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Thursday
May172012

hiring: 4:20



4:20 - (principle: transparency)


It's called many things in many of the companies I have influenced.  Powerset called it "4:20" or "Beer:20;” Virgance, Carrotmob and 1BOG call it "naked lunch;” Serious Business called it "beer Fridays;" and I think Crowdflower calls it "demo Fridays".  

At Powerset, where I started it, it went something like this.  

We initially tried to have it at 4pm, but for some reason the Data Center team and the Tools team needed 20 minutes to "prepare" uhm hmmm... then once everyone was "prepared" we would generally herd them into the game room and give them some beers.  Chris Van Pelt, now founder at Crowdflower, would often start the meeting off with a magic show.  Yes, a real magic show.  Generally he would try to involve some small explosion or two.  Then with the crowd warmed up, one of our employees would demo something awesome that they worked on that week - sometimes it was technical, sometimes it was just talking about whether or not we were looking at an east coast “Tornado” style foosball table or a west coast table.  

Once the demos were done and the the applause stopped, I would sit down on what was called the hot seat.  It was a sort of red stool thing.  

During this time, there were only two rules: 

  1. Anyone could ask any question.
  2. I had to answer.  

And let me tell you, they would unleash on me.  Some of the questions were stupid at first, like "when was the last time you cried?" or "how much money is in your bank account?" or even "when did you lose your virginity?" to which my responses were 1) I had to admit that sometime a really good dish of heuvos rancheros made me tear up, 2) I didn't know because my wife takes care of that stuff and 3) HR VIOLATION!...  

But after the initial silliness was done, we would really get into it and everyone from the most senior engineer to the most junior office manager piped in.  The point of 4:20 was that it was a time for us to share our successes through our demos and to maintain and sometimes strengthen the bond between me and everyone else in the company.  

In order to succeed, you need to build an incredibly tight unit.  There will be times when you will need to ask each and every person on your team to make sacrifices, whether the sacrifice be time at work as opposed to time at home, or helping another engineer whose code blew up the data center and accidentally launched a Russian nuke into orbit or even asking your team to build something over from scratch because you, late last night, decided to completely change direction.  

The degree to which your team is willing to respond to your call affects your ability to succeed perhaps more than any other factor in a startup. If these folks are going to follow you, then you must serve them well.  The best way to do that is to understand that while you are their leader and you will ultimately make all of the tough choices, you are not above questioning.  In fact, you should go into it with the perspective that you deserve and demand to be questioned.  

It will make you stronger because you will know that you have to prepare.  It will make you team stronger too, because it will give them a real sense that the company is theirs as much as it is yours.  Lastly, it will make the whole company stronger as a unit, as a cult, because you will no longer have any sense of "management," of "them" or of "they" to blame.  Your cult's battle cry should embody the sense that you and your team are one and that your success or failure is completely owned by all.  

Your battle cry: "We are They.  They are We. And We Will Conquer."  

(note: you may also shout “We Are Sparta!” during any battle cry, as it is always considered appropriate to do so).

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Reader Comments (1)

I really like your philosophy. I am curious how you might suggest implementing something similar for an e-commerce business where all of the employees are remote, across the world, and in different time zones?

July 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPat

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