There's nowhere else in the world quite like Silicon Valley. It's a buzzing, vibrant community that constantly keeps you on your toes. But on its worst days, it can make you feel like you're back in high school, striving for cool.
Websites publish "coolest companies" lists. Founders, venture capitalists and pundits regularly publish self-important Tweet storms and their followers respond with clever comebacks and emojis. The size of your Twitter following, LinkedIn network or last round of funding seem to be the primary filters people use when deciding whether to talk to you at industry events.
Meanwhile, a previously "cool" company was outed for doing company-wide shots of whiskey in the middle of the day in the office every time an employee closed a new customer. Another company was called out for protecting a senior executive who sexually harassed female employees. After an independent investigation, that same company fired 20 employees related to harassment claims and lost multiple senior executives, as well as a board members and even the CEO. Both these companies reportedly created software programs to help them skirt the law in order to grow faster.
Tech blogs are filled with posts detailing lawsuits and accusations about awful cultures and actions of companies -- large and small -- in Silicon Valley.
Something tells me we are going about this all wrong.
I don't pretend to be the arbiter of cool. The Tile office takes up a couple of floors in an unsexy building on El Camino Real in San Mateo. We don't have exposed brick walls. You couldn't find a Blue Bottle nearby if you tried. I don't bring my dog to work. I don't even have a dog. I do have a chicken. Her name is Patsy.
Maybe it's time we redefined what "cool" means. What if instead of focusing on unicorn status or the kinds of parties a company throws, we decided to judge companies based on how they treat their employees, customers and communities? And instead of tolerating, encouraging or ignoring discrimination or harassment, we ensure that our employees and customers are happy?
Let's start by looking at a few tips that seem to be working for other Silicon Valley companies:
Create healthy work environments.
I just read a story about Asana that highlighted the culture Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein are creating. Their product is truly useful and has the potential to make a big difference in the way companies are run (including mine). Their culture focuses on mindfulness, communication and compassion. They put systems in place to ensure employees at all levels feel heard and respected. They foster a diverse and open-minded workforce. That sounds pretty cool to me.
Embrace creativity and encourage positive group experiences.
At Patreon employees have access to a full band set-up in the lobby. When anyone is feeling the need to pull away from their work to get clarity or recharge, they can jam for a while. Music fills the office. Encouraging people to be creative together and spread positive feelings and inspiration? That's cool.
Practice and preach equality.
Growing doesn't have to mean losing your soul. Look at Salesforce. Founder and CEO Marc Benioff has financed investigations and instituted policies to ensure female and male employees are paid equally for the same work. He publicly speaks out on behalf of LGBTQ people, even going so far as to pull business from certain parts of the country that are promoting discriminating policies.
Using your influence to support other people? That's about as cool as it gets.