Nexla’s CEO Saket Saurabh speaks about the five core values that define the culture of the company
Last summer, my leadership team and I got together for a two-day offsite at California’s Half Moon Bay to flesh out the character of Nexla. My co-founder Jeff Williams, and members of my core team—all of whom had worked together in my previous startup venture, MobSmith— wanted the success story of our group culture to define Nexla’s core values.
I started MobSmith, a mobile advertising technology platform in 2009 and it was acquired by the Rubicon Project. I left Rubicon after the IPO to start another venture while our founding team continued to nurse the desire to work together. So, when Jeff and I launched Nexla four years later, we reunited for another entrepreneurial journey. It was at this stage where we wondered about the traits and values that made the group stick long after it had been formally dissolved.
After several hours of reflective conversations and insights gleaned from a mentor, we were able to sketch out our belief system. This found its way into the five core values of Nexla, which guide the decision-making process at the organization.
Have Empathy – towards customers, colleagues, family and everyone else
Empathy may have a touchy-feely ring to it, but it plays out in tangible ways that can have a huge impact on employee engagement, client satisfaction, and the bottom line. The leadership at Nexla is clear that empathy is the touchstone on which the company’s data operations structure is built. I believe that it is very important to step into the shoes of other people, whether employees or clients, to understand their varied perspectives. I will never forget the time when one of my mentors, Tom Wheeler, took time to give me feedback. Here is a successful investor and FCC Chairman with an incredibly busy schedule, yet he made time for someone who had been a summer intern at his firm several years ago. Experiences like these have always inspired me to value people and relationships, and consider how my actions create value for the other person even if there may be a small cost for me. There is no greater pleasure than helping someone be successful, and there is no greater delight than anticipating what they need.
These kinds of personal stories have shaped the culture of Nexla. The leadership team expects the managers to anticipate the needs of the employees, which could translate to delegating responsibilities that are in sync with their career goals or proactively rewarding them for going above and beyond. The organization is committed to showing a similar level of empathy toward clients and this could mean understanding their vision or discovering a need before going about designing a product for them.
Be Curious – ask, innovate, learn, repeat
At Nexla, we constantly encourage employees to be inquisitive. This could manifest itself in various ways like challenging the status quo, questioning the product functionality to meet customers needs better, or seeking novel approaches to drive improvement. As an engineer and a founder of a company disrupting a complex and fast-paced technology-driven industry, I believe that there can be no innovation without curiosity. The ideas of our employees may or may not lead to innovation. What counts is whether or not they have a learner’s mindset.
Be Intellectually Honest – we don’t push it under the rug
Intellectual Honesty is problem solving with integrity to self and others, but it is tricky to achieve. For any creator, the greatest danger is turning into the parent who can’t seem to see his/her child going wrong. Intellectual honesty is about executing your ideas passionately, yet maintaining a healthy emotional distance from the end product to leave room for improvement.
For us, intellectual honesty is about accepting mistakes and rectifying them. If a client is not happy with a particular feature of a product we have designed, we would accept the feedback and make the required changes. It is also about being brutal in decision-making. We, at all times, have to look at the larger picture and be ready to make difficult choices. For instance, if a potential customer asked us for a particular customization that went against our long-term vision or ethics, we are clear we would let go of the opportunity.
Achieve Excellence – don’t just try, get it done with excellence!
Another key pillar on which our culture rests is the focus on achieving excellence. While it is a flat organization that operates on empathy and encourages work-life balance, it has no place for mediocrity. The organization is striving to create a culture of excellence where employees are motivated to perform. It begins with recruiting the right people for the job through a rigorous competency-based recruiting model and builds on it via an efficient performance management system.
At Nexla, performance management is consciously intertwined with values such as empathy and curiosity, allowing employees to go that extra mile to leverage it to their advantage. The result is a culture where in spite of change being the only constant, people are not scared to set-up new and challenging goals for themselves. The management is as invested in helping them achieve their full potential as they are, which empowers employees to not just think out of the box, but share these ideas freely, debate, and collaborate— all of which, in turn, sets the stage for innovation.
Remember to Relax – it’s a marathon, not a sprint
We are engaged in building a company, not a hackathon. It is no revelation that working extended hours consistently is counter-productive and not something one can sustain in the long run. All of us have a life outside the professional realm and it is important we make time for it. As a father of two little boys and a three-month-old girl, I have to constantly juggle multiple responsibilities. I understand it is the same for our employees and work-life balance is a necessity, not a luxury. At Nexla, we take the concept so seriously that if we notice someone pushing too hard at work, we tell him/her to take it easy. It matters to us that our people are healthy and they are having a positive experience here.