Today we have a fun interview with our founder, Joseph Young about what inspired him to start Kuvio and how those motivations have evolved and changed as the team has grown.
What inspired you to start Kuvio in the very beginning?
“After high school, I joined the Air Force as an air traffic controller. I then spent nine years in one of the most bureaucratic environments you can imagine. For the first several years, I tried to find ways that I could exercise my own ideas in that type of environment. Finally, about five years in, I moved to a base in Italy that was a joint base with Italian air traffic controllers as well. It was here that I began to rebel because I had coworkers outside of the system for the first time. For example, when leading a shift I would step back and allow the Italians to run the systems in their own way in their country. This was my first time realizing that the act of stepping back and giving people space is what creates the best workplace.
After the military, I switched to software development and saw a lot of the same things. Once I figured things out there I began rebelling again by instituting ideas that I had. For example, I started a weekly breakfast club that grew across the organization. I also took over the architecture of the software systems so that I could listen to what people were working on. Eventually, people were coming to me with software and automation ideas to help them work better.
Finally, I moved to a boutique software company, where I had more freedom, but there was a lot of peer pressure to work extra hours and everything was controlled by one large client. In this role, I created a software solution without permission because I knew that it would be useful to the client. This was the first time the team sold something to the client when they could already see that it worked. I saw this as a path to growth, but I did not have enough freedom in the company to truly improve the culture. Therefore, I realized it would be best to go out and try to do my own thing.”
What was your original vision for Kuvio?
“I wanted to create a space where leadership takes a step back. I wanted a company that works for its employees rather than the other way around. I wanted to give away as much power as possible while holding the door open for others to succeed.”
What kind of management and leadership style did you want to have?
“The only management experience I had before this was from moving up in the military and in my previous jobs. In those roles, I felt like my experience is what led to that leadership position and that is when I had the freedom to try new things. So now, I like to observe, recognize patterns, and then experiment to solve the problems that emerge from those patterns. This is how I earned the nickname of ‘the serial pivoter’. Now my management philosophy can really be summed up as ‘Let’s try it!’”
What have you had to change as a leader as the company has grown?
“Actually, the more we have grown the easier it feels to take the easy way out with bureaucratic management and hierarchy. However, just because something seems harder does not mean it is the best path so I have really tried to double down on allowing people to keep their freedom. I want to hold true to the original idea that space provides the best work. Now, we just have to check in more often to ensure that we are on track and are creating the culture we want to have.”
Are any of the pivots and experiments we run ever inspired by our interactions with our clients?
“Oh gosh all the time! I have seen our client relationships becoming very close to our relationships with our employees. Ultimately, the goal is the same, to take away tasks they don’t want to do and give them to someone who excels and then giving them the time and space to do what they love and what they are best at. The more power a client gives us, the more space we have to find creative solutions.”
How have Kuvio employees influenced our structure and processes?
“There are examples every single day! For example, we recently had an internal Kuvio mission, vision, and values statement workshop. It was headed by our marketing team and I was just a normal participant, not the leader. 75% of our team participated and together we all came up with a mission statement that was mind-blowing, selfless, and amazing and everyone was in agreement. Hearing back all of our values from the whole team completely reinvigorated me. This was a beautiful way to continue to unite our team under the same mission.”
Author’s note: Learn how to execute your own mission statement workshop here.
What is your favorite part about being a founder?
“Hmmm, I think it is a combination of all the things I have been talking about. It is the personal freedom of having the power to rebel along with the potential to inspire. Being able to inspire others has become my fuel for coming to work every day.”
What is the most difficult part of being a founder?
“I think it is the many hats I have to wear and the size of it all. You might think that with all of the space I can create I am able to focus on my passions. But for me, now that I am encountering new problems, I find that I need 100 times more context about all aspects of the company to be able to solve them. So, while I am able to share tasks with the team, the closer I get to my passions the more difficult problems I find myself solving.”
What is your favorite Kuvio memory?
“A couple of years ago we sent out a survey to the team and asked, ‘What is it about Kuvio that is inspiring to you’ Somebody said that one of our unique qualities is that we seem to want to not just solve the problems we undertake for the sake of solving them, but instead to solve them to truly improve our client’s situation. This was one of my first realizations that the team was on the same page and that we all have similar beliefs.”
Do you have a piece of advice for other founders who are reading this post?
“From my vantage point, something difficult that I have seen is companies holding onto the idea that people need to be managed. I feel like anytime a new work philosophy becomes popular, for example, remote work, you see more traditional companies run experiments with them very publicly. Often, they see it as a failure because what happens during the brief experiment is that as soon as they give their employees a little bit of space they see the employees taking but not yet giving anything back. This often causes companies to revert backward, but this is actually a sign that you are still out of balance and need to push further. Employees will let you know when you have done enough to balance your relationship with them. With culture changes like these, it is going to take a while to find a real, sustainable balance. Your job as a founder is to absorb the difficulties of that change if you truly want to improve your relationship with your employees. It is worth it in this case to take the hard path.”
We would like to thank Joseph for taking the time to share some of his thoughts and insights about being a founder with us! If you want to keep in touch with him, you can follow him on Twitter.
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Originally published at https://www.kuv.io.