The Blog

  • October 9, 2014
  • HubSpot IPO’s, Culture Code Gets a Bigger Audience

    HubSpot founders Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan

    HubSpot founders Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan

    Kudos to all HubSpotters for their IPO. If there was ever a company to root for this is it, not because they’re from Boston and their IPO shows a certain resilience in the place where the tech sector got started and not because I’m a hometown boy or because I have an investment. Buy high, sell low is my investment philosophy according to my wife and I know all of the jokes.

    “How do you make a small fortune in stocks? Start with a bigger one.”

    No, this is because founders Brian Halligan (CEO) and Dharmesh Shah (CTO) started from day one to build a company that other people could love.

    I suppose lovability is in the eye of the beholder — it’s easier to love a kitten than a porcupine — but HubSpot not only made it their mission but they also made a hard science of it and were phenomenally successful. The secret? The way they treat their people. Treating employees well translates into treating customers well and adds much to the likability quotient.

    You might ask how one can make a hard science out of a mission as squishy as wanting to be loved. After all, isn’t literature full of stories about unrequited love and unreciprocated friendships? Yes and yes. But HubSpot’s tailwind has been that it wasn’t trying to be personally loved, only loved in the narrow range of being a company people want to work at and to do business with and at that they’ve succeeded well.

    HubSpot’s secret sauce, and ultimately its science of being liked was summarized by Mr. Shah in a slide show that I urge everyone to review here. “Culture Code: Creating A Lovable Company: An inside peek at how we work and what we believe at HubSpot,” goes through the 7 big ideas that undergird the company.

    1. We are as maniacal about our metrics as our mission.
    2. We Solve For The Customer (SFTC).
    3. We are radically transparent.
    4. We give ourselves the autonomy to be awesome.
    5. We are unreasonably picky about our peers.
    6. We invest in individual mastery and market value.
    7. We constantly question the status quo.

    The prime directive that everything else trees up to, to make a Star Trek analogy, is “Use good judgment.” That might sound either incredibly naïve or subversive in many of today’s more buttoned down corporate cultures but it works remarkably well. There’s no huge employee manual and the whole culture has an emphasis on getting things done — using good judgment of course. Shah once told me, “Customers are more easily attracted with a great product and amazing people are more easily attracted with a great culture,” hence the emphasis on both.

    Shah also told me he didn’t see a need for a lot of rules filling up the employee manual because, as he put it, “Just because someone made a mistake years ago doesn’t mean we need a policy. We don’t penalize the many for the mistakes of the few.”

    Not surprisingly, though, the company has a succinct definition of what good judgment is in this context. It comes in three parts.

    • Favor your team over yourself;
    • Favor the company over the team; and
    • Favor the customer over the company.

    What? Favor the customer over the company?


    Acting in the customer’s interest is acting in the long-term self-interest of the company so there’s no disconnect. In fact, the long-term interest of the company is to delight customers, which includes a raft of corollary ideas that keep everyone focused. All this inevitably leads to hiring (see point 5).

    Use good judgment also means adjusting your schedule to optimize your life and your contribution to the company. HubSpotters, like people in many emerging companies, work whenever, wherever but they also understand the importance of interacting. Part of the culture code is the belief that creative magic happens when quirky humans randomly connect — so much so that from the beginning people have been required to change desks every ninety days, just to mix things up.

    And so it goes as Vonnegut once said. HubSpot is a public company today but they’ve always acted in a way that public companies ought. So it’s not surprising to me that they’ve reached this pinnacle — just another milestone in a progression that builds a company people love.


    Published: 9 years ago

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