CULTURE [kuhl-cher] n.

1. The beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time.

2. A way of thinking, behaving or working that exists in a place or organisation (such as a business).

When I was 14, I eagerly started one of my first summer jobs at the assembly line of a pickle factory. It was my job to remove rotten pickles by hand. Unfortunately, I didn’t last long because I carved little faces in good pickles when the conveyor belt stood still. They didn’t like that. 

The summers after that, I worked at a sawdust factory, several car garages and many, many greenhouses. After all, I do live in the land of tulips haha (Yes, and weed).

At these summer jobs, I met a lot of energising, proud people who absolutely loved their work and seemed to be great at it. In other workplaces, I encountered real frustration, negative energy, and a lot of complaining. What, exactly, made one company (culture) inspiring and the other suck?

It was a mystery to me. The only thing I knew then was that I wanted to find a company I would love to work at every day, that would bring out the best in me.


Culture is the word

It was only after I was seven years into my online marketing career, when I joined The Next Web as Chief Marketing Officer, that I started learning more about the concept of an inspiring company culture and what makes it thrive or deteriorate.
 
At the time, The Next Web was a small energetic place filled with highly skilled lunatics. Everyone who joined was eager to try out new ideas to help the brand become bigger, better and grow faster. Together we built The Next Web into one of the top ten most influential blogs, organised tech conferences on three continents, founded several successful startups like TwitterCounter.com and PR.co, and created a lot of other cool projects that ended up failing remarkably.

The culture of The Next Web is primarily based on the notion that is still present there today: you don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility. Own it.

While at The Next Web, I also visited numerous other startups and big tech companies like Square, Twitter, Evernote, Google, and Facebook. I got to experience their specific culture, how they tried to make it flourish and how their culture helped them reach their goals. This inspired me to always actively shape the culture at The Next Web. It was clear to me that taking control over your culture would get you where you wanted to be so much faster.
 

What an awesome culture can do

While I got to shape the culture at The Next Web, I got to build it at MessageBird when I joined two years ago. To a fast-growing messaging company with world domination on the agenda, a strong, foundational culture is crucial.

I believe there are 6 key factors that establish the environment for an awesome company culture: purpose, values, hiring, rewarding, leadership and communication. We started defining our values and making changes, both big and small, in all the other areas. Here’s where it’s gotten us so far:
 

  1. Increased engagement
    Matching our tone of voice with our values increased our level of engagement with customers. One of many examples is that we replaced the overused ‘Dear’ and ‘Kind regards’ with ‘Hi’ and ‘Best from Amsterdam’. We still get genuine ‘Best from Athens, Berlin, Bangkok, Moscow etc.’ from customers in return.
     
  2. Loyal customers
    Being part of MessageBird feels like being part of a family where everyone truly cares for each other. We built on this, so the way we treat each other is also the way we treat our vendors, our customers, and the guy that stops by to repair the coffee machine. 
    This caring energy, together with a focus on remarkable support, got our quarterly Net Promotor Score (NPS) to grow from 20 to 35 in less than two years. To give you some context: Apple currently has an NPS of 63 (we’re closing in haha) and KPN, one of the biggest Dutch telecom companies, has an NPS of 11.
     
  3. Happier employees
    Every two weeks we ask every employee for feedback by sending out an anonymous survey with a single question. “What is an opportunity we’re missing” or “What’s one thing that we’re not doing but should start doing in order to be more successful?” Every 6 weeks that same survey will have the question “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?”
    While we know we can still improve a lot, we currently have an internal happiness score ranging between 7.6 and 8.3 on a 0–10 scale, which is above the industry average. It’s not only more energising and fun to have happier colleagues, research also shows that happier employees are 12% more productive.
     
  4. Talented hires
    One of the many areas where our culture proves its worth lies in attracting the right people. Each of our ten developers, two of them being former CTO’s, joined our adventure without us ever needing a recruiter. To me, that’s a very powerful example. Especially considering we live in a time where developers truly are the new rock stars, and companies go above and beyond to hire them.
     
  5. Enabled ambassadors
    I have always loved the swaaagg I got from startups when at The Next Web. There was only one problem: I wouldn’t wear a heavily branded Twitter t-shirt outside of the gym. So we started creating good quality company gear — with our values on it — that people actually wanted to wear. To work, to a festival or wherever. Funny thing is that after creating these, a whole bunch of people from other companies wanted to get their hands on a MessageBird shirt or sweater as well. Pretty cool to have people from Google, Vice and other companies proudly wearing our gear.
     
  6. Exponential growth
    These and many other outcomes of our culture — like being one of the Best Employers of The Netherlands — are the major drivers behind our explosive growth. We currently have 11,000 customers who make 300 million API calls each month and we expect to pull in $35 million in revenue this year with a positive $3 million EBITA. 
    On top of that, we just launched our awesome Chat API and most recently joined the infamous accelerator Y Combinator to tackle the US market. All this with ‘only’ 3o amazing people that power this company.


So why the hell are you leaving then?

Since we spend most of our waking hours at work, I genuinely wish for everyone to find a great workplace they love going to. After 12 years it turns out it’s not only my wish, but it’s my dream. I love to help companies create an outstanding culture that enables people to do their best work.

I am convinced that in the end culture is all you got. Yes, you need to have a great product, a wonderful website, and a good price — but all of that can easily be copied by your competitor. What really makes the difference is your culture. It’s how employees behave when the CEO isn’t there and it is the biggest driving force behind your brand. Best of all: culture is not easily copied. So you better make it awesome.

That’s why I am leaving MessageBird, to start another. Which is my own.