WIP: XMTP Values

[Last edited on Saturday, Oct. 9th, 2021 by @shanemac]

Welcome, we are glad you are here and thanks for reading this.

Most companies have a values document filled with buzzwords and phrases that don’t really mean anything. They just say words to try and sound “important.” They don’t mean anything because general words and phrases can mean something different to each person or they are things that should be expected of us already.

This is why we don’t use the word “trust” as a core value. Because the opposite is unacceptable. So “trust” is expected anywhere you work. That said, “Create & build trust” and the actions to do that could be a core value.

We are building a different place to work. We are headquartered on the internet, we value calmness over presence, simplicity over complexity, and curiosity over know-it-alls.

We want “values” to be about things that make XMTP unique, special, and different.

Our values serve as behaviors and actions that we expect of each other that lead to a better place to work and better outcomes for all of us.

This is a living document meaning it should always be added on to, edited, changed, and questioned by our team. Please feel free to quote, comment, or suggest an edit below.

Let’s get started…

Sections:

  • Our behaviors
    • Be Curious
    • Be Kind
    • Assume Good Intentions
  • Lead by example
    • Trust and Give Autonomy
    • Feedback is a Gift
    • Find Calmness in Chaos
  • Simple Things Matter
    • Less is More
    • Respect Time
  • Bias towards Action
    • Strong opinions weakly held
    • Disagree and commit
    • Direction then speed

Our Behaviors

Be Curious

We celebrate what we don’t know not just what we do. It’s easy to know an answer, it’s hard to ask the right questions, challenge our ego, and find the right answer.

  • Curiosity is not just about asking questions. Many people, especially in “business,” tend to ask leading questions to guide people to the answer they already want. This isn’t curiosity, this is simply self-interest.
  • To be curious is genuinely listening to others and asking to understand another person or perspective. It’s hard—it takes presence, vulnerability, and active listening.
  • A good way to know if you’re being curious is to ask yourself this next time you’re listening to someone else speak: Am I thinking about the next question I’m going to ask them or listening to the words that they are saying? The former is a reminder that you’re not listening, you’re just focused on what you want to know.
  • Being truly curious and listening to others is the greatest way we know to build trust, build relationships, and learn faster than any other team in the world.
    • Our ability to learn faster than everyone else in the world is our most valuable asset as a company in a space that is early and still being developed.
  • Curiosity is also connected to excellence. Excellence is not about being great at everything. It really comes from self-awareness about what you’re specifically great at and being open and honest about what you’re not.
  • Question everything. Our preconceptions and bias drive us more than we can know. Learn to challenge assumptions and ask better questions before making decisions.

Be Kind

  • We see kindness as more of a state of being than just an act
    • Being kind takes practice and deeper consideration than just moments of being “nice” to someone
    • It starts with empathy for others and compassion for yourself
  • It’s impossible to fake a culture of kindness, we must live it.
  • Our chat logs, comments, threads, pull requests and more are permanent reminders of the compassion we show each other and our community
  • Don’t forget to say thank you
  • Pay attention. The kindest thing you can do is give someone your attention. It’s harder than it looks and you have to work at it. In a remote world, it’s easy to be distracted.
  • Being kind doesn’t mean not being direct. Quite the opposite. It’s how you approach being direct that matters. Being anything but direct is actually not being kind. Speak up, tell others how you feel, and don’t let things build up under the surface.

Assume Good Intentions

  • In a remote world, you can spend a lot of time by yourself. We also communicate mostly via a medium that loses all context.
  • It’s easy to create narratives in our heads and think someone had malicious intent. Don’t do it. It’s bad for you.
  • Instead, assume good intent and ask the other person to chat via a medium that isn’t asynchronous or text. Be direct, share how you feel, and assume good intent.
  • This simple reminder will save you many hea(rt)daches.

Lead by Example

Autonomy & Accountability

  • Remote work requires more self-management than most non-remote roles. This is because it’s often less structured, and lacks the physical presence of direct management.
  • By empowering each other to establish practices that work uniquely for each of us, we’re more likely to build the optimal environment to do our best work.
    • This requires autonomy to explore and hone
  • We earn the trust of our colleagues and community by following through with things we say we’re going to do. It’s ok to change direction along the way, but it’s important to remain accountable to our stated goals and those who may be affected by them…
    • Trust is like a battery. This idea comes from Tobi at Shopify. He explains, for example, that when a new colleague joins your company the trust battery between the two of you may start out at around 50%. Each time the new colleague acts in a way that earns your trust that level increases, and if they let you down the trust battery level goes down.
    • It can be long and slow to fill up the trust battery yet quick to drain. Each time we interact with someone we are subconsciously considering the level of their trust battery and that level affects how we respond to people.
    • They found it a useful way to surface and talk about trust in reviews without it feeling too personal.

Find Calmness in Chaos

When startups work, they change and create markets. When this happens, the level of intensity can be unlike anything else in the world. Markets create chaos, we can work hard to create calmness and clarity in the storm.

  • Things can really feel chaotic. We believe that the big decisions, the best decisions, and the way to win, is to create a calm and focused culture in a market that can be intense.
  • Value the people who bring the situation and the team back to the things that matter
    • Pause and then decide. Humans make the worst decisions under stress and urgency
    • Help others stay calm by being calm yourself. It’s easy to get worked up, create false assumptions, and add stress to yourself and others. Why not try to bring calmness and clarity to all we do. Take a breathe, then decide.
    • When chaos happens, find what makes you calm. Respect and help others to find the same.

Simple Things Matter

Less is more

Many people like to say the word “simplicity” but how do we really make sure we are keeping things simple. What behaviors and actions can help us understand if we are actually making things simpler? How do we celebrate as a company, less not more?

  • Constraints matter
    • Creativity works better than money
    • We don’t need more time, we just need to decide a time
    • Do less to create better. Whenever it feels like quality is lacking, reduce scope
    • Parkinson’s Law is real. The amount of demand will always succumb to the amount of supply. Pick a date, commit, reduce the scope to make that date happen.
  • Measure the time or friction to do something and always aim to reduce it
    • We celebrate editing ruthlessly and output that might not look like much. We understand and celebrate the fact that a sentence takes more time to write than a page.
    • Radical is a word to remind us that we can always be simpler, it is a never-ending endeavor
  • If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.
    • Celebrate when we launch something that feels simple, so easy to explain, maybe even “doesn’t look like much.” That’s great. We want to hide all of the complexity behind the scenes. The work to make things simple is the editing and process of removing things to get there.
  • Be Resourceful
    • Creativity is free and usually thinking creatively is the answer to most hard problems. Never forget that as we scale and there’s a tendency that creeps in to “throw money at the problem” or “spend money because that’s how it’s supposed to be done.”

Respect Time

We value being on time, delivering on time, and giving people their time back. Respecting time is really about showing yourself and others respect. Life is simply a series of commitments. Commitments to ourselves and commitments to others. Breaking commitments is the fastest way to fail. Conversely, always staying committed is our best chance to succeed.

  • Many of us have said…
    • “I can stay a little later if you can…”
    • “Sorry my last call ran long…”
    • “I couldn’t get the Zoom to work…”
    • “My Uber or train was late…”
    • “We should have changed this delivery date a month ago…”
  • Let’s not do this here. Everyone will have a time when they are late or something has to change. When this happens, and it will, be direct and open about the one-off incident and fix anything that this causes from breaking our commitment.
  • Understand your impact on others. It might seem easy to “go a little longer” but you don’t know what the other person actually has going on. If you are their boss, they will default to “sure!” and without knowing, you’ve just disrupted their day. Respect them by sticking to your word and giving them back their time.
  • This doesn’t mean we will never change our minds about time and commitments. This will happen. How we communicate and respect time tells everything about the type of culture we are. Communicate the change in time, ahead of time.
  • Respecting time is the ultimate display of commitment and integrity. It’s doing what we say we are going to do when we say we are going to do it.
  • Here’s the best way to respect time: Be early. Early to a meeting, early to deliver, early to respond.
    • Being early is all about being disciplined, being prepared, being organized, and showing respect. To be early, you must have your priorities in order and you must be organized to the point where you have a plan and can execute it effectively.

Bias Towards Action

Goals run companies

“Goals without dates are simply wishes” - Robert Stephens

  • We set goals as individuals, as teams, and as a company.
  • The most important thing about setting goals is to have a date included with it.
    • Having dates lets us know if our assumptions are right or wrong. If we are wrong, it’s amazing to reflect on that and be able to set and commit to better goals.
    • We want to hit out goals but there will be times when we don’t. That learning is everything. The most important thing about goals is the awareness and reflection that comes with following up on the goals we set on the dates we set to hit them.
    • Reflection and self-awareness are the most important things to be better at hitting our goals as individuals, teams, and the company.
    • Setting and reviewing goals leads to feedback and feedback should be thought of as a gift.

Disagree and commit

We loved how Gitlab framed this value and wanted to share here.

  • Everything can be questioned, but as long as a decision is in place, we expect people to commit to executing it. Any past decisions and guidelines are open to questioning as long as you act in accordance with them until they are changed.
  • When you want to reopen the conversation on something, show that your argument is informed by previous conversations and assume the decision was made with the best intentions. You have to achieve results on every decision while it stands, even when you are trying to have it changed.
  • Another way to think about this is “Strong opinions weakly held.” It’s great to have a strong opinion, so long as it’s not held onto by pure stubbornness or an absence of curiosity as to how it could be wrong.

Direction, then speed

  • Both of these are important but if we have to go fast, always make sure we know where we are going first. Sprinting to nowhere is one of the fastest ways to kill a startup. It’s totally fine to slow down or stop if you ever have a question about where we are going.

A note about updating our values

Our values are updated frequently and as needed. We don’t assume anything is forever nor cannot be questioned or changed. Everyone is welcome to make a suggestion to improve them.

To make a suggestion, simply quote and comment or make a new suggestion and we will discuss and edit this core post.

This is a living values document and we hope to continually get better forever.

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