Like a lot of companies I’ve talked to, TaxJar encountered new challenges once we reached about 20 employees. One challenge came after we realized there was a gap between TaxJar teammates who had been on the team awhile and folks that were newer to the company. The veterans of the team intrinsically understood how we did things. The newbies only understood what we told them. And that was the problem – we weren’t telling them nearly enough.
That was the moment we realized that we had to implement processes to preserve TaxJar’s “lightning in a jar” – our company culture. We realized that as we grew to 40, 50 employees and beyond, that it was vital we train every new teammate as to how we work and what is important to us. After all, everything we do, how we behave, and the people we hire should all be consistent with what we think is important. In other words, we needed to define our core values.
Sounds easy, right? But it proved to be a bit more challenging than we first thought.
The problem was twofold. First, we (probably mostly me) had to get over ourselves. A lot of us have resisted doing anything that hinted at being “corporate.” We’re not a corporation. We’re lean and mean, dammit.
The second part was we had never expressly stated our core values! A lot of us talked about things important to us, but we weren’t all working from the same script. So we committed to doing something we saw as critical to our phase of growth — going through a process to take what’s most important to the company and put it into words.
We took our time with the process. We took cues from Verne Harnish. Over the course of about 4 weeks we looked at what other companies claimed as their values, brainstormed ideas and discussed them with members of the team, getting invaluable feedback along the way. Coming up with the values was the easier part. Getting the wording “right” took us the bulk of the time. When we thought we had something more final, we shared it on our weekly team-wide call to get feedback.
Here’s what we came up with…
Let’s break down each one.
We do the right thing for our customers.
Simply put, we don’t exist without our customers. And we can’t ever forget that. So for that reason customers play a huge role in everything we do.
One of the most effective things we’ve done as a company is put customers in the driver’s seat in terms of prioritization of features. Early on, we got into the habit of listening and doing what customers wanted (a simple formula that keep customers happy). Even today, very rarely do we prioritize features that aren’t based on customer demand.
Lastly, and maybe most important, we’re always going to side with our customers. Even when it comes to sales tax legislation that could be great for TaxJar, we’re going to support our customers and small business. Why? Because a big portion of our growing team has been a small business owner in a past life. We can’t abandon who we are, and we’ll always go to bat for the people who use and trust TaxJar.
We’re a team, built on trust.
Team comes before an individual. Period. We extensively screen candidates to make sure they’re ready-and-willing to leave their ego at the door and do what’s best for the company. When the company succeeds, we all succeed. When we make mistakes, we all share it, learn from it, and move on. Anyone who wants to put themselves first won’t fit in with our team.
I’m sure a lot of remote teams have trust somewhere in their list of values. They have to. Trust is inherent to remote life. Remote work means that ultimately each member of the team will be judged based on two things: their ability to collaborate with others and their production. If you work at TaxJar that means no one will micromanage you, so you’ll have to be motivated and willing to take on the responsibility of getting your work done on time.
Trust is a two-way street. One of the things we do to gain that trust is to open our books. At the end of each month, I report on roughly 50 metrics (including how much money we have in the bank) with everyone on the team so that they know exactly how we’re doing.
Trust is also an enormous piece of our relationship with customers. Customers have to trust the data we make available to them. They have to trust that we’ll take that data and file it accurately to states. No one wants a state department of revenue calling them saying they’re out of compliance. We have to earn and maintain that trust every single day, or our customers will go elsewhere.
We’re proud to be remote.
In our minds, remote work is the only way we know how to work. We don’t understand commutes. Having to be productive in the fixed hours you sit in a building makes no sense to us — it’s actually not a natural way to be productive.
Is growing a company remotely hard? You bet. But that’s one of the best parts of the challenge of becoming the #1 market leader in sales tax — we’re going to have to do it unlike any company in our space (and very few companies in any space). We strongly believe that working remotely is the future of work, and we are happy to be in the forefront of that movement.
The other really important part of remote life is our access to a diverse talent pool. We’re not limited to a workforce in one particular location. We don’t have to force people to move just to join the team. Work from wherever you want. Save that commuting time to be with your family. Win. Win. Win.
We’re in control of our own destiny.
We decided very early on that the success or failure of TaxJar was going to come down to our employees. We didn’t want to have anyone else in control of key decisions that would impact our future. Part of that decision meant making sure that if we took on outside capital that they had to be partners, not investors. As it turns out, our partners are the best investors of any company I know. They’re super supportive, but they also respect us and our decision-making abilities. The success of TaxJar is in our hands.
If we want to control our destiny, that also means we’re choosing to be an actual business — we have to make money, run things efficiently, and most of all we have to be profitable. We pledged to ourselves to not get into an endless cycle of raising money just to spend it and raise an even bigger round 18 months later. Inevitably, that leads to investors running the business, not employees. No thanks.
As I write this, we’ve been profitable for nearly two years. That has allowed us to shift focus from just trying to survive as young company, to setting our sights on some very lofty goals that we’re excited about achieving.
So what’s happened since our values were formalized?
Almost instantly we noticed the team integrate our values into conversations with customers, partners, leads, and each other. I believe part of the CEO’s job is to take the lead to make sure we hold ourselves accountable. Our values have to be part of the conversation as we make decisions about our goals and priorities.
It’s early days yet, but we have also seen promising results teaching new teammates our values during new hire onboarding. We’re all working from the same playbook and it shows.
To sum it up, it’s now easy to hold any decision up and ask “Does this align with TaxJar’s core values?” And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t happen.
We want to hear from you. Have you defined your company’s core values? What are they? What differences did you notice afterward? We look forward to the conversation in the comments.