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Culture, Values, Operating Principles & More

Company values are a living, breathing thing. If you don’t think about them early, they will emerge themselves later — and might not align with your expectations.

Jane Portman
Jane Portman
Operating principles, culture and values for SaaS

Company values are a living, breathing thing. If you don’t think about them early, they will emerge themselves later (and might not align with your expectations).

This idea is not new. Here are a few interesting examples of company values:

We’ve been very intentional about building a certain type of company here at Userlist. Pragmatic, sustainable, transparent. When we got together in the fall of 2017, we did the brand sprint exercise to align our expectations as co-founders, and the results still hold up.

However — as we incorporated and kept growing — it became important to capture our company values and share them publicly. So we held a special meeting, and distilled our core values. That meeting goes back to 2018, but both values and operating principles still hold up in 2021.

Core values

  • Creating value. Helping customers is the primary reason why we are in the software business. We're here to craft a reliable tool, and help customers make the most out of it — through educational materials and personal support. The goal of our marketing activities is to honestly deliver as much value as possible. We're always happy to recommend other tools if it makes more sense.
  • Pragmatism. We strive to build a no-fluff product that delivers value in the most straightforward, practical manner. We set down-to-earth goals and don't chase trends. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we absorb best practices and come up with reliable solutions for real people. We don't set out to change human behavior. We take the risk to apply our expertise and figure out simple solutions instead of offering endless customization.
  • People first. We believe everyone deserves the chance to pursue a business that suits their lifestyle. We believe in relationships over money. Customer happiness and end user satisfaction is more important than revenue; team happiness is more important than new features and KPIs. End user happiness is crucial because our customer's dignity and reputation depend on it.
  • Quality. We understand quality as both reliability and aesthetics. Keeping our product reliable and polished is more important to us than rapidly shipping new features. Our customers trust us to handle their end user communication, and we aren't going to disappoint them with quick-and-dirty solutions. When in doubt, we choose to deliver a smaller feature set, but take time and sweat the details.
  • Honesty & ethics. We talk to each other honestly as a team, and we talk honestly to our customers. We only practice honest marketing. We don't tolerate scam, clickbait, or dark usability patterns. We expect the same from our customers as they talk to their users, and advocate for fair use of Userlist as an automation tool. We explicitly forbid bad practices, and put extra effort into promoting ethicality.

These are not just words — they translate into real-life activities. Based on the values, we wrote down key operating principles that guide our everyday operations.

Operating principles

  • Team always comes first. Growing a company is a long-term journey; we want to enjoy it. All team members are welcome to pursue the lifestyle they want.
  • We operate as a fully remote team and respect asynchronous communication.
  • In customer support, we're not striving for instant response, but rather focusing on figuring out a truly helpful solution.
  • We trust the expertise of each other, but aim for consensus in decision-making.
  • We assume that all of us act with the best intentions.
  • When something goes wrong, we focus on finding a solution instead of looking for someone to blame.
  • We set flexible, realistic goals. No one gets fired or is forced to work overtime because of KPIs.
  • We ship simple features first and iterate on them. We believe that advanced systems can only be created by improving on simple systems.
  • We listen to our customers, but keep the vision strong.
  • We're always learning! We're open to changing our ways if it's best for the team and fits our core values.

Later, we also defined our user onboarding principles, which you can learn more about in this user onboarding guide for SaaS founders.

What about you? What matters the most to your company?

— Regards, Jane.

About the author
Jane Portman

Jane Portman is the co-founder of Userlist. Her mission is to help SaaS companies leverage the power of email marketing automation. Mom of three, Jane also enjoys scuba diving and runs two podcast shows: UI Breakfast and Better Done Than Perfect.

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