Creating corporate culture isn’t something every entrepreneur thinks about initially. A lot of founders don’t start off with a big team, so the early stages of a startup have more to do with character and work ethic than culture. Corporate culture is created when you have an organization (for better or for worse). The culture of a company defines the brand and thus has a tremendous impact on the success or failure. Boombotix has a very unique corporate culture and I wanted to spend a little time reflecting on what we’re doing well and where we are really screwing up. If you have a bootstrapped startup, this is a pretty useful article to understand how to get people to give their 110% at 50% of the market rate salary. This isn’t about money. This is about culture.
I’m going to admit that I am guilty of not finishing a book cover-to-cover for at least 19 months. Maybe I failed to find content that held my interest or offered unique insight. More likely, I leaned towards content on blogs that was narrowly focused. It solved immediate problems and curiosities but failed to give me a bigger picture on what I was trying to accomplish. Tony Hsieh’s book on Delivering Happiness helped drive a major paradigm shift in my business strategy. If you are in the middle of pivoting your company or at the start of building a great brand, this is an awesome read that takes you through the roller coaster of being an entrepreneur (without having to lose millions of dollars). This book helped me think about our culture on a deeper level.
The Boombotix team is a brotherhood/fraternity. There is a lot of testosterone floating around the office and not nearly enough femstoserone (yes that’s a term now) to contain it. Everyone in the office exudes toughness and resilience. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is a macho vibe, but there is an unwritten moral code. We get together outside of work with one unifying mission: get laid or die trying.
This spring, the Boombot REX was late in delivery which was pushing revenues behind. The whole team was mounting with frustration on things that were out of our hands. Our contract manufacturer managed to screw up on every element of logistics possible. The good thing was that it made us realize we had a huge weakness in supply chain. Knowing is half the battle.
I have to commend my team for keeping a level head through all of it. I know in the upcoming months my crew is going to stay strong no matter what. Everyone knows each other’s strength and weakness deeply and we’re stronger for it. Everyone also knows not to be a whiny bitch. That’s important.
the rule of self motivation
There is no company handbook at Boombotix. The closest thing we have to rules is a satirical blog post I wrote. We have a couple print pieces that were stolen from Facebook with the phrases, “stay focused and keep shipping,” and “done is better than perfect.” The one thing we have in place is a table that assigns the duties of recycling, garbage and countertop cleanliness to three different people every month. This has proven to be a great system for any small startup that doesn’t have custodial services on a regular basis. Actions are performed driven by logic, data, and hypothesized efficiencies. Everyone has an aligned vision and is motivated enough to work towards that. All you have to do is organize the troops.
creating workflow in operations
Moose is the biggest proponent of driving work flow. It makes sense. Workflow in a small or large organization increases focus and efficiency (so long as it doesn’t create the dreaded bureaucracy). If you are paying your employees at significantly lower rate than “market value,” be prepared to give up a little power. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as a manager I find myself avoiding acting like a tyrant and favoring a democracy with my key team members. I get the final say in everything, and there have been some issues where I had to hold my ground. Overall, I listen to my team as I know they are the biggest experts in their particular department.
Transparency rules all
I tell the guys how much runway we have. I tell them at the high level of what our P&L looks like every month. I make them understand the business eb and flow. I try to make everyone understand their own cost at a micro level. People inherently want to be an asset verus an expense. When Zappos had to lay off 8% of their staff in 2008, Tony wrote a good letter to the employees that provided a factual point of reference for everyone in the company. I don’t have a big team, so I typically call a stand up meeting and spill my feeling verbally and let my team follow up with Q&A.
Ideology and Values
From a product standpoint, I think our company has really good values: great acoustics, mobility, technology and design innovation. The problem with these values is that they do not drive our philosophy on culture. With a direct eCommerce business, we should be looking harder into creating evangelists from our customers. My gut would tell me that we have mediocre customer service right now and we should be striving to WOW our customers with the shopping experience. Zappos and Amazon deliver WOW experiences that stick with customers for a long time.
the power of 1%
Alfred (Zappos CFO/COO) talks about getting the team to make the power of 1%. This refers to the compounded growth you can have in your company if you can just make it 1% better each day. Whether it involves changing the modules on your outgoing email templates, having one amazing customer interaction, or pumping out one great SEO driven article, if everyone collectively gets the company to be 1% better each day, the results over time can be incredible. Mathematically, you take $100 and grow it by 1% every day, you will have $3,778 by the end of the year. This works out by the following equation:
$100*(1+.01)^365 = $3778.34
My first take on this was to apply it to SEM (search engine marketing). If there was something I could do to drive 1% more traffic to the site on even a weekly basis, I could anticipate an increase in unique views by 68% per year. If Ben could increase the conversion rate by .5% and Chris increased the number of SKUs available through accessories to bring our average revenue per sale up 15%, then we would anticipate an increase in eCommerce sales of 329%!! Let’s break down the math here.
Say we had 60,000 unique visitors come to our site at .07% conversion rate with average transactions of $85. This would gross $35,700 in sales. Not bad. We could chill here and buy burritos and tacos, but that gets old. With constant work on SEM, great customer service, PR and website optimization, we are able to get our traffic up over 100,200 unique visitors. With conversion rates now being at 1.2% and the average transaction now increasing to $97.75, the site is now pulling in $117,534.60. Now Ben can afford payments to buy a BMW M235i and a new set of tires every month and Chris can get a full carbon XC bike while financing R&D for the future of the company. That’s the power of 1% mixed with great teamwork. This is by no means an easy task. If it were that easy, everyone would do it and we’d all be driving around M3s.
What I’m getting at here is that over the last year, we tried to please our investors by spiking our top-end growth. Without the resources to really do that, we would have been better off thinking about how we could scale sustainably. Part of our problem is that we went down a path that attracted investors. When we actually got investment, we stayed on that path as promised. Looking back, I wish I could have reset the expectation and opted for a slower more sustainable growth model until we had the cash to escalate to the next big phase. I suppose the moral is to set expectations appropriately from the start, be patient, and be efficient.
mastering bootstrapping in your startup
If everyone looks for places to save cash, the company saves a lot of cash. I’ve instilled a metric called CPFU. This is the cost-per-fuck-up. I expect that everyone makes a bad decision that costs the company money. I could get angry and throw a big tantrum, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. Instead, I express my deepest sense of disappointment (aka the FACEPALM). I act as though my employee just dropped my baby from shoulder height. The baby loses some brain cells, but it’s not fatal. The mistake is made public amongst the team and the infringer wears an invisible duns cap for the next month.
That employee is likely to try to make up for it somehow. Not only will they cringe at the thought of making the same mistake twice, but they will look for other areas to save the company money. Remember, nobody on a good team wants to be an expense to the company.
On a smaller note, we used to order K-Cups. Those things produce decent coffee, but the cost of them adds up and they are horrible for the environment. We swapped our our Keurig in favor of the good ol’ 12-cup brewer. More coffee, less cost, less waste. Win. When times get real rough, bust out the rice cooker and make sunny side up eggs with Sriracha and soy sauce. This meal costs no more than $1.44 plus the cost of gas/electricity.
We like to call our facility a Garage-Studio-Loft-Live-Work Space. I have a small nook behind some blinds upstairs where I keep a queen size mattress. Chris lives and works in an adjacent nook. We both have dogs. After I closed my first financing round I considered stepping up into a bigger place to help scale. I’m glad that we didn’t do that. Staying in a tight space kept our team humble and ensured that we never over hired. For me, living in my work facility forced me to work around the clock. My friends ask me if that ever wore on me. I’d tell them that the nights were when I could pursue my more creative endeavors. This brand is a creative outlet and a career for me.
I always joke that Boombotix will always be a garage startup. Hopefully we find ourselves in a massive 10,000 square foot facility one day. I’m a believer that garages are conducive to creativity.
What i need to do as a CEO
I’m writing this book. It is a classic David and Golliath story. David is currently getting the shit kicked out of him but he isn’t ready to throw in the towel. I have the trust, commitment and dedication of a great team. I’m putting in on myself to refocus our efforts in building a great brand. I need to bring out the entrepreneur in everyone to find that 1% better than yesterday. Eventually, we will create the ultimate portable audio experience.