Our founder, Miles Burke, explains how a start-up idea bubbled away at the back of his mind for over a decade before becoming a reality.
For many, our little start-up, 6Q, started 228 days before our 24 March launch, in mid-August 2014, when we ran our first ‘startup sprint’ (more on that shortly).
In fact, 6Q started back when I first founded Bam Creative, the digital agency whose team built the first version of 6Q, and is still an avid supporter. Since the start of the journey in agency life, I’ve been working and pondering on my belief that employment doesn’t need to suck.
Over the years prior to starting my own business, I have held plenty of diverse positions, including radio announcer, design director, pizza delivery guy, retail manager and more. Some of these roles really sucked, whilst other jobs were great.
I talk further about managers that I didn’t appreciate in my previous roles in this article, and I credit them for my outlook on leadership today.
When I began creating positions for people at my agency, I considered what sucked about my previous jobs, and how to avoid it.
Working does not need to suck. Those of us who love our jobs are the happiest people alive.
Much of my philosophy here comes down to a few key personal beliefs;
- Work needs to be enjoyable,
- Employees want regular feedback
- Employees want to feel valued
- Employees want to be respected
- My employer needed to meet my personal values
- Employees need to believe in the company values
When I started my digital marketing agency, I vowed to change how I managed others as we grew.
I am the first to admit that I haven’t always been a great leader or manager; I’ve certainly made plenty of mistakes, however a few elements of our culture I believe the team have appreciated, include;
- Quarterly performance reviews that involve both parties being reviewed
- Open door policy with me always being available to the team
- A lateral organisation chart, where everyone is encouraged to speak their mind
We’ve tried many things over the years to ensure we are doing our best as an organisation to our employees, and to ensure our team is doing what they can from a performance and productivity perspective. It seems many other people in a digital marketing agency have done similar.
Experiments we’ve undertaken have included daily stand up meetings, town-hall meetings where everyone has a say, rewards anonymous suggestion box, and a plethora of different software tools.
During the last 13 years, we’ve stuck mostly to digital projects, and intentionally have stayed small and nimble. We’ve built and extended a few products of our own such as content management, extended modules, and worked on all matters of websites, bespoke web applications and have even worked on elements of (other peoples) products, all in a time and materials arrangement.
Real sense of ownership
I’ve always had a drive to encourage everyone who worked with me to feel real ownership of the company. In 2010, I took that one step further, and we became employee owned, with a number of employees buying in to become shareholders.
Some of the many concepts we’ve tried have worked whilst a few have been dismal failures, yet every single one of them proved they were worth trying. No regrets here!
Never stop trying to create the best culture with the best team and awesome ways to keep everyone engaged and happy. We all need to focus on creating jobs that don’t suck.
A process we found worked very well for us has been our weekly ‘Five minute meetings’, which consists of sitting down with each team member for no more than five minutes, to find out how their last week has gone, what the week ahead holds, any roadblocks they encountered, how their happiness was, etc.
This works well when there’s only 14 in the team, however it’s very hard to scale. A team of 30 would take three hours per week to do the same five minutes with each team member!
Our internal start-up sprint
I was considering how to scale this idea, when our first start-up sprint was being planned. I realized we could create a simple polling system that whilst not replicating the face-to-face experience, managed to get some of the key aspects in.
My concept of a start-up sprint was to set aside a day, gather the team at lunchtime, give them a short brief, and then all of us work as a collective to see how close we could get a minimal viable product by 6.30pm. At this point, we’d stop to review, drink a few beers and eat some fine wood-fired pizza.
The reasoning for putting on this sprint was that whilst I’m fond of the outcomes of start-up weekend or 24-hour hack-a-thons, I knew it was a little much to ask my team to spend the weekend in the office.
Our first start-up sprint was a huge success; we had a number of fantastic outcomes besides the actual MVP of 6Q, which included;
- Trialing new processes and workflow
- Pushing creative thinking on team members unused to the concept
- Validating what works, and what didn’t, in a compressed time frame
- Encouraging individuals to work in areas they weren’t usually in
It was much like many of the projects we’ve regularly work on, except some key areas;
- We did it in seven hours not two or three months
- No clearly defined roles; people chose what they wanted to do
- A focus on agile, fast brainstorming
Internal teams can push for innovation and learn more about each other and our existing systems in one day by doing a similar exercise to a start-up sprint.
The end of the seven hours saw us with a working prototype of 6Q.
Sure, it looked less than ideal, however there was a logo, blog, twitter account, rough marketing and business plan, and a web application that sent weekly polls, recorded the answers and sent the reports afterwards.
Importantly, we were building a product for ourselves; not for someone else.
Continuing to create past MVP
Over the coming 228 days, we improved the application to allow other users and organisations to be added, created a website to explain it all, tweeted a little, worked on the system another 100 or more times, rewrote the onboarding process and emails many times, wrote up future features, battled over what would and wouldn’t be included at launch, created support documentation and plenty more.
We found that the competitive landscape for employee feedback surveys was already mature (meaning we had plenty of existing big competitors), we found we had a lot to learn (who knew how far trigger based emails had matured), and we made a number of mistakes (and no doubt, will continue to do so).
If I had started this project as a product to sell to others from the start, I would have been dismayed by the many other competitors already in this space. Heck, we would have at least done our research.
Now we’re here today, one week after we publicly launched. 235 days since we spent seven hours playing with a theory we could throw convention out the window, and build something that is interesting.
It’s been an enjoyable ride so far, and we’re not yet at the finish line. I doubt we’ll ever really be. Its nice to think that 6Q may become profitable and allow us to keep working on improving the product further, and impacting the company culture and team happiness of our customers around the globe.
I look forward to keeping you updated with some of the lessons we’ve learned on the way to building our first SaaS product, and I trust some of the successes as well.
If you have any great methods of creating an engaged team and great workplace culture, I’d love to hear them. If you have a feature request, I’d love to hear it as well.