Open kitchen culture

More and more people who come across our blog are amazed at the openness and transparency of our communication with the outside world, to the point of wondering whether competitors could take advantage of it against us. Indeed, when you read through our posts, which are slowly but surely becoming more frequent and more detailed, you can easily imagine how all this information could be turned into a competitive weapon.

To be honest, as we’re moving along, we keep asking ourselves the very same question, yet always come back with the same answer: the net benefits to us are still positive. In other words, the benefits of an open communication channel with customers, partners, investors, and employees far surpass the risks associated with the dissemination of proprietary information to our competitors. Here is why.

By being brutally honest about ourselves and sharing with anyone interested the good, the bad, and the ugly about our business, we’re creating a level of trust that no amount of marketing nor public relations will ever be able to match or even come close to. And trust has to be the most valuable asset of any business.

By the same token, any nugget of wisdom that competitors could glean from our posts won’t be very helpful to them if they don’t take the whole package. By that, I mean that our communication style is only one of the many aspects in which Stoic is different, from the way we make decisions (unanimously), to the way we manage product development (user-driven development process), to the way we develop software (refine). If anything, our serious competitors should never read our blog, for it might take them down the wrong path, as far as their own business is concerned.

And if a competitor decides to emulate everything we do to the letter, we’ll take this plagiarism as the best form of flattery, and we’ll reassure ourselves in remembering that, by definition, we’ll always be a blog post ahead of them.

Today, a friend of mine came up with a great analogy to describe this way of thinking, and the culture we’re trying to establish in our fledgling company: it’s very much like a restaurant with an open kitchen. Customers love it, because they can see how the food is made, whether it’s done in sanitary conditions, whether the ingredients are fresh, whether the cooks are clean and attentive to details, and whether they have things under control.

Of course, with an open kitchen, all your mistakes and shortcomings are exposed in the open for anyone to see. And if you become sloppy, if the kitchen is dirty, or if you start buying products of poor quality, customers aren’t likely to come back. But in that case, I would argue that you should close shop anyway. The restaurant business is a highly competitive one, and only the best survive. As far as I can tell, the open kitchen strategy is one of the best available techniques to extend your restaurant’s lifespan.

To a very large extent, we’d like to manage our software business as an open kitchen restaurant. This kind of approach was pioneered by a few open source software companies a decade ago, but it was applied to the software development process only. In our case, we’d like to push the enveloppe and apply it not only to software development, but also product development, as well as marketing, sales, human resources, corporate strategy, and many other aspects of our business.

Quite frankly, we have no idea whether it will work or not. It’s certainly too early to tell, and we’re bound to make plenty of mistakes along the way. But as long as we’re willing to face them and their consequences in an honest and open manner, I must believe that everything will be fine in the end, and that we will have a ton of fun while doing it.

What else could really matter?

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