Rob Daley, a former VC, and Henry Thorne, a robotics expert with three startups under his belt, launched a company in 2005 to use powerful, low-cost robotics technology to revolutionize consumer products. After much research, Daley says, they "fell in love with the juvenile market" and launched 4moms the following year.
Along the way, Daley and Thorne learned that the key to creating revolutionary products that integrate complex technology (and that sell, to the tune of $30.5 million in 2013) is creating a collaborative culture. The results of this approach include Origami, a robotic stroller that folds with the push of a button, and MamaRoo, a rocking baby seat that mimics the swaying and bouncing motions of a parent soothing a baby. Coming soon: The world's first baby car seat that installs itself. "Seventy-three percent of all car seats have a critical installation error," Daley says.
These are Daley's tips for creating a collaborative culture.
1. Play musical chairs. When 4moms started, marketers, engineers, supply-chain managers, and industrial designers sat in their respective departments. But soon they began to rearrange themselves into project-focused, cross-functional teams. Rather than send them all back to their offices, Daley says, the company embraced the idea, because it brought conversations about product form and appearance into the process earlier, a "big part of making a product successful. We're tripling our lab space because this is the way people like to work."
2. Hire for humility. Daley prizes passion in his employees, but unlike many company owners, he also prizes humility. "If I'm supposed to collaborate with people, and I think I've got all the answers, it breaks down really, really fast," he says. Every job applicant meets with 4moms's culture committee, which screens for outsize egos. People who don't acknowledge the role of others in their success probably won't make the cut. One-third of otherwise-qualified applicants are rejected because they lack passion or humility, Daley says.
3. Break bread together. Each Monday, all staff members gather in the Pittsburgh office for breakfast, and twice a week, the company caters lunch in the common areas. The meals are chances for employees to interact with peers from other departments and projects. "Breaking bread together helps build those relationships that lead to collaboration and communication," says Daley. Besides the group meals, there are quarterly outings to bowling alleys, baseball games, and other activities to encourage socializing.
4. Hold standup meetings. In addition to the weekly Monday-morning meeting, where 4moms teams discuss corporate announcements and sales results, the company initiated a daily standup meeting about a year and a half ago. Everyone gathers in a circle to discuss what he or she has accomplished and what help he or she needs from others. To keep it from becoming an hourlong coffee klatch, there are rules: No sitting and no leaning. "Doing that for more than 15 minutes is very uncomfortable," Daley says. "It keeps things short and sweet."