The Kite, the Team, and the Podium

  I was driving my children (ages 9 & 10) home from school and having a little father-to-sons chat about how the day was going for them (and vice versa), when they started grilling me with questions…

“When is the iOS version coming out, Dad?”

“Dad…Is the Spanish version being used much? How about people in China? And what was it… the one in Brazil… Brazilian?”

“Dad, how’s the new office? Are people having fun? Have you beat Chris at ping pong yet?”

“Dad, how many employees work for you now?”

I gave them answers to each, “Soon, Yes, Yes, Soon, Good, I think so, YES!, 80-something”

What was funny about this moment to me was that it was a lot of the same questions that I had been asked by our Board of Directors throughout the day.  And here I thought this quick drive home with the kids in the back seat would have been a momentary respite between the day’s Board Meeting and the evening’s dinner with the team.

Now maybe my kids are just practicing for their future business careers rather than their careers as professional Minecraft Engineers, but these questions were representative of something bigger than that. Everyone is pulling for us, and everyone is vested in seeing the success. At that moment, it kind of occurred to me that what we are building is much bigger than just Chris or I. It involves the entire team – both in Canada and in Bangladesh. It involves our investors. It involves our Community. And yes… it most assuredly involves our families

We shared on Facebook photos of our official YO! Let’s Connect Launch Party held in our new Canadian offices, celebrating some of our achievement. It was actually 1/3 Launch Party, 1/3 Open House, and 1/3 5-year Anniversary [it will be 5 years in June for the Left of the Dot]. It was also an occasion for us to invite in the local community and to invite “those that made a difference” in our personal and professional lives:  from friends who acted as cheerleaders, to family from faraway lands (my sister from Germany and Chris’ brother from the UK], to former colleagues, to community leaders, and to other entrepreneurs.

I am sharing these thoughts now on a journey back from California where I had been attending this year’s TiECON conference, a gathering of thousands of tech-centric entrepreneurs focused on ties to the Indus region. We were attending as one of the finalists for TiE50 Top Startups, a group of 153 companies selected from over 2700 worldwide. For the team it was quite an honor for the achievements of the past year.

Attending the event and driving past some of the behemoth companies in Silicon Valley, it quickly dawned on me… we are just getting started, and if I am going to continue to be able to answer all of the questions posed by the Board, our customers, and yes… my children, then we have a lot of work to do.

Aligning the Company

Just under 1 month ago, Chris and I headed out of town to have an all-day brainstorming session assessing what is working, what is not, and doing a standard SWOT assessment that we try to do annually.

We firmly believe in the unattributed Hawaiian saying, “A kite flies because of its tail.” In our organization, we call the big projects ‘KITES’, and we decorate our office with them. A big project might be, for example, YO! for iOS [yes, kids this is coming soon]. To us, when applying this saying to our daily lives, it means that you can only achieve the big things if you take care of the little things – and do those little things right.

So our out-of-town retreat was a chance to ensure that we were working on the ‘right’ big things while assessing our performance on the little things. And inner reflection being what it is, it is often much easier to spot the things that you are not doing well rather than celebrating the parts that are working.

We operate the business somewhat systematically in that every employee has what we call a ‘Kite Sheet’. This is a personal accountability journal about the areas of the business that each can impact and helps ensure, containing lead indicators to ensure he or she is working in the right direction. These Kite Sheets fall out of ‘1-page Roadmaps’ controlled by each of our Product Managers. The 1-page Roadmap, amongst other things, looks at the Critical Goals and Metrics that are important to the product line over the next 100, 250, and 1,000 days. And these product sheets, in turn, are driven from the overarching company vision and roadmap that adheres to the same format.

Contained within each roadmap is a section for us to enter in ideas for what to do when we achieve our milestones. These are the celebration numbers. This attempts to set aspiring goals to motivate the team with some sort of reward. While the idea of milestone-based rewards is used by a lot of companies as an incentive, it is something that we struggle with.

OK…’struggle’ is probably the wrong word. We suck at it.

We are hopeless when it comes to celebrating our success and picking motivators. I have tried to identify why that is, and I think I have the answer.

First, it is part of the Canadian mindset. Five years ago, the Canadian Government initiated a program called ‘Own the Podium’ in advance of the 2010 Winter Olympics. We were tasked as a nation to win more medals and finish on top of the podium. A huge stretch goal considering Canada had never won a single gold medal on Canadian soil in the previous Winter Olympics that the nation had hosted. How un-Canadian is that?

But a funny thing happened as the games progressed: we started to win. And the nation cheered. And then we won some more, and we cheered even louder and waved our Canadian flags with even more national pride. Then came the gold medal game against the USA in hockey, and as the winning goal was scored for Canada and Canadian pride was at its fullest and the games were over… we were at the top of the medal count. We owned the podium.

I do believe that this was a collective moment for the nation that for the first time, we found it was OK to win and it was acceptable to celebrate success.

Secondly, I think with YO! many of us working on the project are not motivated by traditional incentives. Collectively, we are not getting up in the morning thinking, “If I achieve this [insert metric], we will receive this [insert random reward].” It is safe to say that we are simply trying to make our mark and change the world.

That is what is motivating us. With all that being said, however, we do need to do a better job of celebrating and saying to ourselves and to the world, “It is OK to win.”

 

So the next time I am asked by my children about how things are going with YO!, we are going for ice cream.