As the dire need for diversity pulsates through the startup community, HoneyBook is among the rare companies comprised of 60% women. When I acknowledged Shadiah Sigala and Oz Alon’s, two of the company’s founders, proactive approach to company building, they surprised me by redefining diversity.
“Diversity is about more than gender, ethnicity, or race. It’s about every person in the company being completely different than the others. I can’t think of two team members who are even remotely similar,” Oz, HoneyBook’s CEO, said.
The result is a team of superheroes where each individual taps into his or her unique skill set to propel the company forward. The ensuing culture of entrepreneurship has powered the startup to grow drastically faster than their initial projections.
In today’s featured interview, Shadiah and Oz break down the way diversity and dissatisfaction fuel HoneyBook’s entrepreneurial spirit and how the founders are taking it to the next level as the company scales.
Find Your Superheroes
“The moment you join HoneyBook, you have the opportunity to be completely different – To be you,” Oz says.
The 70-person team, spread across San Francisco and Tel Aviv, celebrates unique skill sets by identifying and developing individuals’ superpowers; One of the company’s core values.
According to Oz, a superpower is: A talent an individual is so passionate about that they can work on it for 24 hours 7 days a week and never tire of it.
To identify superheroes, the team seeks three characteristics in individuals and spends a significant amount of time ensuring that a potential hire fulfills them before bringing them on board.
- A unique talent: This is the expertise that will define a person’s career. As a leader, you are responsible for acknowledging and grooming this ability.
- Curiosity: Individuals should have an insatiable desire to improve themselves and the world around them. This will propel them to constantly find new solutions.
- Self-awareness: A clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.
Superpowers can be immediately evident in new hires – like a rockstar Python developer – while others may take more time and effort to discover. When an individual’s unique skill set is apparent, your job as a leader is to get out of the way and remove any roadblocks that can potentially stifle his or her growth. If their superpower isn’t apparent, the two of you commit to finding it together.
When you ignite a person’s fire they produce the best results.
The foundational belief is that team members will maximize their performance when they’re passionate about the problem they’re solving.
Honor Your Dissatisfaction
Founded in 2013 by Shadiah, Oz, and their two Co-founders Naama Alon and Dror Shimoni, HoneyBook was designed as a workflow management tool for event professionals, such as caterers and photographers, to digitize their processes.
Less than three years later, the founders’ larger vision of evolving into a network for creatives to collaborate and grow their businesses has quickly become a reality.
Despite the growth occurring sooner than expected and validating their initial hypothesis, the founders hardly feel successful. Their customers’ requests simply add more fuel to an already blazing fire.
“We truly feel like this is the first day of our company,” Oz says. “We’re proud of the past and excited for the future but we’re extremely dissatisfied with the present. Every time we see someone in the events industry use historical methods like cash, checks, and physical contracts it burns. We need to move faster.”
The dissatisfaction transcends through the company. Every team member, regardless of their position, is not only capable but expected to make the most impactful contribution they can to modernize the events industry into a connected ecosystem.
Cultivating a Culture of Entrepreneurship
The diversity of the team’s superpowers enables each individual to address a unique aspect of the company’s solution. The thorough approach lays the foundation for HoneyBook’s culture of entrepreneurship which is driven by a combination of autonomy, collaboration, and fearlessness, another one of the team’s core values.
Empower a Team of Founders
At HoneyBook, when an individual identifies a new way to solve a problem the team says: ‘Fantastic. Prove it.’
Team members are expected, and possess the freedom, to approach problems as if they are launching mini-startups.
To start, the program lead, known as the captain, assembles a team of individuals to help them to execute the experiment. Collaboration plays an inherent role in execution.
“Everyone is free to own their work but acknowledges that other people have superpowers that can contribute to a stronger outcome,” Oz says.
In the broader organization, as well as in the ‘small startups,’ a diverse group is requisite to brainstorming new solutions. Every team should have a member from the design, engineering, marketing, membership, and sales teams to analyze a problem. Different perspectives reveal new ideas, uncover potential biases, and lead to unexpected outcomes.
At HoneyBook, “different is better than better.”
Initial projects are run with little to no resources and leaders are expected to execute everything – including all of the backend work – with their assembled team and the event professionals they’re testing the feature with.
“Captains are responsible for doing what has to be done in the moment,” Shadiah says.
The entrepreneurial spirit is about owning a challenge from end to end.
At the macro level, your role as a founder or leader is to remove any barriers inhibiting the startup captain so he or she can focus on leading the team to achieve their goal.
The benefits of developing a culture of entrepreneurship are two-fold. First, new problems are constantly being identified and solved, accelerating your organization forward. Next, team members manage themselves which results in them feeling empowered and valued.
People are productive when they believe they have an impact.
Diffuse the Risk
Designing a culture that thrives on self-management requires you to instill an implicit sense of fearlessness in every member of your team. Fearlessness exists at HoneyBook in three ways: Starting small, evaluating customer feedback, and knowing when to take risks.
HoneyBook decreases the fear of trying something new by approaching every hypothesis like baking a cupcake instead of a cake. Rather than instituting a wide-spread programmatic change, team members are encouraged to run a small experiment with their mini-startup where they can work closely with event professionals to determine if a new feature is the right fit.
Now and in the past, HoneyBook’s faced resistance from disinterested event professionals who don’t feel the need to modernize their processes. Their responses, many of which were blatant no’s during the early days, have instructed the team to take feedback with a grain of salt.
“You can’t expect your audience to fully understand something that’s never been done before,” Oz says. “Your customers can only see an incremental change to what currently exists.”
This is where, as a founder, you’re responsible for stepping up to the plate, leading by example, and encouraging your team members to pursue their convictions regardless of customer feedback. Uncertainty is an underlying wave of making your vision a reality. The key to riding it is setting your objective, giving your best, and seeing what happens.
To achieve that, HoneyBook team members spend a significant amount of time observing their customers in realtime, at events and in their studios, to gain a deep understanding of their workflow. The goal is to unveil gaps in their process that can be dissected to build a better solution.
The experiences have resulted in close relationships between HoneyBook team members and event professionals who often work together at the company’s San Francisco headquarters. Some event professionals have even joined as full-time team members.
Scaling the Foundation
When you walk into the HoneyBook office – equipped with an exercise room, full kitchen, and multiple bungalow chairs hanging from the ceiling – it’s difficult to believe that the founders once faced the brutal rejection that Shadiah and Oz share in their interview.
Although the team overcame their initial obstacles, the company faces new challenges – sometimes up to five a day – that painfully test their grit; Requiring them to embody the fearlessness that drives relentless experimentation.
“Every three months we’re working for a completely different company,” Oz says. “We haven’t figured out 99.99 percent of what we’re trying to achieve.”
Challenges never cease. They change.
Each change represents a critical turning point where a culture of entrepreneurship is vital to a company’s aptitude to scale. With over 70 team members, it’s no longer possible or effective to dedicate HoneyBook’s daily seven-minute stand-up to identifying the role each individual should play in achieving the team’s goals. In order to successfully navigate the shift from family to organization, team members must be equipped to decide and act on their own.
“As you scale, your culture takes on a life of its own,” Shadiah says. “You can’t control it. What you can do and what you have to do, is shepherd it in the right direction.”
Culture is a living, breathing soul.
The shepherding comes alive in the founders’ work constantly addressing these two questions:
- How can we all collaborate to the best of our abilities?
- How do we scale an entrepreneurial environment where everyone is using their superpowers to innovate?
The answer to both questions resides in cultivating the original diversity and dissatisfaction fueling the team. The only way to catalyze individuals’ innate desire to contribute is to stimulate a flexible culture where experimentation is not only possible but supported by the organization as a whole. Ownership is meaningless if team members don’t possess the autonomy to pursue the ideas they’re passionate about.
Your responsibility as a founder or leader is to ensure that team members are actively developing their superpowers. Every individual on your team should be focusing on the problems that he or she is best equipped to solve. Spending too much time on other tasks – even as little as an hour – can be kryptonite to an individual’s execution; Debilitating them from reaching their optimal potential. The goal is to create an environment where team members are compelled to rise to the occasion and tackle increasingly daunting challenges. This is when the magic happens.
Routine work stifles the emergence of exceptional talent.
For Shadiah and Oz, their duty is precisely mirrored in HoneyBook’s founding mission: Removing operational friction for event professionals so they can focus on growing their business. When a photographer spends hours coordinating jobs, processing payments, and sending faxes they aren’t taking pictures, the outlet where their creative ability shines. In the same way that the software removes operational roadblocks for their customers, the founders are adamant about eliminating any signs of bureaucracy or obstacles that can inhibit their team from experiencing the same growth.
Never Stop Building
The last component of the founders’ approach to scaling HoneyBook’s culture is never becoming leaders who operate behind closed doors. Shadiah and Oz, along with Naama and Dror, remain highly involved as co-founders, playing a hands-on role building the product and network. When Shadiah suggested Oz take phone calls in an office, to eliminate his conversations from distracting others, he responded by saying, “I’m a team member here. I’ll take my desk,” before walking away in his brightly colored, striped socks.
Looking ahead, Shadiah and Oz affirm that HoneyBook will exist as a completely different product and network in the next twelve months. As far as getting there, they’re embodying the same fearless mentality that helped them arrive where they are today.
“We’ve learned that there’s no way to predict what’s going to happen,” Oz says. “We know exactly what the world is going to look in five years but no idea how we’re going to get there. We trust our foundation. We’ll give it our best and see what happens.”
Images retrieved from HoneyBook