How To Accelerate A Startup In 90 Days (And Still Build Team Culture)

How Slite Built a Culture of Team Collaboration at Y Combinator

1 house. 9 employees. 3 months.

This sounds like the start of the next hit reality TV show. Instead, it is our life at Y Combinator as we accelerate our startup, Slite.

As an early stage startup with 1.5 years under our belt, we’ve always moved at a fast pace by setting short-term goals while staying focused on our long-term goals and product vision. This high velocity is part of our team’s identity and has been since we started as a team of three. Last month, it was really put to the test: we grew to nine employees and simultaneously joined Y Combinator to accelerate our vision and goals during a three month sprint.

Since the first days of Slite, we focused on creating a culture of team collaboration. You hear a lot about what it takes to succeed at Y Combinator and as a startup: build a product people love, focus on one metric, talk to your users, iterate fast. But how do these factors affect a team's culture and workflow? How do you rethink your collaboration culture to adapt to YC’s fast-paced rhythm?

A Culture Of Asynchronous Collaboration

At Slite, we value async collaboration so much that we’re building our product around this very concept. Async collaboration doesn’t occur in real-time and allows our team to work on their tasks with minimal interruptions. Our team is the most productive when they can work on their own time and in their own space.  

Why do we care about this so much? Because we're convinced that it's key to continual team collaboration versus punctual, synchronous collaborative methods such as chat messaging and meetings. For it to work properly, information needs to be structured and transparent. And it is even more important for our team as we are and always will be part remote. By mastering async and keeping our team self-sufficient, we can concentrate on crushing goals, building a product people love and staying focused on our long term vision.

So before joining YC, this is how we made it work:

Using The Appropriate Tools (The Correct Way)

In terms of team-wide collaboration we use Slack, Slite, and Trello. We limit Slack to specific announcements or questions. We avoid using it as a place to do work or ask another team member to do something—it's purely for synchronous communication.

We share and write up knowledge in Slite and anything that has to do with task assignments is done via Trello. These tools have been crucial in keeping our teams on the same page, especially for our remote workers.

Maintaining A Weekly Rhythm Of Meetings

As a young startup with remote employees, it takes a lot of discipline to hold and prepare meetings on a weekly basis at the same time on the same day.  If you do put in place this process, however, you'll be sure to make the most out of this weekly team meet-up.

So, before doubling in size and joining Y Combinator, we limited ourselves to two team meetings per week: one business related, the other product related, as well as daily ten minute stand up meetings. We also worked in weekly sprints and used meetings as retros, planning for the next sprint and addressing specific issues. This meeting rhythm helped us identify our priorities, kept us focused on completing our goals, and prevented ad hoc meetings from sneaking into our productive days.

Adapting Our Async Culture To The Y Combinator Rhythm

The Y Combinator accelerator program is exciting and extremely fast-paced. Growing and keeping up with a high level of speed throughout Y Combinator has definitely been challenging in terms of our workload. But overall, our ability to maintain and adapt our workflow under high pressure and as a larger team has really been put to the test.

We definitely don’t have a normal work rhythm here in California. First off, our team moved from Paris to Mountain View to live in the same house for three whole months. To succeed in the Y Combinator program, we had to adjust and make some changes to the way we work as a team.

Slite team at house in California for Y Combinator

For us, it meant finding the best way to work faster, stay focused on a specific set goal, and maintain cross-team collaboration.

Actually, this intense rhythm has challenged us to take our async culture to the next level for three months. So what have we done right so far?

Longer, Faster Sprints

We took the leap and decided to work in two-week “super sprints” and hold one meeting every two weeks. During this meeting, we all sit around a table for two hours and review what we achieved or failed to achieve in the last two weeks. Then, we plan out the next two weeks with tasks that are entirely geared towards hitting our Y Combinator goal.

These sprints are actually scheduled according to the bi-weekly Y Combinator group office hours where founders share results of achievements and successes. We’ve found that this schedule helps us strike the balance of keeping up with the speed and milestones of the program while staying focused and clear on goals for Slite.

The Slite Sprint Trello board

Keeping Each Team Member Accountable For Our Goals

This is anything but a top-down approach: more than ever, all team members take responsibility for updating the Trello board, preparing the bi-weekly meeting, and staying as clear as possible in every piece of information they share with the rest of the team. This goes hand in hand with feeling the responsibility to achieve the goals set during the two-week sprints. Our team’s collaboration excels on our Trello board, regardless if we’re in the same room or working remotely.

Things We're Still Figuring Out

Why Team Collaboration Is Fundamental To Building A Startup

Set Achievable Goals—No Matter How Ambitious You Are

No startup is perfect and we're no exception. The trick with bi-weekly sprints is to set achievable goals. It doesn’t make sense for us to work in sprints if at the end we don’t achieve our goals because they were simply too ambitious and required more time. This is something we have to figure out during Y Combinator, of course, but also as we grow: how much can we expect from each other in two weeks time?

Being Too Focused Can Mean Being Less Aware

Even with just nine people, it's easy to concentrate on your sprint goals and disconnect from what's going on with the rest of the team. You might be using the best tools and be the closest team ever, but it's up to everyone to stay in the loop with other departments, such as product and marketing. One of the benefits of being a small team is that there are few silos and boundaries between teams. The trick is to make sure not to impede on each others' focus while staying on the same page.

Team Collaboration Culture: It's Never Too Early

One thing we’ve learned over the past 1.5 years is that startups—even more so early stage ones—are always evolving. The way your team collaborates will change and you should be ready and willing to adapt to these changes. Stopping once in a while to think about how you want your team to work, from processes to the tools, is crucial to bring the best out of their work.

For us, joining Y Combinator meant we were entering a new phase in Slite's life and it was the perfect time to re-evaluate our ways of working. It has also been a test to our work-in-progress-team-culture: are we able to hold minimal amounts of team meetings? Is focusing on async still the most efficient way for us to achieve our goals?

The end of Y Combinator will mark a new phase for Slite: we’ll be hiring new team members, move into new offices and go back to being part-remote. One thing we’ve decided to keep from our time in Mountain View is our two week sprint: it allowed us to deliver pretty great results and has become a special time for the team to gather and brainstorm.

One of our main takeaways on team collaboration so far is this: it’s never too early to decide how you want your team to work and to put processes in place to support this workflow. You can only improve on something that already exists, so the earlier you try collaboration tools and processes, the more likely your team will be able to reevaluate and improve them.

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