At our most recent board meeting we discussed and agreed the following mission and values. These are important to us as people, but they are also useful to us as a business. In this blog I'm going to try to set out why with some examples.
Using innovation to increase participation in polling - improving the quality of decisions in the public realm and the private sector.
Trustworthy - We do what we say, and we say what we do. Users consent to everything we do with their data.
Nonpartisan - We don’t let our own personal views influence the questions we ask or the insights we share
Respectful - We’re not pushy; we don’t ask too much of users
Engaging - We create products that are fun to use and a worthwhile use of time
Inclusive of people and ideas
Open in the way we communicate and make decisions
Supportive of each other and our differing personal goals and commitments
Challenge each other to build quickly and stay ahead
Enjoy working together
No corporate speak
This has been really useful to us as a team in a few ways. One is that we are in what Larry Greiner called in the 1972 the "Creativity" phase of organisational growth. One of the consequences of that is that decisions are highly attuned to the feedback the market gives us about our product, and we need to stay nimble to respond to that feedback. However, the founders came together for a reason, and not all avenues we could go down are equally attractive. Having the mission helps us centre those decisions around a sense of purpose. The other - perhaps more pragmatic - benefit is that right now we are looking for funding, and as Andy our CEO said recently "founders who are passionate about what they are doing are more likely to succeed and make VCs money".
The product values are all essential to making the product successful. I've written about this in more detail in my previous blog. However, there are often tensions between these values, and having the values clear allows us to evaluate trade offs and make decisions. An example came up recently when we were looking into adding images to our polling questions. For technical reasons, adding an image means we have to restrict text to two blocks of 80 + 80 characters, so we were discussing whether it would be possible to shorten some of the questions we ask to fit this model. The rationale being the adding images is more engaging for users. However, the wording of our questions is carefully chosen to avoid a skewed response, bias, and the perception of bias. We then considered what the effect of including images might be on repondents. The psychology of priming tells us that our response to questions - and the decisions we make - can be subtly influenced by our surroundings. Even if we choose images which look unemotive to us, we may be systematically priming users to respond in a certain way. (For anyone really interested, check out this study on how the place in which you vote can shape the way you vote.)
So in this instance we faced a decision between "engaging" on one side and "nonpartisan" and "trustworthy" on the other. The decision we came to was that where it is of the upmost importance that our results be trusted (e.g. politics) "nonpartisan" takes priority. However, when we ask questions to bring new users to the platform, where the results will not be used in the same way (polling on sports or tv for instance) we should prioritise "engaging". We are also going to do some systematic testing on the effect of images on poll responses.
We haven't used these much, except that they are the way that we operate together. However, when we grow the company, and the team, there will be more of a story to tell.
Often companies startout with ideals - and values and mission can fall into this bucket - but as time passes pragmatism takes over and the values and mission fall away. Google has stopped trying not to be evil.
So how will Poli make sure we keep to these values. The primary way will be to continue to check in on three things in our board meetings.
- Are the mission and values still important to us?
- Are the mission and values useful to us - do they help?
- How well are we doing in relation to the mission and values?
This hasn't happened yet, but watch this space!