Can you believe the best work environment I was ever a part of I used to call “The Pit”? It’s true. And, not surprisingly, the company that had that work environment was the most successful company I ever worked at.
The most successful company I every worked at was Maxim Integrated Products. Maxim was a $40M/year company when I started there. Revenue was over $1B/Year by the time I left Maxim ten years later.
Working at Maxim was a unique experience. There were many positives and many negatives.
The work environment was one of Maxim’s huge positives. Maxim’s work environment was chaotic, crazy, and confrontational at times. Those were the negatives.
Maxim’s work environment was also collaborative, innovative, and extremely high energy. Those were the positives.
You want to create a high energy environment for your startup to thrive.
I wanted to recreate Maxim’s high-energy work environment when I started my company. Even more specifically, I wanted to recreate The Pit.
Maxim had a large office space in Sunnyvale, CA when I joined them. I used to call the main open-office area The Pit.
The first time I saw it The Pit was abuzz with activity. Everyone seemed like they were in such a hurry!
The sounds coming from the pit were this constant clashing of voices. And the energy! I can still feel The Pit’s energy today. There were probably 200 people in The Pit, maybe more.
There were so many people in The Pit that there was no place for me to sit. So, I was given a “cubicle” that used to be an aisle between two rows of cubicles. A divider was put down and I was given a desk. I was right across from the Men’s room. LOL.
I just put my head down with the reports I was given, and I set about analyzing the reports. I was young, just 26 years old, when I entered The Pit.
Little did I know then, but The Pit was my blueprint for building the work environment of my own startup.
I remember clearly the day I knew we got the work environment at our startup somewhat right. I was talking to a reporter that had just finished interviewing me.
We walked out of the main conference room, and there was this buzz in the air. I hadn’t heard that buzz in years. The buzz was familiar. The buzz was exciting. The buzz told me we were on our way.
Goosebumps warmed over me. I couldn’t help smiling because I knew, in that moment, I had achieved what I had set out achieve:
We had our own Pit!
You should have you own Pit if you're building a startup. There were many decisions we got right leading up to having The Pit. Here are the three key decisions:
A. Your high enery work environment starts with people. No, it starts with your vision.
I had the idea of what the work environment for our company should be before I brought on the first cofounder. You should too.
In my case, I certainly knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want a Muzak environment.
What’s a Muzak environment? You know when you hear music when you’re in the elevator? The music is dull and boring.
I’d seen enough Muzak environments over the years. You can just feel the dullness if you’re in a Muzak environment.
I wanted energy. I wanted smart people collaborating with each other. I wanted smart people passionately arguing for what they believed in.
I didn’t want everyone to agree with each other. It was okay to disagree and state your opinions.
I did want a team that respected the other team members.
B. You need the right office space.
Office space? Really? Yes. Office space. You can’t have a good Pit without having the right office space.
I remember looking at different office spaces after we closed our funding. There were some offices that were downright depressing. You could just feel the energy being zapped from you.
I remember one place we looked at in Fremont. I can still see the rows of cubicles all tightly packed together. The lighting was dim and the ceiling was low.
This place was depressing. I knew there was no way The Pit could exist there. So we passed.
We ultimately ended up in a really nice space in Milpitas. It was perfect.
The space was just the right size. There was lots of natural lighting, and there even was a greenbelt outside if you wanted to take a walk. Plus the rent was really cheap!
C. Then you need the right people to fill the space.
Finally we get to the last step of hiring your team.
You’ve got the vision of what you want. You’ve found a suitable space that allows you to create the right environment. Now you’ve got to fill this space with people.
Not just any people, but people that fulfill the cultural vision of your company. I really only have one piece of advice when it comes to hiring:
Never scrimp. Never, ever scrimp!
You’ve blown it the second you reduce your hiring standards across any of your requirements (smart, integrity, passionate, and cultural fit). Keep your hiring standards high.
That’s how you get the energy in The Pit.
A great team crackles with energy. The energy is infectious. The energy is fun. The energy makes you want to race to work every single day.
You likely will not have the crackling energy of The Pit on day one. You need to get to a critical mass of people just like we did before The Pit will crackle with energy every day.
But you’ll get there. Little by little, you’ll feel the energy of The Pit. Then one day, just like I did, you’ll walk out of a meeting in a conference room.
You’ll look around and smile just like I did. And you’ll know you’re on your way because you have your version of The Pit.
But you need the right culture, or the idea of what your culture should be before you hire anyone.
Then you have to guard this fantastic work environment with your life.
You are looking for that feeling of a buzz in the air. That’s what you are looking for at the end of the day.
You’ll know you are on the right track when you starting feeling and hearing that buzz. Add in a little, no a lot, of camaraderie plus some really smart people and you are on your way to having a fantastic work environment.
Then, whatever you do, quickly get rid of the occasional brilliant jerk you may hire along the way. Brilliant jerks (smart employees with a bad attitude) are a cancer when it comes to creating a great work environment.
Finally, remember what Benjamin Franklin said about the United States republic, “A republic…if you can keep it.” It’s the same thing for creating your great work environment. It’s yours…if you can keep it.