If you want to build a strong company culture, then you should care about your company close to as much as you care about your family. That was my goal at Bazaarvoice as our CEO (you can read my 7 lessons learned on the journey from founder to CEO), and I deeply thought about how our family showed that we care about each other. One thing we are particularly good at, especially my wife, Debra, is taking photos while we are on vacation. We want to document the very important time we spend together, and we know that our children will only be this age once. This, of course, is the natural thing for most families to do, especially with young kids (as their appearance changes so much from year to year).
So why should it be different for companies? After all, you are on a very important journey together. Your company journey is your livelihood - it gives you the means of having other journeys, such as vacation time with your family (you may want to readmy Lucky7 post on what Benjamin Franklin could have meant meant when he said, "time is money"). You are doing something that many others may say is "impossible". It is no different than preparing for that climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro, which a few brave souls from Bazaarvoice recently completed to raise money for an important cause. Of course they took a lot of photos - it was the journey of a lifetime and they wanted to remember all of it. Shouldn't it be the same for companies? Isn't that a journey worth remembering? Brant and I thought so, and we took a lot of photos along the way. So did great people like Oliver Wong, Tung Huynh, and Nishant Pithia. Brant Barton, my co-founder, and I owe a lot to those three for selflessly spending so much of their time at company events to take photos. And, as our CEO, I encouraged them to take more every chance I got.
And when you take these photos along the way, something magical happens. And it isn't all that different from what happens when you come back from your family vacation and put together the photo book (Debra is a champ at doing this after our vacations, and we cherish those books). You look back at your vacation and you remember it being even better than you thought it was when you were there, don't you? The magic is that you - and the entire company will model you in this regard - start to care about the journey more than you ever have. You get a sense of creating legacy together. And as you achieve new milestones - as your "baby" (in this case the infant company) grows up into a "child" (the young company) and finally a "person" (the public company that Bazaarvoice is today) - you have so many photos to look back on and remember "the way it was". A note of caution, though. As the CEO, you cannot just reminisce about the past - you also always need to be celebrating the best of the present and looking towards the future. The whole journey matters, not just the journey as an infant and child. You are always creating memories and for those that just joined your company, the journey is just beginning.
The most popular optional presentation in Bazaarvoice's history is the history presentation that Brant gives. The room is always packed, standing-room only. And the slideshow was full of photos, and the many stories of the infant and child journey along the way. Why is it packed? Because people that are on the journey with you want to have a sense of its origins. Where you start often leads to where you end up. And I believe there is an entrepreneur in all of us here in America, as I wrote about inmy Lucky7 post about Steve Jobs, America, and Israel.
So treat your company like you would your family. You don't have to love it like you love your spouse or your children - that, frankly, isn't the right way to look at it and family is forever. But you should love it immensely and you should model the same practices you have as a family to nourish the soul of your company. A good best practice as the founder is to take your camera - now even easier with mobile phones having such high quality cameras built in - out every day and take a few photos. And be explicit with everyone in your company about why you are doing so. Tell them that you want to remember this time in the company's history forever. That you will cherish these memories, and you hope they do too. That the journey is what counts the most, and you will not take it for granted. That everything in life - money, fame, or whatever - is not in the same league as the journey. That when you are much older and looking back at the life you lived, you'll remember the journey the most. Founders: cherish it, respect it, document it.
To close, I have two photos to share with you. One is from my Bazaarvoice blog postlooking back on a little over five years in business, and it is the oldest photo I have of me and Brant starting Bazaarvoice together. It was taken in May of 2005 in David Powell's (now named Bridgepoint Consulting) office space in Austin. Bob Smith and Gerry Bula were kind enough to give me and Brant three months of free "incubator" space back then (there was no Capital Factory, Incubation Station, Tech Ranch Austin, or Dreamit Austin back then - I wrote about the state of tech entrepreneurship in Austin in this Lucky7 post).
And the other is the most beautiful photo that I saw Nishant post on his recent climb to the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro with other great Bazaarvoice folks.