November 01, 2022 | Gene Tetreault, SVP, Engineering

How A Culture of Ownership Drives Success for Our Engineers and Customers

Hi Marley is a small company impacting a massive industry. When it comes to success, we believe investing in our culture and people is as important as the financial aspect of the business. The most interesting, yet challenging part of leading an engineering team at a growing startup is ensuring our team can scale and continue to rapidly deliver functionality for our customers without sacrificing our culture, values or opportunities for our people to learn and grow professionally.

“Values shouldn’t change if they are defined enough where it differentiates you, but open enough so you can evolve as a company,” Hi Marley CEO and Co-Founder Mike Greene during a recent TechCrunch webinar. “As you bring on new people with different and diverse perspectives, they’re an additive to your culture. The values stay the same, but they may get us to think about a value differently than we did in the past, which is a really cool thing to experience.”

A Mission-Driven Engineering Team

Hi Marley’s culture was built on three core values: be humble, max courage (dream big and take measured risks) and Ubuntu (I am because we are). Ubuntu—meaning true success is being part of a purpose bigger than any individual or company—is pervasive across the engineering team.

There isn’t one individual responsible for doing everything; everybody is responsible for doing everything, which builds a strong sense of trust and satisfaction. When something gets done, people feel like they contributed to it and are responsible for part of the success and ownership.

Ultimately, these values create a strong desire to do more and do the best job possible because our engineers take pride in their work, feel camaraderie and work together to achieve common goals. Those things together result in a good working environment and excellent company culture.

Scaling a Culture of Ownership in Engineering

We’ve proven that a communication platform in insurance is valuable. As Hi Marley has grown, we’ve expanded the product to other major pillars of functionality, run by individual engineering teams.

These individual teams within engineering have the autonomy to drive value for our customers and do it in a way that’s not top-down. Each team has the power to listen to the customers’ problems and decide which issues to prioritize, how they will solve them, what technology they will use and how they will deliver that solution. With autonomy and ownership, these small teams make better decisions on how to approach something because they work in those swimlanes daily. They have a deeper understanding of the opportunities as well as the complexities and nuances of specific issues.

With this structure, more people have opportunities to lead, learn from each other, take on new responsibilities and grow in their careers. Everybody approaches problems differently, so you must remove hierarchy and focus on ideas for any team to be highly functional. We benefit when we allow everyone to take on new challenges, have ownership, make decisions and follow through on them.

Our team believes that if we allow a broader group of people to solve problems, we will come up with better, more creative answers than if we only had one person responsible for finding the solution.

Finding Opportunities to Grow Professionally

Hi Marley engineers have endless opportunities to take ownership, lead and gain valuable experience.

We’ve hired a lot of young talent fresh out of college. At Hi Marley, they can take on engineering projects that stretch their capabilities, build their knowledge and accelerate their expertise early in their careers. By giving them space to grow at a startup, they can expand their leadership and technical skills beyond what they’d typically gain at a traditional, larger company.

Many people in product development went to school for a different career or joined Hi Marley for a role on another team. We brought them to Hi Marley because they’re talented and have unique perspectives. So, when someone shows they have a natural technical ability, motivation and a desire to learn—even if they don’t have a traditional software engineering background—we allow them to transition those skills. When they feel empowered and supported, they excel, making a huge impact on our team, and magnifying the collective output for our customers.

As a leader, it’s important to also serve as a mentor and give your team members the space to take on new challenges. Being able to identify raw talent and drive, and then give those people the chance to grow into leaders and produce real value for customers is so rewarding. Empowering and trusting the team to try new ideas allows them to grow. Of course, leaders can offer direction, but you want your engineers to feel that their input and contributions are valued and that you recognize and appreciate their hard work.

Ensuring Hi Marley Stays True to Our Values

The value of Hi Marley stretches beyond the functionality of our technology. The way we treat each other extends to how we work with and build trust with our customers.

As Underscore VC General Partner and Hi Marley Board Member Lily Lyman, said, “The nature of [Hi Marley’s] business is to improve your customer experience. And how your customers interact with you matters. That positive experience is even more important because it’s a reflection of how you’re going to deliver the value you’re promising.”

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