What a $40 Video Has to Do with Becoming a Tech Unicorn

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Why produce a video on a shoestring budget when you’re valued at $1 billion?

By Amy Pressman (Co-founder & President, Medallia) This post originally appeared on Medium. Last month, my company raised $150 million, joining the unicorn club with the likes of Uber, Airbnb, and Snapchat  —  companies valued at over $1 billion. This morning, we launched a recruiting video on a $40 budget. Why am I telling you this? Because I think the video is a better indicator of success than our valuation. It’s a sign that our culture, which has driven our success over the past 15 years, remains intact and unharmed, despite our monumental growth. And that’s the only unicorn-y thing about us. I’m prouder of that than of the $255 million we’ve raised to date. I hope anyone out there trying to start a company will take this to heart. There is a tendency today, especially in Silicon Valley, to conflate perks and culture. Bikes, a keg, free food, a gym pass… these things are nice. Employees certainly won’t complain about them. But they are not company culture. Culture does not mean creating a work environment so cushy that people never want to leave. Culture is the aspirations and values shared by a group of people, reflected in their behavior (the behavior piece is key). Our culture values growth  —  not revenue growth (though that’s an outcome), but the personal and professional growth associated with becoming the best version of ourselves. There are several key ingredients to accelerating the journey of growth.

1. Big Ambitions That Have Personal Meaning

True growth is hard, and sometimes painful (my three teenagers remind me of this every day). To grow, you have to take risks and change things that feel comfortable. We value “pushing for great” and “fighting to win,” the desire to get up every morning and do a better job than the day before. And it’s not just drive we value but intrinsic drive. We value following one’s own path, not anyone else’s.

2. Valuing Others

We believe that people grow faster with help from others: mentors, bosses, colleagues, direct reports, customers. We value humility, not arrogance, and adhere to a “no jerks” hiring policy to build an environment of trust that makes learning possible. Behavior that denigrates others or takes credit for their work is a deal-killer at Medallia, no matter how talented a person may be.

3. Ownership

There is no faster way to accelerate growth than to hold oneself accountable for outcomes, especially bad ones. We value ownership because, even when 99 percent of a situation is not within your control, focusing on how to improve the 1 percent you do control is far more growth-enhancing than absolving yourself because of the 99 percent you don’t.

4. Growth Mindset

We value growth mindset — the belief that you can grow your talents with effort. (The opposite belief, fixed mindset, is the idea that your talents are what they are, and setbacks just indicate a lack of talent). The growth mindset behaviors we look for are:

  • Taking smart risks to stretch yourself
  • Talking honestly about mistakes and learning from them
  • Openly seeking help when you’re struggling
  • Reflecting candidly on setbacks

We discourage fixed mindset behaviors such as:

  • Not challenging yourself in order to avoid failure
  • Speaking only of successes
  • Hiding struggles and setbacks

5. Doing More with Less

We value frugality, not only because it helped us survive as a bootstrapped company, but also because it drives creative problem solving and, by extension, growth and learning. Necessity truly is the mother of invention. Saying that these five things are important is easy. Actually living them is much harder. It takes continuous monitoring, tinkering and learning, especially when you’re adding new faces every week. Ever since we took our first funding back in 2012, I’ve worried that our success could curse us. That we’d continue to grow as a company, but not as a culture. This has been a healthy fear. It’s driven our leadership team to make certain investments that other companies might have skipped, like our weeklong Cultural Onboarding program for all new employees or the Voice of Medallia survey we send out regularly to check the pulse of the entire organization. Medallia Recruting Video 2Ultimately, Medallia’s culture has remained intact because of the people who work here. They own it. The company, culture and all, is theirs as much as it is mine. And because it’s theirs, they protect it. Which brings me to our new recruiting video, produced shortly after we raised our Series E. I’m using the term “we” loosely here, because I didn’t know about it until it was already finished. It was written, filmed, acted and edited by Medallians, all, as mentioned above, for less than $40. Now, it’s never been a prerequisite to work here that you participate in a company culture video. I honestly don’t give a darn if you have zero artistic talent whatsoever (unless it’s part of your job description, and then I guess I do). But it matters to me that you embrace the values captured in the making of this video: that you take ownership, find creative solutions to problems and fearlessly adopt a growth mindset (on this point, I want to call particular attention to our General Counsel and his first on-air dancing experience). And it matters to me on a personal level that as we double, triple and quadruple in size, we still do things like make videos on a shoestring budget because every single person here lives and breathes our incredible growth-oriented culture. It’s this culture, and the people I get to work with every day, that make me proudest of our company — not a horn growing out of our forehead.


About the guest blogger: Amy Pressman is the President and co-founder of Medallia, dedicated to creating a world where companies are loved by their customers. Before starting the company, Amy worked as a consultant for Boston Consulting Group. Prior to that, she was a Legislative Aide on Capitol Hill, and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras.