Your startup shouldn’t be a company – it should be a cult

by Ivan Mazour on May 26, 2013

Brand-Integrity-and-Company-CultureFor the past few months, my main focus at Ometria has been instilling a lasting company culture. We are up to nine people now, and hiring to fill the tenth role, and this means that very soon the company culture will come out of my hands and take on a life of its own. At that point, when there are simply too many people, I will no longer really have the ability to control it, and its continued evolution will depend almost entirely on how it is right now within the current team.

The concept of a company culture has only really come to be taken seriously in the past few years. Google has worked hard to position themselves as the company with the most famous one. Free food, massages, laundry – you name it, they have it. The aim is to take away people’s irrelevant hassles so that they can concentrate on what they love to do – work for Google. But if you dig a little deeper you’ll see that the people who work there will tell you that they are still but a small cog in a giant machine, so although the perks are great, the culture is still fundamentally missing something.

slide-1-1024A few relatively newer, while still large, companies have taken up the mantle. Netflix and Hubspot have created hundred-slide culture decks, which I studied in great detail when coming up with the plan for our own. Hubspot, given their general content marketing awesomeness, have taken the whole concept to another level by setting up a special site for their culture deck and using it to not only drive more traffic to their website, but to also drive great employees to the company. And although I haven’t yet condensed my views into an Ometria culture deck, the same thing has already started happening with us.

Let me begin by describing our current hiring process. It has been optimised over the past few hires with one specific reason – to turn our startup from just a company into a cult. A cult, in this sense, was defined by Steve Newcomb a few years ago as “a group of super high quality people who trust each other and have similar ways of thinking, learning, reacting, problem-solving and working together”, and this is exactly what I have been aiming to create.

Initially all people are screened and some don’t get an interview if their experience, and the overall feel of their CV isn’t right. Those who stand out get invited in for a face to face hour-long chat with one of the founding team, most likely but not necessarily myself. Sometimes this is done over coffee or a meal, depending on the level of the position and quality of the person. If in that hour they prove to be both capable and interesting, then stage two is to do a full day of working with the team, where we give them a broad range of tasks, both related to their job and not, see how they structure their work and verify the quality of their output. We also go for lunch to really get an idea of how they would fit in with the rest of us.

If they get through this, then the final third stage is the “gauntlet”. All the final stage candidates come in on the same day, and get interviewed by each current member of the team, one by one. Some people may only dedicate five minutes to the interview, but others may spend an hour, so the process takes a while. At the end of this day, however, we are able to decide who we think is best. If anyone says no to working with them, then they are out. Absolutely no risks are taken with our culture. I’d rather spend another month looking, than ruin what we have now. For the current role, we have done 25 interviews, five people have taken the test, and we still only have one person who has made it through to the gauntlet.

Word seems to be spreading. I recently did a casual interview with a girl who got introduced to me by one of my oldest and best friends. They were doing their MBA together, and he said that she was interested in analytics and that I should speak with her. I thought he had “sold” her on my company. During out chat, it turned out that she had actually come across Ometria herself, and then specifically tracked down someone who could put her in touch with me.

Over another casual chat last week with a friend of mine who runs his own startup, I described a bit about this process and how we work, and he told me quite how different the culture within his own team was, and how he really wanted to spend some time with us to try and absorb some of ours. I hate letting people down, but given how hard I’ve worked to create what we have, I had to say no – there is no way that anyone gets into the cult without following the process.

So have we managed to become a cult? You tell me..

The following e-mail came from the latest person to join our team -a rockstar developer, in this case, quite literally. It came on Friday, with him starting work just this Monday.

“… Lastly, just wanted to thank you all for an amazing first week, way above my expectations. Thanks for being so inclusive and for keeping such a high spirited, but also focused and productive, working environment.”

I’ve had a lot of moments in life when my efforts have been validated – getting into various schools and universities, successfully completing large property projects, people praising my blog, but I have to say – this one was by far the best.

Ometria Team

Read my full story on the About Ivan Mazour page.

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Ron Morrison May 26, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Liked the article. Interesting way to hire and integrate likeminded talent. Your cult is cool!

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Ivan Mazour May 26, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Thanks Ron!

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Thaer May 26, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Sorry to say that the hiring process seems to be hypothetical and idealistic to me, even if its what you did already. a 100% agreement is not a culture, it’s rather a harmony happened by coincidence. The bigger the company gets the harder, inefficient and slower your hiring process becomes and this will negatively affect your business.

Besides , different opinions about someone or something is healthy for business.

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Ivan Mazour May 26, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Thanks for commenting – always good to have debate. I think I didn’t explain – we do not necessarily 100% agree on who should be the best candidate. But everyone does get a veto, if they explain their reasons behind it. So if two people go through the gauntlet and there isn’t an agreement, then the founders ultimately decide who to take. But if there is any reason why someone doesn’t want to work with the chosen candidate, then we are not willing to sacrifice the culture we currently have.

For the next stage of growth, which will most likely be at the end of next year, it is likely that this process won’t be possible, and I’m aware of this – that’s why I am hoping that by instilling the correct culture now, the more spread out hiring process that will inevitably come will contain at least some elements of what we do now.

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Dharmesh Shah May 27, 2013 at 3:49 am

Thanks for the article — and mentioning the HubSpot Culture Code deck. Glad you found it useful.

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Ivan Mazour May 27, 2013 at 5:07 am

Thanks for reading Dharmesh! Love your blog – and your product.. We are about to start using HubSpot for our content marketing strategy, and HubSpot is almost revered within our team for the professional approach to everything from culture to user experience.

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Deap Khambay July 4, 2017 at 7:39 pm

I have to say reading your thoughts on company culture and observing how you have implemented it into the growing Ometria family is something quite special. I would say in my own experience and research there are many companies who aspire to have a culture resembling something like Ometria however many have failed. It will be interesting to see how this is incubated as the company grows.

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Ivan Mazour October 7, 2017 at 9:55 am

Thank you Deap – it’s really kind of you. We’re very much just at the beginning. As we get past 50 people and even further, it’ll be interesting to see where the culture grows and to continue keeping it as exciting as it is now.

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Love Art October 7, 2017 at 2:26 am

That sounds like a gladiator-type interview process. Glad it has worked so far and culture is key…yet timing is just as vital. People who are working full-time might not have a whole day-or two for an interview. Also being interviewed, be it in the form of an informal chat, by all current employees…it is truly a great idea, but imagine the people who are going through the process – do they feel good about knowing that it is a whole day of thorough assessment, or do they appreciate the experience?

How to create / assess a company’s culture? By the set of its key values. If you value competitiveness, how well does that go with collaboration, for example etc. As with any expansion, the greater the number of employees – the greater – diversity and you have to implement more processes, improve current ones. :) An interview has to be exciting for both sides – the candidate has to see passion in the interviewer and current employees and vice versa – the candidate’s eyes have to light up when talking about the subject matter they are talking about – so it is a process of mutual hiring.
Perhaps a presentation in front of all of the current team members and a creative task with them – both for no longer than an hour – instead of a whole day would save time and keep people engaged. Long processes are a double sided knife. Plus, you know who is a good cultural fit after a few simple questions, a whole day can only confirm the theory /perception created in the first 5 minutes of meeting someone.

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Ivan Mazour October 7, 2017 at 9:57 am

That’s true – that particular approach to building the team only made sense for junior sales roles, which by their nature require a highly competitive approach. For any other kind of role, we definitely don’t do a full day multi-candidate assessment of this nature. Some people have to do a presentation, as you mentioned, while others have to do a written task. Everything is carefully tailored to the specific competencies relevant to the role. And then every single person, irrespective of the role, goes through The Authentication, which is our cultural test tailored around the values we believe are important.

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