László Vad

László Vad

fellow of Bridge Budapest, CodeBerry Programming School, Budapest, 2016

My Adventures at a Hungarian Startup vol. 1. – Take care of the people first

“Okay, so the only thing we still need is your birthday.

My birthday?

Yes, so that we know when to say happy birthday to you. We have this event every quarter, when we eat out somewhere together, and we celebrate company events, birthdays and stuff. So, when were you born?

I had this conversation on my first day at CodeBerry. The two of us, the CEO and me, were sitting in front of a laptop, with the onboarding spreadsheet on the screen, which every new employee filled out. The cursor was patiently blinking in the last empty cell: birthday. And what I was thinking in the meanwhile:

It is clear that you cannot start your first day like this, so:

Working for a young Hungarian startup is a much more special (and peculiar) experience than what I expected when I applied for the Bridge Budapest programme. I learned a lot, and saw a lot of things that blew my mind just like the example above.

I would like to use these posts to give you an insight into these moments. If you are considering to hand in your application, I would like you to know what you can see here during that six months.

For the sake of enjoying and clarity, I tried to summarise these experiences in lessons. The first one is about humans.

Lesson One: “Take care of the people, the product and the profits — in that order.”

The first thing I learnt at CodeBerry was that I matter. The thoughts and ideas of mine, an intern, and the way I feel are important, and my leaders want me to feel great.

In addition to being flattering and friendly, this is also a smart leadership move. If the team is fine, their performance will be optimal, which yields a better product and eventually profits.

According to Ben Horowitz, from whom the above quotation comes, it is not only that that it is the way it is worth building a healthy company, but that it is the only way. If a leader tries to change the order, it will be like someone trying to build a house this way:

This was the first lesson I learned at CodeBerry: there are only a few better investments for a company than dealing with the people working with you.

„Take care of the people” – but how?

Psychological research studies connect human wellbeing to a range of needs, but there are four special ones: safety, autonomy, bonding and self-realisation. These are thought to be the basic needs.

If a company pays attention to these four, it has already done a good job. It is of course easier to say it than to do it, so I have collected three practical examples of how CodeBerry deals with these.

1. Let’s sit down and tell me about it

At the end of my first month, I was sitting in a café with András, the head of the marketing team. We were having our first “monthly 1on1” meeting over two cappuccinos, and I got a range of questions about myself and the company.

Some of them were:

  • How do you see yourself at the company within 2-3 months? Are you progressing towards your professional goals?
  • Have you made any progress towards your professional goals in the last month?
  • How could you be more efficient?
  • How could the company help you with that?
  • Can you see any company issues that you think we should correct? Do you have any recommendations on how to do that?

By the time we had finished the template, I gave feedback to myself, András gave me some feedbacks and I gave my feedbacks to the company.

The simple this tool is, the lot it gave me in terms of the four psychological needs. Each time like that:

  • made me feel safer, because I could see my position in the company instead of just flying blind,
  • gave me the opportunity of self-realisation, because I also could give feedback, and
  • made me feel connected to the team, since who on earth would not want to belong to a place where people are interested and listen to his opinion?

2. When you work is not important

I had a similar feeling when I asked on the first days how much and from when to when I had to work.

The guys only answered that it is 60 hours per month in total but they do not really care when I work.

If I feel that I can be the most productive between two and eight in the morning, then I should do that. They explained that they were interested in results and that I was fine, not that everyone sat in the office from eight till five.

Autonomy—check. Knowing that I am the master of my time really upgraded my quality of life.

3. We help you develop

At CodeBerry, we teach people to write programmes, online. Everybody who works here must be able to write programmes at least at a basic level, thus ensuring that all of us are a bit in the same boat with our users.

This was the story that no matter that I was supposed to come to the marketing department, but I immediately started to learn coding right on the first week, and the company gave me every help:

  • access to all our other lessons,
  • mentoring, if I have got stuck with the material,
  • financial support in the form of tuition, when I had to learn about a material that had not been on the table at the school so far, and
  • the time I spent learning counted as time worked.

I had already been in the situation that I was required to learn at a new place. I had however never had people standing behind me and actively helping me.

„The product and the profits” – the fruit of the investment

The first time I felt the phrase of Ben Horowitz on my skin, was when in the middle of November we started to refashion the entire logic underlying our learning interface at a forced pace.

What had been a linear course making users progress step-by-step from A to B so far, had to be transformed into a fully free system, where students can go wherever they want.

Many of us forgot the concept of the weekend in the next weeks, while we were working on making the system transition to be as smooth as possible. If the team had not had the strong basis, if we had not spent the preceding peaceful period with ensuring that all of us are fine, then this stage might have worn us out.

This way it was a joint effort, a story we are proud of and not something clenching our stomachs if we think back on it. This is the benefit of building your house in the right order:

TLDR: If you wanted to build a company, build your colleagues first

If you wanted to become part of the Bridge Budapest Scholarship Programme, then I assume that once you want to build a company. Great! In this case I think you should take the following advice from the foregoing:

Your people should be the one you always pay first attention to, then the product and then profits.

Because profits are yielded by great products, which those can create easily, who feel safe, are connected to their colleagues and are their own masters and are given the opportunity of self-realisation.

Do not start with the roof, start with the foundation.