Charles Fan is the co-founder and CEO of MemVerge, a company that is combining memory and storage into one platform to help speed things up for businesses with data-intensive workloads. He is an industry expert with over 20 years of experience building data center technologies and the healthy company cultures that are critical to shaping the success of these organizations.
It was great to hear his perspective about how organizations – no matter how new, or established, can build a healthy culture for a startup.
Charles Fan: A healthy startup culture is a culture that creates a positive, externally driven energy with the goal of delivering new, exciting things to new customers. At my company, we live by a philosophy we call O.P.E.N and believe it can be translated to other startups as well.
To be Original means to have a healthy disrespect of the status quo, a deep yearning to be creative, and a knack for out-of-box thinking. It is important to be original, to deliver to your customers unique values not available from others before.
To be Positive means to aim to change the world and have fun doing so. Discussions between different opinions should always be encouraged, but should not drop below the line of mutual respect. With a supportive working environment, the goal should be for every employee to wake up every workday morning with a strong desire to get to work and get started.
To be Externally Driven means allowing customers to guide the way. It means creating innovations useful for customers throughout their journey. There are always internal demands, but it is crucial to prioritize external needs from customers and partners. A significant benefit of being part of a startup is having a shorter distance between you and the customers. By adopting a customer-centric view, you can act as an advocate for them and tap into their needs.
By implementing the Now approach, startups can use their close proximity to their customers as an advantage. Larger companies have infinitely more resources than many up and coming startups do. The way startups beat them is by speed. There should be a sense of urgency in everything your business does. What can be done today shall not wait for tomorrow. Whenever possible, shorten execution loops, reduce dependencies and optimize for speed. I believe that in discussions everyone should be seen as equal and success is best achieved when all ideas are created equal. May the best idea win.
Taking everything into account, a startup should put the approaches of being Original, Positive, Externally Driven — all with the urgency of moving at the speed of Now into motion to create the OPEN culture philosophy. It is with this OPEN approach that a startup can create an environment worthy of withstanding any stress tests and hurdles that can emerge along the way.
M.R.: What suggestions do you have for organizations who are growing quickly, but want to maintain that same workplace culture they had as a startup?
Charles: I’ve found that a positive mindset can be very valuable in creating a team who can withstand the stresses associated not just at the startup stage but also through the inevitable growing pains businesses experience as they scale. With this “glass half-full” approach, I’ve seen that successful workplace culture can last the test of time.
It’s important to remember that workplace culture is something that evolves as a company grows. If you remember to keep your core philosophy at the heart of your culture, then you can stay focused on the right things while staying aligned as a team and adapting to change. This allows us to stay focused on customers and harness great ideas that produce fast results and connectivity in spite of the rapid change happening all around.
Also, it’s crucial to make it a priority to focus more on the birth of great ideas. Don’t focus on always building on old ideas, but rather on creating an environment where new ideas are constantly among the conversation. Creating an open and positive forward-thinking culture helps a business prioritize customer-centricity and provides the potential for daily innovations. The business will grow when the workplace culture is one that establishes patterns that allow for individual growth.
I also believe in the power of laughter and joy. Don’t be afraid to enjoy what you do and share that joy with your coworkers. Showing kindness and exuberance doesn’t take heavy lifting. And, it has the power to cut through the stressful moments. Many of the best ideas and epiphanies come to fruition following a smile.
M.R.: As a veteran in the tech industry, how do you see the mindset of the industry changing? What role does creating a great culture play into that mindset?
The Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) and broader enterprise tech markets are moving fast and furious. The urgency for businesses to be able to act on and respond quickly to their customers’ needs in smaller and smaller windows is only going to increase. Stepping up to that challenge requires shifting from a mindset of creating great technology to serving the customers’ best interests.
By employing the OPEN workplace culture and understanding that changes are inevitable, great ideas can be born and more easily shared throughout an organization no matter how fast the pace of your business. There are many companies doing amazing things everyday. However, I believe they can only be successful if their workplace culture allows for easier integration and externally-driven collaborative thought. Multiple perspectives, from a bevy of great backgrounds, ensures out-of-the-box thinking and the existence of courageous decisions with the urgency needed to be game-changing.
M.R. Rangaswami is the Co-Founder of Sand Hill Group.