Ant colonies don't have bosses. Everybody knows what their job is and they get their job done
(Yvon Chouinard, founder Patagonia)
The story of Yvon Chouinard, the owner and founder of outdoor clothing company Patagonia, is inspiring. Yvon was more of a surfer than a manager, and thus never let his business get in between him and some really good waves. And he decided to allow the same for his employees. His mantra was that it does not matter when the employees worked, but how well they got their job done.
At Oval Money, the co-founders had all been in some corporate, consulting or investment banking job, where face time was the norm and no one was really rewarding hard work and initiative. They were all in agreement to make Oval much more about ownership and achievement than time. And even if startups take up a lot of effort by all the team members, it was essential to cut out some time for team building and allow employees to have some personal time, without compromising the quality of the service to the users and the job that had to get done.
At Oval the founders were driven to mimic the management style of ants. Yes, ant colonies are extremely efficient large groups that work towards very clear common goals. To do this the Oval culture had to develop from the first employee and be driven by teamwork. If people found the right track to lead themselves and feel owners in all they did then the culture could grow from a one employee team to a large organisation with offices across the world.
What can be learned from ants?
1. Share the Oval mission clearly and often to make sure everyone is behind it
2. Find the right job for everyone, even if they have never done this before
3. Promote communication and teamwork through clear processes
4. Embrace change as a driver of innovation
5. Make ownership and accountability the core of the culture
6. Ensure peers review each other and sort things out between themselves
To hire the best talent, at Oval the founders were open to remote employees and work as long as there were processes in place that helped team members collaborate and communicate easily and continuously. Thanks to new technologies, a new way of working is emerging in fact and in Oval the founders believe in intercepting this change to build the best place to work.
By this time it was Christmas 2016 and with it came a new tradition; monthly dinners with the team, and random dress-ups so everyone would notice!
As hiring was under way, Oval starts to build a solid developer team as well as fill up product and marketing roles. Firstly came Andrea, Sicilian, with a very Hollywood surname and a passion for desserts 🍩🍪 that he would personally bring back from Sicily when he visited home to enjoy with the team during Team Meetings on Monday evening.
Then came Vincenzo, the day dreamer, that moved back to Italy after years in Australia.
The team then found Viviana and Elena, Italians in London, both with Italian dads and foreign mothers that fell in love with the country and the charm.
Finally Stefano, quietly brought his physics skills to the data science of financial transactions to build the algorithms for machine learning in the app.
The team was still working out of our tiny office, inside the unused conference room of a co-working space, but as they approached being 10, they were really too many and had to move. When choosing the new office, it was important to have some space to share time as a team, and the beautiful balcony did the job. The new office also had a view, the huge banking building of Intesa Sanpaolo, the largest bank in Italy, to remind the team every day why they were there, to build a product that would be easier for banking customers to interact with. A product that felt friendly and comfortable.
The team started working together to shape the Oval Money product. And with this came the traditions that we decided to add to our website, including risotto for 10 coupled with wine!
It was time to celebrate, the launch was just a few months away but the team felt ready to achieve this together… And no one could have imagined what would come next…