Street Culture: Pointy Focusing on People and Product, Not Process

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Dublin-based digital search platform startup Pointy is still at that point where the culture is just what it is, without special definitions or structure.

“I’ve been at companies before where the employees are silo-ed into sales teams and engineering teams,” says Mark Cummins, co-founder of Pointy. “The number of people on our team now is small, almost painfully small. There’s not a lot of structure. Well, there is structure, but there’s not a lot of process around it.”

With only 13 employees, for now that is working. Pointy is not even three years old, and Cummins says it got remarkable traction in these first couple years. About 1,000 retailers are using Pointy’s data-centric device that automatically publishes searchable items from retailers’ inventory online.

Cummins says the company is on an aggressive growth path, and the Irish Times reported that in 2015, Pointy brought in more than a million dollars in funding, from investors including the founder of WordPress and the co-founder of Google Maps. Now, Pointy expects to double the number of employees by the end of the year, but Cummins wouldn’t disclose any other specific upcoming goals.

“There are about two million retailers across the U.S. and Europe, and we want them all to use Pointy,” Cummins said.

Cummins and his college-friend-turned-co-founder Charles Bibby obsess about two things: people and product. Those two pillars are the most specific kind of cultural structure they have, for now.

“We don’t want process,” Cummins says. “In a startup, process is the wrong thing to do. You want a scientific mindset. You want to think and measure. If you were a sportsman, you might call it marginal gains. What are the things I can do to improve this? And then next time do it a bit better.”

The quality of people they hire is partially what drives the company’s growth and its culture, and they don’t compromise when adding new people to the team.

“It takes a certain kind of person to thrive in an environment where there is not necessarily a lot of hand-holding,” Cummins says. “There are just company goals and people have to be self-directed.”

One of the first things that Cummins and Bibby noticed as they gathered the team they have now was that they – both engineers – didn’t know how to find a good salesperson.

“Frankly, we didn’t know what we were doing. How do you find a good salesperson?” he says. “We’d been assessing the wrong thing. In the interview, people were talking about their sales experience or giving a PowerPoint presentation. That wasn’t translating into being good at speaking to retailers. We were just looking at the wrong stuff.”

Eventually, the first salesperson that Pointy hired had some relevant experience, but was more “street smart” and had the character that led to a good repertoire with the customers.

“Now we have more sales talent in the company, and they can help us find more like them,” Cummins says. “Good people recognize other good people.”

The second thing that consumes Pointy, and influences the culture, is the product.

“We are very much a product company and we go to enormous lengths to make things simpler for the retailer and for the retailer’s customers,” Cummins says.

Using Pointy has to be zero work for the retailer – just a magical box that arrives in the mail, gets plugged in to the point-of-sale system in the store, and then automatically creates local inventory listings online as staff ring up customers.

“I sometimes compare it to the fridge or a fan,” Cummins says. “You don’t have to think about it, it just sits there and does its thing.”

The Pointy device connects directly to a cellular network, so the retailers don’t even need WiFi in their stores to make it work. There’s no software to install or setup wizard to take time out of the day to get it working.

“The easy way to design it was to plug it in to a main power socket,” Cummins says. “But if you’ve ever worked in retail, there might not be a spare plug socket behind the counter. So now the device just plugs straight into the bar code scanner, and that’s it.”

Because the company is still small and in the early startup stages, there are lots of things that can be improved, and the culture is probably one of them.

“Pretty much all startups have a list of values,” Cummins says. “And maybe we should have a list, to transmit culture and refine it, keep it strong. We’ll probably have to do that. But for now we’re at an early enough stage where the culture is more like a natural thing that evolves. Because people in the office are tight enough knit, we haven’t faced real communication problems.”

The current team does have a sense of ownership, Cummins believes, and they are dedicated to the company and a rigorous approach to moving forward.

“By rigorous, I mean that people think hard more than they just work hard,” he says. “When something isn’t working, you look to see why it isn’t working, you break it into steps and see, which of these things can we eliminate or improve.”

Pointy is in the process of expanding its presence in the U.S., and having remote teams around the world will definitely present cultural challenges, though Cummins says it’s hard to separate those from just the day-to-day tests that crop up.

“Multiple locations, I think that’s going to be really hard,” he says. “That’s the one I can see coming down the track. Maybe we will need to codify the culture a little more and be more explicit about values, have more about internal communications. I’ve spoken to founders of other companies and it seems that it’s somewhere between 20 and 30 employees that’s that magic point, that extra layer where everything gets more difficult.”

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.