Our Culture @voodle

April 10, 2020

Our Culture @voodle

Like most software companies our team at Voodle has been working remotely from our homes over the COVID period of spring 2020. Our company culture and values have had to evolve and adapt considerably, and it has been fun to use voodles to explore, accentuate, and promote our culture.

The Roots of Our Cultural Values

When we started (company originally called Pixvana) in 2016 we gathered as a team and crafted our company mission and 5 core values which we imagined we would use to ground our communication and values as a team. The values we came up with were based on our ideals, not on (yet) any real demonstrated tendencies or behaviors among our group. We had a illustrator friend turn into a poster which we hung in our office, and we created a mnemonic acronym – “CIGPI” (pronounced “sig-pi”). These were (lifted from our employee handbook):

  • Communication: candid, respectful, seeking solutions and forward progress towards a committed consensus. Intellectually forthright
  • Impact: get shit done. Time is fleeting, do today as opposed to tomorrow.
  • Growth: individually we are committed to our own development intellectual/emotional as ever, regardless of our stage of life. Be Curious!
  • Passion: We choose to work at Pixvana because we *love* the mission and the team, and care deeply about the impact we can have on the lives of millions of people
  • Integrity: do what is right for our 3 constituencies: our team, our shareholders, our customers. Accountable to each other. High Quality.
Our original company values were conceived by the initial 6 employees over a afternoon discussion. They were a reflection of our ideals and goals of how we WOULD work together… not (yet) a reflection of our actual culture, which would reveal itself to us over time.

And we were off to the races! CIGPI values were good ideals, and we would often refer back to them when we gave each other shout-outs (in person, groups, or on Slack channels), as a way to re-enforce and bring them to the fore. “Tingyi, great job in your commitment to Growth, by taking the time to research and develop that skill that is normally outside of your areas of interest–really reflects on your willingness to step-out of your comfort zone”. Or, “Beverly, really jumping on that customer issue and working with them on a solution is a great reflection of your commitment to Integrity in serving our users”. Bringing these values into conversations is critical to make the values something real, and not just aspiration.

Our Values “As-Lived”

As our team grew and then shrank with team members coming and going, we found ourselves in need of a refresh. CIGPI reflected interesting ideals, but they weren’t effortless to point-to in day-to-day work life. We gathered and brainstormed and came up with updated values that were “of the moment”. These came from experiences we had lived-through, and how we had solved real problems and grown in our communication and emotional dynamics as a group. These 2019 V2.0 values were exciting because they felt real, in a way that CIGPI no longer worked for us.

  • Yes, and… Collaborate. Listen. Don’t block ideas, build better ones.
  • Know what you don’t know. Accept the unknown. Ask questions. Don’t assume. Be
  • curious.
  • Be the protagonist. Be the star. Own it. Lead it.
  • Get Stuff Done. (GSD) Act now. Don’t overthink. It’s OK to fail.
  • Dare to be disruptive. Be a pioneer. Be brave. Use your grit.
Our adapted values came out of revisiting our company values, and describing what they actually had become after 2 years of working together.

With the updated values it was far easier to draw on examples or “cultural moments” in conversation. “Yes, and…” came from a team offsite improv class that we did in 2018. Several times a week ever since, we could be heard saying “yes, and…” in conversation as we implemented the improv technique to build on each other’s ideas in conversations, and explicitly avoided the “no, but” responses that are so common in group dynamics, especially around challenging problems related to product development, or operations. This “Yes, and…” value was alive and directly at work day-to-day, and had earned a place in our formal “culture values” list.

So had the numerous references to “be sigourney weaver”, aka “be the protagonist“. In the movie Alien, during the first act of the film there are many crew alive and in command/charge of the crew–but it is ultimately up to Ripley (played by Sigourney) to be the central leader/figure in the arc of the film. Among our team, we often give one another the feedback to “be the protagonist” to solve problems, lead a resolution on a unsolved problem–to step up and solve the problem for everyone, as though you were star of the movie. Being the protagonist is a power that each and every employee has, in all problems, at all times, in a small company with out values. At a large company there is hierarchy and top-billed leaders who are necessary to unblock and move ideas forward (just be ready for m any of the crew to get eaten by the Alien!). At Voodle, EVERYONE has to be a protagonist of their own film!

COVID Era Update v 3.0

With the connection and comfort of working together that we’ve built over 4 years (3+ average tenure among current team), nothing in our culture prepared us for the massive disruption of COVID this Spring/2020.

We were very-much a “work together, in an office” culture. Suddenly we are 100% virtual work-from-home, less physically connected, more asynchronous in our communication… not to mention the anxiety and emotions of economic uncertainty, health concerns for our friends and family, and a drastic new challenges to our community of fellow Seattle and WA state citizens. How has this challenged our culture, did we need to add new values?

Our “Fail fast, in public” value is our addition in Spring 2020, a direct result of the uncertainties of COVID and a reflection of our need to be more vulnerable–essentially recognizing the uncertainties of the business reality we are facing, along with the rest of the global economy.

We decide that yes, it was time to add a 6th value, far afield from our comfort zone. “Fail fast, in public” essentially asks us to embrace the idea of trying new things much, much more quickly than we ever have before–and to make those experiments happen live, in front of our users, customers, investors, and peers. COVID represents so much new uncertainty in business, that we asked ourselves to elevate our pace of experimentation way, way, way beyond our cultural norm.

Voodle = Connecting the world through real-life moments

Our new mission as a team is around “connecting the world through real-life moments”; in particular, helping teams at work to communicate in a new way, akin to how they communicate often with friends and family–using short videos.

Our Voodle app/service allows us to communicate in a new and unique way. This follow up post that delves into how we use Voodle, here at Voodle, to make voodles, that augment and amplify our unique yet still evolving culture.