📻 — Deconstructing Hubspot’s Culture Code Deck — Notes from 128 Slides

Good morning yenizens!

🎉 — Yesterday we celebrated 2 months of publication! I shared some of our progress (and stats) in a tweetstorm with 3 lessons / reminders about launching email newsletters.

The most important one: Don't quit too early.

Finally, I saw this tweet via Carrie and… it made my heart warm. I don’t know any details and I imagine the history / context is full of pain / hurt, but, I’m glad that we’re healing now too.

Finally, thanks to community contributions, we’ve updated our resource & tool list with the following (1 book, 4 video apps, 2 chat apps):

📚 — The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging
📽 — VideoAsk — Get personal with video by Typeform
📽 — VideoForm — … not by Typeform
📽 — Descript — Edit audio like text
📽 — Vodited — 👆🏻
💬 — Dish — Make Slack a social network (profiles!)
💬 — Heartbeat — Cohort & curriculum

Thanks so much to every yenizen who contributed!! Got a great tool or resource that’s missing? Drop it to us here.

To infinity & community,

— john

HubSpot is a household name at this point and has been a big part of building community in the last 14+ years — crazy to think about how long HubSpot has been around (and it’s not that old either)!

Several years ago their founder / CTO, @dharmesh published a “beta” of what would eventually become their “Culture Code” and an assortment of slides that formalized into a cohesive presentation about who they are and what they stand for.

Since we’re in the beginning stages of establishing and codifying our community, the yeniverse, I’ve been looking for similar resources to compare and contrast, especially as I look for the “nuggets of wisdom” that proven business & community builders have used.

The 128 slides that I’ve manually downloaded by hand is their most-recent update to their “perpetual work in progress” — it’s hit the editing room floor more than 25 times, a strong lesson on how these types of things are more dynamic than static and how periodically reviewing them is not just good decorum but of existential importance.

5+ million views, nearly ~80k customers with ~4k staff members later, the Hubspot Team is an absolute force, an impossible-to-miss, category product that has helped millions of folks — we can all still learn a ton about how they build product and community.

At a high-level, they have established a shared passion around both mission and metrics, using the H.E.A.R.T. to represent this:

  • Humble
  • Empathetic
  • Adaptable
  • Remarkable
  • Transparent

And here are some of the highlights that they intentionally pull-out:

  • Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.  
  • Every community / biz has culture — why not make it one you love?
  • Solve For The Customer, not just their happiness, but also their success.
  • Power is now gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it.
  • Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” — Louis Brandeis
  • “No-door policy” — Everyone has access to anyone in the company.
  • You shouldn’t penalize the many for the mistakes of the few.
  • Results should matter more than when or where they are produced.
  • Influence should be independent of hierarchy.
  • Great people want direction on where they’re going, not directions on how to get there.
  • Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.
  • We’d rather be failing frequently than never trying.

Ready for the slides (and commentary)? Here you go…! I hope you find these useful to review for your own project and/or community!

Feel free to share the slides with others! #yenSTRONG

I do particularly like their branding — and branding the document itself is next-level… something to think about as your community expands!

A good reminder about the power of keeping things simple, especially in the beginning formation of a new community / project. This is why I keep the “Community Operating System” as just the why, the what, and the how.

A powerful reminder that your culture is, itself, a product that you can define and massage and cultivate and develop. The distinction between what is customer-facing and what is employee-facing is an interesting separation and one that I don’t entirely agree with.

I argue for having one singular definition of culture that extends over all of the community, both internal and external. Perhaps this is semantics to a real degree, but, I think it’s worth noting for comparison’s sake.

Culture is definitely a recruiting technique now, not just something that folks have in the background of their job. In fact, more and more folks choose culture, first, and then other things as a distant-second.

You have a culture whether you like it or not. You have a culture whether you intentionally design it or just “let it happen” organically.

Why not create a culture that you actually love (and want to work in)? Why not create a business and community culture that gets you excited?

The HubSpot Culture Code Tenets:

  1. We solve for the customer.
  2. We work to be remarkably transparent.
  3. We favor autonomy & accountability.
  4. We believe our best perk is amazing peers.
  5. We lean towards long-term impact.

“Solving for the customer” isn’t rocket science but we can easily and often forget the following:

  1. Building… stuff is easy, especially with #nocode.
  2. Building… for an actual customer’s need? Hard.

I meet community builders all the time who have done #1… 100 times over and yet they haven’t quite done #2 yet.

Having a clear mission is something important for a new project and community! For us here in the yeniverse, it’s all about democratizing community building and helping other folks learn how to do this better!

The YEN.FM newsletter, obviously, directly executes against this focus.

I appreciate HubSpot defining what “grow better” actually means because… it’s not exactly precise at first-glance.

I’m so glad that they are intentionally helping to support newer and young organizations and projects! Of course, this is good for their long-term bottom-line as well.

I think all communities should also seek to serve new communities, especially the older ones that have been around for a while. There’s a ton of experience, wisdom, and mentors available.

Part of what I love about the slide above is that they’ve made it clear that they are here for their customers. In fact, the focus on career development fits perfectly with what Tessa shared on how to build community trust.

Helping your community succeed in their personal and professional goals almost always aligns with business / product success, when done well.

At YEN, we do the same thing with the above and below slides:

YEN gives our customers community-building superpowers.

How do we do this? We equip them with the knowledge, insight, strategies, and tools on how to build community with little to zero resources.


Dedication to both their mission and metrics is hard as many times we find these things in direct competition with one another. This is a great graphic, by the way, and HubSpot has figured out how to blend this unnatural relationship in a way that works.

So much yin and yang, I can’t even. 🤣

Building in the Open” is a growing, competitive strategy and tactic that just simply works! Being transparent doesn’t mean that you have to give away all of the “goods” — it just means providing space for authentic, timely, and consistent information to pass from the business to the community and then back again.

Every organization and community does this differently, of course, but the fundamentals are always the same: They are approachable and available.

An easy “test” for authentic community is whether they are “hoarding” knowledge or are motivated to “give it away” (and prove this through their actions and behaviors).

I won’t mince words here: There’s a lot of “protectionism” happening in community formation right now which only hurts your own users and community in the end.

Don’t “tax” knowledge that’s already free and don’t stop other people from helping other people — that’s just bad juju anyway you look at it.

How does HubSpot do it?

We share (almost) everything with everyone.

💥 goes the dynamite.

Part of my interest in building out our own little Notion document on the internet is because I’m trying to build out a collaborative “wiki-like” experience for our community members as we equip them with community-building superpowers.

Keeping our shared, public, and free resource updated is a major part of our collective future — this is why I’m not even kidding when I say that I’m looking for help in this particular area!

One of the time-tested strategies for growing a new community in the beginning is “celebrating” or “highlighting” early members. HubSpot’s ritual of making every employee an “insider” has, I imagine, a similar type of effect.

Team members feel more valued, more listened to, and feel more deeply connected to the mission and business. Win-win, right?

When I was leading business & community building bootcamps (these are coming back, btw!!) the first day was dedicated to data which was, for most folks, very counter-intuitive.

But, what HubSpot and what sophisticated and experienced community builders know is that data drives the insights that allow you to understand your community and thus serve them better.

In a nutshell, without data, you drive blind.

Grace Hopper pwns.

At HubSpot they measure all-the-things:

  • Customer happiness
  • Employee happiness
  • Candidate happiness
  • General happiness

Dad jokes?

And important note on transparency:

Transparency ≠ Democracy — It’s about being open and accepting of all input, but, it’s not about decisions by consensus. At HubSpot, they designate one person to make a decision and sail the ship.

And interesting call-out, for sure!

We don’t penalize the many for the mistakes of the few.

I imagine this creates a culture that pushes boundaries and allows employees to grow.

Part of the reason why I borrowed simple language for our yeniverse “Code of Conduct” is to keep the language simple and to essentially say the same thing: Use good judgment in all things.

We want people to build and grow communities better. Although we maintain the site, this is our yeniverse that we get to build together, and we need your help to make it the best it can be. Respect each other. Remember to criticize ideas, not people. Don’t spam. Don’t be a jerk. If you see something, say something. Leave it better than when you arrived.

via The Yeniverse

I appreciate the simplicity:

Customer > Company > Individual

I do wonder how this plays out in-the-real though. They, of course, break it down a bit more:


Results matter more than where we produce them.

An obvious not-so-subtle hat-tip to remote work! A results-oriented and results-focused business (and community) is a worthwhile reminder, especially because your community is everywhere!

Doesn’t matter where you are.

Spending time defining “remote” for the team and culture is pretty neat:

I preach about alignment all the time, even and especially for super-small teams. Again, another powerful reminder about how important it really is to focus on just a few folks in the beginning as you build out your plan and community. You don’t need everyone aboard the ship on Day #1… you just need what Simon Sinek calls the “true believers“.

Start with Why is always a good frame.

How does HubSpot create this alignment?

  1. Align individual goals to team goals.
  2. Align team goals to company goals.
  3. Align company goals to our customer goals.

At YEN, we know our community is succeeding when they have more community members in their community this month (as compared to last month) and are earning more money than last month as well.

Success is binary and we know it when we see it. If a yenizen succeeds, everyone in our yeniverse wins.

I’ve had to “fire” both customers, community members, and employees over the last few years as we’ve put things together!

The yeniverse isn’t utopia — no community space is. Instead, every community is on the hunt for their “right” community members, the ones that match well with the core operating system.

A few slides above describing a HubSpotter and it’s a reminder that I could probably spend a bit more time defining the who / what of a yenizen too.

Might be a worthwhile exercise for later this week!

Making awards is a good idea… saving that for later! We already have a #hashtag that we’ve used in the past when we’ve seen something that positively supports our culture — I tag anything of that nature with #yenSTRONG and I probably could do more of this.

Maybe I need a badge… anyone wanna design one for us?

If you mess up your operating system…

Diversity of the company should reflect the diversity of the community. Strange how this doesn’t really work out the way that most companies and communities intend!

Which the founders of HubSpot easily share:

I think about the diversity of my own company and community and I think of ways to get more representation across the boards. But, as you all know, this is hard to do day-in and day-out.

This flywheel works, but, it only works if you intentionally invest in building out a diverse team. Again, in my personal experience, this is really, really, really hard to do, especially in smaller teams where you’re just trying to survive, first, instead of necessarily diversifying!

Healthy communities require healthy people in them and healthy people need to be their very best (and authentic) selves.

This is much easier said than done! But, putting this as-part of their explicit Culture Code and documentation enables these conversations to be had, which, is Step Number One in building an empathetic and healthy culture.

Bravo. Keep going!

Remember, your existing talent is the “bottom floor” of your talent pool, not the “top level” — “A” members attract other “A” members while “B” members attract “B” players (and below).

This goes for team dynamics and early community building!

One of the 3 operating virtues @ YEN is kaizen — a focus on continual improvement both personally and professionally!

Life-long learning is not just something “cool” — it’s essential!

Giving your customers a real voice to the product development lifecycle is a power-move that everyone agrees is fundamentally good but few people (and organizations) really execute well here.

Customer-centricity is easy in the beginning but can oftentimes get lost as you scale-up and try to go “up market” — keeping an ear to the ground and giving your community access is vitally important.

Yup. We have a BHAG (“Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goal”) for 2021: Help launch 1,000 profitable communities!

I hope you can help me do just that!

Simple is good.

This is like a metaphor for most communities as they scale and grow… they become a literal nightmare.

Of course, this doesn’t have to be your path!

Refactoring a community is an interesting idea!

  • Stop generating unused reports.
  • Cancel unproductive meetings.
  • Remove unnecessary rules.
  • Automate manual processes.
  • Prune extraneous processes.

I like the use of the word S.C.R.A.P. and this is something that I may borrow heavily in the near-future.

We’re almost done here! Whew!

Culture is a product.

  • Keep learning from customers (i.e. each other).
  • Keep iterating. A product is never done.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t fight feature wars.

What is HubSpot’s winning formula?

Amazing people + autonomy & ownership + aligned vectors = achieving our aspirations

Whew. Done. Hopefully that was useful. Share it with others.

And, of course, thank you @dharmesh for writing it!