The capitalistic case for culture

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What is the real role of a company leader? Is it to raise funds? Drive sales? Build products? Shubham Goel, cofounder and co-CEO of the software company and Inc. Best Workplace honoree Affinity has a different answer.

“As CEO of a company post product-market fit, your job is to build a team. Your job is not to build a product or the business--it is to build a team that builds the products and the business,” he explains.

Affinity has prioritized people and team building from the start. In fact, relationships are at the heart of its business. Affinity is a relationship intelligence platform--a next-generation customer relationship management (CRM) platform that harnesses relationship data and insights so those working in relationship-driven industries, like private equity, can harness the full power of their network. In these industries, you never know when someone you met for coffee two years ago could pop up and enable the biggest deal of your life, Goel explains.

During the past five years, Affinity has consistently doubled its revenue and client base. One of the things Goel is most proud of is customers’ reception of the platform. More than 3,000 companies in 80 countries use Affinity. Usage and customer delight are “off the charts,” in part because Affinity is less manual than traditional CRMs. The software automatically synchronizes an organization’s relationship data based on sources such as emails, calendars, and public websites like Crunchbase.

“We have been able to deliver a product that people love to use in a category that otherwise gets a lot of hate,” Goel says.

Values that breed happiness and performance

Without the right people, building solutions that delight is not possible.

“Getting the right people on the team and making sure they’re working well together is 80 percent of the battle once you have sorted out product-market fit,” Goel explains. “That’s why I think the most capitalistic thing you can do is invest in your people and culture.”

Investing in culture allows you to attract and retain the people you need to build solutions that increase the company’s value, he says. The first step is to define your culture. Affinity started by asking early employees to share times they were happiest at work. It analyzed stories for patterns, codified key behaviors, and defined the value system. For example, multiple employees said their happiest moments were experiencing something new, like a hackathon or collaborating with different departments. Affinity created values such as “we are obsessed with learning” to encourage behaviors that generate more of those happy moments on a day-to-day basis.

The rituals that bring values to life

Other values include “we care personally” and “we are playmakers,” meaning team players who empower teammates to do their best work and who are not afraid to step outside of the scope of their roles to help others win. Affinity links each value to a set of actions, or rituals, to bring it to life.

“Culture in organizations comes into being a similar way that many religions or societies evolve, where you have your set of defined values--the things you care about--and then the things you do to make sure you are recognizing and living these values,” Goel explains.

Rituals to enforce the learning value include an annual educational stipend for every employee. To promote “playmakers,” Affinity involves every department head in employee onboarding and runs a Slack channel for recognizing employees who support colleagues and do amazing work.

Benefits bring values to life, too. Affinity shows it “cares personally” by offering “all the benefits you would expect from a venture-backed tech company,” plus unique rewards like a grocery and wellness stipend, Goel says.

Investments in employee happiness pay off. Affinity’s employee retention rate is 91 percent. Tenured employees have a greater impact on the business, Goel says, because they have the institutional knowledge and internal relationships to execute ideas faster than a new hire.

“Affinity is not unique in realizing that it all comes down to people,” Goal explains. “The key is acting on that realization and treating people as the number-one priority in your company.”

An original version of this article appeared in (c) 2023 Inc. Business Media on August 28, 2023.

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