Once a month my co-founder, Hugues de Bantel, and I brew coffee, set out some French pastries, pour some orange juice and open the doors for a breakfast like no other.
There’s no agenda, no limits, and nothing is off the table (except for a couple of croissant crumbs that usually end up on the floor).
Our ‘Ask Us Anything’ breakfasts are a cornerstone of our communication with the Cosmo Tech team – the Cosmonauts – and the best way for us to continue the water-cooler chats that helped drive innovation, productivity, and discussion when we were first getting started.
Like a lot of startups, when we got things moving at Cosmo Tech we were a small team of no more than two or three people.
When we added others to our team it was, at first, easy to keep up. Morning coffee meetings, quick catch ups around a lunchroom table or squeezing the company into the same meeting room were how we made sure communication lines stayed open.
But as the company grew getting everyone together in one place and at one time was harder and harder. We ran monthly all-hands meetings which were great for sharing information but which didn’t allow for much back-and-forth.
We instituted an annual ‘Green Day’ where we decamped from the office with the whole team in tow to spend time together, play together, talk, listen, and bond.
But once a year isn’t nearly regular enough to receive or act on the feedback that we needed to build our team, or react to any concerns on that team without them festering.
And so not long after our team had grown to 60 people Hugues and I instituted a monthly breakfast with anyone on the team who cared to attend. There would be no agenda published in advance, no PowerPoint presentations to watch, and no topic would be ‘out of bounds’. Any employee from the intern hired the week before to the veteran early hire was welcome to join us for breakfast and talk about anything they liked.
From the very first breakfast we’ve reminded each and every Cosmonaut who has joined us that nothing is off limits.
This has meant we’ve fielded questions about strategy and revenue goals, hiring decisions, and the reasoning behind a major change in our business plan. The discussions we’ve had are not only wide ranging but there is also real and authentic conversation. Questions, answers, follow-ups, points and counterpoints – we’ve come to expect almost anything and while we’ve never been left speechless, we’ve come close a couple of times.
These monthly breakfasts have proved incredibly effective in on-boarding new team members and in answering questions from Cosmonauts about the things they want to know about, while also allowing us to authentically listen to our Cosmonauts’ needs, recommendations and business concerns.
The challenges that a startups and scaleups face are many, but they are also different.
When a business is first getting started there is a need to secure the first customer, to develop at the right pace (not too fast, not too slow), and to build a company culture that reinforces core values while powering innovation.
As the company grows and the customer base builds from one to two to ten and many more there is an inevitable change in focus. While software developers work hard to deliver a complete solution perfectly responding to our clients’ desired outcomes they are supplemented by a growing number of marketing and salespeople. ‘Replication’ and ‘landing and expanding’ begin to enter office conversations more often and the activities and scope of the company expand, too.
Yet whatever the scale the heart of the business remains the same: the people.
And as founders it is essential that our communication with Cosmo Tech’s employees remains as fluid and accessible as it was when we just half a dozen dreamers hovering around a coffee machine.
At Cosmo Tech, Hugues and I use our monthly breakfasts to ensure we don’t lose touch with our team and that they don’t lose their opportunity to understand what we are doing, why we are doing it, and where we are going next. It is always a great moment when we can all share with authenticity, and always a learning experience for us.