Street Culture: Pointy’s Collaborative Culture Grows Without Written Values

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In one year, digital search company Pointy has grown from 13 to about 30 employees, moved into a new office, and seen significant growth in its product, which allows retailers to publishes their inventories online, attracting potential customers nearby.

What hasn’t changed much is the company’s culture, says co-founder Mark Cummins.

“We still don’t have written cultural values, but we do have more cadence to how we run the business,” Cummins said. “We have a weekly standup where every single person stands in the same room, and everyone goes around the room and says what they’re doing. That’s actually really important, and I know it’s something we can’t do forever if we scale to 200 or 300 people.”

Pointy has a collaborative, supportive culture, something that is driven by a team that is still new and small enough that there is almost no employee turnover.

“It’s sort of an extreme version of the, ‘No assholes’ rule,” Cummins says of the startup’s social norms.

The company’s top rank spends ample time and effort on hiring as a way to make sure that rule isn’t broken.

“We spend a lot of time selecting candidates and determining that, not only are they excellent at what they do, but that they also fit with us,” he says. “We do that through a stringent interview process where we spend lots of time with them.”

Usually, at least three Pointy leaders participate in every hiring process, and Cummins says that unless everyone votes for the potential hire with a strong “Yes,” it’s a “No.”

“The best possible thing to do is to keep a high standard of people, and that makes everything else easier,” he says. “Think of this person as your colleague for the next four years. The hiring process is very tightly linked to the culture you’re building.”

Candidates spend time with the team socially at lunch and then are assigned small work projects to help everyone get an idea of how they would work together. In certain cases, Pointy has prioritized a fit in terms of culture and skill over the immediate question of what the person will take on in the office.

“We had a case where we hired someone because he was a superbly qualified candidate—it was an opportunistic hire,” Cummins says. “He is a former retailer; he ran a chain of retail stores. He knows the space so deeply and has spent so much time talking to retailers. At the time he joined, definitely for the first several months, there wasn’t enough work to keep him busy, but he spent lots of time talking to the customers about what we should build. Now, the organization has grown and there is plenty for him to do.”

Attention to the customers is something that orients the culture at Pointy, Cummins says, in a way that he hasn’t always entirely anticipated.

“I didn’t know if we could keep up with customer service,” he says. “I thought it would have to become too big and impersonal—I thought it was inevitable. But we’ve spent a lot of time on that and found that talking to the customers like real people is incredibly helpful. We have a sort of value around that, or just a policy of being very accessible.”

One big display in the new Pointy office constantly rotates customer feedback that the team has received, he says, so customers’ voices are always “in the room.”

The company also does some team-building events, such as celebrating milestones with company parties.

“We’re just having our twelfth party now since we have a little over four and a half thousand stores,” Cummins says. “Every time the number doubles, we have a party. Just take a day off or go to a nice restaurant or do an activity together. It’s a way of celebrating the progress of the company.”

Individual employees have also made their marks on the space in which everyone works.

“One person had campaigned to have lots of plants in the office,” he says. “Nobody really planned it, but it’s become very nice. People go around and water them; it’s just one more thing that gels the team together. It’s the people co-creating the office. Individual rooms were designed by different teams of employees so they could put their stamp on it. Those are some of the softer elements.”

The team hasn’t experienced any huge challenges pertaining to its culture yet, but that’s not to say that there isn’t room to address conflicts.

“We want to have this collaborative, supportive culture, but it’s important to make space for conflict,” Cummins says. “There’s no point in being super collaborative but not raising the hard issues or not addressing problems. We do have to balance how to have hard conversations and challenge different aspects of things.”

April Nowicki is a staff writer at Street Fight.