Tony Hsieh, Culture, and Tasktop’s Version of Delivering Happiness

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Eight years ago when Mik was trying to convince me to move from an advisory role at Tasktop to joining the company full-time, we had a different hiring process for executives. Back then, as part of your interview process, you were told on the morning of your interview that you were going to deliver a speech to the entire company in just a few hours.

In my speech, the main thing I talked about was Tony Hsieh and Zappos. My former employer, Amazon, had recently acquired Zappos, and I had an opportunity to hear Tony talk at a company “All Hands”. I loved what Tony was talking about and ended up buying his book Delivering Happiness. In that book, Tony talked about how he had started successful companies in the past where the culture fell apart, and as a result he hated getting up in the morning and going to work. He realized that even in successful companies, what mattered to him most was the people and the culture. So, Tony built Zappos with culture at its forefront – and made sure he filled the company with people who were committed.

We took those ideas and tried to do something similar at Tasktop. We continuously look to build a company where we love to work. Achieving this goal means cultivating a culture which is founded on mutual respect, talent, professionalism, and caring for one another. At our size, I don’t get to spend 1:1 time with everyone like I used to be able to. But when I do, I genuinely like each and every person I get to spend time with. We have great individuals who are in this for the right reasons and are committed to seeing Tasktop be successful. And now with Mik’s eagerly anticipated book Project to Product giving us the words and the vision we need, we’ve built a company where we are daring to do big things.

Given Zappos is headquartered in Las Vegas, it is only fitting that the events that drove me to write this piece on culture took place in the same exact city where Zappos shares its own culture via campus tours. In late October we participated in DevOps Enterprise Summit 2018 in Las Vegas. This was a major event for Tasktop as we were Platinum Sponsors of the conference.

During our planning, we realized that we were going to send ~25 Tasktopians to the conference between the booth duty, the speaker sessions, and the various meetings. So, in some really twisted logic, I decided to have my entire go-to-market team (nearly 90 people) come to Las Vegas for a three-day meeting across the weekend prior to DOES. Talk about commitment. Tony would have been so proud of this team for giving up their weekends, time with the family, time on the sofa watching football and so on, to spend 10 hours in a windowless room for learning, participating, and teaming.

Three full days in a windowless room could send the best of us mad. But not the Tasktop team.

And for the 25–30 people who stayed on for DOES, that is a just a lot. Not enough sleep, averaging 10 miles of walking a day, lost voices after talking non-stop for three days – not to mention the poor six Tasktopians who contracted food poisoning. I am so sorry! A week in Vegas really does take a year off your life. But there’s not a single person in our team who hasn’t commented on just how awesome the event was. No regrets.

Tasktop Thought Leadership

Tasktop’s thought leaders were everywhere at DOES. Dominica DeGrandis, one of our brilliant forward thinkers and visionaries, had launched her book Making Work Visible at the 2017 iteration of the event. She was there again doing a book signing, giving away hundreds of copies of her book (sponsored by IT Revolution), who in the words of our very own Carmen DeArdo “is beloved” by a community that she’s been a key influencer within since the beginning of the DevOps movement and DOES events. She did a masterful job in her presentation of using very real and relatable examples to teach the world that it’s important to make connections visible.

Carmen DeArdo, another recent hire at Tasktop and our Senior Value Stream Strategist, not only delivered a very popular talk with BMW Group’s René Te-Strote, he also came to rescue of the organizers when a scheduled speaker fell sick, delivering another talk entitled “Dickens and DevOps”. If you haven’t seen Carmen speak, he has real gravitas (you just want to do what he tells you to do), and he may be the funniest man at Tasktop (not that you would know as he is so understated).

Our VP of Product Development, Nicole Bryan, delivered a talk with Nationwide’s Kevin Fisher on the practical realities of moving from project to product at a large-scale enterprise. Based on what people kept telling us after the talk, they are absolutely desperate to learn more – immediately after the session, many attendees made beeline for the pair to keep the conservation going! If you weren’t at DOES or want to continue the conversation with Nicole, Carmen, Dominica and Mik, make sure to register for Tasktop Connect 2018 (December 6, Washington, DC).

The star of the show, however, was Tasktop’s very own CEO and co-founder Mik Kersten, who delivered a memorable keynote that had the DOES audience abuzz (thank you Gene Kim for pushing all the right buttons with him to ensure that Mik delivered the best presentation I’ve ever seen him deliver).

Mik sacrificed almost every minute of free time over the past 12 months to write Project to Product. We know his work is industry changing. In the book, Mik introduces a pioneering new management framework for connecting business and technology and is a must read for anyone trying to deal with the Age of Software and the disruption it’s creating.

The proud author and his game-changing work.

 

DOES attendees queue patiently to be the first in the world with a copy of Mik Kersten’s Project to Product book

The book signing was truly epic, with attendees queuing around the block to be the first to get their hands-on IT Revolution’s latest release. But that’s not what this article is about

And heck even if you don’t have those thought leaders, when you can show off a BMW i8 in the lobby of the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino, you know you are playing with house money.

Sitting in the fourth floor lobby of The Cosmopolitan during DOES, “people wanted to sit in, with, and on the BMW i8 with the beautiful wing doors”.

Thank you, René Te-Strote for making that happen. There should be an equally long article about how we got the BMW into the hotel. It involved taking a taxi to the BMW dealership, picking up the car, filling it with gas, going to Walmart to buy Saran Wrap (needed to wrap the tires so it doesn’t leave road dirt all over the hotel), learning we need to be under a quarter tank per the fire chief resulting in a gratuitous joy ride on the strip in “Sports Mode” to burn off the excess gas, and then eventually pushing the car onto a freight elevator and through the bowels of the casino (see below time-lapse video) to the appropriate location outside the conference area. But that’s not what this article is about

How to get a BMW i8 out of a casino

Tuesday 8pm

This article is really about getting the BMW out of the casino. On Tuesday night, after Mik and Dominica’s book signings, the five intrepid volunteers (Jarek, Jeff, Mara, Laurel and I) meet René to start the process of reversing the steps that we took to get the car into the Cosmo. Everything is going relatively smoothly until we get to the freight elevator. The thing I hadn’t realized until we brought the car into the casino is that freight elevators in big casinos like the Cosmo are incredibly busy. When you get a window to use it, you have to jump on it as that window may not appear again for hours.

Turns out pushing an i8 can be just as fun as driving it…kindof.

So we’re at the freight elevator. Our contact with the casino presses the button to call the elevator to our floor but nothing happens. He makes a call and then heads downstairs. We figure the elevator is being used or something. We are having fun talking about how no one ever gets to see this side of a casino, how pretty this carbon fiber body is, etc. Most of us had been out super late the night before entertaining a customer (ok ok, entertaining ourselves as well) so after a full day of intense conversations, the candle flame is flickering and wavering as we wait. Half an hour then passes, and we haven’t seen anything, so we text our contact. His exact response was “The elevator is not moving and we are working on it”.  We wait another 30 minutes. Another text from our contact: “Nothing yet, they’re working diligently”. Jarek at this point is slumped against a wall and barely looks himself. None of us are looking too good as we wait. Las Vegas is having her revenge on us.

9:30pm

While we wait, we see wait staff pushing carts of food and beverages. None of us have eaten dinner. And did I say that most of us were operating on fumes as it’s our sixth night in Sin City?  Well, if we are going to be stuck here, we might as well at least enjoy an adult beverage. So, Mara volunteers to go in search of adult beverages. She eventually ends up at the convenience store in the Cosmopolitan and buys a bottle of wine and finds some plastic cups. One of our company advisors, Jason, who knows how big a deal Mik’s book is, decides to surprise us and unbeknownst to anyone, shows up at the casino. He spots Mara on her way back from the convenience store (how that ever happens in a place as big as the Cosmopolitan is beyond me) and accompanies her back…

Myself, Mik and Jason reflecting on how far Tasktop has come

10:00pm

Wine is gone. Still waiting. Our contact has finally returned from downstairs where the freight elevator is stuck (apparently the door is bent and can’t be opened) and asks René to go with him downstairs to look the elevator. René is gone for at least 30 minutes. I meant to ask him what they were doing down there for so long but forgot to ask. My theory was that since the elevator was made in Germany, maybe they thought the German guy from BMW could help fix it.

10:15pm

The remaining Tasktopians who hadn’t had food poisoning then all show up in the 4th floor basement which we had started calling “the bowels”. They bring more adult beverages. Carmen brings one of his former employees from Nationwide whom he was having dinner with. Mik was apparently sitting down for a drink with Gene Kim but bails without even taking a sip because he heard we were in trouble. There are now 20+ people hanging out in the most unattractive venue in Las Vegas (yes, this is worse than the old Imperial Palace or the Platinum or even Circus Circus). We’ve cranked the i8’s speakers up so we have music. We’re hanging out. We’re chatting because we haven’t spent enough time with each other over the past six days.

Team with a capital T

10:30pm

When René and our contact at the hotel finally return, we learn that the chain on the elevator is broken and they won’t be able to fix it till the next day.

The poor i8 was resigned to another night in Sin City.

A culture to be proud of

Talk about taking lemons and making lemonade. There are so many other things people could have been doing at this hour in Las Vegas (including sleeping!). And for this many people to have chosen to come support the five of us, I truly feel that we have built the company that I talked about during my interview.

Yes, we had amazing stories from presentations by Mik, Carmen, Dominica and Nicole. We had tremendous traffic at our booth. People wanted to sit in, with, and on the BMW with the beautiful wing doors. But fondest memory will be the cheapest night we had in Las Vegas (think pizza and beer) in the worst setting because we were in it together as a team.

I am so proud to wake up and go to work at Tasktop. We are solving a big hairy problem. We have a leader that is passionate and inspires. We have customers that want to be around us and want to promote us. We help people improve their lives. We help companies compete better. We have a lot of people doing so much hard work. And we support each other, helping us to continuously deliver happiness even as we rapidly grow.

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