Culture makes up a great part of an awesome community. An awesome family. Culture is a defining part of an organization’s identity, and in a startup business, it’s ever more important so that you don’t fall into the “just another company” category.
It’s 7 AM in Penang, a tropical island in Malaysia that’s also one of the most developed states in the country, famous for its cultural heritage and colonial historic charm. The sun is almost rising as the alarm clock goes off for Marta. During a quick trip to Australia as part of her duties as Head of Marketing at Piktochart, she discovered the power of waking up early. After a refreshing morning dip in the swimming pool, she grabs some coffee and leaves her apartment to the Piktochart Headquarters.
Although May is part of the rainy season in Penang, the sun is out, and predicting a warm as ever, beautiful day. Marta arrives at the office at around 9 AM with a smile, and greets the Piktocharters who are already there. Today is the day when Chao, Piktochart’s CTO, will present the HOPEFUL values to the rest of the team.
The HOPEFUL Values
Marta, Ching (our CEO) and Chao are nervous, but in a good way. The leadership team has been working for weeks on encapsulating Piktochart’s values and translating the company’s spirit into words. It’s the invisible fabric that threads a meaningful environment and gives us all a sense of purpose that goes beyond instrumental work goals. Now that the values are ready to be disclosed, that funny feeling of anxiety strikes. Chao pays no attention to it, and starts.
Here it goes.
H stands for humble, the ability to accept feedback, reflect and admit to mistakes.
O means open up, voice out concerns, be honest and always default to transparency.
P is for passionate, you should love your area of work and share the mission and vision of the company.
E stands for effectiveness, and getting things done, not only at work but on your personal life.
F means people shouldn’t be serious all the time. Fun, positivity and work-life balance are important to us.
U suggests a strong focus on the user. People should be heavily user-focused, put themselves in the users’ shoes and take their needs into consideration when making decisions. Everyone should understand our main user personas thoroughly.
L symbolizes love, which is the virtue that binds all other aspects together in perfect unity.
The presentation ends. Chao nailed it. The whole team is excited and ready to live up to those values.
However, that’s only part of what culture at Piktochart is. How we translate those values to our day to day life is what really matters.
What Glues Everything Together: Trust
Perhaps the most important thing given to every person that comes to Piktochart is trust. We trust a person’s expertise, their gut feeling and give them freedom to be creative, to implement their ideas, to make things happen. We don’t hand hold people through, but we do offer support, constant feedback and carry each other if needed.
“The culture here is very unique. I’ve worked in a corporate as well as small company environment before but I’ve never encountered this kind of culture. Trust, love, freedom and humility are the things I value the most. Because of this exceptional environment and the fact I love my job, it’s so easy for me to wake up and go to work every morning. I go there as if I was going to a friend’s gathering where I’m valued, appreciated and welcome”, explains Marta, “Happy people work at Piktochart and you can feel it when you walk into our office. They are passionate about the product and about what they do and it really shows“.
I’d love to highlight that people are so tolerant towards all the newcomers. Everyone trusts and respects each other. Every newcomer is welcomed with open arms and feels at home after a few days.
Why People Stick Around in Piktochart
Being part of the creation
We are given the freedom and the opportunity to work on the projects that matter to us. This makes many of us feel that we are making an impact on how the product evolves and the way we choose to serve our users. See Mei (Head of Design) who was the first employee to join Piktochart says: “There’s a great variety of tasks and we continue to learn. There’s also a flexibility on the design level of selecting what partnerships to develop and what design to come up with that would best answer our users’ needs. I love the flexibility of being able to choose.”
Choosing our comfort zone
As we mentioned earlier, work-life balance lies at the heart of Piktochart’s culture. And despite having an awesome office that each one of us loves working from, we also have generous work-from-home policies for those whose homes are not in Penang or if we feel like we need to step out of the familiar and go travel the world. We are allowed to work remotely from anywhere, be it a beach, another city or home, as long as we stay productive and bring results, of course. Coincidentally, See Mei has also made proper use of this policy by spending her December co-working with her friends in Cebu, Philippines and enjoyed every bit of it.
Together in good and bad
At Piktochart, we acknowledge that we are all human beings that have feelings and emotions beyond work responsibilities. We are aware that life has its ups and downs, both professionally and personally. At rough times, we offer each other a network of support that is unique, and once again, represents that people’s lives matter so much more than achieving numbers. “What I value the most is the support of my colleagues in hard times. It makes me feel hopeful as I’m not alone.” says Albert, our Head of Front-end development.
Not being afraid to fall
Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes at times. “We recognize it at Piktochart and believe in testing, trying things out and moving on if something doesn’t go as we expected” says Aun Zhen, our Head of Customer Delight. “Everyone is encouraged not to be afraid to make mistakes. It makes me want to express myself and try things that I believe are good for the company” adds Albert.
It’s All About The Details
Culture is not about values you put on a Powerpoint presentation. It’s about all the small things we do as a company, how the team interacts on a daily basis and what makes us stand out from the rest. It’s about the character a company develops over time. “I think culture comes down to these details. It’s what we do every day, how we interact and how we feel in each other’s company”, explains Marta.
Sharing the love and cultivating generosity
First, we interact within a culture of sharing. Each newcomer has to make and decorate their own cup which we then hang on a thin rope with all the other cups. Everyone is free to share their love by putting small messages of appreciation into other people’s cups. “Also, the last newbie gives the latest newbie a ‘Welcome Kit’, which is a symbolic gift, a tiny token, some stationery to get them started and some other cool stuff”, adds Ching. “Something I really love is this unplanned thing we started doing. People usually bring stuff from trips: weird sweets and snacks they find in other countries. more weird taste the snacks has, the better. Sometimes colleagues (especially See Mei) leave tiny gifts for each other. It’s really touching!”, explains Marta.
Culture of transparency and teamwork
Team collaboration is extremely important to us. “Brainstorming and teamwork are always encouraged”, explains Ching. Every Monday we have an MMM (Monday Morning Meeting). Each time, a different member of our team presents. We showcase our metrics and progress, give updates on our user research, talk about upcoming activities and each project owner updates the others about their project status. Throughout the day, we communicate via Skype chat rooms for different teams/projects, where we discuss things and where we also share fun stuff and have our daily dose of laughter. As we are living in the age of total connection and Skype is just not enough to serve our digital communication needs, we also have a company WhatsApp chat where we update each other, share photos and fall into random conversations. It gets really funny sometimes.
Tuesdays are our no-meeting-quiet days when we “get wired” and get things done. “It’s not compulsory and depends on an individual preference. Some love it as they feel it’s really time-efficient. After all, it’s just a day in complete silence” adds See Mei.
Being a driver, not a passenger
At Piktochart we believe in the flat organization structure. In practice it means everyone gets to present their point of view and is encouraged to take initiatives that lead to projects that have impact on our product development. “Everyone can become a manager for an upcoming project from our Kanban board. Once a new project comes up, we all vote for the best candidates” – says See Mei. This ensures everyone has an equal opportunity to make a real change. To be a driver instead of a passenger.
Investing time in team bonding and friendships
What makes us enter the office with a smile on our faces is the fact we get to see our friends every day. We spend a lot of time together not only at the office but after working hours as well. Each team has their monthly budget dedicated to team activities that help cultivate our relationship. “This brings teamwork to the next level. We get to truly know each other on a more personal level and create real friendships” says See Mei. “Just last week our front-end team coded from a co-working space, designers flew to a neighboring island called Langkawi in search for inspiration and our marketing team enjoyed an afternoon dip in a seaside resort” she says.
Injecting fun into our everyday activities
What makes our people healthy and happy is that life at Piktochart is not all about work. We do fun stuff together and learn from and about each other every day. Every Wednesday, 2 members of the team present on a fun and interesting topic of their choice. The topics range from fun facts about cats, history of the universe, how to cook healthy or how to be more productive. After the presentations, everyone has lunch together as a team.
We also have monthly company activities including going to the movies, foosball tournaments, Escape Room, karaoke, dinners, and much more. “Sometimes people take it to the next level by going to island escapades!”, retells Ching. The awesomeness doesn’t end here. We have a bean bag meeting room where people relax in a more laid-back and less conformist atmosphere. It’s not unusual to see musical instruments lying around the office for our a spontaneous jam session every now and then. But what I enjoy the most is our annual company trip. “Last September we all packed and went to South Korea where we partially worked from a co-working space and then toured around the country”, explains Marta.
Culture comes from within
“I think you cannot inject values which are not there to start with. They are created from the spirit of every individual in the early stages of company’s existence” says Albert. “For me it all starts with inspiring leaders. Ai Ching has been a mentor that many of us look up to and she is the heart of this company who managed to create an unparalleled atmosphere. We all take lessons from her and each other and help each other become even better people. Why would I want to work anywhere else? I’m happy.” says Marta.
What About You?
What are the values at your company? What’s the culture like? Is there anything you’d love to add? Feel free to ask questions or make suggestions in the comment!