At Lean Startup Conference this past November, Anil Dash, CEO of Fog Creek Software, discussed the importance of building products and companies that are humane and ethical.
Anil began by reminding the audience that “most products fail, most companies fail.” This is what attracted him to Fog Creek Software, which, despite beginning as a small company, has had a number of hit products that people love.
In fact, he found himself a bit overwhelmed when he first came on board. “Joining the company was a little bit like I [had] been singing Karaoke of a band and now all of a sudden the band invited me to come on stage with them.”
What he was most impressed with was their culture of innovation and how well they take care of their employees.
Set a culture of values
Anil is not above calling himself out on his own flaws as a business leader. In fact, he suggested this level of vulnerability and transparency is necessary in building a company and products with strong ethics, that also create a humane culture where people are proud to work.
He looks back on his career to years earlier when he used to create social media and social-networking tools, including enabling comments on posts. “So I’m partially to blame for the live comments on the Internet,” he said.
At the time, he and his team thought that they could build moderation tools later, take responsibility for these communities down the road and fix those bugs at another time. “I don’t need to tell you about the impact on society,” he said. “Those were big bugs that we thought either weren’t our responsibility, or couldn’t be solved by us, or that we’d get around to once this thing is working and we’re starting to build our products the way we’d like to.”
Take care of your team
From the beginning, Anil has been impressed with how far ahead of the curve Fog Creek Software is at taking care of its employees. “We have people on our team who didn’t know the difference between in-network and out-of-network health insurance benefits because they’ve never paid a dime for healthcare the entire time they’ve been at the company.”
More than offering great benefits, Anil urged the audience that taking care of your team means truly following the values you set out as a company, and that often means allowing for some discomfort and painful growth.
“If you haven’t had a tense meeting where somebody calls bullsh*t on their coworker, you haven’t defined your values as a company yet,” Anil said.
Values can’t be put off for a later date, he said. “There is no dream deferred when it comes to building an organization that cares about these things… I want to do better.”
Here he used Uber to make the point that while they may be “checking every box on an actual process… and how they are as lean as they can be… and yet they still made an environment where people on their team felt harassed, abused, felt they couldn’t do their work. Are they going to fix those problems today, or not yet?”
Having “made this compromise too many times for too long,” himself, Anil expressed confidence in this advice. “Risk is no excuse for not doing the right thing.”
“Take care of your team, take care of your people, don’t put off the things that are seen as soft and fuzzy, or not serious, or not about the product or market. How we treat our workers is one of the most important things.”
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