The central question of any startup is not how to attract talent, but how to get the best performance out of that talent. This is crucial — every day at a startup brings new challenges with limited time to respond. Coping with these challenges while building products to impact a million lives requires a team that gives its absolute best to everything it does.
It’s been just two months since I joined SocialCops as a Front End Engineer and I can already say this with confidence — one of our secrets to success is a culture of involving and empowering people to rise to any challenge, from ideation of the product to its success and failure.
Here’s how we do it.
1. You don’t just do your work. You drive it.
As an engineer, I was used to receiving directions of what is to be built, then my job was to go about building it efficiently. However, because we don’t have managers or bosses at SocialCops, I have never been given a set of tasks to do. Instead, what I get is a “problem statement” and then it’s up to me to create an elegant solution.
I start off with a deep involvement in the project, its purpose, and the solution. The choice of the language, platform, approach, and implementation are all up to me. When I propose a solution to the team, there are questions, counter-questions, and feedback. But I am ultimately the driver of the project. So I fight for my solution, question some things, and challenge others. I also learn the shortcomings of my way of doing things. It’s all about what’s best for the product. By being challenged to go beyond the comfort zone of what’s known and easy, my solution becomes better. Extreme involvement helps our engineers do what they do best — build amazing things!
2. Build solutions, not technology.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that engineers should focus on understanding the problem they are trying to solve. Instead of jumping to think about the solution, language, technology, or implementation, engineers should first answer questions like:
- What is the problem we are trying to solve and for whom?
- Who is the end user?
- How does the end user behave?
- What technology does the user have access to?
- Why does the problem exist in the first place?
But wait! How would you find these answers while sitting in the office?
Many times, our engineers stop coding and get to know the end user. We go in the field to witness the problems people are facing. That is the way people ultimately achieve an elegant solution, not just technical feats.
“Start thinking like an entrepreneur and problem solver” is something I have heard over and over again at SocialCops.
3. Show everything to everyone.
We demo our work each Friday. We don’t just talk about what we built or how we succeeded, but also about how and why we failed. We don’t just demo to the bosses since there are none. We demo to the whole team. Even the founders demo their work and get feedback from everyone!
This practice allows us to get feedback from everyone and get diverse perspectives that could have never been thought of in isolation. Personally, I am challenged to think more and stretch beyond what I thought was good enough.
There are no penalties for failing to demo. But when your colleagues are building amazing stuff and doing amazing work, the energy is simply contagious. I question what’s stopping me and talk to people about it and finally find a way to do it!
4. Don’t just follow the culture. Build it by questioning everything.
There aren’t many companies where you get to question and add your ideas to about almost anything and everything the company is doing.
At SocialCops, I have had the freedom to voice my ideas about everything — from client interactions to the monthly food menu. I’ve voiced my thinking about what’s working and what are we failing at (both internally and externally), about what we are cool and not so cool at. I can literally question everything.
There is a sense of freedom and responsibility to question everything. There is freedom to work from evening to morning or even play games in the chill room at any time. But what’s expected at the end of the week is an elegant solution that serves our users and purpose!
Interested in learning more? Our cofounder wrote an explanation of our experiments with people, culture, and productivity.
Here are some more of our team’s narratives:
- Richa joins as a Resident Entrepreneur and immediately is shipped off to the field
- Rishabh reflects on his daily life as a software engineer (including his daily cups of chai!)
- Sahaj, our graphic designer, on why his transition to SocialCops scared the bejesus out of him
- Lilianna talks about her work in data processing, sourcing, and cleaning
- Christine uses Thanksgiving to give thanks for her job