How Twilio Scaled Its Values With Its Operations

Values are more than words, they're a guide for daily behavior. Moreover, they are living, breathing descriptors of the business and its people. Develop a recurring habit of reflecting and revising your values so they never become out of date.

Skyrocketing startups all confront the same challenge. Thanks to digital technologies, it’s never been easier to scale the operational side of a business. In return, it’s never been harder to retain the working culture and internal values of that company amidst explosive, exponential growth.

Twilio is a cloud communications company, founded in 2008. In 2014, Twilio was adding $1 million in annualized revenue every seven days. By 2015, the company was worth an estimated $1B dollars.

In 2010, with just six employees, Twilio captured their individual values for recruiting efforts.

“We called a meeting, and came up with five descriptors: continuous improvement, detail-oriented, learners, humble, hungry. We saw these attributes in ourselves and thought they’d help us attract like-minded people. So we declared them our values and started to hire.”

– Co-founder, Jeff Lawson

This articulation worked well until the company hit 70 employees. At this scale, Lawson realized that values had to do more than describe his personal values, these statements had to express the company’s ever-evolving approach to people, product, and process. Today, Twilio employs more than 400 people.

Lawson realized that values needed a systemic approach, just as how the company approached its operations and technical systems. Cultural values, he noted, were more than words printed on a slide or inscribed on a wall, they were how you behaved every single day in everything you do as a business.

In response to rapid growth, Twilio developed a three-stage process for living their values that any scaling organization can follow:

  1. Articulate your values. Values have no meaning if they’re just what might be “nice to have.” Instead, spend time reflecting on what your team does well, what their commonalities are, and what purpose they all share. Invite employees to ideate on what is important to them. Come up with around 100 ideas to start, and then ask, “What could we survive without?”. If the value isn’t imperative, throw it out. Remember, values should be directive, not just descriptive. For example, “Be Humble” is better than just “Humble.”
  2. Live your values. Pressure test your values by putting your ideas into practice, starting with the CEO, noting that “Everyone looks at everything you do. If you aren’t living them, nobody else will.” From there, focus on honing your team, then hiring for people who have the capacity to live your values. Team members don’t have to exemplify these values right away, but should steer towards them in a way that is cohesive with the rest of the team. Candidates shouldn’t be carbon copies of the existing team, but if they can’t get behind the core of the company, cut them lose.
  3. Change your values. Companies will grow and change, and you may find the values that fit your team today are no longer a priority a few years down the road. If your values begin to feel forced, or the majority of your team is struggling to connect with them in a meaningful way, it’s a good signal that it’s time to part ways. However, Lawson cautions not to change your values too frequently: “If you change them quarterly, they’re no longer your values, they’re strategies. In order to be meaningful as values you need to have continuity.” Small tweaks every two or three years should suffice. Remember, timing is important: If your company is too young and small, you won’t know yourselves well enough to capture what’s important in a concrete way. If you wait until your company is too big and established, your values may inadvertently form themselves, and might not be in line with your ideals.


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How Twilio Scaled Its Values With Its Operations
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