true courage to hold each other accountable. Constructive conflict is often the sign of a healthy, mature team. Candour
  81. 81. Acid test: It should be a non-event for an intern to challenge a CEO in front of the company. Candour
  82. 82. Candour is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger you get. Some ways we train the muscle are: — Regular, named 360 feedback sessions — We finish meetings 5 minutes early and end with a feedback session on how the meeting went — Founders and the senior team role modelling by giving feedback constantly Candour
  83. 83. 5 Relentless Self-Iteration
  84. 84. How good you are now matters less than the rate at which you get better. Relentless Self-Iteration
  85. 85. “A little bit of slope makes up for a lot of y-intercept” 
 — John Ousterhout Relentless Self-Iteration
  86. 86. When you experience pain within an organisation one’s instinct is often to resolve it as quickly as possible and move on. But pain is a clue that your organisation has flaws to be addressed, and should be seen as an opportunity to improve things. (Hat tip to Ray Dalio) Relentless Self-Iteration
  87. 87. At Thread we place great emphasis on improving ourselves at both the individual- and company-level. Relentless Self-Iteration
  88. 88. As individuals:
 — We give team members more responsibility than they “should” take on — We let them make (reversible or non- fatal) mistakes in order to learn — We run company-wide hack days — We have weekly guest speakers, Lunch & Learn sessions and run monthly book clubs Relentless Self-Iteration
  89. 89. As a company:
 — Most projects conclude with a retrospective to draw out any lessons on how to improve, and most teams have general retrospective sessions a couple times per month — We run blameless 5 Whys whenever something goes wrong
 — Twice a year we have an all- company offsite called Iteration Day to go deeper on improving how we work together Relentless Self-Iteration
  90. 90. Rather than having to endlessly debate subjective topics like the best communication design for the company (where at most companies it’s usually the most senior person who “wins”), we instead have a culture of running experiments to see what a proposed new approach is like. Anyone can run one, only needing senior buy-in if it changes a major company process. We maintain a Kanban board on our office wall of our current experiments. Relentless Self-Iteration
  91. 91. Indeed, the company more broadly can be most accurately described as the sum of our live experiments. Relentless Self-Iteration
  92. 92. Crucially, even more powerful than the rate at which you improve is the rate at which you improve the rate at which you improve. Getting better at getting better is one of the most leveraged things to spend time on, and is a big focus at Thread. Relentless Self-Iteration
  93. 93. 6 Act Like An Owner
  94. 94. The bigger we get the less impact any one individual can have. As founders we cannot “control” the culture, only influence it, and over time our influence becomes increasingly weaker. Act Like An Owner
  95. 95. The only way to sustain a strong culture is if everyone in it is fighting for it. Everyone must feel ownership of the company. We are not looking for passengers. Act Like An Owner
  96. 96. As a member of Thread if you see something wrong you have an obligation to be part of fixing it. Even if something isn’t your area, you should still speak to the relevant person and support them however you can. Imagine an owner of a company walking into his store and ignoring an issue as it’s not “her area”. Act Like An Owner
  97. 97. If you achieve this, you have achieved magic: an organisation that heals itself. Act Like An Owner
  98. 98. Similarly we want people to take action. It is better to ask forgiveness than permission. Decisions should be pushed to people on the coalface, those with the most information to make the right call. Teams should be given KPIs but it should be up to them how to achieve the results. Act Like An Owner
  99. 99. It’s up to each of us to create the company we want to work in. Act Like An Owner
  100. 100. 7 Enjoy The Journey Together
  101. 101. Life is short. There is no destination so sweet it’s worth not enjoying the path to get there. You’ve got to enjoy the journey. Enjoy The Journey Together
  102. 102. Similarly, building a global company from scratch in a short number of years is hard. There’ll be tough times—days you’re not smiling. What you need around you are people who have your back, who bring you strength and joy. Enjoy The Journey Together
  103. 103. We practice this by only inviting people to join the Thread team if we think they’ll be travellers who’ll enrich our journey. This manifests in kindness, support and empathy. Enjoy The Journey Together
  104. 104. You’ll notice that despite everyone’s impressive resumes there’s a noticeable lack of ego. Despite our ambition people operate as company > team > individual. Enjoy The Journey Together
  105. 105. For example: — We celebrate our successes together (we buy silly treats to enjoy together if we hit our goals each fortnight) — We regularly make time and budget available to do fun things together (recent highlights include axe throwing, an augmented reality treasure hunt, and Thanksgiving dinner) — We finish each week with time to thank each other for help received during the week Enjoy The Journey Together
  106. 106. We are all very driven individuals and are constantly looking at what’s next. Sometimes it’s important to stop, look around, and realise how far we’ve come. Enjoy The Journey Together
  107. 107. So, this is what we stand for. There are a million other things we could have included, but we’ve made our call and are happy with our selection. Some days we nail all the above; more commonly we’re striving to achieve as much of it as we can.
  108. 108. Now, your turn: Who do you want to be? What do you value? If you agree with much of what we said, we’d love to hear from you: hi@thread.com