Startup Culture: Why Michael Litt says Vidyard will Always be a Startup

When does a startup stop being a startup? Is it at certain revenue earned, number of employees, after achieving a repeatable, scalable business model? According to Michael Litt, CEO at Vidyard, the answer is, hopefully, never.

There is much debate in the business world about when a startup loses the trendy label and transitions into a “regular company.” However, notable tech giant, Facebook, has been around for more than 10 years and employs over 1,000 people, and Airbnb has raised over $3 billion dollars to date, yet, both are still regularly acknowledged as startups. So that begs the question, what makes a startup a startup?

During our interviews for “Startup’s Guide to the Galaxy” we found one common theme among successful entrepreneurs. For them, the startup label is more than a stage of their business development, more than a metric that can be tracked and identified on a revenue statement – it’s a mindset and a culture, centred around innovation, customer experience, and continued improvement.  

We sat down with Michael to discuss Vidyard’s journey from bootstrapping to success and learn more about how Vidyard fosters a culture of continued innovation to ensure they will always be a startup.

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Clinton Ball: So when is a startup no longer a startup?

Michael Litt: Good question. Startup-ism is a frame of mind. The feeling drives innovation, keeps the business fast-moving and fast-reacting. Companies that stop being startups are the ones that cease to the the most innovative and fastest-moving company in their category.

Vidyard will be a startup till the day I leave this company, because innovation and moving-fast are core mandates of mine in terms of how we retain a competitive advantage and stay ahead of the field.

Clinton Ball: That is interesting. Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur Steve Blank says something along the lines of a startup is no longer a start up until it reaches its repeatable scalable business model, but it sounds like what you’re saying is that it’s more rooted in the culture.

Michael Litt: If you develop pockets of a repeatable, scalable business model, then that model is under threat by macro-economic things like competition or talent issues. If you’re constantly fixing these things, then that’s a big company problem.

I agree with him to a point, but businesses that get to a point when they just have one repeatable process that they manage and work on and focus on will get out innovated by new startups… so you have to keep that sense of urgency with business.

Clinton Ball: So at the level you are at now, how do you stay innovative and how do you make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of just of just being driven by business metrics and board objectives?

Michael Litt: Everyone at Vidyard is responsible for thinking creatively about new and innovative ways we can approach the market. To foster that development, we host company-wide quarterly events called “Pitch Yard” where the whole company breaks down into groups of ten or so that are cross-functionally aligned. They discuss ways Vidyard can improve our product and go to the market with something new, the present them in front of the whole company. The winning team is rewarded with a dinner anywhere they want!

The intent of Pitch Yard is to create new, inspirational ideas for how we can go and impact the market. It helps us constantly look at the field to see what the competition is doing, what companies are doing in the very early stages, and to see if there’s something that we missed in the market that someone else has picked up (and if we should focus on it too).

Clinton Ball: That’s great, so obviously a big part of it is a clear strategy around the people that you hire and how you attract them. What are some key principles that guide culture in your organization?

Michael Litt: Continued transparency is always on my mind within our business. We call this radical transparency because we communicate everything to everyone. If we expect people to be as creative as possible while making the best decisions for the business, we need to get them all the information they need to make the best decision. This is where cross-functional communication, exposure to market challenges that the company may be facing or more is vital. Whether it’s a customer service lead, a marketing rep, a sales professional, or a product developer, transparency inspires people to think creatively because everyone feels empowered to solve the problem. We hire so many problem-solvers, whether they’re makers, builders, or people with creative outlets on the side – they bring this type of thinking into the company. This is why transparency helps us collaboratively share a set of values that inspire creativity and critical thinking.

Want more pro advice from Michael? Check out “Passion vs.Purpose: Building a Startup Brand

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