Startup general interest

Bonobos company culture

By February 14, 2014 No Comments

I’ve just read a humble and thoughtful interview with Andy Dunn, the CEO of Bonobos. I have no inside track on the company but it seems like he is building a great business. As evidence I’d point to the fact that they have lasted for seven years, that they have 200 happy employees, that they have raised $73m, and that they have 350,000 fans on Facebook (although none of these are sure signs of success).

This is my favourite piece in the interview:

What is your greatest achievement?

The most proud I’ve ever felt was when Bonobos was named by Crain’s as one of the top 50 places to work in New York. Building a company that customers love already puts you in the top decile, but building a company that employees love is the most elegant challenge in business. That’s the top 1%. So many people don’t like their jobs or their bosses.

It is especially meaningful to me coming from 2007, when I felt like I had no idea what I was doing or how to build an organization where humans could be motivated and engaged. I once thought “company human values” were things people wrote on posters with pictures of an eagle soaring in the sunrise. I always thought that was a cliché.

I have learned there is actually something to it. What helped me was when we had about 30 employees, I took stock of the 10 best people I had ever hired and made a list of the five attributes that I believe unified them and all the great people we have hired since. Those are self-awareness, judgment, positive energy, intellectual honesty and empathy. I worked those five values into how we hire, fire, promote and retain people; we have gotten pretty empirical about it. That process of being thoughtful about how to create and protect our culture has been more important than I would ever have imagined when we began.

Most great companies have a clear sense of their values and culture and it’s often when they have around 30 people that they write it down. It happens at 30 people because that’s when if becomes hard for the founder to be close to everyone in the company and unless the culture is written down it often gets lost.

I highlighted Bonobos’ five values above. If you are thinking about what your company’s values and culture picking the best bits from other companies and adapting them is a good way to go. Alongside Bonobos Hubspot and Netflix are well worth looking at, as is the work of Ray Dalio.