Why Transparency is Better for Business than Secrecy

Everett Cook October 14, 2020
Christian Wylonis-3

While running his second startup, an outfit-sharing photo app called Fitbay, Christian Wylonis realized he was getting very lucky with talent. He and co-founder and CTO Andreas Jarbøl had relied almost entirely on their own network for recruiting, and while they had hired some great employees, it was a fairly homogeneous team. Innovation, and production, eventually became stunted as a result.

Instead of being open and transparent with the world about their open positions and larger company goals and mission, they recruited within a silo. That decision turned out to be one of the main reasons the company failed.

Even after Christian and Andreas started The Org in 2017, a company built around public org charts and visible team structures, it still took them two years to realize that the key to what they were building was transparency.

The idea had come quickly — Christian, the COO of Vivino at the time, saw an article on Airbnb’s org chart going viral and realized that while people knew about founder Brian Chesky, they weren’t likely to know anyone else at the company. After a friend told him that the article was also getting shared like crazy within Airbnb, Christian knew that the idea for public org charts had legs. The people who spend all day at Airbnb headquarters theoretically should have a good picture of this org chart in their minds, but they were just as interested in this as the people outside of the company. Why?

So after talking with Andreas, they started a website with 10 org charts and waited for users to start inputting their positions and describing their roles.

They didn’t. And it’s because Christian didn’t know why what he was building was important. The what was always clear — org charts. But the why took some time.

“I hadn't connected the dots,” he said, sitting in the sixth floor conference room of The Org’s SoHo office. “The solution appeared before the problem. We had picked up on the dynamics that were created around this org chart, but I wasn’t really able to articulate why it mattered. It was more of an observation and interpretation of this behavior. Which made it really hard to figure out the problem, to really understand the underlying issue.”

For around a year, Christian continued to ask himself and those in the young company one hard, basic question: Why are public org charts important? He knew that the growth of the company had an inherent cap without being able to answer that question. Being able to feel the dynamics of that was not the same thing as being able to articulate it.

In the summer of 2019, the answer became a little more clear. Public org charts matter because on a personal level, the world has become drastically more transparent in the last decade. It’s inevitable for that to crawl into the world of business. By highlighting and celebrating an entire team, not just the big names everyone knows, the corporate world becomes a lot more accountable and personal.

“Right now, even though a lot of people don’t yet realize it, running a business transparently is in the best interest of a company,” Christian said. “Transparent companies are more trustworthy, full stop. That brings in stronger, more loyal customers, while talented individuals who want to work at good companies want insight into both what they’re getting into culturally and who they’ll be sitting next to.

“Transparency tells more of your company story and gives your business more personality and power.”

The fascinating part is that he was able to realize this only because of the product he was building. It’s a little meta, but in short, by building a product around public, transparent organizationational charts, it forced Christian to run his own company differently by making the why much more clear.

As a founder, he realized the power of transparency for his own company. And once he began to talk to others, he realized that most companies do want to be more transparent, within reason. People want to be recognized. Businesses want to be trusted and get credit for their wins. Creating a platform that helps create that recognition will lead to a more diverse, egalitarian world.

“I’m the CEO of this company, right? I started this,” Christian said. “I know everybody who works for me and I know how they got here. And even then, after a certain point, when you’re 25 employees, that can take on complexity. An org chart is a much more intuitive way to make decisions around putting together a team. Where are our open gaps? For example, diversity and inclusion are extremely important to us, and while that’s not always easy at a small company, it’s been a focus.

“It would have been anyway, but because I look at our own org chart every single day, being public about our team and our challenges has made the focus on diversity and inclusion even stronger.”

Three years after reading the article on Airbnb, The Org is hitting all the sorts of benchmarks you want to see out of a growing startup. The team has doubled in 2020 and raised more than $11M from Sequoia, Founders Fund, and Balderton. The website receives more than 270k unique visitors a month and every measurable growth number is up and to the right. Progress looks positive.

And yet, when you talk to Christian about the future, funding and growth numbers are not what brings a twinkle to his eye. It’s the fact that as The Org continues to grow, the company is going to continue experiencing the product and how it influences decisions in a very direct way. As the business scales, Christian will continue to be exposed to the same things the CEO of another transparent company will be. And in that way, the lifelong entrepreneur is building the product both for himself and for the world.

“People and companies want credit for the things that they do well,” Christian said. “Without transparency, it’s very hard to get that credit in an authentic way. But when they do, it feels nice, and that hopefully drives good behavior, and that will be better for everyone. Myself and The Org included.”

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