Ordering a pizza for one. The lonely life of today's startup founders.
The earliest stories of startups have almost always included an iconic physical office, like the garages that birthed HP, Apple, and Google or the apartments and dorm rooms that launched Dell, Reddit, and Airbnb. Was being physically close to the founding team members the key to success, or was it simply because video conferencing and collaboration tools were not readily available like they are today?
In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos instituted a rule. Team meetings should always be intimate enough so the entire group can be fed with just two pizzas. By limiting the headcount in meetings, Jeff ensured everyone could contribute and provide feedback. Restricting sessions to just a handful of people is easy, regardless of whether you're remote or in-person. With that said, I believe there was more magic happening in those rooms than peers brainstorming over business objectives.
2021 recorded the most significant surge in startup formation in history. This makes sense given the flexibility of working from home, the overnight adoption of Zoom/Slack, and the opportunity to recruit co-founders from anywhere.
COVID has proved that working remotely benefits both employees and employers. Remote employees save time commuting to
the office, enjoy a more flexible schedule, and an improved work-life balance. Companies can save money on rent and office perks like coffee, lunches, and happy hours. Success stories from Help Scout, InVision, and Zappier have proven that building fully remote companies IS POSSIBLE.
But, it does come with its unique challenges. Before Covid, employee engagement was already at all-time lows, and now it's much worse. It’s become increasingly challenging to navigate the noise from emails, Zoom meetings, and Slack notifications. The ability for employees to connect and engage with their peers has officially splintered.
Fostering a sense of belonging is a foundational pillar to employee retention. As companies struggle to keep their people engaged, they are seeing voluntary turnover rates hit all-time highs, costing the industry $1 Trillion Dollars Annually.
High turnover rates don't typically exist when companies are just starting, but I would argue that getting culture right and taking time to learn about your peers is essential at any stage. The rollercoaster ride of launching a startup can be overwhelming with a seemingly endless workload. The infinite number of challenges and opportunities can take a toll on your mental health and well-being. That's why I believe the ability to sit around a table and eat pizza with your colleagues will always be necessary regardless of whether your team is at a startup or Amazon.
I am all in on hybrid but having the ability to bring your whole self to work is close to impossible. This is especially true in the one-size-fits-all model that many companies have adopted to take on culture and engagement. It's not about connecting every employee to everyone else.
Like Jeff, I think it's all about helping peers connect in a setting where the entire group can share just two pizzas. Companies need to help employees find "their people" and move from company-wide outings to more meaningful and intimate experiences. That's the spirit of Trova, an app I'm building to help foster a sense of belonging for every employee.
Work used to be the cornerstone of human connection, and if you're like me and still believe it can be, I would love to hear your thoughts on the best ways to bring employees together.