anonymous suggestions

Invest in Transparency & Active Communication

August 27th, 2008   |   by Frank Addante

Two of the unique values of our culture at the Rubicon Project are transparency and active communication. Communication takes effort, but we make it a priority. Transparency is a big commitment but it’s also a discipline that, while difficult at times, is incredibly beneficial.

A lot of people ask me about the things that we do to promote active communication and transparency, so I thought I’d share them with you in this post:

1. Team Meetings:

  • Board Meeting Update (once a month): I like to hold monthly board meetings. They serve two purposes. First, regular communication with the board. Second, regular communication with the entire team because we share the -exact- same board of directors meeting presentation with the entire team (yes, really – exactly the same.) This is much easier said than done. It forces a certain discipline. For example, I cannot tell the board something that the team is not already aware of (e.g. problem areas in the company or concerns) because I know we’ll be sharing those same exact slides with the entire team. Vice-versa, I can’t tell the board something that the entire team wouldn’t agree with because they are living this business everyday. If the team saw something in the board slides that they didn’t agree with, I wouldn’t be able to stand up and present it to them with a straight face. It forces complete alignment with everyone in the company all the way through to the board.

  • Themed Team Meetings (once a month): We have a “team meeting committee” (led by Lisa Backman from our Yield Management team and Mallory Portillo, my assistant) that is responsible for coming up with a new theme for every team meeting. This keeps the meetings interesting and informative. Every department has to create their updates to reflect or address that particular theme. Additionally, we require that a different person from each team (not the team leader) present the update. Some of the themes have included:
    • Ask Anything: people were able to use our anonymous suggestion box (see below) to ask ANY question (yes, anything) and we would answer it in front of the entire company (BTW, this was a potentially very scary thing to offer up considering that we had no idea what kind of questions would be asked – really tests the level of transparency commitment)
    • 3 Positives, 3 Negatives
    • How will your life change after the next product release?
    • What are you worried about?
  • United Nations Meetings (weekly): We do not have “management” meetings, we have what we call United Nations meetings where all the group leaders get together and give department updates and discuss key issues.

2. Rubicon University: We also have a Rubicon University education committee (lead by Ryan Dranginis from our Ad Network Development team). There is a class syllabus and every week, during lunch, someone from the company does a presentation to educate the entire company. Classes are typically 30 minutes in length. Topics have included:

3. No Offices: No one in the company has an office, everyone sits out in the open. There are no walls or dividers between desks. There is nothing to prevent communication flow and believe it or not, noise distractions are rarely a problem.

4. Boiler Room: Every morning (without exception) at 9:30am our Publisher, Account Management, Ad Network Development, Yield Management and Product teams get together in our daily Boiler Room meeting and go through all of our customers’ goals. We treat each of our customers like stocks and manage them like a stock portfolio to ensure that they are meeting their performance goals. It is all automated through a performance dashboard that we created specifically for this meeting. Either I or my Co-Founder & COO, Craig Roah, run the meeting every day. It forces us to pay attention to all of our customers and over 30 people are present for the meeting, soaking up valuable customer information. The information flow and accountability that comes out of this meeting is incredible.

5. Anonymous Suggestion Box: We have setup an online anonymous suggestion box where anyone in the company can send anyone else a suggestion/comment anonymously. Comments have ranged from “attitude/behavior” suggestions to “it’s too cold in the office.” We try to encourage open communication, but sometimes people are shy or it’s easier to submit an honest comment anonymously. We want to promote as much communication/information flow as possible, and this has been a very useful tool for us.

The only thing off limits when it comes to transparency is sensitive financial information (e.g. salaries, compensation, confidential investor information, etc.) I encourage everyone in the company to speak their mind and ask any questions they may have. I haven’t heard a question yet that I have felt uncomfortable answering. It’s quite refreshing, actually.

All in all, the investments of time that we make into active communication and transparency continue to pay off. We have tight-knit team where everyone is aware of the key challenges and opportunities. Given that, in less than a year’s time, our team has signed 1200+ customers (such as American Greetings, Washington Post, Gannett, Electronic Arts, etc.) and has optimized over 40 billion ads across 225 of the top ad networks and we now reach over 210 million unique Internet users on a monthly basis (that’s more than MySpace or Facebook) – I can say without a doubt that one of the single biggest contributing factors is the strength of our team’s ability to communicate effectively and proactively with each other.