What defines a great company culture? I worked for two iconic companies and founders with nearly polar opposite cultures. Amazon was heads-down, secretive, forthright. Facebook was open, transparent, collaborative. Here's what I learned about culture working for Bezos and Zuck:
Culture implicitly sets expectations for behavior. Strong cultures are well-defined with sharp edges, and well-understood by everyone in the organization top to bottom. Strong founders with unapologetic personalities set the culture early and maintain it as the company scales.
When I joined Amzn in 1999, we had top-secret teams working on new products like Auctions, Toys and Electronics. Before a product launched, the only people in the know were those who needed to know. Everyone else was told to keep their heads down and focus on their own work.
When I joined the secret team working on Kindle, my job was to convince publishers to create digital books. They couldn't understand why we suddenly cared about ebooks when nobody at the time was reading them. I begged Jeff to let me share our plans for Kindle but he refused.
Jeff was taking a cue from Apple. Tim Cook once shared with me that Apple put a precise dollar value on the free press they received from big product announcements, which was undermined by leaks. Secretive cultures try to avoid leaks by locking down information.
There's nothing wrong with a heads-down culture where employees are told to focus on their own work. It provides guardrails, avoids distractions, sets a serious tone. And yet, there is a certain distrust in telling employees to mind their own business. The knife cuts both ways.
When I joined FB in 2006, I was shocked at how much Zuck shared with the company. I advised him to share less to avoid leaks. His response: "I'm building a company that I would want to work for if I hadn't started FB. And I would want to work at a place that shares openly."
FB's open culture mapped to Mark's personality and a generational shift in employee expectations. It also mapped to Facebook's products which were built on sharing. Open cultures assume employees are less likely to leak if they are trusted and empowered with confidential info.
Transparency allows for ideas to come from anywhere in the organization. Teams at FB prolifically collaborate, share feedback, communicate. But at its worst, this type of culture can devolve into entitlement, insubordination, ceaseless complaining. The knife cuts both ways.
Open vs closed is one dimension of a company culture. FB was also more egalitarian, Amzn more hierarchical. Both companies had a high tolerance for failure (compared to Apple for example). The important thing about culture is clarity & consistency, especially as a company scales.
When we developed company values in the early days at FB, Zuck didn't want a bunch of corporate dribble postered on the wall. I argued against "Move Fast and Break Things" but Mark chose it precisely because it was controversial, clearly signaled culture of velocity & iteration.
Amazon's most memorable value was "ruthlessly escalate." This removed any question about how decisions would be made. It encouraged a culture where people would debate strongly held ideas, knowing the solution to disagreements was to bump it up to the next level of management.
Culture is maintained through rituals. I once showed up for Zuck's Friday Q&A with only 3 other employees, and Mark proceeded to answer our questions for an hour. 15 years later he still religiously hosts Q&As with all topics on the table. This is FB's ritual of transparency.
Walmart's culture was defined by Sam Walton's relentless work ethic and frugality. He held his management meetings on Saturday and charged employees 5 cents for cream in their coffee. Walton died in 1992 but the company still holds Saturday meetings and charges extra for creamer.
They key to a strong culture is consistency from the top. The CEO's job is to make sure everyone on the management team is on the same page. If a senior leader wants to create their own unique culture for their part of the org, they can't be allowed to stay.
The partnership between Mark and Sheryl was forged by their mutual commitment to a unified culture across the company. There can be small differences based on the work to be done, but core values must be shared across product and business teams. There can only be one CEO.
There are many benefits to a strong culture: it makes interviewing easier, gives employees a sense of belonging, helps avoid politics, provides energy and zeal, cuts through a lot of BS. No culture is perfect, but great companies and founders are highly intentional about culture.

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26 Apr
I was ambitious and worked hard to advance my career at Amazon and then Facebook. I thought the way to get ahead was to deliver results, then push for more responsibility and position myself for promotion. I later came to realize I had it totally backwards. Here's my story:
Ambition can be a good thing when it's channeled productively. Ambitious people push forward. For example, my litmus test for whether I should stay in a job or make a change was always to ask myself whether I was still on a vertical learning curve. If not, find a new challenge.
But early on I was nakedly ambitious. After one year at Amazon I thought I deserved to be Director. When my manager didn't promote me, I moved to another team who offered to promote me as part of the move. The promotion was later rescinded because my new manager lacked authority.
Read 17 tweets
12 Mar
I learned about leadership & scaling from Sheryl Sandberg. My direct manager for 10+ yrs, we spent countless hours together in weekly 1x1s (she attended religiously), meetings, offsites, dinners, travel, etc. Here are some of the most important lessons I took away from Sheryl:
In one of our early M-team offsites, everyone shared their mission in life. Sheryl described her passion for scaling organizations. She was single-mindedly focused on this purpose and loved everything about scaling. It's a huge strength to know what you were put on earth to do.
Sheryl implemented critical systems to help us scale - eg 360 perf reviews, calibrations, promotions, refresh grants, PIPs. She brought structure to our management team and board meetings, hired senior people across the company, and streamlined communications up and down the org.
Read 17 tweets
18 Feb
People often ask me to compare working for Bezos vs Zuck. I worked with Mark much more closely for much longer, but I did work directly with Jeff in my last 2 years at Amazon incubating the Kindle. Here are some thoughts on similarities that make them both generational leaders:
Jeff was 30 yrs old when he started Amzn, and he was 35 by the time I joined in '99. Mark started FB at 19 yrs old and was 22 when I joined in '06 (and is now 36!). After I joined FB, I shared with Mark that I thought he most closely resembled Jeff among all the tech founders.
They both lived in the future and saw around corners, always thinking years/decades ahead. And at the same time, they were both obsessive over the tiniest product and design details. They could go from 30,000 feet to 3 feet in a split second.
Read 12 tweets
3 Feb
Andy Jassy launched my career over 20 years ago. Here's what he did and why I will be forever grateful to the new CEO of Amazon:
In my first year of b-school I desperately wanted an internship at Amazon. They weren't recruiting from Michigan so I asked everyone I knew if they had any contacts. My parents' friends' daughter's boyfriend had gone to b-school with Andy Jassy, early marketing manager at Amazon.
I begged for an intro and he connected me to Andy who was gracious but said they were too heads down to think about summer internships. I asked Andy if he would get lunch with me if I showed up to his office in Seattle. He agreed, and I flew to Seattle over Xmas break.
Read 12 tweets
24 Jan
I learned an important lesson in business when I launched a new retail category early in my career at Amazon: Fail Fast! I spent 18 months shipping a product that should have taken a few months, delaying the oppty to learn and adjust to our initial failure. Here's what happened:
I was originally hired at Amazon on the business development team. After a year I got recruited to help ship a new computer store and run merchandising. I jumped at the opportunity to launch a new business and learn new skills. Amzn was great at creating these opportunities.
Two weeks after joining the retail team, I was in a meeting presenting our pro forma P&L for our computer store launch. I was forecasting inventory turns and gross margins. It was exciting to be thrown into the deep end. I felt like I was at a start-up inside of a start-up.
Read 14 tweets
8 Jan
I was at Amzn in 2000 when the internet bubble popped. Capital markets dried up & we were burning $1B/yr. Our biggest expense was datacenter -> expensive Sun servers. We spent a year ripping out Sun & replacing with HP/Linux, which formed the foundation for AWS. The backstory:
My first week at Amzn in '99 I saw McNealy in the elevator on his way to Bezos' office. Sun Microsystems was one of the most valuable companies in the world at that time (peak market cap >$300B). In those days, buying Sun was like buying IBM: "nobody ever got fired for it"
Our motto was "get big fast." Site stability was critical - every second of downtime was lost sales - so we spent big $$ to keep the site up. Sun servers were the most reliable so all internet co's used them back then, even though Sun's proprietary stack was expensive & sticky.
Read 15 tweets

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