Email transparency at Stripe
March 3, 2013 6:21 AM   Subscribe

The credit card processor Stripe has an interesting policy of email transparency within the company (previously).
posted by jeffburdges (54 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
That sounds really, really annoying. Especially this: I get a few of these every day, and they're often followed by a flurry of congratulations and gratitude from other teams. What a waste of time and resources!
posted by something something at 6:31 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd think that in any company larger than their size, this would be unworkable. Wouldn't their storage requirements go up a lot since there's always going to be 45 copies of each email?

Do we really need archive@ emails in a request to order more paper for the printer?
posted by arcticseal at 6:36 AM on March 3, 2013


(everyone still gets to see all the cool and important things that Stripe is up to)

Really dude? Totally awesome!

I picture that being written by someone with a slingshot in their back pocket and wearing a baseball cap backward.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:39 AM on March 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


They also are required to each lunch with their team, every day (though it looks like lunch is at least provided). I'd love to know the demographics of their 31 employees.
posted by jeather at 6:43 AM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]




The policy guideline on when to send an email to one specific person without cc'ing anybody else is like 80% of the way down. This whole thing is nuts.
posted by mmcg at 6:49 AM on March 3, 2013


Wouldn't their storage requirements go up a lot since there's always going to be 45 copies of each email?

Deduplication
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:59 AM on March 3, 2013


I dunno, for 45 employees it's probably a good thing. It totally eliminates the need for the "project manager" position, and if there's an issue they don't want everybody to know about it forces them to talk about it face to face. Of course, this simply won't work for the 48,000+ employees at my workplace, but for smaller numbers it does have it's benefits.
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:08 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


God, that sounds annoying. Not just the constant avalanche of useless emails, but the kind of culture that is so in-love with this sort of thing. The always-connected-to-everything-possible crowd. Quantity≠quality.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:08 AM on March 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Like a lot of companies, they're using email for exactly the wrong purpose. If your important information is contained largely in email archives, your knowledge capture eventually will collapse.

The fact that they're so small and are using Gmail and Google Groups makes me think that Stripe eventually is going to have to find a way to get the information embedded within those mailing lists into some sort of database structure, and limit the number of mailing lists.

Transparency is terrific, and if the company wants to have an archive of all emails that's searchable by all employees, that's an interesting take on it, but email is a horrible way to capture and share knowledge with your employees.
posted by xingcat at 7:08 AM on March 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


What a waste of time and resources!

Without endorsing the entirety of this policy, I will say that in my experience, feeling that my work was appreciated and valued by my coworkers and superiors made me work harder and feel better about that work. Back when I had a real job, it cost my boss almost nothing to walk by my cubicle and say "Hey Sokka, great job on that feature," but it always made my day.

I have been a freelancer for years, and can count on one hand the time I've had my work specifically complimented or otherwise appreciated by my peers. Maybe I shouldn't care, but I do.

Anyway, I suppose I don't agree with you that explicitly acknowledging the successes of people in an organization is a waste of that organization's time and resources.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:14 AM on March 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Anyway, I suppose I don't agree with you that explicitly acknowledging the successes of people in an organization is a waste of that organization's time and resources.

It's one thing to acknowledge successes to the people responsible, another for everyone to receive those messages, whether they're addressed to you or not.
posted by Dysk at 7:19 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's great if that's working for them right now, but all I can see is how quickly and easily it could devolve into a culture of enforced sycophancy. This is also how executives train themselves to never read email, since they get cc'd on dozens, and then hundreds of emails a day. Eventually they decide that email is only for unimportant things and that if it was something worth paying attention to then someone would talk to them in person or call them on the phone.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:36 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've seen this "great idea" come up at other companies. The geniuses who sponsors this crap rarely use email for any legitimate "work" - It would absolutely floor them to learn that I get over two hundred emails a day just from various servers or processes telling me about their day. And those emails actually matter to me - Unlike a constant stream of middle-management congratulatory mutual masturbation.

They also don't think about what happens in the future when one of the worker bees becomes less than shiny and happy. The first time a disgruntled employee sends out how he really feels to the whole company, policies like this go from "we believe in open and transparent communication" to "I want the global list blocked now!"


Sokka shot first : Anyway, I suppose I don't agree with you that explicitly acknowledging the successes of people in an organization is a waste of that organization's time and resources.

Saying "thanks" directly to someone, or even as a brief side-note in a team meeting, never counts as a waste of time. CC'ing the whole company to let everyone know that yes, Dave did his job this week - Suffice it to say I have trained my spam filter to throw crap like that away.
posted by pla at 7:41 AM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Prediction: One day a disgruntled employee is going to have a field day with this, as he or she will be CC'd on items that in other instances might not come out until discovery.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:42 AM on March 3, 2013


Avoiding meetings and project managers sounds incredibly beneficial. Flat management rocks!

Anyone I know configures their gmail folders so that list mail never hits the inbox, so presumably employees explicitly check these email lists only infrequently.

All tech companies use IM extensively so presumably semi-private stuff goes through IM. Emails require more time than IMs precisely because they contain contextual information, which then makes them searchable.

Why do you say Email sucks for knowledge capture? Isn't a key point that knowledge must get summarized somewhere? Are you worried that these sumaries get lost amongst the noise? Google searches extract information from public email archives, stackexchange, etc. pretty effectively.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:06 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why do you say Email sucks for knowledge capture? Isn't a key point that knowledge must get summarized somewhere? Are you worried that these sumaries get lost amongst the noise? Google searches extract information from public email archives, stackexchange, etc. pretty effectively.
Exactly. The summaries aren't summaries at all, but conversations that may have the key pieces of information embedded in them. And the noise, in a 45-person company, may not be too bad, but when you multiply that as a company expands...it's disastrous.

It's also a terrible way to distinguish useful information from ideas, hypotheses, and incorrect answers, which are valuable during discussions, but not as an archive of helpful info. When your information structure is flat, and all inputs are weighted the same, you depend on each individual user to determine what information is correct, rather than vetting it with SMEs and other informed parties.
posted by xingcat at 8:16 AM on March 3, 2013


I wonder what their Project Management system is like, I don't see their current system being very sustainable.
posted by livejamie at 9:45 AM on March 3, 2013


I wonder what their Project Management system is like, I don't see their current system being very sustainable.

I'm sure that it isn't, but then one of the reasons why at least some geeks flock to companies that small is to avoid contact with anyone who would ever capitalize Project Management. ;)
posted by trackofalljades at 9:59 AM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


As with much of what we do, we’re not sure yet how this will scale.

Considering that much of what they do alters other people's bank accounts, I really hope that's false modesty talking.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:21 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, that's fucking awful, it's amazing how they think this is a scalable idea.
posted by odinsdream at 11:34 AM on March 3, 2013


They have few enough employees that they can have a little picture and bio for each on their about page. I suspect most of the conversations happen face to face or over some kind of internal chat system, they probably use IRC extensively. Emails are probably limited to things that would have traditionally been a printed memo,communication with people outside the company, and automated stuff.

I think it can scale for a long time, eventually they may need to move away from straight up mailing lists and simply provide search within all company emails.

There is a ton of knowledge locked into emails at most companies, and they are already archiving it all for legal reasons, why not make it searchable. As it stands now, I'm sure we all get emails that require us to go read an old email and rephrase it, why not attempt to eliminate this type of work.

I'm constantly trying to push people off email and IM and onto IRC at work, but no, they want me to have 20 IM windows at all times. I would even move our standups to IRC if I could. My ultimate goal is to have all my apps log to their own channels, so instead of me or the PM having to pull production logs, any of the developers, ops people, or management team can take a look whenever support opens a SEV1 ticket because someone called in and said the app was slow.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:45 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a ton of "wow, that sounds awful" comments in here that I wasn't expecting to see when I read the article. But it makes me think: this system probably wasn't put in place to be immediately pleasing to the largest number of people possible. It probably makes them uncomfortable sometimes or all the time, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I imagine one of the reasons they are doing this is to keep out people who thrive on opacity: people who want to play politics, or who want to use lack of information as an excuse for not getting work done. Here, all information is available, and if you get the kind of people on board who are willing to do a bit of research, the sky is the limit. It's surely not for everyone, but they're a small enough company that they can afford to be selective. And it probably won't keep politics completely at bay (there are tons of other methods of communication), but I applaud them for trying.
posted by mantecol at 12:18 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Transparency" doesn't mean that internal political games aren't happening. It just means that they're happening away from the transparent communication (over IM, beers after work, etc.)

Technology can't solve the problems of human nature.
posted by downing street memo at 1:06 PM on March 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've worked at a big tech company (50K employees) that didn't have a policy encouraging this, but did in practice have a culture that tended to use lots of email lists and send a large proportion of emails to those lists.

It worked really well, and I loved it.

It did take some getting used to: The typical way of dealing with email would not work at this scale, so you had to learn to use gmail's filters and priority inbox. It was not a difficult adjustment, and the benefits were more than worth it.

I loved being able to go back and find design discussions from the principals involved about decisions made 10 years ago about some of the company's fundamental technologies. Many times I had an idea about a possible project or technology, and searched the corporate email archives to find that someone else 10 years ago had the same idea, and I was able to read about the outcome.

Besides the history, I skimmed lots of lists about projects peripherally related to ones I worked on or was interested in order to keep up to date on current thoughts and directions. Sometimes this gave me early warning about changes in related systems that I knew would trickle down to my own projects. It generally was a benefit to communication and transparency, which is usually the hardest part of developing software in large organizations.

I think the competency of the employees did help make this possible--if people really did send useless email, it would have been more of a burden, but that didn't usually happen.

It would absolutely floor them to learn that I get over two hundred emails a day just from various servers or processes telling me about their day

This does strike me as possibly (not definitely, but possibly) using email for the wrong purposes.
posted by jjwiseman at 1:13 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


That experience helped cement my current attitude toward email lists & archiving: There are exceptions (e.g. regarding legal issues), but in general if you didn't Cc: a list you just lost knowledge. You better have had a good reason.
posted by jjwiseman at 1:15 PM on March 3, 2013


When lunch arrives, an IRC bot (appropriately named nombot), announces the fact and the whole team relocates to the dining table. It's important that everyone gets together at least once a day, and meal times are a good excuse.

What a horrible, horrible thing.

I guarantee the vast majority of conversation around that table is work-related.
So now, not only do you lose your time for personal errands, 'alone time' and any semblance of a break, now you have to listen to shop talk while you do it.

Free lunch is cool and all that, but it's not worth the price you're paying.
posted by madajb at 1:30 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Free lunch is cool and all that, but it's not worth the price you're paying.

I worked at a startup with free lunch for a couple years. We also sat together in one big room and ate. I never did the calculations on how much money I saved, but it was a considerable amount. I certainly didn't mind talking about technology either, it isn't something I need to take a break from. For me, free food while having discussions about technology was totally worth it.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:47 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think this is a good idea (depending on the situation), especially in light of the massive amounts of money that some companies are spending on ediscovery and litigation preparedness. It will work best as long as you have officially-sanctioned side-channels for people to communicate individually with each other, but I'm sure it's useful to know what projects everyone else is working on without being forced to pry. And of course, startup culture should be flexible enough to take advantage of other forms of communication - a more established firm might employ people who absolutely could not stand to use their email in this manner.
posted by antonymous at 2:03 PM on March 3, 2013


Did he really just use the word "ambient" to describe this idiotic idea?
posted by Brocktoon at 2:04 PM on March 3, 2013


I worked at a startup with free lunch for a couple years. We also sat together in one big room and ate. I never did the calculations on how much money I saved, but it was a considerable amount. I certainly didn't mind talking about technology either, it isn't something I need to take a break from. For me, free food while having discussions about technology was totally worth it.

I'm not against free food at all, don't get me wrong.
And if you're willing to work across your lunch hour, that's certainly your choice.

But to set up a system where one is required or very strongly encouraged to give up what should be their personal time is not a good company culture.
posted by madajb at 2:19 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'll make my point a little sharper: some of you guys disliking this idea sound really jaded about work. I say if a policy like this keeps the jaded people out of a small startup that is trying to innovate, all the better.
posted by mantecol at 2:25 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't really get what's so different or exciting about Stripe; they seem to have discovered listservs. Congrats, guys — welcome to 1984.

Note that they're not making all email within the company public by default, rather they're just setting up and encouraging the use of listservs on a regular basis, including some that are basically dropboxes (archive lists) for search purposes. Every project gets 3 listservs set up: an "announce" one that gets copied, presumably, to the whole company; a project one that only goes to active project-team members or other interested people; and then an archive list that I assume nobody actually subscribes to and just exists for after-the-fact searching. That seems pretty standard for software projects, particularly distributed ones where not everyone is co-located.

The only unusual part, as far as I can tell, is the "archive" lists, which is something that wouldn't have been practical or useful until a few years ago, when full-text search became practical across a large message store. I also think it makes email archives a lot more useful than they might have been in the past, and a lot of the received wisdom about email lists not scaling as a knowledge capture tool are based on search sucking. Email archives, when combined with a good full-text indexing system, can be a very rich source of information, and are a great complement to wikis or other more curated forms of knowledge management (which in my experience tend to lag behind email archives, because nobody has time to put the Really Clever Solution into the damn wiki, but they're pretty likely to have written it up in an email at some point).

Anyway, email lists seem about 1000% more useful than the crappy "corporate social networks" that were all the rage about two years ago (Yammer, looking at you), mostly because they build on systems and workflows that everyone is familiar with, and don't add another new information flow or inbox that users have to deal with every morning.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:30 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


But to set up a system where one is required or very strongly encouraged to give up what should be their personal time is not a good company culture.

Ok, I can accept that it might not be cool if someone is ambushed into it. Their first day they are about to step out for lunch and someone says "Wait a minute, where do you think you are going. We don't have any of that private lunch stuff here". I hope they tell people during the interview process. My bet is that not only do potential employees not mind, but they think it is the coolest thing ever.

I never had a problem saying "I gotta hit the bank and the post office and grab starbucks, be back in an hour" in the afternoon. So I got all my errands done, and still got free lunch.

I guess the argument can be made that it it inconveniences people with lives outside work that need to run errands. When you start at the company it may be the center of your life. That may change as your priories change. I don't know what to say about that.

Maybe you are ultimately right.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:37 PM on March 3, 2013


I guarantee the vast majority of conversation around that table is work-related.

Not so at our company. People mostly talk about games they've played or stuff they watched on TV or the news or whatever; and no-one feels bad about taking the hour to do personal errands or phone calls. At other companies I've worked at, people just ate lunch at their desks, which hardly seems better whether or not you need to do errands.
posted by adrianhon at 2:40 PM on March 3, 2013


(everyone still gets to see all the cool and important things that Stripe is up to)

Really dude? Totally awesome! I picture that being written by someone with a slingshot in their back pocket and wearing a baseball cap backward.


Are you really knocking someone for using the word "cool"?
posted by the jam at 2:51 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guarantee the vast majority of conversation around that table is work-related.

I kinda doubt it. I worked at a smallish tech company where everyone typically ate lunch together (and there wasn't even free lunch on a regular basis) and it was really unusual to talk shop at lunch, at least for more than a few minutes. In fact if you did, you'd probably get some degree of dirty looks, or get talked-over by people who were more interested in talking about Minecraft / beer / whatever the top story on Ars Technica was that morning / etc. Maybe at a true startup that's in its very early growth stage it's different, but I doubt everyone is 100% job-focused all the time.

At any rate, it was definitely better than the typical BigCo thing where everyone either eats alone in some cavernous cafeteria, or reheats frozen food in a purgatorial microwave and wolfs it down at their desk. I did that for a few years, and that was depressing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:59 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Free food is good. Standard UK lunchbreak is half an hour, you can't run errands and buy food and eat it without getting indigestion (i'm 40, at 35 i started needing to sit down for at least 15 minutes or i had painful painful indigestion, it usually starts later and less, but it happens) and go to the toilet, re-apply you make-up (if it's compulsory) etc in 30 minutes. I'd be really happy with free food in the room in a standard lunch break. Most people i know didn't even leave the dingy tiny staff room, but my eyes get severe night blindness if i don't get some natural light, so i always go out. And until the smoking ban, staff rooms used to be full of smoke too.
posted by maiamaia at 3:06 PM on March 3, 2013


The scalability isn't so bad --- they filter the shit out of their inboxes. While everyone may technically receive every email, they never see 99% of them. What this amounts to is an ad-hoc unstructured database where anyone can search all emails, but the day-to-day appearance of a user's inbox wouldn't be too different from being subscribed to a few listservs.

I wouldn't be surprised if Gmail deduplicates messages internally, so the implementation may not be as bad as it seems either.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:11 PM on March 3, 2013


Where I work (10 person company, but it was the same at a bank) we keep Bloomberg chat rooms open that everyone is in. People can blast a quick link to a news story or other info into the chat room, or send something in an e-mail CC'ed to everyone if it's more substantial. They can also chat each other privately using Bloomberg or AOL IM.

The weird thing is that AOL instant messenger is still the de facto industry standard chat software, mainly to communicate with brokers. It was like a blast from my early 2000's high school AIM chatting years when I saw that people still used it actively. I get the feeling it dates back to a time when Bloomberg didn't have its own instant messaging, or maybe it's because not everyone has a Bloomberg, but AIM is free. It's like the BlackBerry of the finance instant messaging world.

But there are entire companies like YellowJacket that sell a product that basically makes the AOL IM interface less painful to use, and banks have entire compliance procedures written up specifically about AIM - at my old place, employees weren't even allowed to know their own AIM password - an IT guy had to type it in for you. Never got the point of that one.

My current place gives you a $15 daily SeamlessWeb credit. It's awesome - no more lunch runs. Although rationally I know it would be better just to have the $15/day in cash, psychologically it's a perk for me. Around lunchtime the elevator's constantly dinging as delivery guys from different places bring in food. Everyone just eats at the desk though.
posted by pravit at 3:51 PM on March 3, 2013


Saying everyone gets all the mail but it doesn't actually hit their inboxes makes this seem much less crazy. I don't really see why people bother even having the emails delivered to them though if they are all accessible in a google groups anyways.
posted by smackfu at 6:19 PM on March 3, 2013


Letting everyone see what you're doing is not the same thing as project management.
posted by yellowcandy at 6:55 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't really see why people bother even having the emails delivered to them though if they are all accessible in a google groups anyways.

It's a lot easier to search if it's all in your Gmail account. If you don't receive and archive it, then you have to go into that Google Group (or at least into Groups generally) and search it, which is an extra step over just searching your Gmail.

Since Gmail offers so much space that there's not really any downside to just receiving and archiving stuff, it's the easier and more time-efficient path. If you have 25GB of space, there's no downside to having stuff just bypass your inbox on the off chance you ever want to search for it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:00 PM on March 3, 2013


At any rate, it was definitely better than the typical BigCo thing where everyone either eats alone in some cavernous cafeteria, or reheats frozen food in a purgatorial microwave and wolfs it down at their desk. I did that for a few years, and that was depressing.

I agree, eating at your desk daily is 10x worse.
posted by madajb at 8:19 PM on March 3, 2013




So, they deal with the volume problem created by email everyone about everything by...not reading most of it?

posted by freebird at 9:41 PM on March 3, 2013


The idea is that everyone has access to almost all the email sent around the rest of the company, not that they actually need to read all of it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:50 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have no idea how any of you work and use IM. If I'm in the middle of something complex or that I'm on a roll with, the last thing I want is a note about something not-urgent from someone, who then starts whining if you don't reply in three minutes. Completely breaks my concentration. Hence I only turn on skype or whatever for scheduled virtual appointments.
posted by maxwelton at 11:00 PM on March 3, 2013


You just put yourself on Do-not-disturb in that kind of situation. Most people aren't working on complex tasks most of the day though.
posted by smackfu at 5:46 AM on March 4, 2013


Standard UK lunchbreak is half an hour

You're in the wrong job. Sure, there might be a stat somewhere that the 'average lunchbreak' is 26 minutes or something, but I've never once worked anywhere that allowed less than an hour, not even a call centre or a major bank.

Whether the company culture is such that employees feel they ought not to take a full lunch break as it might seem that they aren't working hard enough is a different matter. I've been on training courses and met people who had a choice between eating lunch in their car with the radio on, or eating lunch in their canteen as they were too far from town and not allowed to eat at their desks or use the internet for non-work purposes. That would drive me nuts, personally.
posted by mippy at 6:25 AM on March 4, 2013


I guess the argument can be made that it it inconveniences people with lives outside work that need to run errands.

You're an extrovert, I assume?

For me: I leave the building at lunchtime because I need some time away from the work environment. I would find enforced group smalltalk every lunchtime draining and unproductive. As it is, I take a nice walk by myself and come back recharged; and incidentally often with fresh ideas for the task I was working on.

Errands have nothing to do with it. The exercise is a nice bonus -- and important for sedentary workers. But for me the important part of "lunch break" is the break.

Also, from the policy link:
In addition to that, once or twice a year we organize company-wide hackathons: we all head together somewhere far away and just hack on new Stripe-related projects.
Yeah, that's not a fun "group activity": that's work.

(And "nombot"? Oh spare me.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:19 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


smackfu : You just put yourself on Do-not-disturb in that kind of situation. Most people aren't working on complex tasks most of the day though.

Welcome to programming.

Every time you force me to reenter the "real" world to answer some stupid email about lunch, you've just wasted a good 15 minutes of productive time. If I actually need to do something for you, make that 30 - 15 out and 15 back in.
posted by pla at 6:25 PM on March 4, 2013


That's why every halfway-decent IM client has Do Not Disturb. Presumably, a programmer thought that feature was necessary.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:02 PM on March 4, 2013


Welcome to programming.

The longer I work as a programmer, the less programming I do.
posted by smackfu at 10:21 AM on March 5, 2013


On startups in general : Benefits matter OR why I won't work for your YCombinator start-up.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:34 AM on March 21, 2013


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