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unConference 2015 Session: Startup Transparency

unConference 2015 Session: Startup Transparency
October 23, 2015 
Stuart Levinson, Open Company

This a new concept for many CEOs, but more and more startups
are opening up and sharing key business information about finance, growth,
ownership, risks and more. Instead of controlling the information and giving it
out on a “need to know basis” they are sharing it broadly to empower
and align all stakeholders. 
Questions amongst the group included:
  • What kinds of things would
    you consider being transparent about?
    • Salaries: Most said no
      because they felt it would cause problems among employees wondering why
      they weren’t being paid the same; or felt it might have the effect of
      driving salaries up overall which is difficult for startups. Buffer is an
      example of a startup that makes salaries public.
    • Equity: So few people
      understand what equity means, so why put it out there? Because so few
      people understand it!
    • Runway or Cash Left in
      the business: The group was mixed on whether or not to provide this
      information to everyone
    • Expenses: What about
      the salesperson that spends $1K on a sales dinner? one person said it
      would cause grief with developers feeling it was unfair, but another felt
      it required context. Was it to take out 3 or 30 customers? Was it the top
      client or just another dinner? Context, and being able to ask questions
      about it might be important.
    • Employee Performance:
      could this be public?

  • If you put key information
    out there are they reading it? Just because you’re transparent doesn’t
    mean everyone knows about it. There’s a difference between pushing
    information to someone and making them seek it. Don’t make it difficult to
    know changes have been made. Bring the new information to them.
  • Isn’t it a waste of time if
    development is spending time reading information about sales? If so, why
    put all this information out there?
  • What are the perverse effects
    of openness, meaning, what are the negative, unintended consequences? The
    SEC mandated that public companies detail CEO pay because there was such a
    discrepancy and shareholder complaints; but making it open has had the
    reverse effect. Public company A points to public company B and C and
    says, “look at what they’re being paid! I deserve at least that and
    more!” Will the same thing happen if startups make their salaries
  • What is the motivation to be
    transparent? It creates accountability when you have to report on your
    work. One person talked about their AllHands where each department head
    walked up to report on their progress that week. Doing that in public
    created pressure and accountability.
  • There was a fear of having to
    do more work. The best systems are those that generate reports or
    information based on the work you did, not having to do the work and then
    turn around and report on the work.
  • Does transparency create
    maturity and responsible team members? Or does the visibility create the
    feeling of responsibility and therefore more mature, trusted team?
  • How do people share
    information today? What tools are they using? Small, early startups are
    using email. Larger companies are using confluence and custom systems.
    Everyone was doing some type of AllHands meeting with their teams to
    deliver information.

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