How we made core values part of our DNA and why you should too

by Adam Feber

What do you stand for? It isn’t just a question you should ask on a personal level, but something a company needs to identify about itself as well.

“Your company is a living, breathing organism with a distinct personality. It expresses that personality through its Values,” says Verne Harnish in his best-selling book “Scaling Up.”

If you’ve worked with Chargify as a customer or a vendor you know we definitely have personality! It’s a part of our culture, and our company culture is one of the qualities that attracts top talent to the Chargify team – or should we say “family.”

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • Where we came from: How core values were part of Chargify’s DNA before we were even Chargify
  • Where we’re at now: The “aha” moment that reminded us the importance of core values and how to unearth them
  • Chargify’s FISH principles: Our core values and the positive impact it has had on the team and company

Where we came from:

Chargify was born out of Grasshopper, a company co-founded by David Hauser and Siamak Taghaddos.

Hauser cites, “Scaling Up” by Verne Harnish, for helping him understand the importance of core values. In the book, Harnish defines core values as “the rules and boundaries that define the company’s culture and personality, and provide a final “Should/Shouldn’t” test for all the behaviors and decisions by everyone in the firm.”

Hauser and Taghaddos built Grasshopper from a “fledgling startup to a powerhouse with more than 150,000 customers” and over $30 million in annual revenue, before selling the company to Citrix. The core values Grasshopper identified early on became an important part of the company’s success.

Grasshopper’s core values (below) are referred to as GARY, which is also the name of the company’s mascot.

Chargify co-founder and CTO, Michael Klett, also worked at Grasshopper and talks about the impact the GARY values had on him: “Having those values articulated made me feel connected to the company in a way I hadn’t at other places.” He can still recite the values from memory to this day!

It will come as no surprise that the importance of a company’s core values made its way from Grasshopper to Chargify…

Where we’re at now:

In 2015 we hired a business coach, Kris Kaplan**, to help us realize our full potential as a company. Kaplan reiterated the importance of solidifying our core values and exemplifying them in day-to-day operations – both internally (within the team) and externally (with customers).

** If you’re familiar with Groove, you may recognize Kris Kaplan’s name from their post: “We Hired A Business Coach, And Here’s What Happened”. Hauser (an investor in Groove) introduced the company’s executives to Kaplan. Yep, it’s a small world after all.

Chargify’s directors worked diligently to uncover the specific words that best convey our company’s personality and the things we excel at. We did this through a Jim Collins exercise called “Mission to Mars.” John DeHart, co-founder of Nurse Next Door, does a great job at explaining “Mission to Mars” in this blog post.

Once discovered and decided upon, we formulated a catchy acronym and unveiled Chargify’s core values to the entire team in our monthly, company-wide video call.

Chargify’s FISH Principles (drum roll…)

fresh & fun

friendly • outgoing • creative • passionate • original • adventurous

Life’s too short to spend time on anything boring! You’re more likely to see us hanging out in the coffeeshop than the boardroom. We work hard, have fun, and keep balance in our lives (yep, we encourage work/life balance). We don’t take ourselves too seriously, so we connect with others genuinely. In doing so, we forge real, human relationships.

improving always

studious • innovative • curious • efficient • driven

We’re always seeking ways to do and be better, both individually and as a company. We’re not content with the status quo, so we work fearlessly, improve constantly, and invest in exploring alternatives and the next-big-things alike. We ask questions and strive to leave things better than we found them.

smart choices

resourceful • sensible • vigilant • responsible • self-aware

As a remote company, there is no one looking over our shoulders day-to-day. We’re self-starting, self-motivated, and self-managing to succeed individually and as a whole. By making the most of our resources we continually build a sustainable organization. Each person and role is essential, and team members behave accordingly by rising to meet every challenge.

here to help

dependable • caring • sharing • empathetic • cooperative

If there was a problem, yo, we’ll solve it! We love to lend a hand wherever we can because we value building trust and community. When those around us succeed, we succeed as well. We believe knowledge is worth sharing, and you’ll see us do it often. Working together is key.

Yes, part of our core values include a Vanilla Ice lyric!

The team’s excitement was obvious, and immediately after the call, magical things started to happen. A member of the marketing team modified Charlie the bull (our mascot) to be more aquatic:

No, we are not rebranding, but this is used as an internal meme for fun and to remind us that while our mascot is a bull, our values are FISH.

One of our developers created a Slack bot (called “fishbot”) that allows employees to share when they’ve “caught” (see the fish theme?) a team member actively demonstrating a core value.

Fishbot overview:

  • Type “/fish help” to get instructions on how to access the commands
  • To give a fish award, type: “/fish <fish-value-emoji> <@person> <reason>”
  • At anytime, you can see the leaderboard and giverboard by typing in “/fish leaderboard” or “/fish giverboard”
  • Don’t remember the fish values? Type “/fish list” to get a detailed summary of the values

Here is what it looks like in action:

While the fishbot is a fun, geeky way to praise team members, the concept is nothing new. Grasshopper took an analog approach with “I caught” cards (below) to celebrate coworkers caught in the act of living the core values.

And it doesn’t stop with the fishbot! We’ll be doing some other cool things to communicate the values and weave them into team member’s daily lives, including making posters, mugs, and other FISH swag for the Chargify team:

Harnish wrote that core values shouldn’t be a “wish list of nice-to-haves.” That’s one of the best parts of our FISH principles — they’re very “us.” Chargify has personality, spunk, passion, and energy. All those things are very clear in our core values, and one of the reasons team members have so quickly embraced and aligned with the FISH principles.

These aren’t set in stone. As Chargify grows and evolves, we’ll continue to revisit our values to ensure they always reflect the current state of the company. By articulating our core values, we’ll make our culture even stronger, continue attracting the right people to our team, serve customers in a way we would want to be served, and keep building the kind of company we believe in.

So what you think about Chargify’s FISH principles? Does your company stress core values, and if so, what are some of the ways you align your team with the values? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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