A breakaway company from a larger mothership might already have culture built in. At conichiwa, a Berlin-based proximity agency and beacon company, that’s not quite what is happening.
With seven employees, conichiwa is tasked with finding location-based solutions for aviation, banking, retail, and healthcare industries – created within the hotel-focused mother company, conichi. Hester Hilbrecht, conichiwa’s head of business development, says that though the companies are run under the same roof, they are on very different paths.
“We’re sharing an office, so it feels like we’re much bigger than we actually are,” Hilbrecht says. “The conichi culture is very different. conichi has one product that you’re advancing, while conichiwa is more of an agency with consulting type of work. It’s a very different speed with deadlines and customers.”
conichiwa is supported financially by conichi and is working to be self-sufficient, so far surviving off its revenue, which is growing slowly, Hilbrecht says. The team is planning to hire at least five more employees this year, mostly developers. The team structure is not quite established yet, but with such a small team it’s easier to gather everyone for a 10-minute sit-down every morning with the squishy talking ball.
“‘Today I’m working on this, yesterday I worked on that’ – that type of thing,” Hilbrecht says. “We also have a weekly meeting where we discuss ‘I like, I wish, I wonder.’ We do that to ask each other questions and improve not only our product and interactions with our customers, but how we work with each other and interact with each other.”
Hilbrecht previously worked at German business software company SAP, but says after six years she was ready for a different environment.
“I felt like a tiny little screw in a big machine,” she says. “You don’t see your influence, you don’t see your output. I started missing that. I wanted to be more motivated, to see the outcome I created and learn from that. Not everything is always positive, but if it doesn’t work out you get that feedback too.”
The collective personality within conichiwa is so far an organic creation, and Hilbrecht says that a mostly flat hierarchy is something that is trickling down from the bigger company.
“The conichi team supports us very much,” she says. “When you’re growing quickly in a startup, you need to ensure that everyone is connected and that there are no silos. It’s important to bring everyone to the table and make sure we’re all still one team. Sales, marketing, development – you’re all working for the same goal. The strings need to be connected over and over again to make sure that you don’t create silos.”
Culture must take into account tiny details, Hilbrecht says, because sometimes they just matter more. Each member of the company must feel comfortable enough in a team setting to bring up issues, like happened at a recent meeting.
“One person said, ‘For me it’s very important that everyone is on time,’” she says. “So it’s the little things too, but you still need to talk about them.”
The team is regionally culturally diverse, she says, and one event that conichi instituted was national breakfast.
“We have people from all over the world working on this team,” she says. “We have a monthly breakfast from the different nations, we’ll prepare an Italian breakfast, Russian breakfast.”
Hilbrecht repeats a startup mantra: culture is ever-changing.
“I think culture that something that we constantly need to work on,” she says. “We need to ensure to listen to everyone and to have an open mindset, and just listen to especially the new people who come in who bring a fresh perspective. It’s a topic that we need to constantly focus on to be sure to foster and make people happy, so they know what they work for, how they can achieve their own goals and also company goals.”
April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.