Liking the Company You Built

Yesterday I saw a person who looked quite like the founder of a much respected public company walking down the road. Something about the way they walked made me think for them: What if you don’t like the company you have built anymore?

I follow the company and know quite a bit about how it works, and how it has grown. I have a lot of respect for the company for the great things it has achieved. Yet, the founder’s body language made me do a ‘What If’ scenario. So this post is just my imagination going down some random rabbit hole. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. With that, let’s see where my imagination went.

What if you don’t like the company you have built anymore?

You began with the idea of a great offering, which became successful after some false starts, perhaps. And then the company grew and suddenly there were a lot of people in the company.

You realized that not everyone was behaving ideally, at least not your idea of ‘ideally’. So you had to figure out to communicate what your ‘ideal’ is. You built out the culture document and communicated it to the team. And it worked for a bit. But tremendous growth took over. Ideal couldn’t keep pace with Growth as it had its own way of dealing with things. A transgression here, a turn-a-blind-eye there…and pretty soon ‘less than ideal’ became a way of life. And the culture. As the company spilled over into other office spaces across cities and continents, the well acclaimed culture document became a relic. A great read, but a damn tough thing to do and practice.

Fifteen or so years later, as you address a company townhall or a partner’s meet, you know you have come a long, long way. So much has been achieved: much wealth creation for thousands, a growing ecosystem that has spawned more businesses and communities, rising stock price… So much! It’s nothing short of spectacular.

Yet, you walk back to your office desk, after the speech and pleasantries are done, a bit slouched, hoping no one notices you as you cross the road.

Did you, in that moment, come to face to face with the fact that you don’t much like the culture anymore? Outwardly, cool and great. Inwardly, cut throat competitive and non-inclusive.

Did you come face to face with the fact that while the communities got built around camaraderie, support and help, they are more competitive than collaborative? And that they are still not as inclusive as you would have liked them to be?

You sigh. Maybe that is the price you pay for growth. Great products…check! Great stock price…check! Great brand…check! Great culture…erm, no… And it feels like it was never possible in the face of growth and competition.

Why sigh? It’s the norm, yeah?

Deep down, something just feels wrong to you. Maybe it was a non-negotiable, to build a company you really, really like. But you didn’t know and hence got out-negotiated by Growth’s win-lose games.

Now you know.

So what now?

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