Dec. 18, 2020

Importance of startup culture and mission statement. By Steve Morin

Importance of startup culture and mission statement. By Steve Morin

Steve Morin, Head of Mobile Engineering at Asana talks about the importance of the mission statement of the company and its culture and how it affects hiring talented employees. We also talked about Steve's investment/mentorship thesis and his advice to early stage entrepreneurs trying to create their own companies.


Steve's newsletter: https://productivegrowth.substack.com/

Asana: https://asana.com

Steve's Twitter: https://twitter.com/SteveMorin

Transcript

We have Steve mourn head of mobile engineering at Asana and in this app is that we'll talk about working at bigger,

more established startups and also the importance of the mission statement of the startup,

and the culture of the start in terms of requiring great engineering and other kinds of talent so,

Steve,

let's kick it off by you giving us some background on yourself and on Asana.

Sure, thank you very much.

A little bit about me, I guess I grew up in New York City and lived in San Francisco today. So on a personal note, um.

Professionally, I have.

Worked at a series of startups in New York. I worked for the founders of Priceline started to vending machine company.

Those guys and have been in a variety of startups on the West Coast.

Started an ad tech company after my time with Yahoo.

Um, which eventually got bought by a well and.

Have all started a big data consulting company, which did a lot of work with Fortune 500 companies worried about 40 folks and, you know, then it is the ground.

Um, and now currently at.

As Asana, Asana itself is a.

Project management software company and we basically.

Have some of the best, uh, software to get things done for teams and, uh, it's something we're very proud of.

Right and I personally would highly recommend that our team is actively very active with the fact using Asana so great tool to use. I'll make sure to leave a link into description this episode. So if anyone's not using it definitely. Check it out.

It's just great, but anyways, here, we're moving onto the 1st question of days episodes. And the question is how important is the company's culture or mission statements to hire talent.

So, he personally, when you were looking for a job, when you are joining us, and how much were you actual looking at their working conditions there? So, at the culture of the company at, and at the mission statement of the company.

Um, I personally was looking a lot more for the culture, the mission statement.
I think some people joined, I bet recently had some conversations with people that are.
Looking at Mission driven companies, so, depending on the individual, it is actually crucial that so

people are filtering companies out based on their mission.

Um, me personally, looking for sign, I was very much looking at its culture. I've, I've worked at places.

That haven't had great cultures in the past and I think it.

Has such a large impact on how you grow as an individual.

Your day to day experience and how you work with your coworkers and.

So, for me, this is my most important.

Question and looking for where to work next and.

Quite frankly, I stumbled upon a sauna by accident, and as I was looking, I was doing a lot of due diligence at a lot of companies.

And, you know, I was at, which is got a, is a very good company and itself. Great product, but I wanted something different.

And so it's being pretty picky and I happen. My wife works in Slack.

And I happen to be mentioning that. I'm like, oh, I noticed the sauna.

And then a whole bunch of people on the call that work at Slack are like, oh.

You know, various people had friends that worked for the sauna. Like, it's fantastic. They love it there. Like.

And they were very energetic and very passionate. I'm like, oh, this is.

This this is surprising, like, people aren't usually so passionate, especially companies.

They haven't worked out like their friends that worked out and it's like.

Uh, okay, and then I, I, I started it.

You know, I took notice of that, and I started asking around and.

Uh, I noticed their glass door, I noticed a few other places where you looked for reviews and there were all glowing.

I interviewed them and I really liked everything. I saw talking to the team.

And I actually always interview the company itself so I actually reach out to people through friends of friends and also through LinkedIn and some other.

Means I interviewed the company, so after my interview panel.

I reached out to instead of interviews with people at the company outside of that.

Interviewing them about the culture and.

I really liked what I saw there. Um, and my independent research also validated what I saw it and I've been there and.

I have to say the culture is fantastic. I can't talk a little bit more about what I think that actually means

culture since of glazed over that. But I think it can be quite important for, for people that are looking for for the next thing.

Before jumping on the discussion, you know, when should actually start founder, start, focusing on building that culture in their companies. 1st question is to find good versus bad culture. Can you just give me.

2 examples of each 1 example outreach. Yeah, I.

I'd say there's not 1, right or wrong answer. Right? It's sort of like, how many ways can you be bad? And how many ways can you be good?

In general, but I think more often than not when.

Companies are deliberate with culture, you're probably going to build something that is good. And I think there's a lot of companies that are not deliberate with culture and that's where there can be a lack of or no culture.

I mean, there are instances, like, we've seen this in, like.

Very popular a well known spheres is like.

Hoover belts what many consider to be toxic culture.

Where people are highly aggressive, there was a.

People breaking the law people like not treating and respecting their coworkers sometimes due to gender and sometimes you to other aspects and.

You know, that it got so far is to be like, basically and all the top.

Media of the US, right? Like Wall Street Journal, New York Times. And so that's an example a clear example of bad culture, which you don't want to do.

And then we see companies that have good cultures like Google or. You know, not everything's perfect, but they've been very deliberate and.

They know they built a very growth oriented, very deliberate culture and assan has been another 1 with the founders have been extremely deliberate in building that culture.

And I really credit our founders who have done a fantastic job and. They really believe the mission and they also very much.

Believe the culture and has been very successful previous to the sauna, and they knew they wanted to build something very deliberate and they've done an excellent job. Maybe 1 of the best that I've seen.

Great great examples. Personally, I haven't heard much about tumors problems there, but sounds very realistic. Honestly. So next question is about, um.

Now, that there was a pandemic, it's kind of hard to understand the culture of the company because, you know, there is no office. He don't understand.

Well, it was gonna happen because you're just seeing the hierarchy here. Right? You're not going to

interact with your Co workers in personal lane in real life, and, you know, most of google's features, which are, you know, for coffee, free food in their campuses are gone now.

So, how should early stage start, send out houses to early stage startups who cannot afford create coffee machines and free food and all this great stuff that Google has?

How can they use this opportunity to hire their talent that they could hire that?

The 1 that they could hire before the condemning start. Yeah, I was, um.

Actually, recently talking with an on deck fellow.

Um, used to be at Stripe, and we were talking about these cultural aspects and it's interesting so many times. So frequently.

You know, people mentioned like, you know, free food and.

And other perks, and, you know.

Upstairs not derived from the perks. Culture is derived from.

The choices people make in organizations, and that usually starts with the founders and that sort of mentality.

Then will cascade to other leaders and then other managers and other individuals. You know, working at that company, and I think what's important.
And culture is really, it's the decisions people make.
And the considerations people take, so it's the fact.

That people thought about offering their free food, for instance, uh, people offering. Other perks is what makes the culture, not the fact that there is the free food.

And if it lives beyond, it's like, putting, you know, aspects to put the team 1st aspects it try to take care of people. Or if that's what's valued or aspects to.

You know, be a meritocracy or, you know, be highly aggressive and you either, you know, you rise up it, it up or out.

Culture some, some companies have built up an app culture. Right? And that's what's right for them.

And it's the basis, make to deliberately.

Create those choices, and I think the choice to offer.

Things like that, and your question was on remote, you know, how does it affect these choices? And I think you can make.

Choices and it is something like assan has done that said we've recently got an, and, you know, the team and founders were able to.

Try to build moments during that, where we couldn't physically be in the same place, but they took the moments to.

Have a web being inclusive of everyone it try to.

Use some online tools that facilitates that people could.

Uh, gets together and recognize the moment of our, our growing mission.

Into the future and and how we can look forward as a company as a team and, you know, they, they sent people, you know, small.

You know, if baskets at home to, like, everyone to be able to.

Form a connection together in time, but it's difficult to do that. And.

Doing all these little things.

It really, it's a choice where they say, how do we get people together and again, it's about.

Cultures of what the choices people make and what people value and it's like.

We want to integrate whether we want to do it deliberately. We want to do the best we can even in a remote world.

And I think this company's like, get lab, for instance, that are always been remote.

And they find a way to create that community and I think regardless of the in person or not, you have to do it differently.

It may not be the way everyone always appreciates, but I think you can make those choices and be deliberate about it. It just not always the way.

People are used to are hope, and maybe a circumstances.
Mm, right so here, let's move on to the major topic of the entire, which is fundraising so. Question for you do do personally any angel invest support Pfizer for earlier stage starts. Yeah, I've been I've been advising.
Early start out probably 1214 years now and and of.
Been doing April investments for about the same way the time as well.
Tell me more what do you invest in? What kind of companies do advise.
Well, yeah, I think advising investing are like.
Sometimes overlap and not always, uh, my personal philosophy on.
Advising is usually about people it's about 2 fold.
1 is about, do I like the people that I'm working with? And on 1 hand and the other hand. Is there some value I can provide a, if a really next and get along with the folks.
Part of the start up that is sort of my my personal connection to it.
And then what I always ask, and that's how people know and in the past.

Where I don't see this value and bring the table. And, you know, your X pieces lie and and.

You know, try to read what the startups need themselves. What maybe the founders need is, is help and advice.

And if it's advice or something, that's really not.

To be given in a advisory role, like, it needs to be in a full time staff role and sometimes you're much better off saying, no.

So, that's what I try to look for in and advising.
More specifically, I have done a lot of work in advertising. I've done a lot of work in my career in.

Instead of consumer growth and big data technologies and data technologies. So I often gravitate towards companies that are in those rounds. Um, just because I have expertise to usually provide and in a very tactical way.

On that side of things, seed investing and the other hand I have a very different philosophy. I usually go for companies that.

I understand some aspect of the business and.

I have a clear.

Either because I understand their business or the founders explain it.

That has some clear understanding of what makes the mechanics of that business work, or they can translate.

Value to distribution.

And, you know, being net positive where I things I stay away from is where.

Um, it is very unclear about the unit economics.

The, so the company may not be able to be profitable like, even today.

Well, was fantastic for early angel investors.

Um, or lift, you know, the unit economics still being.

You know, looked at their, their public and you don't know if they're actually turning the profit.

At least last time I looked maybe that's changed in in the more last year or 2.

Um, so those are companies I.

Specifically, stay away from go ahead. And that's a nice trend that I've seen, and all over investment world, which is great. Switch from chose to realistic economics love it.

So, next question is about.
Crazy ideas. I personally love this topic. Personally I love discussing, you know, what the, where to

start page that you've ever heard. So, what about you? What is the weirdest startup that you have ever been?

Oh, uh.

I can pitch them duties, but I think sometimes.

They're like so off base. You're like, how in the world is this going to make money?

I can't remember.

I can't remember any more recent history, which 1 has been in most the craziest but I've been pitched like, an interesting 1 in recent history. And it was like.

That I thought was like, what, why is the value here? Basically I'm. Being pitch the crypto a gaming crypto company.
And I was asking like, why would anyone.

Why would any game use this platform? And they're like, oh, because you get crypto clients instead. Okay. But what are you gonna do with these points? Well, you can use these crypto coins to buy all sorts of things.

And I'm like, where, well, nothing today, but in the future and I'm like, okay, so how are you going to bootstrap this? How are you going to get your 1st users and why would they use this? And why wouldn't they want to catch.

Is is basically you could win and sell and order.

Instead of cash, and it wasn't like Bitcoin, which is like, a mainstream usable crypto these days. Um, it was a brand new.

Coin and I was just like, there's no value proposition and people try to do this. It's like.

Yeah, you know, they have hammer and everything's in nail and they're like, well, I want to use.

A, a new coin, but it's got a value to consumer.

And it's not impossible to create 1, but some of them actually can be quite hard to do.

And, you know, I, I spent a good time trying to coach this individual being, like.

You may be able to do something. You can't do something the way you're pitching today. Maybe in the future.

You know, and try to give them a, you try to give them ideas on how to.
To progress and and maybe of all their business into something that's actually sustainable.
So, I always try to like, even if it's crazy, I always try to be helpful.
And, you know, this, I.
Ironically, I think usually the crazier and more outlandish things are the less likely the individual is to. Absorb any help you try to give them 100%. That's so true. I don't know why those correlated, but

often they have to be the case and I don't know maybe I'm too nice with some of those things. I've met. Plenty of other, like.

Professional angels and investors, they'll just like they'll hear that, like, even in calls early.
And just sort of walk away and I get it like, if you're doing this.
If you're a professional investor and your Time's limited, and you try to meet a lot of folks. Some people do pay it forward, but some people are a little bit more ruthless and just say, like. Now, if this isn't going to make sense, and they sort of move on.

Right. That's actually very true. And.

Now, I just have to tell you the story if the craziest startup I do that. I've heard in the past month. I think so. Basically, it was doing is that.

And basically, it puts a shape under your scheme.

And every time you turn your body.

So, directing North, it gives you a small.

Electric shock and I'm like, wait wait wait, hold on a 2nd, what? And the girl was like, well, yeah, if you turn the North, it gives you a shock right? So.

After you do it 10050 times your body knows where the North is. And so what was the whole idea?

You just put a sheep under your skin, which already sounds insane and then it shocks you with, like, trace it every time you turn north.

Yeah, that's I'd like to see that people are willing to like, let's ignore that.
The biomedical risks potentially, or wherever else and the FDA approvals.
You know, ignoring all those, like, small details. Like, does he think anyone wants to feel like. Trained to know, or North is at all times and there's like there's indigenous peoples.
They didn't train themselves to know that.
Without under the skin chips, so then.
I don't think it's like something people go out of their way looking for.
It's crazy. It's insane. That idea was absolutely insane but I love really hard there.

I mean, every time I remember about, I love, I love it, so definitely did not regret the conversation there anyhow, now that we've touched on the crazy and not really good ideas. Let's talk about the good ideas and nice features.

So, in your personal career, what's your favorite serve that you've invested in or that you've advised. Well, I'd say like a more recent, uh, current favorite I.
Well, I'll talk about 2 actually 1 is 1 that I can.

Really wished, uh, went somewhere it's still around it's sort of in its infancy is gain fitness.

Um, a friend of mine, Nick camel did a start up. He's maybe too early, and is in the fitness space and.

You know, we look at all the online fitness platforms, so like.

You know, live stream Pre, record, you know, working out.

Videos or Palatine is obviously a leader in the space today and.

You know, I invested in a company that that was the.

Bringing you work out at home and early mobile days.

The company, you know, worked real hard.

Founders work real hard, but it didn't quite figure out its distribution channel and it might have been just too early.

Is this, you know, probably decade ago and so I really wish that and that was a different favorite of mine and I look at what's going on in fitness today.

And I'm like, we were just too early, but it was is a lot of what we see in these modern platforms today. So that was sort of a favorite that didn't work out.

And 1, that's working out now. Um, I'm an investor in a company called addressable.

And addressable, Chris, and team Chris and Mark Weaver have belts.

You know, a great platform and tech and whether it allows you to do is send.

Old school mail, so if you have a business really wants to differentiate and reach out to people, um, they have robots that will.

And right with the ballpoint pen mail for you. So if you want to send hundreds of handwritten or 10.

Likes they're integrated with Zapier and they have the api's, and instead of the platform you can send to, where you can send a 1000 handwritten notes. Um.

To people and it provides it's real stamps. You know, drop ship from, you know.

The appropriate mailing area, so it looks like something you written by hand. There's no mass mailing on it and it's a great product.

And so if you have a high touch area, or just want to send, thank you's and stand out. Addressable provides a phenomenal product and the quality is like.

And the attention to detail is pretty amazing with what they've done this competitors in the space. They're not the only 1.

But I think they have the highest quality product of anyone in the space. Uh, that's true. And a quick question.

Under addressable, but how much is it about? So we send out 100 handwritten emails and.
Males, how much is it going to be? I don't remember the rates, but it is pretty competitive. If you like.

Especially, it's expensive. I remember the exact rates. It's expensive compared to, like, sending out like a cheap.

Mass mailed a postcard and like, bulk rates. It's expensive, but compared to sending, like, hey, a nice.

Letter from virus, it's quite key. So I guess it sort of depends what you're.

What you're aiming for it and the nice thing is, is that.

You could have it send you can have it a completely automated. So every time someone does a purchase of, like.

You know, a men's club of the month or women's club of the month, or some sort of discussion that they get a handwritten note.

You know, saying thank you from the founder for and.

And that's sort of a powerful effect for our business and something. Very cool.

Got it so, next question is about actual reaching out to investors like yourself. So you're working at a well established company Asana or great engineers a breeder and it's really hard to get in touch with you. So, what would you recommend?

Early stage founders?

For, you know, in terms of reaching out to people like yourself for investment purposes.

Um, I think.

I think it's like, 2 stages and I've seen.

On the outreach side, there's a lot of different techniques people will talk about. Right? And it's a team. Like, do you go to Angel list or 1 of the other like crowdsourcing platforms to.

Get yourself out there, do you partner with existing syndicates?

Or rolling funds, like, I'm a big fan of my 1st 1M Sean and Sam, who were the hosts of that podcast, you know, and Sean has started a rolling fund.

You can reach out to folks like that and, you know, they're looking for investments. They probably also get bombarded. So let's say it is a little bit of a numbers game where they reach out to people on LinkedIn.

You know, you always want to try to get intros if you have that network, if you don't have the network. I'm gonna try other ways and want to be succinct on what your businesses.
What makes you different and, you know.

You know, some people are looking for a very large checks and if you know what you're fundraising, like, I recently had a call with a company that's only looking, like, starting investments at 100000 dollars for a recruiting platform.

You know, talking to them.

You know, I'm not looking to write checks that large.

Um, right now, and that's.

You know, I think putting that up there, it says this is worth it for you and them, you know, some people are.

Doing minimum rounds of 25 K, others go down to 5 or 10, or they don't want to put a number out there because.

They're like, we, we want to get big checks too, or someone to lead around. I think you just need to be clear in the email and try to be transparent being like, currently we're open to.

Someone everything from eating this round.

Um, or being a lead investor down to.

10 K checks and I think just being transparent allows.

You, as a founder to match, you're talking better.

And for the investors to be, like, okay, this fits within the ballpark of things that I might invest in and that's something that people usually avoid. And I think.

It's simply solved by putting a range and, um.

And saying we're up from here now we're doing from 100 K to 25 K chunks. If some people actually want more investors, they really want to diversify.

Their investor base and so they're only looking for small checks.

Because they want it for more people to help be more supportive of the start up.

So, I really think think about your approach and just be clear as is.

For the introductory piece anyway. Right so, speaking of diversifying your investor base and speaking of investors like yourself, I think you are. I mean, I'm I don't think so.

I know that you are considered a strategic investor, because, you know, you work with are highly skilled engineer. So, in your opinion, what is the major benefit over raising money from people like yourself?

Well, with all investors, if you get a good Angel, get part of their network, right? Who they know so, getting people.

In different circles, you know, expands your own network. I think that is the classic benefit. It also sometimes, uh.
If you're trying to be part of that industry, or do business with that industry.

Like, for myself, someone's trying to do business with Asana. It's a conflict of interest for me to do anything.

Directly, but you can still make introductions and chances are like, if I'm in Asana, I might know people at.

Related company's notion and others and so.

Easily also know people in the industry, whatever industry you're in and so well, you may not be able to do anything directly.

In the company you work at, you probably have a lot of connections in related companies and and often it's not just 1 company, but but a.

Family of companies that, that you'd either like to do business with partner with. Maybe try to get acquired from and that can be quite helpful.
As you bring on.
For for the industry connections, but he also have to look at.

If that's the reason you're having wanted to bring somebody on or.

And I've seen this before, sometimes people let someone write a smaller check because they're looking to be an industry.

You know, also to be a little critical, has a person been in that industry a very long time. Or someone new to that industry, right? Because.

Like, for example, I have a much longer track record in data system, some big data so my actions, and sort of the data systems and big data world is much more.

Expansive and the same thing with advertising that it is with collaboration software and so if someone was.

Taking me on as an investor, and maybe taking a smaller check or. Which is a regular for bringing constant that reason. Um.
You know, that might be a mistake for them and.

You know, I think you need to not get too excited just because someone's part of a name brand, whether it's Facebook or Google or some other large company that you maybe want to be close, who are affiliated with it's a large brand or even a.

The industry player, maybe it's a right because you want to be part of the.

Sort of dev, community.

And tooling can meet together.

Great. That's completely accurate. So, here, we're moving on to the last question of today's app as a, which is a call to action. So, Steve, what's the 1 thing you want to do? As soon as the app is is over.

Well, I'm I'm working on a newsletter right now on.
Um, productivity, leadership, management and motivation.

Trying to put stuff that so I'd say, sign up for my newsletter. It's something I'm putting out there to try to share the things that I've learned and.

Try to be a focus area to help leaders, whether it establish companies or start ups.

Manage lead, get more done, have their teams get more done and you can go to productive growth.

Com to to sign up.

And it's free, so costs anything and.

And check it out. Perfect. I'll make sure to leave a link to your newsletter in the description this up as well. So the 1 needs to increase their productivity. Definitely. Check it out.

And also, as I mentioned earlier, I will also leave links to Asana and.

Addressable in the description of this episode. So my call to action is going to be go there, go to the description. If this episode check out what we have there and as usually have a good day.