Best practices that make work at YouScan efficient and enjoyable
Alexey Orap, CEO and founder of YouScan, describes our company's processes and culture that make our team creative and productive.
Read more about our values and mission in a dedicated article.
We believe in the value of uninterrupted, thoughtful work. To a large extent, this understanding was shaped by Basecamp's essays on this topic and their "It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work" book. Another name for this concept of distraction-free work that you may have heard is "deep work."
We have designated one day a week - Wednesday - to be as distraction-free as possible. That's why we don't plan any regular (repeating) meetings for Wednesday. That doesn't mean, of course, that you can't have meetings at all - if you need an ad-hoc discussion with your colleagues to eliminate some bottleneck and move forward with your work, sure, go ahead and have that chat, call, or meeting.
But when you wake up on Wednesday, you can be pretty sure that there are no meetings in your calendar already planned for the day, and you can have productive, thoughtful, uninterrupted "deep" work.
I won't go into much detail here, as there are tons of reading about why One-on-Ones should be a part of any company's internal communication and management architecture. Ben Horowitz was probably the first who popularized the idea.
We gradually established mandatory and regular (bi-weekly, or monthly) one-one-ones at all the levels in our company, and we find them extremely useful. These meetings provide the perfect space for open conversations between managers and employees, help ideas flow, and let us uncover most of the challenges before they become major issues.
If you are a founder or manager who is starting to formalize and structure processes in your company, I believe 1-on-1s should be among the first management tools you should put in place.
Here's my mental view of a product-driven SaaS company:
The customers are at the top, and various business functions lay a foundation for the company's operations. Without any of these components, the whole thing wouldn't make sense.
This simplified diagram helps to think of all the various information flows that must happen efficiently between the company departments.
For example, the CS, Sales, and marketing departments must exchange feedback (quantitative and qualitative) on lead quality and new customers’ expectations from our product.
Together, these teams should provide structured feedback to the product development about current and new customers' product-related requests and needs.
On the other hand, the engineering team must provide to the customer-facing teams the product improvement expectations, regular updates, and training on the latest product functionalities.
With that in mind, we have regular sync-ups between the departments and other structured ways to exchange the information internally.
Onboarding and offboarding
Interestingly, the best candidates we interview for open positions in YouScan always ask us how our company's onboarding and training process looks. They want to be sure that they can get up to speed quickly to be successful in their new roles.
To help our new employees orientate themselves, we are constantly improving our onboarding process. It includes:
1) Training on tools and processes specific to the departments, e.g., CRM and lead-gen tools in CS and sales department or product development frameworks in engineering. That's what you'd expect in most of the companies, of course.
2) Overview presentations from each department leader and the CEO. In these sessions, we show our new teammates how other departments work and collaborate; explain their goals, strategies, and working philosophies.
These overview sessions are crucial as they allow new employees to learn how our company operates as a whole. Such understanding helps them communicate with other departments more efficiently, know what to expect from them, and align their individual goals with those of a company.
Life is life, and sometimes we part ways with our team members. The reasons can vary, but we always try to make the process graceful and stay in a good relationship with the leaving teammates.
As part of our employee offboarding process, we conduct exit interviews with everyone who is leaving. We give a leaving team member our feedback and encourage them to openly share their feedback too. It ultimately helps everyone - both the company and a leaving team member - to grow and become better going forward.
It is incredibly encouraging to see former employees often dropping by our offices or joining informal meetings, traveling, and having fun together with the current team members. We want everyone we hire to be successful - either in their roles in YouScan or their future endeavors.
Ask us anything
Last year we introduced Ask Us Anything - a simple form that anyone on the team can use to ask our management team about pretty much anything. Maybe some topics that we didn't address in our monthly reports. Perhaps you're just curious about something, or you've had some essential questions for a long time but didn't know whom exactly to ask.
I answer these questions myself or delegate responses to our team leaders, and we post answers publicly for the whole team via email or Slack.
There's an option to ask anonymously; however, we encourage people to put their name along with a question in the spirit of our Trust value.
Created as a quick experiment, this form proved to be one more helpful tool to keep our communications open and information flowing.
A couple of years ago, we launched "Lunch Roulette": we've been randomly choosing a few pairs of teammates in our offices every week and sponsored their joint business lunch or dinner.
In return, we've asked people to post a common selfie in the dedicated Slack channel along with a short note about their meeting, which people truly enjoyed doing.
The idea of Lunch Roulette was to boost serendipity and informal conversations, which is especially important as we are adding new teammates practically every week, and it worked out really well.
In 2020, we had to revise this tradition, of course. As our offices stood mostly empty, we decided to move these random meetings online and established virtual Coffee Calls. To make these video conversations more enjoyable and less awkward (not everyone is an extrovert, and that's fine), we offered some funny questions to discuss as icebreakers. For example, "What is your best memory from the school days?" or "Do you like rap music, and if not, why?".
Eventually, though, we ran out of ideas for the new questions :) and continued these random calls without them. Still, it is an excellent tool to let people from different departments know each other better, especially when we are partly remote, and many people happily participate in them.
Bonuses for Books
To additionally emphasize our "We continuously improve" value, we have a Bonuses for Books program. We pay cash bonuses to our team members who read books and post reviews on the dedicated Slack channel called #books.
The review should not be very long, but it needs to be original, thoughtful, and ideally contain a few ideas that you liked and could apply to your life or work. We also ask to tag a few colleagues you think might be especially interested in reading the book.
The books should be non-fiction, but they are not limited to business-related topics. They could as well be books on psychology or popular science, history, self-improvement, etc.
We believe that knowledge from new domains makes you more creative and successful, even if it is not directly related to your job. Innovative and successful - that's how we want our team members to be, both in their work and life.
Goal setting frameworks
After experimenting with various less formal goal-setting practices, we have adopted an OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) system to communicate our goals and measure execution.
We set the company's objectives annually and define how we’ll measure them with quantitative key results. Usually, our co-founder/COO Alexander and I come up with a draft of proposed company’s OKRs in December. We then shape and polish them with our leadership team (via live meetings and written asynchronous discussions) and communicate to the whole team in January.
Occasionally, we may revise the company's OKRs during the year if circumstances change significantly and if we think, for example, that some specific key result doesn't make sense anymore, or we should change its definition.
These top-level OKRs serve as a basis and unifying ground for all the departments to develop their quarterly OKRs, many of which involve deep collaboration between different teams. We hold quarterly all-hands meetings to present the results of OKRs execution and communicate departments' OKRs for the next quarter.
To avoid unnecessary complexion, we don't use OKRs to set up individual employees' goals.
OKRs work great for us because it is a light-way but comprehensive goal-setting system; it keeps everyone in the company on the same page and helps teams prioritize their activities. It is also a great tool to maintain transparency, trust, and collaboration between departments as we grow.
Our processes constantly evolve, though (more on that below), and recently we decided that our product development team will be using the Shape-Up framework instead of OKRs. Still, the product team's priorities and plans for each Shape-Up cycle are based on the top-level company's OKRs.
Open metrics and monthly management updates
Almost on day one of YouScan operations, I've created a simple Google Spreadsheet document to track the number of customers and monthly revenues in YouScan, and shared it with our investors, as well as the then-small team.
Since then, our main managerial metrics like MRR, ARPA, conversions, and customer retention rates, as well as top-level financial metrics like revenues, expenses, profit, and loss, among many others, remained open and transparent to all of our team members.
We also send monthly managerial updates to all of our team members. Usually, they contain an intro from myself or Alexander, our COO, and consequent sections written by our department leaders. We communicate where we stand as a business; the latest trends or industry developments; our progress towards our goals; how our financial results looked last month; and the main achievements, challenges, and metrics of each department.
This combination of open metrics and regular updates helps everyone on a team stay in sync and see the big picture. As far as I can tell, this motivates and empowers the team a lot.
If you feel that our values match yours and you'd like to join our team, check out our career page and drop us a line. Let's build a better world together.