No Shenanigans

I was talking to a friend today about company values and how important they are but also how lame so many of them are.

I told him that some of my favorite company values come from our former portfolio company Twilio (which in the spirit of full disclosure I am still a large shareholder of).

Twilio’s founder and CEO Jeff Lawson gave a great talk on company values at USV a few years ago and explained how he approached them. This blog post (and audio post) is about a similar talk he gave at First Round.

Twilio’s company values are shown below:

My favorite of them is “No Shenanigans” which translates to “Be thoughtful. Always deal in an honest, direct, and transparent way.”

It is such a great value. It is memorable. It is broadly applicable. It is interpretable. And I can imagine team members running their decisions against it and getting a helpful result that guides them.

That is what company values are all about at the end of the day – helping people make decisions that everyone in the company will be proud of and supportive of.

Like most things that are incredibly valuable, values are not easy to get right, but they are worth investing a lot of time and energy in.


Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    The way I interpreted No Shenanigans is: – Be a good person. (Or don’t be a jerk)At the end of the day, it is great people that make-up great companies.That’s a stellar list of values, and it shows that a lot of thought and depth went behind them.

  2. Mark Gavagan

    According to the book Kochland, after getting in a lot of hot water for bad environmental and other behavior, Koch Industries adopted a philosophy of 10,000% Compliance – follow 100% of the rules, 100% of the time.Just like “No Shenanigans,” it’s simple & clear, making it easy to know what’s expected.

    1. notes

      Hmmm meanwhile they lobby everyone and their mother to kill regulations. Read “Dark Money” and you will have a better idea of how they actually work behind the scenes.

      1. Mark Gavagan

        You’re right – they are rascals who use money and influence to tip the tables wildly in their favor. “Kochland” gets into that as well, but I just ordered “Dark Money.” Thanks!

  3. notes

    I never forgot is how Fred described his pitch meeting with Twilio and how the CEO offered immediate solutions that WORKED. ON. THE. SPOT. He ran the code and it worked and it offered a palpable solution.This is what companies, especially in what is shaping up to be a challenging environment in the next 18-24 months, should do. Offer concrete solutions and speak to their costumers in transparent and clear ways. Don’t BS the user, people figure it out, sooner or later. True solutions perform even in challenging environments.Although I disagree with Fred on many things esp his obsession with pumping “crypto”, this post highlights what WORKS for tech. Actual technical solutions to concrete problems.Many companies with “culture” issues seem to have been built on marketing and deceiving tactics ( examples being FB and Uber – one misrepresents how they use user data while CEO & COO paint themselves as victimized do-gooders, the second has a flaky business model built on driver exploitation, buying revenue and pushing deceptive and divisive talking points ).Going forward, transparency and “talking straight” will go a long as far as culture and earning trust from users and the public alike.

  4. jason wright…This has inspired my value number 1 – ‘Nail the tail on the donkey’. I’ll let you know when i’ve worked out what that is trying to encourage.

    1. jason wright

      Update.Faith and trust are definitely in the mix. Blind faith and a very trusting donkey.

  5. awaldstein

    Interesting that in my career, the companies that were monster successes in dramatic ways where not at all great companies that lasted over long time.Inspirational difficult leaders do not always engender great cultures.I’ve been involved with a few great companies built from the ground up but they didn’t create the most wealth or change the world in lasting ways.Maybe more analogous than formative a comparison though.

  6. sigmaalgebra

    Nice list of values. They can help a LOT with creating happy, returning customers. A CEO can promote them, but at times doing all of them might be so difficult that it could kill the business because not everyone will go along, not all customers will appreciate them, and there can be adversaries, as in the R. Strauss Ein Heldenleben, that just follow dog eat dog and may the devil take the hind most. [Might listen to that piece; it has a super nice, sweet, feisty violin part for the girl, some really bad dudes for the adversaries, and as in formula fiction the hero defeats the bad dudes and gets the girl!![In particular, I tend to believe that nearly everyone in middle management will find living all those values too darned hard and, instead, will too often do what seems to be in their personal interest, especially in the short term.We can see this in politics: It is a rare politician that pleases enough voters to be able to follow those values. Instead nearly all politicians get in office by fooling at least enough voters at least once. And at reelection politicians usually have little option to them but trying to fool the voters again.IMHO, nearly all of politics is from fooling people due to the people being short on information. E.g., yesterday I saw an interview of Nikki Haley by a newsie. Soon the newsie stated that the transcript of Trump’s phone call with the President of Ukraine was, IIRC, “not complete”, i.e., had redactions.”Not complete”????!!!!! Good grief!!! I was SHOCKED.Soooo, I went for a highly credible copy of the transcript, a PDF file, downloaded it, and READ it, every word, and looked for anything like any sign of any omission of any kind. I found nothing; I found zip, zilch, zero, nichts, nil, nada.The newsie made her claim but gave no examples.My judgment is that the newsie was wrong, likely in the anti-Trump media tribe, and was flatly LYING — no better word for it.Then we come to politics: What fraction of voters hearing that newsie would actually get and read the PDF file? IMHO, tiny. The rest, then, are short of information and vulnerable to being fooled. To me, THAT explains much of politics.There will always be for each voter a boundary of information where it is too much time, trouble, and expense to go past the boundary to “the full story”. At that boundary, one can fool that voter, and IMHO THAT is the root mechanism of politics.A solution for a voter is that, given a newsie or politician statement in doubt, go past the present boundary, get enough more information to know, and check out the credibility of the source. THEN given ANY pattern of significant deception, put the source on a black list of junk and refuse to take their word for essentially anything. Personally I have done just that for essentially all of ABC, AP, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, NYT, and WaPo, PBS, Nova, Frontline, BBC, and more. If any of them told me the sun was shining, I’d have to go look before believing them. E.g., as soon as a source repeats the propaganda “as the earth warms”, especially without solid references, click, closed, black list, GONE. To me, all those sources are counting on audiences of people who don’t mind being lied to. I do mind; at least I regard their lies as a waste of my time. At this point, there are enough of the right newsie sources on my black list that I no longer get fooled very often and no longer have to do much information collection past my boundary. And more generally I no longer want to waste the time and energy on outraged indignation. That their lying DOES hurt the country and DOES make them an “enemy of the people” is a larger issue I can’t solve but a good reason for well educated, skeptical, well informed citizens and one of the best promises of the Internet as the main source of the crucial information, throttling politics, and progress for civilization, e.g., via my startup and, thus, progress for me.Such mechanisms of politics also apply in middle management in organizations and, thus, makes the values described here tough to be followed throughout an organization.I will hate to be a tough guy with my people afraid of me, but to me lying or deliberate, significant, harmful deception are not acceptable. If I have such a person, then maybe I will let them continue to do their present job well, if they are, but for me and maybe some others they will have an invisible but effective fence blocking their lies and deceptions.

  7. Emily Steed

    Thanks for sharing this. As a compliance plain language champion, I especially love “no shenanigans.” I am wondering what you think would be an optimum number of values? Nine seems like a lot to remember, to me. It made me think about your recent annual planning post and I wondered if prioritizing 4‘ish values might be easier to remember, and so more effective?Core values can be aligned with the Code of Conduct, for companies who need them.I have a soft spot for USV’s Etsy Code of Conduct – the first one I read that was written in plain language and it really makes you feel like you want to work there – it is worth reading