How hating my first two jobs helped me create the perfect corporate culture

Quartz india
Quartz india

I graduated from an engineering college in 2008 and worked at two different companies before starting Wingify, the Delhi startup that helps websites maximize traffic, and now has over 4,000 clients. During my two-year stint working at other companies, I learned a lot about what was wrong with the corporate world. Wingify’s culture is an attempt to provide a better way to run companies.

The first job treated me like a machine. Employees at that firm bragged about how many days they could they spend in the office without going back to home, and people often joked they only went home to shower. My hatred for the firm increased when I was assigned a project that I didn’t really want to do. I told them that I didn’t want to be involved, and they said, “Guess what? We pay you, so you would have to do it.”

I quit within three months.

At my next job, I liked the work, which involved interesting machine learning projects. However, I hated my daily three-hour commute—I was spending about one fifth of my waking life sitting in a car. I didn’t want to relocate because the friends I have are from my school and college days and I didn’t want to leave them. People underestimate the contribution of one’s social circle to happiness. I hated commuting (everyone does) and didn’t want to move.

So I quit.

Two months later, I incorporated Wingify. Here’s a quick list of things we decided to do at Wingify from day one, even when there were just a couple of people in the team:

Give people the freedom to live the life they want to live

People need to have the dignity that comes with making their own choices. Here’s what that means for us:

  • Unlimited work from home—if people don’t feel like coming to the office on a specific day, they shouldn’t. They should have the dignity to be able to say they don’t want to.
  • Unlimited leave—people get paid for the work they do and the impact they have, not for simply showing up at work. Smart people are motivated by work and interesting problems, and the company’s job should be to give them direction and space to solve such problems.
  • Letting them wear their shorts—If work doesn’t justify a dress code, why stress on formals? My first job had a strict dress code in spite of the fact that I never met a client in person. Why?

Provide entertainment

  • Company sponsored annual trips – December is usually a slow work month for us, because it is Christmas time for our customers in the US and Europe. So we take the entire company to a beach (Goa, Sri Lanka, Thailand). People questioned whether it was a waste of money when we were seven people. Today we are 60+ and are still doing it!
  • In office games: We have Playstation, table tennis and foosball
  • Wingify monthly camps: We do some interesting activities every month. In the past, we’ve had standup comedians, hip-hop dances, origami workshops, and Tarot card readers.

Take care of your employees’ health:

Wingify provides:

  • health insurance for the entire family
  • daily yoga sessions in the office
  • free juices, coconut water, healthy snacks.

The idea of the list above is not to brag, but to demonstrate that making a workplace that makes people feel appreciated is a conscious, serious effort. It doesn’t happen by itself, and it doesn’t happen without founders and senior management putting their time into it.

Since Wingify is proudly self-funded (thanks to 4,000 customers using VWO), many people argued that spending money on such things was a waste. They tell me that even today: health insurance, table tennis, yoga sessions, and annual vacations is something a giant company like Google or start-ups with VC funding would do.

This is silly, of course. Wingify is where my 60+ person team and I spend a significant amount of time. If people at Wingify do not think their time is spent in a worthwhile way, why would Wingify even exist? (If everyone hates coming to office, wouldn’t it make sense to abandon the entire project?)

I optimize it for happiness. So an additional million rupees in my bank doesn’t make me happier, if it means the people who I interact with daily aren’t happy.

My genuine interest in knowing how the team feels at Wingify leads us to do monthly employee happiness surveys. I spend a lot of time discussing how to improve motivation and happiness in the team. My wife got so used to hearing the same question—how-do-I-make-Wingify-the-best-place-to-work?— that she decided to build her own startup around the concept of weekly employee surveys. (It’s called 52metrics.com)

Wingify was a rebellion against not having the freedom I wanted to decide how I wanted to spend my life. Doing a startup that could make me financially independent was the first step in achieving that freedom.

Today, at Wingify, I have enough resources to experiment, question the status quo and create an organization that tries to maximize happiness first, and profits later.

Wingify is still an ongoing experiment. I hope it succeeds. So far it has!

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