For its first ten years, Riverbed Technology had a reputation in Silicon Valley as a great place to work; a great company with great people. Customers loved the products (if not the prices) and employees loved working there. When I left almost two years ago to consult with startups, I was asked again and again by CEOs wanting to build a great culture, what made Riverbed so great? I'm still asked.
Here’s my answer (at least from a marketing perspective):
A few years ago I was sitting in a conference room with the new director of marketing operations at Riverbed waiting for a meeting to start. He had been at the company for about two months. I asked him how things were going. I was curious about his experience. I’d been at the company for seven years, so I knew my perspective might be a little skewed.
He smiled and said that Riverbed is a special place. At Riverbed, he said, all of the competitive energy is turned outward rather than inward. The marketing team competed with Cisco and F5, rather than each other.
He had come to Riverbed from a very large networking company that I won’t name. He said that there were nice people at that company. Very nice people. He had made a lot of friends in his 10+ years working there, but that for more than ten years he’d worked in a hugely political and competitive environment. And, the funny thing is, he said, I didn’t even realize that I worked in such a toxic place until I came here.
You guys, he said, are so much more powerful because you work with, rather than against, each other. And, he said, it’s such a pleasure to come to work every day. I want to be here. I want to make the team successful not only because I’m a hard worker and want to be the best at what I do, but because I want this team to be successful.
In the past he was forced to negotiate internal politics to get anything done. He had to try to understand unspoken motivations. Tease out unspoken agendas that had nothing to do with the actual work. Now, he could just do his job and it was a joy.
His words were powerful and have stuck with me.
At early Riverbed we turned our tremendous competitive energies outward rather than on each other. We were brutal competitors in the market, not in the office.
That’s rare and it’s special.
A huge thank you to my former co-worker (and now friend) for making the connections.