As told to Mangala Dilip by Meesho CEO and Co Founder Vidit Aatrey
“Take care of the people, the products, and the profits…in that order” — Ben Horowitz
Building a great product and making a profit is important to business, but what can make or break a company is how its employees’ function, the values that drive their actions, and their trust in our values to make those choices.
In short, great work culture cannot be shortchanged for anything else.
Technology entrepreneur Horowitz has always maintained the importance of good work culture. His book The Hard Thing About Hard Things, has had a huge influence on me as the CEO and Co Founder of Meesho, and it is reflective in our core values, which are the cornerstones of our company. Our work culture is built by the people who adopt these values and belief systems to function well together.
Building culture organically
Culture is built organically in every startup. At Meesho it all began with how Sanjeev (Barnwal: CTO and Co Founder) and I behaved and interacted with each other, and our associates. It all started with the two of us — and then we became five, then ten, twenty and so on. And, all those who joined Meesho, saw how Sanjeev and I made decisions every day, how we interacted, etc. We set those examples, with the expectation of others to imbibe and follow.
For a good amount of time, this worked, but the need for documenting these values that we were already following became apparent as the company got bigger. When we were about 100 Meeshoites, our day-to-day work interactions with all the employees became improbable. The opportunity to observe the decisions we were making, or how we were making them became harder for employees unless we codified them or communicated them via official emails.
As the company grew, it became difficult for us to share our values with the constantly expanding team. For instance, From the very beginning, Meesho has been home to aggressive go-getters, but no matter how ambitious or time-bound our target is, we would not talk down to our reportees in an attempt to put pressure on them. This, however, was not practised by all team members, and we wanted to nip this behavioural trait in the bud.
Thinking bigger for a bigger team
And so, we decided to codify our values, but with that came new challenges. When we assign a few words to describe our values, people tend to interpret them in different ways. Take Speed Over Perfection, for example, which someone can take to mean that Meesho is okay with creating an imperfect product; but this obviously is not what that value means.
To understand the meaning of this value, you need context — It means to create version one faster and keep iterating to reach the perfect product.
For instance, when we set out to launch Meesho Indonesia, we knew that it would take about a year to get everything right; we were, after all, starting off a new company in a new country. The other option was for us to start out with the knowledge and experience we have had and then figure out everything else along the way. We chose the latter option — Speed Over Perfection.
Meesho Indonesia was launched within three months of deciding to expand. To launch a full functioning company in just three months… this isn’t something that happens often. But we did it!
Another example would be the value User First. It may be difficult for outsiders to understand why this is our north star. Meesho is building a product for an audience that is different from us. Our users and suppliers have very different aspirations, fears, and ways of thinking than most of us. This is why we always make sure that everyone in the company speaks to our users and gain insights as to how we can help them become more successful.
Companies rarely expect employees to talk to stakeholders to understand their needs, but we do it, almost every day. A non-Meeshoite might think our entrepreneurs are in this business to make money, but we know that it isn’t just about making money. A lot of our entrepreneurs do it to establish their own identities and earn respect within their societies, beyond their domestic duties. They are proud of being entrepreneurs and we know it because we speak to them. We care about them because making them successful is the most important thing for us at Meesho.
But what is culture really?
As Horowitz reinstates in What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture, culture is about action, not words. It is multidimensional. Our culture is how we behave, how we treat our user base, how we treat our suppliers, how we treat each other, how we treat the people who report to us, how we treat our peers, our approach to solving a problem, our approach of making our users successful. It is a culmination of our day-to-day decisions, actions, and their consequences.
When Sanjeev and I had just launched the business, we would soak in the wisdom shared by long-time entrepreneurs, and the number one advice we would always get was to make sure that we built a good culture. After I read The Hard Thing About Hard Things I finally understood what culture means.
Our culture defined by our core values is our north star while making any decision at Meesho.
If any Meeshoite is equipped with the eight core values that we have, they would be able to make any decision in the company. When they are solving a problem, they would know to go deep and understand the root cause of it. No matter what they are doing, they should be looking at its 10X impact. If someone’s work is not helping our entrepreneurs become successful, they would be able to understand that something is amiss. And, no matter the situation, they should always, always treat people with respect.
Meesho’s culture is how we live, how we survive. It is our way of life in its simplest form. And building this culture has been extremely important for us. Our values make us who we are. The outside world may or may not see us as a success story. But, we are where we are today, because of our way of life — which is defined by our values.