I recently had the pleasure of speaking on the “Culture by Design” panel at the Technori Starter Series: Beyond the Ping Pong Table, along with fellow entrepreneurs Ethan Austin of GiveForward and Jake Nickell of Threadless. We all run very different organizations, but we share the conviction that creating a strong and vibrant company culture is essential to running a successful business.
Fostering a good company culture has been one of our tenets at Table XI ever since we founded the company a decade ago, but it hasn’t always been easy to explain why we think this is important. For years, outside consultants would beat me up for not articulating our company’s mission in a market-driven way. I’d get criticized for deflecting the heart of the matter, referencing instead modern work/life models that probably sounded touchy-feely and unprofitable to the traditional business school way of thinking.
In the last few years I started saying that our mission at Table XI is to “build a better boat”—I’m trying to prove that there’s a way to collaborate with your employees, your customers, your community, and your environment in a way that’s different than pure profit-maximization. Instead, it’s about creating a structure that’s a good place to be, that makes the lives of the people around you better, and, as a result, leads to a thriving company.
When you define success as creating a better workplace, it totally changes the game. Company culture isn’t just a “nice to have”—it’s an essential cog in the wheel of good business:
Of course, as the title of this Technori series suggests, creating a good company culture isn’t as easy as putting a ping pong table in your office. (Ironically, early on we had a ping pong table at TXI, but the plock...plock... noise of the balls in our open office was so distracting we had to get rid of it.) Bolted-on culture won’t ever stick, and what works for Table XI might not work for other companies. Everything about our culture—from our daily, chef-catered lunches to our Costa Rica retreats to our open office floor plan—has developed from our own experiences and the people who have made their marks over the years.
And this culture keeps evolving, as it should. Heading into 2013 we’re continuing to hire more diverse people, strengthening our mentorship program, and participating more in Chicago’s tech scene. We’re celebrating the ideas in our community through our new monthly series, “Table Talks,” and encouraging our employees to pursue their own professional development.
I’m surprised sometimes by people’s incredulity at the things we do (like taking the whole company to a third-world country). So many executives focus on why they can’t do these things, but I assure you that you can. After all, what’s the point of being an entrepreneur if you can’t do things a little differently for yourself?