Building values to love your team

I love my team. I go home and say it out loud nearly every single day. Yes, some days in a startup are frustrating - a sale might go poorly or we’re set back on an engineering timeline, but by the time I leave I have a solution and it’s often because my team works together to come up with a unique way to solve any problem.

I started Tinfoil with the explicit goal of learning something new every day. Some days I learn much more than other days, and the few days I don’t learn something new it’s always my fault. I thrive off of surrounding myself with individuals with a similar drive, especially when all come from very different backgrounds and experiences. Every founder I’ve met has a different goal: some want to learn new things; some want to become famous, or become rich, or change the world, or invent. An organization’s blood is determined by these early goals.

A mismatched employee at the early stages will slowly affect everybody. Somebody has to not only be a fit for Tinfoil, but Tinfoil should also be a fit for them. To help any prospective employee understand us, we created values to codify what makes somebody successful (and love it) at Tinfoil.

Tinfoil’s values guide every employee to make a decision quickly as to whether or not somebody may be a fit for our company. Our values are created as a team and reassessed each year,  during our annual retreat. This is the one work item over a long camping / hiking / bonding weekend. We have a concrete structure around creating and reassessing our values, and so far it’s worked wonderfully. Our approach is to avoid anything that is based solely on emotion and anything that could have a potential HR implication. The other main goal for us was to have our values be debatable; we needed to be able to create a cogent and acceptable argument for the opposite value. Every team values something different, and a value like“innovation” is difficult to argue against (what startup doesn’t want to be innovative?).

Our values today (after iteration over a few years) are:

  • Collaborative
  • Community
  • Curiosity
  • Hacking
  • Integrity 

We are friends with some startup founders who have similar values and some with those that are completely opposite. Collaborative, for example, can be opposed by folks who enjoy making decisions on their own to expedite product development. Curiosity encourages us to try new things (like new programming languages that may be useful), rather than sticking to what we already know. In contrast, many organizations choose to be a Python shop through and through, helping to propagate knowledge and have all engineers on the same page.

Each value we create gets expanded upon with bullet points of things we care about. We often give examples of the value and always denote anti-value behaviors and opposite values.

For example:

Community

  • We strive to build an environment where we’re always willing to pay it forward, even if we have no expectation of any return.
  • We are actively generous to any community we are a part of.
  • We like to lead and help build communities, rather than just support ourselves or follow along.
  • We strive to open-source as much as we can, without compromising company IP.

Examples: VPN builder, rails check, Poodle check, talks we give at conferences, hackathon advisory, donation of time or money to charity, SVLG, consulting with people on open-source or our customers, answering stack exchange questions, etc.

Anti-community behavior

  • Tagging along in a community just for the name.
  • Dismissing the fact that local non-tech communities have an impact on your life.
  • Looking down on any body in a group that you do not ascribe to. (For example, education, class, wealth, experience, race, etc.)

Opposite value: focused entirely on money, self-serving, unwilling to pay it forward 

If somebody on our team starts exhibiting an anti-value behavior, our rule is for anybody to be able to call you out (I even encourage interns to call me out if I’m working against what we care about as a team), you acknowledge, and then we all move on.

Tinfoil is an extremely close-knit team. I care so much about everybody having a voice and empowering them to make important decisions to shape our team. If they can weed out poor culture fits earlier on, it saves us much more time and every hiring decision always becomes easier. Since we implemented our values, we’ve had far fewer debates over whether or not somebody would thrive at Tinfoil. We’re not about survival, but building you up to where you love your job, team, and what you’re learning; we want you to grow, learn from us, and teach us. 


Ainsley Braun

Ainsley Braun is the co-founder and CEO of Tinfoil Security. She's consistently looking for interesting, innovative ways to improve the way security is currently implemented. She spends a lot of her time thinking about the usability and pain points of security, and loves talking with Tinfoil's users. She also loves rowing, flying kites, and paragliding.