Our first implicit exercise exploring core values happened about 8 months before working with Kim who helped us to be explicit about it. I put the question to the team: “Who are we? What is our purpose?” The phrase we came up with then was “Tito brings delight to event experiences”.
That day, we focussed on “delight” as our defining value. Looking back over my notes from that day, I discovered that as a team, we also discussed another word: “integrity”. That was the word that Doc and I settled on as our baseline value after imagining our vision for what the company should be.
Five years ago, I wrote about why Tito doesn’t have a feature that “passes the fees along to the customer”. At the time, I wrote “Tito is opinionated software”. Kim challenged us on the use of the term “opinionated” because opinion is grounded in one’s own personal experience.
What I might say now is that Tito is principled software.
But what does that mean? Well, in this context, it means making a stand for something we believe in that improves the experience for the folks who ultimately avail of our most-used piece of software: our checkout. Personally speaking, when I’m buying tickets to the theatre, or to see my favourite band, and the tickets are listed at one price, but at checkout, all kinds of fees have been tacked on, I feel screwed over. They’ve hooked me in, and just before I’m committed to buy, they’re dinging me for another fee. I was going to go to the show anyway, so I pay the fees, but something isn’t quite right.
That not-quite-right something is altogether too common. From Ryanair’s “Don’t Insure Me”, to how booking.com manipulates you, to unsubscribing from the NY Times through to surveillance capitalism, there are practices and dark patterns out there that are done by businesses because “they work”, without a thought or consideration for whether they are right.
Decisions made upstream, by management, leadership, whoever, presumably to maximise profits or other numbers, often affect things negatively downstream.
Integrity is about considering those downstream impacts, and rejecting solutions that maximise profit at the expense of decency.
What goes for the product, goes for the company. In many businesses, double-standards, ambiguity, office politics and all manner of dysfunctions abound. Tito has its fair share of dysfunctions, I can tell you, but that’s why we’re listening to Kim and we’re intent on doing better. Dysfunction comes from the top, but it’s our hope that integrity will too.
In our core-values exercise, we grouped key-words together that ultimately coalesced into the single word: integrity. But dissecting those words back out is an interesting exercise in itself. We discussed a feeling of being “looked after”. We talked about “organic connections”, as opposed to sycophancy and superficial relationships. We valued trustworthiness, honesty, respect and transparency.
I’m reminded as I write of the motto of the school I attended: “per vias rectas”, which means “by straight ways”. Perhaps it’s that rubbing off on me, but playing unfair to get ahead just isn’t something that I would ever be comfortable with.
A lot of people who use apps and software on the internet assume a level of decency by the creators of the software. Call it naivety, call it human nature, but trust is something that some companies receive by default, and exploit because they can. But most people wouldn’t be too happy if they knew just how their activity was being tracked, or their data was going to be used. It’s time to course-correct.
Having integrity means saying no to certain short term gains in favour of building trust and respect for longer-term goals. It doesn’t mean getting it right every time, but it’s a commitment that when we do fall short, we will accept responsibility and take actions to rectify. We hope that by establishing integrity as our baseline core principle, the trust that folks show us by default is justified. The decisions we make upstream should benefit folks who are eventually affected by them.