The tech industry is going through a tough time right now, and the best startups will use this uncertainty as an opportunity to clarify how they will win. Below is an internal blog that I shared with our team that emphasizes a few changes in how we will operate from now on, in order to give us the best chance at achieving our mission of improving the quality of every thing. The blog has been edited slightly for a public audience.
Last year I wrote an internal blog called ‘An enduring, purpose-driven and values-based organization’ where we launched our new purpose—to improve the quality of every thing:
Ultimately, we believe that the outcome of effective customer research is higher quality products and services which often meaningfully improve people’s day-to-day lives. Brad and I look to other companies that focus on making quality and enduring things like Pixar, Apple, Spotify, Steinway, and Rockstar Games, and the impact this focus has on the world in terms of driving innovation, creating lasting experiences, and improving lives. Quality things create a more enjoyable, less frustrating world. Quality things last and are enduring.
‘Improve the quality of every thing’ is a moonshot. Moonshots move the world forward. They are challenging. They require smart, passionate teams to succeed. “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win…”
Many companies have ambitious missions that aren’t taken seriously. If we choose to take our mission seriously and build software that enables all kinds of teams to improve all kinds of things, we will be stretched to heights that few teams have achieved; challenged as individuals more than our friends; and have a lasting impact on ourselves, our peers, our customers, and our end-users, professionally, financially, and personally. By 2030, I would love to say that 1 in 10 companies globally are using Dovetail to power product perfection.
While we have great customers today, we’re only scratching the surface of our potential. Our greatest work is still ahead of us. For example, when we started Dovetail in 2017, a collaborative editor was an exciting, new technology. Now AI could make the very idea of using an editor completely redundant. Brad and I both got into tech to be on the forefront of technological advancement. We’re not being left behind.
Together, we have created a good company. We’ve led the charge in defining a new category of software—innovating, by definition, as the first mover—and have all the scars to show for it from many poor decisions. We’ve made great progress to date, winning incredible customers. From two people, we have built an exceptional team of 100 smart, highly capable problem solvers who care deeply about our customers.
We have a good company—but not a great one. Yet.
To achieve our mission, we will co-create one of the best teams in the world. We will excel at all and any technical challenge; move at extreme speed while maintaining an extreme quality bar; be antifragile, made stronger by threat or change; execute across all aspects of our business from marketing to reliability to financial operations better than all else; and retain laser focus on doing the things—and only those things—that enable us to achieve our goals and fulfill our purpose.
Working at Dovetail will be a rewarding and exciting journey—a place where you are stretched to do the best work of your career. We’ve assembled an incredible group of talented, skilled, and intelligent problem solvers. Let’s make a good company, great.
We’ve been extremely fortunate to grow up in a great economy. We’ve attracted world-class investors and raised capital in a world flush with cash. But now we find ourselves among ever-growing challenges. We are six years into our journey, facing extreme economic uncertainty in rising interest rates, drastically lower startup valuations, a tougher fundraising environment, and consistent stories of layoffs and shutdowns. We have more competition: startups nipping at our heels; the continued advancement of successful horizontal products; and new, existential technology threats like AI, which have the potential to completely upend our business. We also face many tactical issues across which threaten to distract us and slow us down every single day, including technical debt, slow builds, long meetings, process overhead, missing data, missing peer feedback, and a struggling self-service business, to name a few.
There has never been a more important moment for Dovetail—not only to reflect on how we’re running our business today, but to choose how we want to run our business tomorrow. I am fired up to face these challenges head on, as a team, and excited to share a few things we’re doing this year to give us the best chance of achieving our purpose.
We tell the world that putting customers front and center leads to more innovation and better products and services. Well, shit. We need to practice what we preach.
We’ll be best-in-class users of Dovetail, with a single team taking ownership over our workspace to ensure we use Dovetail properly ourselves. Key product roles and leadership will spend significant time with customers and our customer-facing teams every month, researching and co-designing. We’ll center customer stories in internal comms at all-hands, on our website, in founder updates, and on the walls of our office. We’ll increase visibility of data on wallboards in meeting rooms; and be laser-focused on feature usage, user behavior, and funnel metrics. Obsessing over customers will be a key part of most people’s roles from now on.
We are making the choice to take our purpose seriously. We recognize how hard and long this journey will be. We understand that this ambition is not for everyone. Our Series A valuation reflects our status as a Moonshot startup, and our traction and growth puts us in the category of incredible companies. We will stay in this category. It will be hard.
Dovetail is where the best people do the best work—a place where ambitious, smart, motivated, and highly skilled builders from a diverse range of backgrounds create an innovative future, together. To encourage bolder, more innovative ideas, Make It will now be a full week every six months. We’ll introduce a new performance-based bonus program to celebrate and reward excellence; raise expectations (and provide better support) for all people managers; provide role clarity through clear accountabilities; create a culture of continuous feedback through a mix of structured performance reviews, 360 reviews, and ad-hoc feedback; and continue providing context through events like kick-offs.
What separates mediocre companies from those that define the leading edge is the ability to iterate rapidly, evolve ways of working, and bring meaningful things to customers faster and better. Paul Graham, the co-founder of Y Combinator, said the “Mere rate of shipping new features is a surprisingly accurate predictor of startup success. In this domain, at least, slowness is way more likely to be due to inability than prudence. The startups that do things slowly don’t do them any better. Just slower.”
We must keep the urgency up. Speed and pragmatic risk-taking is written in our value “Do the thing”. We do not do this by working day and night and burning out. Instead, we’ll rework our operating rhythm. Expect faster decision-making and more urgency to ship to customers; encouragement to take initiative to change processes; more clarity on priorities with clear focus areas and data-driven goals; and efficient planning cycles to drive context and alignment.
We must operate with greater discipline to ensure we can fund our mission indefinitely, even if it means cutting back on things we’ve grown accustomed to. This means intentional shifts in how we allocate our finite resources to serve the long-term success of our business.
We have scaled back hiring, with a clear stack-rank of necessary roles. All hiring will be done at the company-level for the time being to ensure our functional leaders work together to manage tradeoffs. We will forego an all-company annual retreat in favor of smaller and more focused team off-sites; shift budget from perks and benefits to performance-based salary increases, skill training, and learning and development budget; cut the number of tools and software spend across the company; require all travel to have clear goals and itineraries to maximize the value of international trips; and reduce real estate expenses by taking on reduced scope fit-outs, sub-leasing unnecessary space, and recycling everything that’s not screwed to the floor when we move to our new premise on Oxford Street.
Some of these changes will feel uncomfortable. However, operating in a financially disciplined and sustainable way is the right thing to do to ensure that we stay in control of our future.
As we embark on this journey together, we’ll continue to celebrate what has made Dovetail special and successful to date. But because it doesn’t have to be binary, we’ll also embrace change and risk. We’ll make mistakes—I’ll make some of the biggest ones. But we’ll learn together. We’ll share in our wins, there for each other in our losses, and each hurdle we overcome will be all the more special because we did it as a team.
We’re all stakeholders—not just financially, but in the pride we take in building something that’s bigger than any one of us, and more impactful together than the sum of our parts. We’d happily sign our names to our work, and it’s through the impact we make that we derive a tremendous sense of fulfillment personally and professionally. It’s not going to be easy—but the things that are impactful and worthwhile never are.
Great teams are defined by how they face their toughest challenges. We have the chance to create a long-lasting, antifragile culture—an enduring, purpose-driven and values-based organization—that if successful, will have a positive and real impact on us, our customers, and the world. If we don’t strive for something, what is the point of anything?