Pitch + Demo + Culture

We had our first ever pitch + demo event at CB Insights a few weeks ago. The goal was to allow any CBI team member to pitch an idea, attempt to recruit who they needed to execute their idea, and then do so in 3 days, culminating in a demo of their completed project to the team. Projects ranged from TV interfaces of the product all the way to cohort analysis of user behavior.

I pitched and recruited a team to work on a branding initiative across a few of our online assets (blog + website). Our team consisted of two front-end developers (Forrest & Donovan) and our newest marketing hire (Lane). The most rewarding part for me was having a vague vision and working closely with a team of people that have a very different skill-set than I to hone that vision and create a fairly polished product, within a short amount of time.

I learned a lot, and think this was the single best team building event we’ve done during my time at CBI. Surprisingly, it wasn’t just because I got to lead a team and build something cool, but because it brought the entire company together in a very unique way.

Throughout the three days the office felt different. There was friendly competition between each team that resulted in good-spirited Hipchat taunting and lunchtime banter. There was also great feedback and a ton to of learning both as we were building and after we demoed and received our feedback scorecards.

While of all that was great, I think the most important part was that most members on the team were so actively engaged in building something and experimenting, that there was an unparalleled level of camaraderie across the entire company. Instead of having our own unique problems in our day to day roles, we all felt like we were in the same boat. And maybe that’s the first step in building culture at scale.

A lot of our conversations about culture at CBI have come due to an expanding team. It’s easy to have an innate sense of working towards a common goal and an ‘us vs. the world’ mentality when you are 5/10/15 people in a small office sitting at the same table. What isn’t easy is building out great teams within your company and making them all truly feel like a cohesive unit. I think the pitch + demo event strangely did that.

From three days working on a project with some of our developers, I felt much closer to both the product and the process of how our dev team thinks about our product, our design, and our marketing assets. On their side, I think that the developers I worked with probably came away with a much better understanding of our research and data, and how we utilize that as a growth vehicle and tool. We now at least partially knew some of the struggles, processes, and most importantly, opinions, that our respective teams have in a way that chatting over beers wouldn’t ever convey or uncover effectively.

By the time the demos came around, we had to make a decision on whether or not to further pursue each project. I was pretty impressed and intrigued by what other teams did, that I found it hard to submarine anyone’s projects, despite a plea by the organizers to not say yes to every idea.

To my knowledge, Bobby, Alex, Amit, and Anand (among others) were responsible for setting this event up. As some of the longest tenured employees of the company (and the co-founder), it was great to see their understanding of the importance of cultivating some of our recently established cultural values (experimentation, leveling up, building entrepreneurs) in a tangible way. Today, especially in the startup world, so many people love to say the word ‘culture’ without any actions or a firm understanding of what it means. Those guys nailed it and I think it could be a key event in our story as CBI continues to try to build our culture at scale.