Culture at Dresslife

Vision and Mission

Fashion is the ultimate means of self-expression. Everybody wants to look good. Yet, it is one of the most polluting industries in the world.

We believe technology has the ability to revolutionize the fashion shopping experience, while elevating profitability and sustainability for the industry segment.

Dresslife seeks to enable retailers to address those challenges with minimum effort by establishing an operating system for fashion.

Why did we create this document?

We believe there are very few reasons for a start-up to become more successful than a large corporation. It always has less money; it can hire fewer highly skilled employees and it has less experience of the market than the dominant players. While there are some advantages that facilitate the success of a start-up, we believe culture is the most important and most powerful factor.

When we launched Dresslife, we sought inspiration from several other companies that we believe succeeded in enabling their teams to execute at an exceptional level and where amazing people find it an extremely motivating workplace. Thanks to Netflix, Masters of Scale, NFX and a few others, we were inspired to form the Dresslife culture, with which we hope to be equally successful.

Values and Traits

We have defined the following values, which we believe are necessary in order to be successful at Dresslife:

  1. World Class Team
  2. Impact
  3. Ownership
  4. Aligned Vision & Goals
  5. Profitable Sustainability

Each value is further broken down into a set of underlying traits. We believe these values and traits, enable us to foster an inspiring work environment and to achieve our goals.

1 World Class Team

Dresslife’s most important value is having a world class team. We like to be inspired by the people with whom we spend a substantial amount of our time.

Yet, we believe it is also critical from a business perspective. A software-driven start-up cannot maintain its competitive advantage in the long-term by traditional achievements, such as economies of scale or patents. We know the greatest advantage in remaining competitive is to be the best team working in our domain.

Building a world class team from the outset creates a perpetual effect. It leads to more amazing people wanting to join our organization, it keeps each of us challenged and it accelerates our mutual learning.

What is a world class team?

World class employees are among the best in their field for each position in terms of their skills and experience. While we believe experience matters, for us it ranks lower than skill level.

We apply several criteria to measure a fit to our expectation of being world class, such as automated tests, achievements in former roles, GPAs or previous positions.

In order to succeed at Dresslife, next to being world class “on paper”, it is even more important to be world class in the following traits.

1.1 Active Learner / Curiosity

The start-up environment is highly innovative and volatile. Therefore, experience is of limited value to a start-up.

Conversely, the value of learning from challenges and mistakes in a structured manner leads to an improved skill level that has sustainable value. It allows oneself not only to be more effective and efficient, but it also enables one to contribute most to a culture, where everyone can learn from each other every day.

While curiosity is highly beneficial, it is amplified when correlated with active learning. When we regularly analyze past mistakes, risks, decisions or knowledge gaps in a structured manner, we improve ourselves and the entire organization.

Every member of Dresslife aims to operate outside their comfort zone, take risks and make mistakes, because it is in these areas that fast learning occurs (see 2.3).

1.2 Energy

We believe a world class team relies heavily on energetic people.

Energy is hard to learn, since it is an intrinsic trait. An enormous amount of energy is needed to accomplish great things in life. People with abundant energy will energize others, further multiplying their impact.

A high level of energy does not require someone to be extroverted. It refers only to the level of energy one has to get things done.

1.3 Persistence

In a start-up, taking risks and experimenting are constant. Everyone will encounter a lot of failure. Thus, persistence – the ability to push through challenges – is key to achieving a successful outcome.

Persistence does not mean we pursue each challenge infinitely. Rather, we disaggregate a problem into executable chunks, which allows us to validate and falsify hypotheses. If all hypotheses are disproven and there are none left to prove with a relevant risk-return-ratio, we move on.

1.4 Clear Communication

To achieve maximum results, it is critical to clearly communicate our thoughts and ideas. In everything we do, we strive for fact-based communication.

For example: we use precise metrics (“conversion rate improved by 30% for users that shop more than 3x per year”) rather than vague statements (“it substantially helped a lot for frequent shoppers”).

Also, we always check if our communication passes the “so what” test.[1]

1.5 Proactivity

We try to think ahead and anticipate problems before they occur. This includes bigger risks as well as daily tasks.

Each meeting is planned in advance and everyone is responsible for understanding topics and the scope before joining a meeting, as well as preparing what to contribute. If there is no value in joining a particular meeting, we let the organizer know in advance and discuss whether our participation makes sense.

We take responsibility for active contribution and are willing to challenge the status quo and opinions, irrespective of experience or hierarchy, but based on facts and analytical thinking.

2 Impact

Most of the people who prove to be successful at Dresslife seek to have a perceivable impact. Highly skilled, driven employees are motivated by execution, not by politics, ego or status. They are frustrated in regular jobs or corporations, where they cannot use their potential in terms of skills and execution, because of unnecessary rules and hierarchies. At Dresslife, we want to create an environment that maximizes everyone’s impact.

2.1 Customer First Mindset

To have maximum impact, the most important criterion is always putting the customer first. If we keep our focus on the customer value, we are very likely to execute on the right priorities.

Before working on a task, we ask ourselves “what is the customer’s priority?” and “how do we contribute to their benefit?” Decisions and priorities are challenged accordingly. Competitors or market analyses are closely watched, but always come second.

2.2 Effectiveness/Focus/Structure

Effectivity or “doing the right thing” is one of the few advantages to a start-up beating large corporations. Start-ups have no historical baggage and typically do not have to deal much with politics. Conversely, a start-up that is not able to keep its focus and pursue the highest priorities is almost certain to fail. Therefore, we always prioritize effectivity (doing the right thing) over efficiency (how fast you do it).

An effective work culture with little hierarchy requires an extraordinary level of structure and problem-solving skills from everyone, otherwise hierarchy would be needed to manage these problems. The example below is a general guideline for solving problems in a structured manner:

Identify and understand the problem in detail.

Identify the cause for the problem:

Disaggregate the problem: brainstorm hypotheses that could explain where the problem could result from. Ideally, the hypotheses are already structured to be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (“MECE”);

  • Prioritize the hypotheses/analysis: hypotheses should have a low priority, if they are unlikely to cause the problem or only have a smaller impact than the more important ones;
  • Analyze the hypotheses: starting with the best priority-effort-ratio and plan how much time to spend on each of them. The result should either prove or disprove a hypothesis, until the cause for the original problem has been identified.

Solution:

  • Brainstorm approaches that address the problem’s cause;
  • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the available approaches and prioritize them;
  • Define a concept for implementing the solution.

Implement the most appropriate solution and observe its result in reality.

2.3 Efficiency

While it is deadly for a start-up to lose focus, a slow start-up will die equally fast! Successful start-ups must have both focus and efficiency.

At Dresslife, we enjoy executing at world class speed and live a “lean” culture. We know that “done is better than perfect”. Yet, our solutions still have to work. Quality is important to the extent of having a finished product and that it fulfills the expected customer value.

Yet, speed increases the risk of mistakes. This particularly pertains to complicated decisions. To minimize our company’s risk, we differentiate between “two-way-” and “one-way-door-decisions”:

Two-way-door-decisions can be corrected. They come with a lower risk. We believe 80% of the decisions we make at Dresslife are two-way-door-decisions. In those cases, we take educated guesses and execute fast, because errors can be fixed quickly. Still, we aim “not to be stuck in the two-way-door” and our decisions should be right most of the time. We want to make good educated guesses, in terms of quality and speed.

One-way-door-decisions are high risk and can only be corrected with substantial effort and costs, or not at all. For these decisions, we carefully analyze the risk-return-ratio and address the issue with structured problem solving (see 2.1).

2.4 Smart Risk Taking

We know success does not come from not failing, but from making enough smart bets that lead to winning in the long-term. Thus, decisions must be made quickly, while considering a reasonable risk return ratio (see 2.1 and 2.2).

However, when a mistake happens, it should not be repeated. We learn from our missteps and move on. Every member of our team is also responsible for helping others avoid making the same mistake.

2.5 Innovation

We understand that all functions in a business are critical, such as sales, finance or marketing. Yet, long-term success in a metric-driven technology firm is a result of technical superiority.

Our primary USP is to have the best product in our field. Therefore, we prioritize innovation and engineering since all other departments will directly benefit. More than 50% of our team are engineers and everyone in non-engineering functions should have a deep desire to innovate and challenge the status quo. The only aspect that precedes innovation is customer value (see 2.1).

In general, we try to build our technology so it can react as flexibly as possible to changes. Yet, if we feel a new technology provides a substantial benefit, we are not afraid to start fresh and drop any technical baggage.

Focusing on innovation does not mean we have to reinvent the wheel. If doing something ourselves does not provide a competitive advantage and is not faster, we copy or adapt what already exists (always keep it legal!). So, a reasonable amount of time can be spent finding an outside solution in case it already exists.

3 Ownership

Dresslife’s culture relies as little as possible on management and as much as possible on individual ownership.

3.1 Self-Responsibility / Entrepreneurial Mindset

Every team member takes responsibility for understanding what is best for Dresslife and our customers, rather than requiring managers to tell them. We believe every decision should be made as low as possible in the hierarchy – ideally requiring no hierarchy whatsoever.

However, being able to empower every team member to the maximum in terms of decision making and prioritization is only possible when an entrepreneurial mindset is reflected in every decision we make. Therefore, each of us is responsible for putting the company goal above any individual goal.

At a more operation level, self-responsibility means colleagues can rely upon us, delivering results before deadlines or simply being on time for a meeting.

3.2 Aligned Accountability

We avoid making decisions through committees. Collaboration should not be used as an excuse to avoid responsibility. There is a responsible person for every decision and taking responsibility for decisions saves time.

Yet, this should not mean ignoring different opinions. When we are in charge of a decision, we should take it, after hearing and processing others’ views. We should ask for, and be open to, candid feedback. It is the responsible person’s obligation to allow the best idea to win without personal bias.

Most decisions – especially two-way door decisions – can be decided directly, while complex or critical ones require a structured process. The bigger a decision, the more people should be involved and the more extensive the dissent that we should look for.

In any case, decisions and the decision-making process are documented. Small decisions may be shared by Slack, while larger ones will be documented in Confluence, including a breakdown of the various positions and why the person responsible made the decision.

3.3 Candid

A company that prefers decisions to be made by individual team members instead of a hierarchy needs a culture that relies on candidness.

At Dresslife, we openly disagree while we are constructive in doing so. There is never silent disagreement! Everyone contributes what they believe to be right in a respectful manner, even when it is uncomfortable.

Once a decision has been made, we will execute accordingly and only challenge it again after a reasonable time has passed or if the premise has changed.

3.4 Team Player

In order to be an effective team player, we are actively asking for other opinions and feedback. We are humble in discussions and when taking advice from others, even when we are an expert in that field.

We want to not only become the best at our job, but also to enable others to learn from our abilities and encourage each other. Ultimately, we want to avoid “head monopolies” and allow others to fill-in and support others as best as possible.

Finally, nobody prioritizes status, hierarchy or experience over facts. It does not matter where an idea comes from, if it is the best, it should win. Therefore, everybody has a duty to collect suggestions and feedback from team members whenever relevant.

4 Aligned Vision & Goals

Company values are effective only when the vision and goals of a company and its employees are aligned. Any culture becomes obsolete if it does not deliver on an employee’s expectations or vice versa.

Yet, this does not mean that we are looking for mutual consent. It means we seek to ensure Dresslife can deliver on the employee’s expectations and vice versa by sharing a common vision and common goals.

4.1 Hiring

We understand that people and companies are different. Our goal is to understand a candidate’s expectations and to assess whether they are best aligned with ours and (at least as important) vice versa. Therefore, we try to communicate our culture as upfront as possible, even before someone applies to work at Dresslife.

This way, every person interested in applying for a position at Dresslife can already get a feeling for whether Dresslife could be the right place for her/him.

Conversely, Dresslife will ensure it has a reasonable certainty that it will be able to fulfill the expectations before someone begins their journey with us. Therefore, we do not understand hiring or interviewing simply as a test of the applicant. We understand it equally important as an opportunity to assess ourselves with regard to whether we are the best company to deliver on the expectations of an applicant.

4.2 Employee Development

Equally important to hiring the right talents, is to continually improve ourselves and our organization. We have established a transparent feedback process that guides us in assessing everyone’s alignment to our values and goals, performance level and improvement.

As Netflix put it perfectly: “many companies have nice sounding values”, yet the “actual company values … are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted or let go”.[2] That is why this process serves as the basis for all key HR decisions, especially when it comes to salary discussions, promotions, hiring or letting someone go.

4.3 Alignment vs. Unconditional Love

At Dresslife, it is everyone’s core responsibility to do everything in their power to help everyone else succeed. Yet, the difference between a family and a world class team is that there is no unconditional love in the latter.

Every team member should fulfill the commitments they signed on to deliver as best as possible, both in the short- and long-term. Yet, we do not expect blind loyalty as it contradicts our expectation of being an active learner.

We invest a lot of time in obtaining certainty about a mutual cultural fit in the hiring process. We also support our team members’ personal development with our feedback process.

However, there might come a point where another position/field accelerates our personal growth curve faster or where it is just not the right fit.

If an alignment cannot be reached in the long-term based on culture and performance, we believe it is OK and beneficial for both sides to part ways.

5 Profitable Sustainability

A business today should not exist merely to generate a profit. It should also contribute to making the world a better place. In the long-term, sustainability is most effective when it serves the environment and helps a company be profitable. Tech has the power to deliver this advantage, since it can often be funded through fixed and not through variable cost. We know that extensive sustainability improvements can be achieved for the fashion industry, by focusing on technologies that are realized and operated through fixed cost-related innovations.

In the long-term, this will improve both the sustainability of the fashion segment and the profitability of fashion retailers.

  1. https://www.kaushik.net/avinash/kill-useless-web-metrics-apply-so-what-test/
  2. https://de.slideshare.net/reed2001/culture-1798664/7-The_actual_company_valuesas_opposed