This morning I woke up in Vegas ready to fly home from a conference only to discover on Twitter that Jason Cohen, the founder of WP Engine, had written about me on his blog, blog.asmartbear.com. The title of the post is, “Austin in San Francisco,” but the post is about his belief that startup companies should enable not only the founders, but the employees as well.
I’ve had the opportunity to be on the receiving end of Jason’s enablement since joining WP Engine over SXSWi 2012. I can honestly say that I’ve had more opportunity to build my own life than I had any reason to expect from joining someone else’s company. But I also know that Jason acted in his own self-interest by letting me loose to build as much as I could, as quickly as I could.
In his post, he mentions me coming out to the PHP meetup to film his talk rather than watch the Final Four on TV. All I remember thinking was that if given the chance to spend an evening with an entrepreneur like Jason, or watch TV, I knew that it was a simple choice, and that I was lucky to have the choice to make. I’ll soak up as much knowledge as possible, and am opportunistic to spend time around entrepreneurs I respect.
Something key to Jason’s philosophy also happened that evening. After the meetup, he and I were drinking Hendricks and Tonic and finishing some Nachos, and I remember telling him that everyone at WP Engine had the opportunity to inject something personally meaningful into their work every single day, and that not all companies give you that opportunity. When I told him that, he sighed very deeply, had a moment to himself, and said, “That’s good.” The company I’m part of enables all its employees to grow because Jason set out to make it that way from the beginning.
When I was discussing the viability of moving to San Francisco with Jason over breakfast at TacoDeli (the best $20 I’ve ever invested), I asked a ton of questions about how me moving to SF would be in the best interests of WP Engine, because I knew that had to be the first priority. If the company leadership wasn’t 110% convinced that having me in San Francisco would be a 10x win for the organization, I was going to be swimming uphill, and I didn’t want that. I wasn’t going to move if it wasn’t going to be good for the company, the devotion does go both ways.
Jason went through how the company would benefit, and then he told me something key. He said, “We have a ton of rockstars at WP Engine. People who could get a job at a lot of companies, and the way I see it, I can make one of three choices in how the company treats them.”
- We can hamper their growth because we’re afraid if people grow too much that they’ll leave. BUT, all that’s going to do is make talented people want to leave as quickly as possible, and nobody is happy while they’re actually working here so we don’t get their best work.
- We can do nothing either way. We don’t stop their growth, but we don’t help it either. People will be less anxious to leave, but once something that gives them a better opportunity comes along, they’ll disappear.
- We can pour as many resources into our employees as is humanly possible, and as much as they can handle. This strategy puts faith in the fact that everyone wants opportunities to learn and grow, and as long as the company can provide those opportunities, they’ll love working here, and do amazing work.
Jason said, “Nothing lasts forever, and nobody stays at a company forever. Since we know we can’t keep people forever, I choose to go with the 3rd option, because I think that will mean the least amount of turnover, the most loyalty, and the highest producing employees possible.”
We dwell on how startups enable founders to quit their day job and master their own destiny. But what about everyone else?
What about what they can control, how they want to grow and learn, how their personal goals might be fulfilled?
A startup must be an enabler, otherwise you’re just building another big company, exactly like the one you as a founder refused to devote your life to. In 2013, in the tech world, with our opportunities and capabilities, we must do more than just build another big company.
Thanks for letting me be part of this. Thanks for letting me enable the people I work with in return. You’ve set a high bar for entrepreneurship, and I appreciate the challenge. And yes, I love you guys too
Hope this helps.
Austin W. Gunter