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Putting software to work on company culture

Hi. I'm Brie. A few years ago I decided to make it my life's work to make work life awesome for more people. After being a part of great organizations like Stripe, Figma, and Google changed my life, it felt like the highest impact thing an operations wonk with a proclivity for the written word could work on.

Through my work on The Kool-Aid Factory, I've read and written as much as I could about the habits of ambitious, high-performing teams. I lent my hands to startups that were looking to build ambitious, high-performing teams of their own—I helped companies write their operating principles, run their first onsites, make their All Hands awesome, hire (and occasionally fire) better, roll out planning processes, establish review forums that kept accountability and the quality bar high, the list goes on.

The lesson I have learned over and over and over again is that the most cohesive teams are not only the most prolific, but also the most satisfied. And all the work I was doing with teams laddered up to the same purpose — cultivating more of that “we're all in this together feeling.”

Because for ambitious organizations that pride themselves in cultures of autonomy and distributed ownership, that feeling is fuel.

Cohesion is hard in hybrid mode

I think we've all arrived on roughly the same page that the transition to hybrid work has brought many benefits to our lives, but it's worn the connective fabric of our organizations thin.

When I sit down with companies, here are the things I often overhear (remember, these are typically companies with under 100 people).

  • “I found out about that new feature on our company blog.”
  • “I have no idea what that person does.”
  • “I learned about my new boss when she showed up for work her first day.”

It's… excruciating.

Hybrid work isn't the only culprit, but team cohesion is simply harder than it used to be when teammates are scattered across countries and timezones and can't catch up about life, work, and everything in between simply because they're both in the mood for boba at the same time.

Our communication and collaboration tools are doing a fine enough job of helping us inch work forward with our closest collaborators. But, they're not doing much to advance the collective wisdom of our organizations, connect us with colleagues on distant teams, or recreate the moments of serendipity we used to rely on in our offices

We've tried everything we could to prevent and repair these very serious cracks in the cultural foundation of our companies—updated Slack and meeting norms, more documentation, extensive communication guides, upping the cadence of internal demo days, putting lipstick on internal employee profiles, desk decor stipends, “fun” virtual gatherings full of “fun” icebreakers—but something still isn't clicking. And it's getting in the way of doing the meaningful, satisfying, industry-shaping work we all aspire to do.

There's just no way around it anymore. We need a place to go for shared knowledge and connection at work that isn't an office.

Treating organizations like the (mostly) online communities they now are

I started dreaming up what that could look like and it wasn't long before the lightbulb went bing.

When I'm in the mood to stumble on new ideas, see what smart people are thinking and talking about, or find crannies with strangers who care about the same things I do, there are dozens of online homes waiting for me—HackerNews, Reddit, Twitter, the list goes on. As former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman put it, “the internet is amazing at: (a) creating concentrated subcultures that generate new ideas (b) harvesting the best ideas from these subcultures and dumping them into the main feed.

Putting those same dynamics to work within companies seemed like a no-brainer. Especially because colleagues are already connected over a shared purpose and a reliance on each other to get there.

Constellate will be a collectively-curated feed of work-in-progress that anyone, in any corner of an organization, can rely on.

The core functionality of feeds and upvotes and reactions will feel familiar. But doing it at work with a community of trusted colleagues you're already building with and rooting for will feel different.

I know, I know. Another tool? But I promise. This one's going to be different.

Constellate is designed to nourish curious minds. Not to get stuff done.

By creating a space where the company hivemind buzzes without the looming threat of more to-dos, you'll come when the mood strikes, not because you have to. And certainly not because you've been yanked there. (I can promise you now that you won't see any assigned tasks or notifications in Constellate).

The best version of Constellate is a place you love visiting. It's designed to enrich those moments of down time between meetings or while sipping your morning coffee. I want your work bestie to nudge you to share an update about that random thing you've been working on that you think no one would care about and watch it shoot to the top of the feed. I hope you see stuff in Constellate you would have never seen otherwise. And I hope it blows your mind.

And given the menagerie of collaboration and productivity tools out there clamoring for your attention and credit cards, we won't survive if you don't.

A ~reluctant founder

To close out, I'll say that I was pretty reticent about starting a company. I know (intimately) how tough it is to build one. And so many of the founders I encounter are whizzes in AI or design, have been coding since they're five, loved managing triple-digit-sized teams in a past job, or have always known they were destined for this work. None of that sounds like me. Plus, I've got a pretty good gig going now.

But the more I felt the call to make work life awesome for more people, the more I felt limited by my current setup.

I am just one person with one brain (shaped by one set of experiences) and two hands (none of which code very well) and there is only so much I can do with them alone. I want to turn my beliefs and understandings about what makes orgs tick (and tick the people within them off) into something way, way more people can benefit from. Software is really, really, really good at that.

And I got into the culture-building business because it changed my life to work alongside colleagues that made me want to do my best work. Now, I can't shake this feeling that Constellate is my best chance at making that happen for more people.

I hope you'll consider helping me get there.

Because when we do, I think we've got a shot at transforming organizations into the incredible sources of community and self-actualization they should be. You in?