Reading: Proactive inclusion: The foundational value that leads to start-up success5 min
Proactive inclusion: The foundational value that leads to start-up success
In this guest pen, the Humio CEO Geeta Schmidt outlines the ways in which proactive inclusion is important in fostering an innovative culture, and how it translates into very tangible aspects for your product’s success.
As a female CEO of a tech start-up, I’m often asked what it takes to build a successful company — followed quickly by what it’s like to be a minority in a predominantly white, male industry. These answers are not exclusive to each other.
I am an Indian-American woman raised in Seattle, as well as a US citizen living in Denmark, serving as the CEO of a UK company. I find myself fortunate to have been able to experience a variety of cultures and work with diverse individuals throughout my career. The places where I am most comfortable have been the teams and companies where I have felt welcome. This is why I believe this is important for us to practice at Humio. As foundational values at Humio, diversity and inclusion — more specifically, proactive inclusion — is the lifeblood of our success.
“At Humio, we practice a culture of proactive inclusion, and it shows itself in everything we do: from our hiring practices to product development to our customer relationships.”
Founded in 2016, Humio offers a log management solution that gives ITOps, DevOps, and SecOps teams complete, real-time observability of their environment. The modern, purpose-built tool features innovative data storage and in-memory search/query engine technologies, enabling our customers to log everything and find anything in their log data. The value of Humio is evident in our strong customer retention and continual growth of our existing base.
At Humio, we practice a culture of proactive inclusion, and it shows itself in everything we do: from our hiring practices to product development to our customer relationships. Proactive inclusion is what gives the company its strength, enabling us to compete toe-to-toe with long-established, legacy log management solutions.
When I explain this to people, they usually tell me that they have a Chief Diversity Officer or that they’re going to hire one. But that’s not enough. It’s human nature to lean towards people who think, act, value, and believe the same things (or very similarly) as you do. Building a startup is no different.
People have a tendency to hire their friends and friends of friends. When they do that, they bring together people with similar interests, backgrounds, and ways of perceiving the world. The result is an institutionalized unconscious bias that restricts the art of creative thought around building products and solving problems. Put another way, the company’s approach to innovating and problem-solving is severely limited to a narrow perspective that’s continually reinforced.
“Not only do the people at Humio come from different cultures and backgrounds, they are willing to extend beyond their comfort zones and develop a diverse skill set.”
At Humio, we celebrate people’s differences. We value eccentricity and actively foster diversity of thought. We want everyone to feel safe and comfortable expressing their opinions and opposing viewpoints. That means bringing together folks who don’t look like each other, who don’t wear the same clothes, who don’t come from the same countries, or engage in the same hobbies. We have people from a variety of countries and cultures, and there’s a beauty to that. There’s a beauty in combining a lot of different ways to solve problems. People from different cultures and ethnicities bring different approaches to problem-solving, and proactive inclusion is a way to not only embrace that but to foster and encourage that.
There’s also a more pragmatic reason for practicing proactive inclusion when building a startup. It’s incredibly difficult to run a successful tech business if you don’t have different profiles on your founding team. The founding team may consist of talented engineers who build an amazing product, but customers don’t flock to your product simply because you built it. You also need people to market it and sell it. As a CEO with a background in marketing, I too brought a different knowledge set to Humio’s founding team.
Not only do the people at Humio come from different cultures and backgrounds, they are willing to extend beyond their comfort zones and develop a diverse skill set. When we started Humio, we intentionally stuck to a small team. We had 15 people, and everyone was expected to do whatever needed to be done. People were doing engineering, but also customer support and sales and other things besides. It gave our engineering team a good generalist attitude, but also honed their proactivity. If something was wrong with the product, they fixed it. That bias toward action is what makes Humio a quality product, and that attitude continues strong today.
Finally, it’s important to realize that proactive inclusion extends beyond your payroll to include your customers. Successful products aren’t built in silos. What drives Humio as a company today is knowing who uses our product, how they use it, why they use it, and what they’re looking for. The customer is an essential part of a very tight product feedback loop. As we serve diverse groups of users as customers, having a team with varied skills, backgrounds, and profiles is an advantage. We have a better understanding of the markets we sell to and we build a better product.
Final words of advice
When building a startup, I advise doing so with a diverse mindset from the start. Allow the leadership team to lay the foundation for the culture that you will develop as time goes on. Begin from a place of diversity and inclusion, and proactive inclusion will become a natural practice that guides the company to success.
Geeta has over 20 years of software industry experience and is passionate about creating great products for software developers. In her previous role at Trifork, Geeta was the team lead for the expansion and production of GOTO Conference Series which grew from one conference in Denmark to an international series with activities in 6 cities worldwide. Geeta managed strategic partnerships to launch QCon SF and QCon London conferences, Scala Days, FlowCon events. Prior to Trifork, Geeta held product and partner marketing roles in the financial services, market development and new product introduction teams at Sun Microsystems (acquired by Oracle). Geeta is an ex-pat from Seattle living in Aarhus, Denmark, where she serves as the CEO of Humio.