Zen and the Art of CPR SERVICE

Zen and the Art of CPR SERVICE

Certify’s management team spends a lot of time thinking about what makes a successful startup. We study all the latest unicorns, as well as companies that are demonstrating more moderate levels of success, searching for common themes. We reflect upon our own successes and failures, seeking to extract valuable principles that can be applied to future situations and events. In this blog post, I want to share some insights that have worked for us here at Certify, as well as some valuable nuggets from two fellow CTOs at other exciting technology companies.

Since Certify’s early days, we have worked to define, refine, and crystalize our company culture, boiling it down into ten core values. Each of the ten values has a single keyword that expresses it. Those ten keywords form the acrostic, CPR SERVICE.

We find that we achieve our most successful outcomes, as well as the most satisfaction in our work, when we give our customers CPR SERVICE. Frequently, our customers come to us beaten and bloodied, emotionally damaged by other software vendors and the poor treatment they have received. We can hardly blame them for what comes next – they start off by transferring pent-up anger and wrath from their former vendor to us. We have seen the pattern so many times that our knee-jerk reaction is to perform CPR SERVICE. When confronted with an upset customer, our employees have learned how to stop and think to themselves, “This customer needs us to prove that we care. They need to know we are listening. When we prove that we care, then they will experience customer happiness.” And then the employee proceeds to apply CPR SERVICE. What is CPR SERVICE exactly? I’ll save the details for another blog post, but at the most basic level, it is putting the customer first while demonstrating the highest level of integrity.

CPR SERVICE has been so effective, that our management team regularly receives direct communication about specific employees and their exemplary service. We just received a voicemail this week from an 85-year-old man, absolutely thrilled with the kind and helpful service he received from one of our Support Experts. When we receive these glowing reviews, we take the opportunity to share it across the entire company, giving formal recognition to the employee. Our goal is to cultivate an atmosphere of CPR SERVICE and recognition, and here at Certify, we have learned that this culture is one of the secrets to startup success.

I asked John Boxall, CTO at Mobify, for his ideas on what makes for a successful startup. He was kind enough to share what he calls his “Zen of Mobify.” How exciting! Anytime someone gives me their carefully curated list of startup wisdom, I pick up my small cup of hot green tea and listen closely!

What I especially like about John’s list is that these points are intentionally somewhat nebulous. We are supposed to read them and then ponder them. They are not explicit statements with simple, one-off applications. These are very “sticky” phrases that are meant to remain in our thoughts and guide us through lots of varying circumstances. And so, without further elucidation, here is John Boxall’s “Zen of Mobify”:

• Be concise
• Favour small changes over big bangs
• Experiment over argument
• Open is usually better than closed
• Write it in Python, unless you’ve got a damn good reason not to

Wow, so what he’s saying is, be concise. Let silence frame your words, setting them apart from noise. Favoring small changes over big bangs – that sounds like a simple approach that automatically helps us be more scientific. Experiment over argument – who really likes to argue anyway? I’m looking forward to experimenting the next time I sense an argument brewing! Open is usually better than closed – this can apply to so many aspects of running a startup. And Python? Well, to each his own, but I read this as saying, “Stick to what works!”

Simeon Simeonov, Founder and CTO of Swoop, takes a fresh approach – he encourages the study of startup failures. When he told me this I must admit it sounded like a fairly depressing path to follow. But when I asked him why he focuses on this, he said something astounding. He pointed out that it’s difficult to create patterns for startup success, in part because so few startups succeed. But startup failure is extremely common, and the patterns of startup failure are, according to Simeon, “very repeatable.” Ouch!

This makes me think about deep-sea fishing. Stop and consider what the captain of a deep-sea fishing boat does on a daily basis: They take their 36-foot boat and run 60 miles into the open ocean, usually leaving shore in the dark at 4:00 AM. There is very little room for error out there, where they are sometimes all alone, sometimes in rough seas. Whenever those old salts hear about a boating accident, they swarm around and ask a few basic questions. Their questions are peculiar – they are seeking to learn what the captain did that fits into their established anti-patterns. Nine times out of ten, they find that the accident was caused by the breaking of a well-established maritime rule or convention. “Ahh”, one of them will say, head nodding in understanding. “The guy blindly followed the nuns and cans, and wound up on the rocks due to a Southeast gale in a falling tide.” A boating rookie may not know an anti-pattern such as this, but ignorance will not protect him from the predictable consequences.

Getting back to startups… Simeon Simeonov has compiled a list of 73 (and counting) startup anti-patterns. Check out the list and see if you can identify with any of these. As you read the list, you will probably learn some new warning signs, while also giving up a cynical chuckle as you remember failed startups that you have encountered.

Spend time thinking about startup success, and also about startup failure. You will find there is so much more to running a startup than just focusing on the top line or bottom line. We are spending our days building companies, and after each day is over, we can’t get any one of those days back. Don’t just build your startup – build your life!
Alan Neveu

Certify, CTO