Viewpoint / Enterprise

Focusing on Company Values with InfluxData CEO, Evan Kaplan

When Evan Kaplan first joined InfluxData, the company had about 25 employees – much smaller than its 130-person workforce today. During his first few days as CEO, he separated everyone into three teams and asked them to take some time to think about the following questions:

  • What do you like about being at the company now?
  • What is really important to you?
  • What do you feel you need to be successful?

The groups reconvened and presented each of their thoughts to the broader team. From this team-generated input and multiple rounds of editing, InfluxData’s company values were born:

1. We value each other.

We come from a variety of backgrounds, with a variety of beliefs and values. We embrace each other as people, respect our differences, and are committed to working together to achieve our shared objectives.

2. Get stuff done.

We want to go home every day feeling like we accomplished something in service of the larger whole of the company. We are direct, truthful, action-oriented, goal-driven, and we take ownership. We work together to deliver a great experience for our customers, our community, and our partners.

3. Humility drives learning.

We approach things with humility, and never feel like our cup is full. Rather, we think that it’s always partly empty so we can take on more in order to improve ourselves and our product. We aren’t greedy. We remain committed to continuous learning and development.

4. Embrace failure.

We fail fast and often in order to get to where we need to go. We try things, we break things, and we take risks. We bounce back and learn from them. Failure is key to innovation.

5. Commitment to open source.

We participate and contribute to the open source community in meaningful ways.

Evan Kaplan, CEO at InfluxData

As the company has continued growing quickly, these foundational values and beliefs not only continue to stand as the driving force for each employee’s day-to-day, but they’re also used as filters in each phase of the organization’s hiring process. We sat down with Evan to learn more about how these values are maintained in InfluxData’s high-growth environment.

Are there specific interview questions or steps you take in the interview process to ensure the candidate is aligned with your company values?

We don’t find arrogance useful, so we look for that trait in order to avoid it. We’ll ask questions and listen to how people tell their stories. We look for a set of accomplishments and often ask questions about their failures. How people articulate failures is important — you can learn quite a bit from these stories and the dynamics around them.

Are there any processes in place to make sure that those values are reiterated regularly or monitored that people are following them regularly? Documents or training materials?

There’s certainly an onboarding process and there are documents that support it. We have a couple of vehicles in which we’re constantly coming back to our core values because they’re so essential to the company culture. They’re not empty. They’re not something I made up or that you’d see on a dorm room poster. They’re a reflection of who we were at the time, and who we aspire to be. We take them seriously.

I remember we had one executive came in and we started talking about how we can evolve or change the values. There were six or seven other executives who basically said, “No, those values are inviolate. Unless there’s something really important that’s failing us, those are inviolate.”

I’m also clear about being held accountable myself, as is Paul Dix, our CTO and co–founder. It’s a healthy process for the leaders to be accountable to the values as well.

InfluxData’s team includes employees in the Bay Area, Texas, Italy, London – how do you maintain or reinforce the values while being so widely distributed?

We hold a company-wide Stand Up meeting every day. It lasts no more than 10 minutes, and it’s really just a chance to share updates on the different divisions of our business, like product, marketing and sales. One of our teams gives a three-minute update, each day from a different team, followed by announcements before and after, a word of the day, usually a lot of laughing, a few jokes, and then we’re off. We start at 9:30 a.m. PT so that people overseas can participate as well. The daily Stand Up is such an important part of our culture because we see each other every day.

Another thing that really helps with the geographic constraints is to hold all meetings via Zoom (or another video conference app) by default. That is probably the one technology that would be hardest to give up because I see it as integral to maintaining culture in our mainly remote workforce.

We also spend a fair amount of money on travel for in-person meetings. We have new remote employees visit the San Francisco office within their first couple of months to meet the team and get a real feel for some of the office dynamics. It can be lonely working from home but we want our remote workers to feel like an integrated part of the team. Most employees visit HQ in San Francisco two to three times a year, and then we also host an annual company-wide off-site retreat where we work on training and team building for a few days at the beginning of the year.

Is there anything in particular you include in your onboarding process to instill these company values?

We spend a lot of time sharing our company story and vision, the challenges we’re facing right now, and our core values. Just getting people feeling like they’re part of something bigger than themselves right away is very important to us.

Do you do anything in particular to recognize team members that really exemplify the company values?

Once per quarter, we give out an award to the person who best represents our core values. We recognize the individual during one of our Stand Up, highlighting in what way the person exemplified our values and their unique journey. It’s kind of a big deal.

Also, quite often at our daily Stand Up, people will give kudos to others. And they say it publicly, which adds weight. A salesperson might say a support engineer did an amazing job at something, or a developer might want to give a public shoutout for a job well done to another developer.

Do you have any final words of wisdom for other companies that are in high-growth mode and widely distributed – if you were starting a company from the ground up, what would you ensure is in place?

First, get your tools in place. Without the tools, everything falls apart. Second, establish those company values early. Use them as a guiding factor in your hiring. Find ways for people to realize they’re part of the larger whole. For us, that vehicle is the daily Stand Up. Assume and define yourself as a remote-first organization, so that remote is part of your DNA. We define ourselves as remote-first. This doesn’t mean that we require employees to be remote if they don’t want to be. It means that every meeting we have and everything we do has the notion of someone not participating locally, so that barrier slips away. The benefits of a remote-first workforce far outweigh the cost. And because we’re open source and people across the globe want to work on our projects, it’s easy for us to recruit around the world. Having the world as the place you can recruit from – now that’s phenomenal.

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