Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz, has a corporate culture of transparency. Rand spoke to the local chapter of the Entrepreneur Organization recently. Based on the story that he shared with us, it sounded like he was a person that was not very transparent in the early days of Moz. However, today Rand is more like Ryan Gosling (though clearly better looking) and is happy to share all. A recent Forbes article ranked Rand #1 in an article: 10 Leaders Who Are Not Afraid To Be Transparent.

If there’s a President in the world of transparency, it’s definitely Rand. A couple days ago, he posted his own performance review. In it, you can see that Rand challenges himself aggressively. SEOmoz has made their funding decks open to the public, which is unheard of. They share all of their failures (and their successes) with the world so others can learn from their experiences. This impacts their company culture.

How Is Company Culture Created?

Someone once said to me that if you don’t create your own culture, you will get a culture by default. The culture that I have been forming at thinkspace for three years has been focused around a few different pillars.


  • Core Values
  • One Page Strategic Plan
  • Daily Huddles
  • Top Grading


A blog post on each of these things would barely be sufficient as there are books written on each topic. None the less, I’ll take a stab in the upcoming months describing how we use those pillars at thinkspace to help organizational efficiency and create company culture.

You Get The Culture You Tolerate

Even with these pillars in place, there needs to be consistency across the company. Bending rules for just one person and not allowing other people to do the same thing creates an unpleasant confusing work environment. It’s bad for the other employees and it’s bad as a leader. No one should ever be above the rules. I’m also not a fan of “It’s my company so it’s my way or the highway”.

Employees Are People Not Cyborgs

The hard part about this is when you’re just starting up a company, it’s extremely challenging to think about the various things that might come up because there’s a wild card. Employees are human beings, not cyborgs. Depending on the people you hire, they will request stuff that you couldn’t even begin to imagine. Mix in entitlement, expectations, personality, and prior baggage from other managers and companies where they have worked and it creates an infinite number of things that might come up.

The flip side to this is become a cyborg yourself and run things in a black and white manner. That is a culture of machines. The problem with this is there’s no humanity in running things like a cyborg. I choose to run a company that focuses on being remarkable and human to our customers and can’t be done without humans. I can’t turn myself into a cyborg.

Screw Appealing to Gen-Y

Some leaders try to figure out all the different types of generational differences between boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y, and Millennials. I was that guy. I’ve read tons of articles, graphs comparing this generation versus that generation, heard at least three expert speakers on this subject with my last person being Jason Dorsey at the EO MIT Entrepreneurial Masters Program. I’ve educated myself enough to make a decision that it’s stupid for me to try and try to appeal to Gen-Y or any generation for that matter. Creating stereotypes around one generation or another is not smart. Not all Gen-Y are un-loyal and self-centered. Not all millennials are adultolescent and entitled. Not all Gen-X are naturally skeptical, most loyal to individuals not companies. Not all boomers just want to fit in and are ok with delayed gratification. Stop stereotyping.

Create Your Own Startup Culture

So rather than try and appeal to these various generations — create your own culture. When you hire people you have to share with them ‘this is our culture’ and ‘this is what it’s like to work here’. Rand said “Hire people that don’t always agree with you, but they need to share your core values and care about the company”. You have to create an on-boarding process and make sure that they clearly understand what the expectations are and what are the outcomes and consequences. One thing that we just added to our on-boarding process is making sure the new hire picks a mentor within the company. Someone that can help guide and share with them what it’s like to work here. Remember the old adage: You are hired for what you know, you are fired for who you are.

A Culture of Appreciation

I’ve had many failures (too many to count) but one that weighs heavily on me is not sooner implementing a culture of appreciation. This one bites. It’s got to flow in all directions, up, down, and all around. It’s easy to lose mutual respect and appreciation for each other. Disrespect comes from lack of appreciation. It’s easy to judge people and lose respect for people. The way that we are addressing this is during our daily huddle we say one thing that we appreciate about another team member or even another person in the thinkspace community that has positively impacted our day. While I love hearing about wins during our daily huddle, the thing that I look forward to the most each day is what my team appreciates about each other.

Happiness Index

TINYPulse – Date Asked: September 11, 2012

At thinkspace, we keep track of our Net Promoter Score (NPS). That is the indicator for us to know whether or not our customers would refer us to other people. It’s our measurement for whether or not we are doing a great job or just a good job. I’ve also just implemented an Employee Happiness Index (TinyPulse) through my friend David Niu’s company TinyHR (I’m in private beta and you can email him if you want to join his beta). It’s similar to the NPS but it’s for employees. Our Happiness Index is a 9.2 out of 10. The system wide benchmark (average of all companies in the system) had an index of 8.2. A score of 1 being extremely unhappy and about to quit – to 10 being extremely happy and jumping for joy. If my employees are happy they are likely going to be providing incredible customer service. They also will be fun to work with too. The goal for me is to come work every day see that my customers and employees are as happy as possible. I’m the Chief Pot Stirrer for a reason!

I’m still learning like mad. I’m still making tons of mistakes. I would love to hear what is one thing that you do in your company to create an amazing company culture? What is one of your biggest failures in creating your company culture?

Everyone fails. If you’ve never failed, you’re not trying hard enough. This pretty much applies to everything in life.

I’ve been following the story of Mo Isom, the “Former LSU goalie will try out for kicker but no matter what happens, she knows it’s not the end” an article by Jordan Conn.

It’s not about the result, it’s about the journey. For Mo Isom, she failed again and again, but, she never quit. Sure she didn’t make the team as kicker, but, you can tell she did give it everything she could. There’s a lot to say about a person’s character who doesn’t quit – there’s a level of dedication and commitment that is very admirable. The odds definitely stacked against her. The physical punishment of killing her body in a weight room and emotional rigor that comes with everyone questioning, judging, and doubting her. It’s so much easier to just quit and move on to something else that’s easier but that becomes a person’s story. Not knowing much about Mo Isom, I’d say she’s exceptional, the drive, determination, her faith, the way she handles herself when the answer is “no” after 18 months of going after a goal. Wow. Definitely no doubt that there will be HUGE things in store for her.

While it’s great to hear about people who succeed — the more interesting story is about the people that face the challenges that really test their fortitude. That’s what defines us.

It’s pretty hard for me to give up a Saturday. My husband and I both work awfully hard during the week so that we can enjoy the weekends side-by-side. Whether we are cleaning the house, adventuring into a new part of the Pacific Northwest or just enjoying time with our friends and family, Saturdays and Sundays have become quite sacred to us. That being said, when the invite came out for this years Women’s Leadership Summit, I didn’t think twice about giving up half of my weekend. From my experience with TrueLife Coaching’s (a company created and lead by Shandel Slaten) leadership summits past, I just knew it would be well worth it.

And, sure enough, it was definitely worth it! Each year the conference has a similar structure. There is typically a large section focusing on the attendees survey results (which shows your DISC profile and motivators) sandwiched between multiple other amazingly useful info-rich topics (this year there were a couple great panels and a terrific talk on Personal Branding by Debra Trappen who is the Chief Experience Office for CB Bain). Everything I learned at #2012WLS was useful and I highly recommend Debra (or any of the speakers on the panel as a speaker). The most useful bit for me, as seems to be every year, is the information presented by Shandel about the DISC profile and motivators. I very much so recommend that every person looking to grow (whether personally or professionally) takes the DISC test – it has taught me so much about myself and my loved ones. Even though, the DISC and motivators part of the conference is something that I have heard a couple of times now, I always seem to learn new things about myself and the way I communicate with others. This year, what really hit me (my ah-ha moment) was when Shandel was speaking on how DISC scores and motivators play off each other. She said, “Motivators show what you want and your DISC profile will show how you are going to get there.” To give you a little background on both, I have listed what the different DISC profiles and motivators.


Basically, DISC represents 4 different behavior types: D stands for Dominance, I stands for Influence, S is for Steadiness, and C for Compliance.

  • Dominance: People with a high score in dominance have an emphasis on shaping the environment by overcoming opposition to accomplish results.
  • Influence: Those with a high Influence score put great emphasis on shaping the environment by influencing or persuading others.
  • Steadiness: If you have a high Steadiness score then you probably hold an emphasis on cooperating with others within existing circumstances to carry out the task.
  • Compliance: And, finally, if your score is highest in compliance then you place a greater emphasis on working conscientiously within existing circumstances to ensure quality and accuracy. (Information from DISCProfile.com.)


Motivators are a little different. Motivators have to do with what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. There are six key motivators that each person contains a certain portion of:

  • Theoretical: A passion to discover systematize and analyze; a search for knowledge.
  • Utilitarian: A passion to gain return on investment of time, resources and money.
  • Aesthetic: A passion to add balance and harmony in one’s own life and protect our natural resources.
  • Social: A passion to eliminate hate and conflict in the world and to assist others.
  • Individualistic: A passion to achieve position and to use that position to influence others.
  • Traditional: A passion to pursue the higher meaning in life through a defined system of living.


For myself, I am a high D and high I. My top motivators are 1. Social (I like to help others and make people happy) and 2. Utilitarian (I also like to make money). This means, all combined and in its simplest form: I want (to help others succeed in life and get a good return for my time) and I will do this by (overcoming obstacles and influencing others to help). It was interesting for me to see this the first time I took the test (which was a coupe of years ago). I knew that people were important to me but I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to own up to the fact that making money (or any other kind of worthy return on my investment, like time, people or relationships) was also so important to me. I felt bad. I started wanting my motivators to be like other peoples. Why couldn’t I have an Aesthetic motivator and want to see this world become a more beautiful place? Or, a passion to pursue the higher meaning in life? Both of those sound a little more… zen. And, both of these options sounded so much better to me than wanting to make money. But, this year, something Shandel said put a new spin on things for me and I realized that being passionate about Social AND Utilitarian (people and ROI) can be an awesome combination. I love people more than I love money. It’s my number one. But, with money a close second, I actually have a great advantage. It means that I want to create Win-Wins. Why? Because I love people and want them to be happy and I want to be successful myself. I wont make a decision purely for the monetary benefits but I also wont make a decision just because of something that will make another happy. So, while I am good at looking out for my team, I always keep the bottom line in mind. Not to toot my own horn, but it seems like a pretty good combination and I feel more confident in myself as a leader, and as a person.

The best thing about the Women’s Leadership Summit every year is that I always learn something new. The time spent is always valuable and worth my precious Saturday hours. Coming away with more information on yourself and being able to find the positives about who you are as a person, instead of trying to change yourself to be someone you’re not. I would definitely encourage you, if you haven’t already, to take the DISC and motivators assessments. You may be surprised what you find out.

I met Shandel Slaten, CEO of True Life Coaching, six years ago through the Entrepreneur Organization Seattle. Since then I have hired Shandel to help coach me with building my company and team. Shandel has been critical in helping me identify my own strengths, understand my communication style (or lack thereof in some cases, as I have a natural tendency to be blunt!), and also help me with some of the most challenging opportunities when the goal is to build a great company.

For the last three years, I’ve sent managers and leaders in my company to an annual event that Shandel hosts called the “Women’s Leadership Summit”. My COO, Alyssa Magnotti, has attended the event for the last three years. I believe that in order to have great leaders in my company, I have to re-invest in them and make sure that they get incredible learning experiences. Shandel bridges the gap in leadership training for me, helps me build leaders in my company, and helps them grow both personally and professional and go from being managers to being true leaders.

Tom Peter’s says it best: “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”

If you’re interested in developing your leadership skills and have a heightened level of self-awareness, check out her podcast on “Why Should You Attend the 3rd Annual Women’s Leadership Summit

A lot of people go into business to be their own boss. That’s one of the biggest reasons why people run their own company. Before we talk about hiring employees let’s think back to working for “the man”.

Working for a dumb boss


Have you ever worked for someone and thought:

  • Wow, how did this idiot get to this level?
  • I swear I know more than this person.
  • This boss has no vision for where the team or company is going.
  • My boss has no leadership or management skills.
  • My manager isn’t really passionate about the company, it’s hard for me to want to give them my all.


Turn the tables

Now you’re the boss. You’re “the man”. You are running your own business and it’s now to the point where you have to hire your first employee. It’s a pretty difficult decision. How do you decide whom to hire? What happens if business stalls? How do you decide whom to hire? Will the person I hire care as much about the business as I do?

Tonight I was at the Hackers and Founders Seattle Meetup. Kory Gill, co-founder of Newline Software, was the guest speaker. He made a comment about how “you’re not really a boss until you’ve hired your first employee. Someone that you don’t know. Not a friend or family member”. You’re bringing in a person and en-trusting them with something extremely important to you — it could be all of your life savings, it’s your livelihood, your company is what you’re building to ensure that you can take care of your family, your children.

It’s not about you

You might think that it’s scary to hire this person because of the reasons above. However, believe it or not, it’s also scary for the employee too. Sure, they might not have the same amount of skin in the game. But, perhaps they are not the entrepreneur that you are. They might not have the same DNA as you to risk everything to pursue the dream. However, they are taking a chance to work for you. There are other companies out there to work for.  Alyssa Magnotti, wrote a blog post about “servant leadership“. It was a really great blog post that I think nails it. If you want to want hire people that are going to care about your company as much as you do, then you need to stop thinking about yourself and care more about them. If you want to hire people that are passionate about your company then you need to provide leadership and set the example for them. If you think it’s scary to hire key employees, then, you might first need to look at your leadership abilities and skills.

[youtube_sc url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70UF82nysIU”]

Today, I saw a video clip of Heather Dorniden running in the Big 10 600m track championship. At one point she’s leading the race but she trips and falls with a little less than one lap to go. Now in last place and quarter lap behind she some how finds another gear and kills it.

Total Belief, Total Commitment

Two weeks ago I was listening to Warren Rustand talk about leadership. Warren went on to discuss how leadership is a march down a long road, not always in a straight line, but always directed toward some distant landmark. Finally, leadership involves total belief and commitment.

Later that evening I was talking with fellow entrepreneurs, Lisa Hufford, CEO of Simplicity Consulting and John Chen, CEO of Geoteaming about the presentation. The discussion that we had centered around the video clips that were shown. All of them were sports related and all of them were focused on men. In today’s business world we’re seeing more and more women in CEO positions and major leadership roles. Regardless of whether you’re a man or woman, it’s going to take total belief and total commitment. Exhibiting any thing less than that and you’re not going to be a very good leader. You can tell employees that it’s their job to do something but that’s not leadership, that’s called just being a manager. A true leader is going to inspire people so that they also believe and commit.

As a leader, you could be cruising along in first place, but, inevitably something comes out of left left and knocks you down. It could be something like:


  • Things not going as planned.
  • Not raising as much money to start your company.
  • Personal challenges.
  • Having a key employee quit.

No matter what it is — what are you going to do in those situations? After seeing the video of Heather Dorniden, I’d suggest digging deeper and like Dorniden says in her own words “That last 50 meters, I hit a gear that I never knew I had”.

For more on Heather Dorniden, here’s a great write up about the race.

Facebook has five core values (see below). The one that I like is “move fast and break things”. While this isn’t for everyone, it keeps you innovating and keeps you from becoming stagnant. There’s so many sayings that are similar to this:


  • If you don’t fall down you’re not learning.
  • Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
  • If you’re doing your best, you won’t have any time to worry about failure.
  • You don’t drown by falling in water, you only drown if you stay there.
  • Ask forgiveness, not permission.
  • I’d rather you go too far than do too little.


Working hard to not fail? Or working hard to succeed?

In your company do you move fast and break things? I was having a conversation today with Ben Liu, founder of Vinasource and he made a comment about corporate America how lots of people working hard to not fail… where startup people are working hard to succeed. Not to bash corporate America because there are lots of good things, but, I don’t miss the CYA (cover your ass) mentality of some people.

Facebook’s Core Values

Focus on Impact
If we want to have the biggest impact, the best way to do this is to make sure we always focus on solving the most important problems. It sounds simple, but we think most companies do this poorly and waste a lot of time. We expect everyone at Facebook to be good at finding the biggest problems to work on.

Move Fast
Moving fast enables us to build more things and learn faster. However, as most companies grow, they slow down too much because they’re more afraid of making mistakes than they are of losing opportunities by moving too slowly. We have a saying: “Move fast and break things.” The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.

Be Bold
Building great things means taking risks. This can be scary and prevents most companies from doing the bold things they should. However, in a world that’s changing so quickly, you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t take any risks. We have another saying: “The riskiest thing is to take no risks.” We encourage everyone to make bold decisions, even if that means being wrong some of the time.

Be Open
We believe that a more open world is a better world because people with more information can make better decisions and have a greater impact. That goes for running our company as well. We work hard to make sure everyone at Facebook has access to as much information as possible about every part of the company so they can make the best decisions and have the greatest impact.

Build Social Value
Once again, Facebook exists to make the world more open and connected, and not just to build a company. We expect everyone at Facebook to focus every day on how to build real value for the world in everything they do.

[youtube_sc url=”http://youtu.be/bPQ1-YwyOgM” playlist=”Ziyp_dPlW-I, oFOMJszFsWk, WEqp2M_thrs” width=”460″ height=”240″ ratio=”4:3″]

For the last three days I’ve been with 120 entrepreneurs from the Entrepreneur Organization Seattle group at our annual retreat. We went to Victoria to grow closer as an organization as well as stretch ourselves both professionally and personally. One activity that we did was go to Wild Play, and go on their Monkido ropes course.

What’s Monkido

A monkido ropes course is a mix of obstacles such as tightropes, missing plank bridges, swinging logs, ziplines, and tree ladders ranging from 6 feet up to 60 feet above the ground! The course quires a ton of climbing, balancing, reaching, swinging, and jumping.  After the initial training session on what to do, it’s completely left up to you up to your own faculties to keep yourself safe. I thought this was interesting because it’s not like at an amusement park where there are people securing you onto each ride, it’s completely left up to you to ensure your own safety.

Physically and Mentally Stretching Yourself

I really liked the way the course was set up. They start you on the easy “bunny slopes” and progressively it gets more and more challenging until you’ve gone passed the intermediate all the way to the “black diamond” runs. While on the beginner courses we’re laughing, having a good time, joking with each other, and testing each other with dares. We gained all of our confidence on these relatively easy courses.

Photos Credit: Adam Philipp

Give Everything You’ve Got

By the time you get to the black diamond course, there’s no more joking and daring each other, its gone from fun to survival. Nearly every single course now requires you to have a mind-over-body focus. The distance between trees is now much longer, you’re now 60 feet up off the ground, and the puzzles are much more challenging. There’s also no way out. No way to turn around.

Safety Third

One of my friends, Chris Rugh, founder of Custom Toll Free had a saying which was “Safety Third”. I thought that was pretty funny as we were on a tightrope 40 feet above the ground. I think the first two rules are something like fun and function. For the most part, no one got injured so I think we did a pretty good job!

My Take Away

In life and business you have to push yourself, you need to know how hard you can stretch and push. You don’t know where the edge is if you don’t reach to find it. You need to know where the point is where your feet feel like lead and you just can’t move your feet anymore. It helps give you confidence to know you can do things that you didn’t think you could possibly do and to take on things that you’ve never done before. I can’t wait to take my thinkspace team on and have them try this out!

I was reading an article about “How to Fail: 25 Secrets Learned through Failure“. One that I think will be on a post-it note on my monitor at work tomorrow morning is going to be:

Meet to discuss.
Instead: Meet to decide.

Meetings used to disseminate information are the biggest time-sink at almost all companies. Nobody likes meetings and the interruptions they create.

If you are meeting, structure an agenda that leads to a decision being made right then. Use other methods of communication to disseminate information and updates.

Tonight I saw a few tweets about MSNBC’s article “10 signs the double-dip recession has begun” and Fox Small Business article “Small Business Still Feeling Recession’s Impact“. I read both articles and the first article points out 10 things which are pretty easy for the average American to see.

  1. Inflation
  2. Investments have begun to yield less
  3. The auto industry
  4. Oil prices
  5. The federal budget
  6. China economy slows
  7. Unemployment
  8. Debt ceiling
  9. Access to credit
  10. Housing

There are tons of negative articles out there and the news typically likes to focus on fear and bad news. If I’ve learned anything over the last three years while starting up a company in the worst economic times our generation has seen is that I personally can’t sit here and blame the economy or focus on the negative economic indicators. Here are the things that we’re going to focus on:

Customer Service

Just like when we started the first recession, we have to continue to focus on the customer. We need to listen to the customer and make sure that we’re providing incredible customer service. One of our core values is “Wow every customer, every engagement, no exception”. If we’re doing that we should be attracting the right customer and keeping our existing customers happy.


Seth Godin says it best. “Consumers are not loyal to cheap commodities. They crave the unique, the remarkable, and the human.” If your startup is differentiating itself by price alone, you’re going to have a brutal time in double-dip recession when your competition just sits there and lowers its prices. It’s certainly going to be a race to the bottom. You better differentiate yourself on something remarkable and human.

Setting Annual, Quarterly, and Monthly Goals

Every startup, small company better set annual goals. You can’t have a great year unless you have four great quarters. Breaking those quarters down to months and months to weeks is the only way to expect that you possibly achieve those goals. Otherwise, you’re going to end up hoping that you’re going to have a great quarter or hoping that you’ll have a great year. The one thing that we’ve been using is the One Page Strategic Plan. If you haven’t read “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” by Verne Harnish, I would highly recommend it. It’s a practice that has certainly help us focus on hitting our goals and growing the company rather than focusing on the recession.

Get Two More Customers

I’m going to end this blog post with a quote that I heard from Patrick Thean, an instructor at the MIT Entrepreneurial Masters Program that I’m in. Patrick said “A small company doesn’t need to worry about the recession, what the small company should be thinking about is getting two more customers every month”. You will need to get out there and hustle, bring in new two new customers. If you do these things, you’ll be increasing your revenue, growing your business, and probably hiring employees. Isn’t it much simpler to think about the recession from that perspective rather than a bunch of variables that we can’t control?