Ship Something Everyday: First Rule to Building a High-Performance Culture

Brandon Weber
Brandon Weber
Advisor, VTS

The world, our customers and their businesses are changing faster than ever before. So when my co-founders and I founded Hightower, we knew we wanted to create an agile company that responded to the pace of change in the world around us. In this mini-blog series, I outline some of the key insights on what it takes to have a high performance culture in the current environment.

Insight number one: Ship Something Every Day (this post)
Insight number two: Redefine your relationship with your customers
Insight number three: Redefine your relationship with your employees
Insight number four: Lead with values

As I’ll explain further as each insight builds on the next.

Our first goal is to ship something everyday.

When I started Hightower, one of the key objectives myself and the other co-founders had was to make sure we built an agile company that was responding to the pace of change in the world around us. We needed to develop a software delivery model that supported that. The software development model I grew up in wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Three year development cycles were far too long. Even six month product development cycles weren’t going to be fast enough.

The model where you do “blue sky thinking” and come up with ten big assumptions to whittle it down to a few key ones and then ship was not going to be fast enough.

The core assumption around shipping every day is that you learn more, get a more accurate picture of what works and doesn’t work and you do it on far faster. Because in a world that’s constantly changing, you need to learn faster than you’ve ever learnt before. You need to test your hypotheses and assumptions constantly, not a few times a year – or wow, I can’t even image this now – once every few years. And nothing, absolutely nothing, gets you that learning more effectively or efficiently than shipping and getting something you think is valuable into your customer’s hands.

So we’ve focused on creating an incredibly tight feedback loop with our customers. Our goal is to ship something every day. It’s the minimum viable product (MVP) to test our assumptions in the real world. Our belief is that if we’re not at least a little uncomfortable shipping it, then we’re not pushing ourselves hard enough.

How do we facilitate a really tight feedback loop?

We use intercom.io to communicate directly with our clients from within the product. Intercom is one place for every team in an internet business to communicate with customers, personally, at scale—on your website, inside mobile apps, and by email.

We also created an internal advocacy group with a few brokers, owners and about a dozen customers. We put feedback right in the contract that we’ll touch base with them on a regular basis to get more in-depth feedback.

Lastly, we mine all the usage data we get back from our software and apps.

Not just product! Everyone ships something!

The goal of shipping something everyday doesn’t just apply to our product team. This is the often over-looked other side of tight feedback loops.Everyone in the company has an obligation to ship and everyone in the company has a customer. Maybe you’re shipping a new HR policy to the team or seating plan, or you’re tweaking the sales process. I consider all of these things “products”. Your customer isn’t the end-customer, but you have a customer. And tight feedback loops here are just as important because it impacts your ability to adapt quickly as organization.

Isn’t shipping everyday risky? Don’t you risk upsetting your customer if you get it wrong?

We do push ourselves to ship often enough and fast enough that at times it feels uncomfortable. But we have not found that it’s had a negative consequence on the relationship with our customers, or that it’s hurt our growth and results. In fact it’s been the opposite.

Which leads me to my next insight for the next post in this series: redefining the relationship with your customers (coming next week!).

Brandon Weber
Advisor | VTS
Brandon Weber
Brandon Weber transitioned from co-founder and CPO at VTS to an advisory role. Subscribe to the VTS blog: https://blog.vts.com/
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