400 Automatticians at 2015 Grand Meetup, Park City, Utah

It’s not about the free food: how to develop a healthy corporate culture

In 2010, on one of the most epic road trips of my life, I was passing through Las Vegas and visited Zappos, a year or so after it had been acquired by Amazon. I spent 4 hours visiting headquarters, taking pictures, chatting with executives, and getting the full Zappos experience.

Zappos HQ

Zappos HQ in Las Vegas

If you have never heard of Zappos, it’s a vibrant company founded by Tony Hsieh. They sell shoes. How boring is that? They have a website, and they sell shoes. However, they did not become popular due to the quality of those shoes. They became popular in our industry for their outstanding corporate culture.

To give a few examples, employees had free food and drinks (excluding Red Bull) available 24/7 at headquarters, a car wash service on weekends, massage sessions at the end of shifts. And surprisingly, for an e-commerce company, employees were not evaluated by sales volume or the number of calls they took during support shifts. Performance was only tied to customer satisfaction, as measured by independent post-sales surveys.


The party wall at Zappos HQ

Other companies made headlines for their fancy policies. Apple has the most amazing headquarters on Earth, Facebook offices are also great, and Google was featured in a movie called “The Internship,” which was a comedy mostly about the unusual culture at Googleplex.

My visit at Zappos was a blast, and I raved about it for months and years. At the time, I was working for a startup in Vienna that had recently been sold to a large French corporation. I was so enthusiastically impressed by Zappos that I tried introducing some of their practices. Every experiment failed miserably. My repeated attempts and failures in changing the work practices of my team resulted in a clash with upper management, and I left the company.

In the five years that followed, I discovered through other experiences that free drinks, free food, and unusual methods to measure productivity are the consequence of something deeper — a unique set of values that are at the foundation of outstanding companies. They are like Hawaiian shirts. They make total sense if you live in Maui, but wearing a Hawaiian shirt when you work in a bank does not make you a surfer, and it will probably end in a serious chat with your boss.

400 Automatticians at 2015 Grand Meetup, Park City, Utah

400 Automatticians at 2015 Grand Meetup, Park City, Utah

A few weeks ago I was in Park City, Utah, meeting 400 coworkers at our annual Grand Meetup, a yearly business retreat where we have the chance to spend a week together under the same roof after 51 weeks scattered all over the world. The Grand Meetup schedule is packed with meetings, chats, work sessions, classes, and fun activities. On the first day, Matt Mullenweg, our Founder and CEO, gave opening remarks in a 15-minute speech. It was not super formal, but the tension during kickoff was strong.

Do you know what I remember from those 15 minutes? “Be nice to each other. Grand Meetup can be intimidating for new Automatticians, make sure you are welcoming. Pick up trash on the floor, and be nice to the wait staff of the resort.”

Matt Mullenweg

Matt Mullenweg – Founder and CEO of Automattic

I knew Matt Mullenweg for years before joining Automattic, and one thing that always struck me about him is his kindness. Many times we shared a dinner table at conferences. Matt is the guy who makes you feel good about yourself because he pours water for other people before drinking himself. He’s the one who opens doors, and says please and thank you with absolute sincerity.

When I joined Automattic, I was overwhelmed by the kindness of my colleagues. The first three weeks of support rotation were challenging, but at any time of the day I only had to ask for help and a bunch of people would come to the rescue. The same is true today, with 200 more people on the payroll.

The foundation of corporate culture is the shadow of the founder. So if you are a founder, pay attention to how you behave, more than your corporate policies. If you are joining a company, do a background check on the founder. It’s unlikely you’ll find a pleasing working environment if you and the founder don’t share core values. Steve Jobs was known as a difficult person to deal with, obsessed with details. Look at Apple now: the shadow of the founder is present in every connector, charger, and icon. Of course, the company changed after Steve Jobs, but the legacy is strong and Apple has a long history of ups and downs.

Things change. But people don’t like change. We like to settle in and get comfortable. Don’t get comfortable. Accept the idea that things need to change and when it’s time, it’s time. Think about life, the most important changes just happen. You get a new job, you get fired, you meet that special person, you get married, you have kids, you have to let someone go. Life and death do not follow a schedule. When it’s time, it’s time. So why would your company wait until next quarter to change? So it better fits your Excel table?

Get over it and learn to embrace change.

When I joined Automattic, there were just over 200 people. Two years later on our 10th anniversary, we crossed the 400 mark. I have personally seen many practices get introduced and dismissed, new teams formed and disbanded, projects shelved and picked up again. It’s a good way to keep things spinning and to stay alert and ready for new challenges. We are in a marathon, not in a sprint.

Change of paradigm at Facebook

Change of paradigm at Facebook

Since the beginning, the motto at Facebook was: “Move fast and break things”, until they got big. Then it changed to “Move fast with a solid infrastructure.” How easy do you think it was for Mark Zuckerberg to go on stage at F8 and announce the new motto? Deep thoughts were behind that announcement. The company followed him because of the culture he built over time.

A few years ago I worked at a company that hit rough waters. After a summer with limited liquidity and a series of pay cuts, employees were asked to make a difficult decision: voluntarily work half time to avoid layoffs. We were all pretty weary but the spirit was strong, and we agreed to go half time. In addition, the CEO asked us to concentrate our efforts and be at the office from 9 to 13. It was difficult to accept, as a few of us typically got to the office at 10 or 11.

Starbucks Latte

Starbucks Latte

On the first day of this new schedule, we were all on time. Even those not happy about waking up early were at the office at 9 am sharp. Except one. The CEO showed up at 11 am. There was absolute silence when he walked in the door, holding his usual Starbucks latte. After a moment of hesitation, he said: “There was a hell of a traffic today.” Three people, including me, resigned in a matter of weeks. A single act of disrespect broke months and years of trust.

If you want a healthy company culture, lead by example. Every action you take as a founder, more than just words, sets the tone and makes a difference.

Presented at Better Software 2015Feedback on Joind

A. I. Sajib
Rebecca Krebs
Kat Christopher
Andrea Badgley

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 09.12.23

Powering Business Sites with WordPress

I’m going to tell you a story you’ve probably heard before and it goes like this:

You have a friend who has a shop, a restaurant or a yoga studio. He has heard about the wonders of the Internet and one day, he asks you to help him set up a website for his business.

This is how it plays out in the beginning of your career, but the truth is, nothing really changes and soon enough, you have a new client.

It doesn’t matter if you do it as a favour or for money, you are going to pour your heart and soul into this project because you want them to succeed.

So what do you do?

  • You install WordPress.
  • You find a theme.
  • You paste some content.
  • You tweak the template here and there.
  • You make the client validate the site based on his aesthetic taste.
  • You listen to the client’s meaningless feedback.

The result? The site is online but not really making a difference for the business. The client will never be happy with the website and will say things like:
– “Why didn’t you create a Facebook page? Everybody is on Facebook!”
– “Why am I not the first hit on Google?”
– “What do you mean with which keywords? All of them!”
– “That green is not green enough.”
– “Why isn’t it as cool as this other website?” And then proceeds to show you Amazon.com.

I told you before this was a classic scenario and I’m sure that many of you have experienced it at least once.

A Better Approach

In order to succeed we need to change our attitude and our process. We must be mindful to never detach the business goals from the online presence. This happens way too often and it’s a source of frustration for many businesses that try their hand at online channels.

Let’s take a step back, take a pad of paper, a sharp pencil and let’s work old school:

  • Define reasonable goals.
  • Identify checkpoints and metrics.
  • Measure and improve.

First thing’s first – Business sites

Business site are websites designed to support a traditional business. These businesses primarily serve local clients in the area and they can afford investing a little bit of money in online marketing activities.

Define the goal

The first thing you should do when you acquire a new customer is to ask a simple question: “What do you need the website for?”

Let’s try it all together, repeat after me: “What – Do – You – Need – The – Website – For?”

This is where you’ll get the most surprising answers: To get new clients, to get visitors, to save money on advertising, to sell stuff, to have a URL for the business cards, to compete with Facebook or I don’t know, they told me I needed one!

Your first job is to clarify the goal of the website with your client. It won’t be easy, life isn’t easy. Life is simple, not easy, right? So, the first step is to help your client find out what the primary goal of their website is.

Define checkpoints and metrics: The Growth Funnel
The Growth Funnel is a business tool that serves as a framework to break down the entire relationship businesses have with their customers. It helps us identify where our weak points are and how we can improve our business. It’s a simple 6-step funnel that goes as follows:


As soon as people know the shop is open for business we have met this goal. How do we do this? We could, for instance, put flyers up in the neighbourhood. Would that make people aware? Yes. Would that scale as the business grows? Not really. What is the equivalent of flyers in the online world? Display advertisement, local directories, Chamber of Commerce sites, Yellow Pages, Google AdWords, Google Search.


Can we consider people acquired when they visit the website? This is a classic mistake. It’s true if you have an online business, but not when you have physical business location. People are acquired when they call a phone number, they send an email or even better, when they walk into the shop.


People are activated if they become customers. They can buy something, take their computer in for repairs, lease a big copy machine.


People are retained if they come back and purchase again. Some people may sign a service contract for support, they may simply take another computer in for support and so on.


Customers are so happy about the service they tell other people and bring in more customers. They can also be invited to do so by a well-designed referral program.


The final goal of every activity is to generate revenue in a sustainable and long-term way.

WOW, I though this was about websites and WordPress and we are all business here. As I said, first thing’s first, there is no business site without a business. Never detach your online strategy from the business you are trying to serve.

Now that we have all our steps in place, what do we do?

Landing pages 101

Imagine you go camping and you are looking for a pocket knife. You go to a shop and what do you ask for? A pocket knife, right?
Good, so the man at the counter shows you this knife, a luxurious kitchen knife, extremely well-designed and well-balanced. Wow, it’s an amazing knife, but would you take it with you to go camping? Of course not.
Oh, sorry, says the guy, you’re going camping, right? Then he shows you a top-of-the-line pocket knife with every tool under the sun and then some.

So why do you always settle for the first two options when you set up a website: A site so beautiful that it is basically useless or a website so packet with features that you can barely find what you are looking for.

Websites are tools, they need to be useful. Then they can be beautiful and eventually full of features. But first of all they need to be useful.

A business site, to be useful, needs to do one job and one job only: Get people through the door. How? By providing enough information, trust and reliability to the visitor and we do that with powerful landing pages.

100% of the traffic we care about comes from another site. They can be coming through display advertisement, directories, partners but most of all from Google AdWord or Google organic search. Direct traffic is not so important for conversion because if someone knows how to reach your website directly, then they are already willing to walk in the door.

In order to convert visitors into customers we need to have killer landing pages, each one of them sharply refined down to the very last pixel.

What do we need on every landing page?

A phone number
Big, easy to spot and clickable. Don’t shake your head, this is the most valuable thing you can put on the site. People trust phone numbers and will call. The phone number must be marked up in the code and clickable.

The address of the shop
Make it prominent. Don’t put a map, put an address and eventually a link to Google Maps. Maps slow down the page and nobody will ever use that map. People can click on the address if they need to.

Opening hours
It’s very important if you want people to show up. Phone numbers, addresses and opening hours must be marked up so Google can pick them up and show them on maps and local business listings. There are plugins that can do the job for you. For instance WordPress SEO by Joast does all of this.

Basic information about what people are looking for.
If you have a set of products or services, every product must have a dedicated page, with a clear call to action, like call or send an email.

These are basics, but just try to remember how many of the sites you visit do these basics right.

It should go without saying you need a responsive theme because if you cut off your mobile visitors you are out of business in no time.

A clear call to action
Define your call to action and put it on the landing page. It must be one and one only. Don’t pack landing pages with links and stuff. Just tell people what to do to contact you. It can be a phone call, or sending an email.

Measure all things

You cannot improve anything if you can’t measure it. So let’s start by measuring things. A few metrics are easy to measure, others are very difficult. We are dealing with a local business so we just need to focus on those easy-enough metrics that can be leveraged and make a real difference. Who is the king of online metrics? Exactly Google Analytics. We are going to see Analytics a lot here.


How many people call, send emails or walk into the shop and more specifically how many of them are coming from the website?

Three ways to have a pretty accurate estimate:
– Ask new clients how they found out about you.
– Have a full event tracking on Google Analytics. When people click on the email address or the phone number, track it.
– The hook: If you mention a special discount on your website, have people who walk in mention it.


One of the best ways to keep your customers engaged is to offer them a newsletter. Email marketing is really powerful. WordPress offers many ways to engage your readers via email:
– Jetpack offers email subscription to your content.
– Mailchimp for WordPress is a powerful plugin that integrates Mailchimp with your website, allowing you to have powerful email campaigns.

Once again, it’s very important to measure not just how many emails you send, the open rate and the click rate. What really matters is how many people come back to the business. Measure everything!

Design – Test – Verify – Improve

Here comes the most powerful advice of all: Test your assumptions. I know you are skilled developers, talented designers and amazing code poets but don’t take anything for granted when it comes to business sites. You know your audience but most of the time you know nothing about your client’s clients. Try different designs, different flow, and most of all iterate often on landing pages.

Design – Test – Verify – Improve – Iterate Fast.

Rethink business sites. Next time you have to deal with a business site remember these three things:

  • Define reasonable goals.
  • Measure all the things.
  • Online and offline go together.

One more thing…

Don’t be afraid of offering seemingly old-school solutions to your clients. The only thing that matters is offering valuable support for the business they’re running. Most of the time, they’re still stuck in the 70s. Taking them to 1995 with a solid email marketing strategy connected to their site can be a real game-changer. You don’t need ello for that!

Author: Luca Sartoni – Copy editor: Andrea Zoellner

Carmine Gallo

Carmine Gallo about passion, vision and leadership – The Sartonialist ep 6

Don’t miss the new episode of The Sartonialist with Carmine Gallo! It’s a great episode you should definitely check out on my brand new dedicated podcast blog!

Now it’s possible to subscribe the feed and as soon as Apple reviews the application, the podcast will be available on iTunes as well.

Presentation Reloaded: Workshop in Milan – 30/11/2010

presentation reloaded

I have to confess, i’m a presentation geek, and in the last few months i worked hard on my presentation skills. I followed several blogs and read many books on this topic. I also started, in collaboration with RBC and Elastic, the IgniteItalia.org project.

Tomorrow, tuesday November the 30th, at Urban Center – Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II 11/12, Milan there will be one of the most interesting workshop about public speaking and presentations: Presentations Reloaded, organized by Augmendy and the super presenter Marco Montemagno.

The guest list is really impressive: Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen and Marco Montemagno on stage. Carmine Gallo and Nancy Duarte live from USA.

It’s an event that you shouldn’t miss! It will be totally in English (extra kudos to Marco for this smart choice) and free, you only need to register here. Don’t miss it!