Kea's values, culture and principles

Values form an integral part of the company at kea.

Meet kea.

Can we take your order?

kea. is a voice automation startup using technology to solve the “hold time” problem at restaurants. With its service, kea lets restaurant staff get back to the customers in store while helping those ordering take-out get exactly what they want, a faster order placed with no hold time.

The implications of this technology for the restaurant industry are immense. Through applied voice automation with AI, kea eliminates customer hang-ups that happen during lengthy holds, a major source of lost revenue in the restaurant industry. Meanwhile, staff on duty at the restaurant save time previously spent on the phone taking orders, cutting down on labor costs. The final result is a win-win scenario for customers, restaurant owners and staff.


Our values, culture and principles

We, at kea, take our values very seriously. We believe that organizations evolve and grow very much like living beings. That means:

  • If we are to be a living being, we’d like to be one with a conscience, resilience and empathy.
  • We believe that all employees come together to embrace these values and make them their own in both word and spirit.
  • No one will ever be fired from kea for making a genuine mistake but our values and communal code must be continuously and affirmatively upholded by everyone on the team.

These become your values when you decide to join the company. Our principles act as guiding directives for making decisions about both your work and life here.

Values

Customers and team come first

The team is what make us who we are. If we all grow together, the company grows. We put our customers and employees above everyone else.

We believe that a customer and her time is the best investment we can accrue at the company. We put our utmost effort in listening to our customers and making sure we provide a product that is pivotal in their success. However, this can be difficult to achieve in many non-obvious ways and we believe recognizing this is crucial.

Let me give you an example. Say you have a feature which can improve the accuracy .5% but adds $0.25 / order cost.

Do you do it? How do you charge for it? Why? It’s easy to say you want to help customers and consumers and the company. The devil is when there is tension between different stakeholders.

Hardwork and embracing schlep

Schlep is a yiddish word that stands for necessary but nuanced work. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it takes hard work and sometimes menial tasks to make something amazing happen. You’re expected to embrace this philosophy. We are of the school of thought that no work, no matter how small, is “someone else’s job” for anyone at the company.

Play to win but play fair

We are in it to win it. However, at the same time, we believe in playing fair. Not only is it a shitty, fun-less way to try to win, we sincerely believe unfair practices come with a tax to an organization’s collective integrity and in turn its permanence.

Culture

We are an open and transparent company

We want to make sure all members of the organization are aware of and involved in all relevant matters pertaining to the company. Everyone in the team is a part of and responsible for fostering the same dream. To that end, we invest heavily in tools and organizational structures that allow employees to contribute positively to a multitude of solutions. For instance, as young as we are, we have been holding open house town halls to keep everyone on the same page.

You’re a stakeholder in the future of the company and you’re entitled to all the information flowing throughout the organization. However, with access comes responsibility. We all need to protect and cherish this transparency from misrepresentation or misinterpretation both within and outside the company.

We work in small liquid groups

We don’t believe in bloated hierarchies or micro management. All employees are expected to show a modicum of self-management. What this translates in reality to is, larger tasks and projects are assigned to small groups of employees that are well suited to the task. Such groups are largely holarchical and self-governing. We think that over application of segregation in the form of rigid departments can hamper productivity and cause communication lapses.
What this means in practice is that teams are organized around goals and not around internal specialization.

For example, there is no “Engineering team” or “Sales team” here at Kea, in the strictly familiar sense of the phrase. There are temporary Product teams who can comprise of one or more of salespeople, engineers, operations experts who get together and solve one aspect of the product with maniacal focus and then regroup to work on other problems.
Hence, sub-teams and departments at kea are much looser, more liquid organizational entities. These groups are directly responsible to the founders and have complete control over the process through which they choose to carry out the task assigned. Nobody will ever be breathing down your neck. That being said, the point of this is not convenience but efficiency.

Create a culture in which it is okay to make mistakes but unacceptable to not learn from them

We recognize that effective, innovative thinkers are going to make mistakes and in a constantly changing and highly competitive world, one must place bets on how the future and immediate consequence of decisions are going to pan out. We strongly emphasize making these bets explicit, cheap to make and easy to quantify.
Do not feel bad about your mistakes and those of others. Love them! Learn from them and share the lessons. When you make mistakes remember to reflect and never worry about looking good — worry about achieving the goals.

Do what you do best

Focus on strengths capitalization is key to allowing us to move fast and deliver. Good ideas may come from anywhere but good work comes from a place of passion, maniacal focus and cadence.

While all of us are expected to work on all sorts of task in the company, we strongly encourage picking tasks that suit your abilities the most. You should never feel inadequate or misplaced in the organization and more importantly, focus on delivering constant high-impact value to the entire machinery.

Principles

Always act as one cohesive unit

Always, no exceptions. It’s paramount to have consistency in thought and action. We may have disagreements on a particular topic but when it’s time to carry out a decision there needs to be complete commitment. In fact, this is one of the biggest internal indicators of measuring success of “the Process”.

If we are messing this bit up, something is terribly wrong. It’s easy to say act as a unit but how do you do it in practice?

Disagreeing is absolutely welcomed, but commit to the shared vision of the team and address concerns in the appropriate environment. The idea is to encourage healthy debate when appropriate, but to keep the pipeline constantly moving.

Be aware of cognitive biases and learn to avoid them

Cognitive biases are natural tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from rationality and good judgment. They are responsible for a huge class of judgement errors. This blindness can be disastrous, an employee’s blindness is the company’s blindness.

The key thing to understand about them is that they’re completely invisible to the person falling prey to them. So, you have to put in a lot of extra effort in order to understand them and systematically avoid them. One of the best ways is to ask people around you for feedback before making decisions or forming strong opinions.

Optimize for the long term

We put a lot of emphasis on thinking about the long term effects of the decisions one makes. Keep the future of the mission in mind while thinking about major decisions. Think about second- and third-order consequences of the decisions you make. (This is much harder in practice than seems on the surface.)

Communicating well is more than half the battle

Be assertive and open minded. Recognize that you always have the right to have and ask questions. Have strong opinions, because we believe that having a wrong opinion is better than having no opinion. That said, poorly communicated thought or ill conceived notions with not enough will to defend in a healthy debate usually cause more harm than good and should be allowed to mature.

Be radically transparent when it comes to your involvement and work at the company both within and outside our circles. Have integrity and demand it from others. Never say anything about a person IN ANY CONTEXT that you wouldn’t (or couldn’t) say to them directly in person.

Logic, reason and common sense MUST trump everything else in decision-making

While logic drives our decisions, we also recognize that feelings and emotions are very relevant as well and must be given room for expression in the process

Know what the 20 is in the 80/20 rule

Efficiency is key. Distinguish what’s important from what’s not and deal with the important things first. The 80–20 rule (also known as the Pareto principle ) applies to nearly all complex real world scenarios and basically says,
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

For example, 20% of bugs contribute 80% of crashes: Focus on fixing these bugs first.

20% of customers contribute 80% of revenue: Focus on satisfying these customers.

The examples go on. The point is to realize that you can often focus your effort on the 20% that makes a difference, instead of the 80% that doesn’t add much. In economics terms, there is diminishing marginal benefit. This is related to the law of diminishing returns: each additional hour of effort, each extra worker is adding less “oomph” to the final result. By the end, you are spending lots of time on the minor details.

Learn how to deal with not knowing

Not knowing can be uncomfortable but inevitable in any successful operation. Embrace the discomfort and understand that the ability to deal with not knowing is more powerful than knowing. Your goal is to come up with the best answer, the probability of your having it immediately is very small and that even once you have it, you need to test it with other people to be confident about it.

Invest in recovery

Internally, we believe in tracking and fostering four key factors of the company:

  • Strength : Company’s various strengths and also it’s reserve of energy / man hours
  • Intelligence : Company’s information flow and insights / lessons learned as well as recall and application of those.
  • Empathy : Company’s empathy for the team members and understanding. Inversely proportional to internal tension.
  • Recovery : Investing in recovery ensures that we replenish reserves for each of the above. This is not exactly equivalent to resting but more akin to “recovery” as used in the athletic world.

The key property of these is that these attributes pertain to the Company’s cumulative strength, intelligence, empathy and investment in recovery. Theoretically, these are non-trivial to gauge but in practice, the sum of everyone’s estimated contribution to each attribute is a good enough benchmark.

Recap

Values

  1. Customers and team come first
  2. Play to win but play fair
  3. Hardwork and embracing schlep

Culture

  1. We are an open and transparent company
  2. We work in small liquid groups
  3. Create a culture in which it is okay to make mistakes but unacceptable to not learn from them
  4. Do what you do best

Principles

  1. Always act as one cohesive unit
  2. Be aware of cognitive biases and learn to avoid them
  3. Optimize for the long term
  4. Communicating well is more than half the battle
  5. Logic, reason and common sense MUST trump everything else in decision-making
  6. Know what the 20 is in the 80/20 rule
  7. Learn how to deal with not knowing
  8. Invest in recovery

Note of Thanks

We want to extend our heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to everyone in the team for helping craft these ideas and actually embracing them and putting them to use everyday. We would also like to thank and give a big shout out to Recurse Center and Bridgewater Associates for being the giants whose shoulders these ideas stand upon.

Also wanted to thank the following people for reading drafts of this post and suggesting improvements and corrections: Leila Al-Shamari, Ross Mayfield, Galen Buckwalter, Anna Beyder, Adam Ahmad, John Merells and Paul Twohey.

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