How keeping a bootstrapped team led to our company’s profitability, and what our Chief Appreciation Officer, Gary Willmott, is up to next.
With the opportunity of building a product, I set out to create a model that allowed ownership, responsibility and freedom to fail. As a team, we came up with 5 company values that would not only help us craft the company we want, but would reflect the values and work ethic we actually believe in (as opposed to what looks good on paper)— the whole team needed to buy in, otherwise I knew it just wouldn’t work!
Doer. Stay focused on output rather than hours. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
Gratitude. Make the most of what you have and go out of your way to make others successful.
Curious. Always be learning and reflecting, in order to get better.
Customer-centric. Ship for the customer, listen and make changes where they see value.
Fun. Don’t forget to enjoy your job!
This document, just like in American football, outlines the way we’ve done things and how we can potentially do it again. It’s really the centre of our operations — a go-to place for employees regarding everything from our vision, sales & support processes, to how to apply for leave, login details for our various accounts & the general ins and outs of our work week. The Playbook is stored in a shared Google doc and the team can access and edit it any time as they discover better ways to do things.
We get together every 4 weeks for a full day, usually at a central hotel boardroom or coffee joint (with ample Wifi, of course). Agenda format is roughly as follows:
9–11am: Status (discuss previous sprint, issues, admin, etc.)
11am–12pm: Vote up (new features for next sprint).
12–1pm: Lunch (we sit together and catch up).
1–4pm: Plan and do rough UX design for upvoted new features.
After: We might go for dinner and drinks. 🍝🍻🕺💃
Our sprints run in 4-week cycles. The rule of the sprint is that there must be an output at the end. In other words, our engineers & designers aim to never take longer than 3 weeks to create a new feature or update. The last week of each month is used for consolidation, planning and scoping out the next sprint.
We ship new features/updates at the end of each sprint and then validate them with clients (Customer-centric = one of our core values). If our clients see success or value in the new features/updates, we will develop and improve them further.
Day 1: Planning. Everyone is involved in putting together UX for new features.
Day 2–10: Production. The developers & designers make it happen and run it past the rest of the team while in production mode.
Day 11–15: QA (Quality Assurance) is a shared process and is done mostly internally (all Hi5 staff). However, we often outsource external testers for heavily technical QA across devices, etc. Internally, we all share a Google sheet with the list of features to test & comment on bugs, and the engineers fix accordingly. As features are OK’ed, they are pushed to Live, followed by what we call “Sanity QA” — everyone takes a last run-through to make sure everything is working fine.
Day 16–20: The last week of the sprint is set aside for code "patches" - any issues that arise IRL. We also use the final week to plan for the next sprint and prepare for our beeg status meeting.
Most of us start our day between 8–9:30 am. As we kick off our day, each of us declares our 3 frogs for the day. Why 3 frogs? This is a productivity twist on Brian Tracy’s book Eat that Frog.
The eat that frog principle is: “Do your worst task first. By 'worst' I mean 'most important', and by 'most important', I mean the task you’re most likely to procrastinate on. The deadline you’re dreading, the slides for the presentation you’re terrified of giving, the research you’re sure will turn up information you don’t want to know. Do it, before you do anything else, before you have time to think about it too much.”
We took it further, by not declaring our worst or biggest tasks, but rather the 3 tasks that we feel we can accomplish in that day (we don’t do time sheets, as we’re focused on outputs). In other words, each Hi5'er is self-motivated and works at their own pace to get the job done.
Every morning we have a 15-minute stand-up video call, where the whole team discusses what they’re working on that day (their 3 frogs declared) and flag any issues that have come up. We also use this time for a quick catch-up to keep the culture fresh!
Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
We’ve chosen to work remotely, as we are all self-managed and way more productive this way — we’re not spending too much time in traffic or wasting time in long meetings. Another reason why remote work has become the norm is that we are also based in different locales. However, we keep the option open to work together in our shared working space in Gardens for our Cape Town co-workers. To keep the organisational culture alive, we of course use Hi5, but also make time to regularly get together to hang out (even if virtually).
Note: We’ve tried having international employees (based in other countries), but found it didn’t work so well for us — it was difficult to stay efficient, because of the lag in communication caused by the difference in time zones. We often wasted a whole day waiting for someone to come online before we could get an answer to a question or receive files. However, we will continue to look into it in the future.
Strategic fun. We normally try and get away twice a year, taking a quiet retreat usually somewhere up the West Coast in South Africa, to rest and plan. We try and keep it as a time of relaxation, whilst also keeping it professional.
We’ve found the best approach for us as a tech company working remotely, is to keep as much as possible in the cloud. This is a list of the software we use:
Clubhouse — collaboration on sprint tasks.
Anchor — publishing podcast.
Buffer — social media posting
Canva — graphic design and animated graphics.
Amazon Web Services (AWS)— the cloud service we use to deploy and manage our app (development).
GitLab— for source control (development).
Google Docs — create and keep our files accessible (sheets, slides, etc.)
Google Hangouts — daily stand-ups & customer calls.
Gyazo — screen capture on Desktop for our Happiness Centre help docs.
Hi5 — measure Goals, Culture & Appreciation.
Hubspot — Customer Relationship Management (CRM).
iMovie — creating working better, together podcasts & video.
Medium — our blog publication that you’re reading right now, getting better, together.
Slack — 3 frogs, work-related communication, ‘water-cooler’ conversation and urgent pings.
Veed - We're trying out Veed for creating transcripted and subtitled podcast videos
We’ve tried and are perfecting how we do things at Hi5. Is it working for us? Yes.
Would I like to work as an employee in my own company? Yes.
Do we still have niggles and obstacles? Yes. This is why our Playbook will never be a finished document. The day it is, it will be time for us to move on and innovate elsewhere. 😎