Ragy Thomas | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ragy Thomas

Background:  

Sprinklr's software allows companies to customize, monitor and improve customer engagement across social media channels. Launched in 2009, the New York-based startup is valued at more than $1 billion and has more than 1,200 employees around the world.

The Mistake: 

I'm on my fourth startup journey, and [in the past] I truly did not understand and appreciate the importance of having a set of values that people can rally around. Not only did I not know how important they were, I did not know how to come up with them, either. Those are things I learned through making mistakes multiple times. 

In my last life, we went from being a small startup to, at one point, the largest email marketing company in the world, which was a long journey through a bunch of different companies. … And what I realized at the peak of that journey was that the company did not have its own DNA. 

We had a team of 600 at one point, and … the group didn't have an identity outside of the logo that was slapped at the top of the paycheck. [Identity] was never a priority for me—and even at Sprinklr, originally, it was not.

About the second-year mark … the lack of that identity and the lack of those values was getting in the way of our growth. For example, without the values, our recruitment was blocked. There was a 12-month period where we went out and recruited 700 people. And it became quite obvious that if I couldn't tell them who we are, why was I asking them to come here? 

We went through this protracted process of introspection, looking at: Who are the successful people at Sprinklr? What do people who didn't survive Sprinklr look like? What were the failings? What would we like to celebrate?   

It took us months and months, and then out of that came the five values that Sprinklr has now. And I've got to tell you, just agreeing on who we are and having the courage to go public with it has changed our company.  

When companies don't have strong, real values ... you cannot predict how the company will behave.

The Lesson: 

It is very important to have that clarity of, "What would Sprinklr do?" Because that's the only way you can create a predictably successful organization. Culture and values, for me, define what each Sprinklrite should do or will do when the lights are off—not when the lights are on and when everyone's watching. That allows us to have an internal compass that can be calibrated.  

When companies don't have strong, real values, that are deep within every person, then what happens is you cannot predict how the company will behave—it depends on whether this person got the news first or that person did. It depends whether this person was in a good mood or that person was in a bad mood. When you’re sitting there architecting the success of a company as a leader, that’s something you cannot leave to chance. 

Categorically, I think you will not become a very large company without an identity. I think it's a necessary condition for massive growth. You can think about Apple or Facebook or Google or Coca-Cola and they all have an identity, and it's a good one. You see how palpable the pride is that employees have about their company.   

Follow Ragy Thoms on Twitter at @ragythomas.

Photo courtesy of Sprinklr.

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