Our open source 2021 Profit & Loss
Our meaningful action in DEI, sustainability, charitable giving, and decentralization
Usually, I’ll share this report sometime between January — March, but in 2022, my role is shifting quickly. I still run some of our most technical projects, but more as an architect or early-days coder. As those projects evolve, I’ll build a team around me and shuffle into more of a coordination role, so I can bring in more business.
These days, it seems I’m needed across the company more as someone who can quickly guide, facilitate, and institute change to best support and empower our people, which has meant I’m spending less time “heads down” (that means posting :P).
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In any case, I’m committed to sharing everything I can as we evolve, so that we can create an ongoing narrative with our creative community, learning in the open together.
→ Here’s our 2021 Profit & Loss 🥰
2015 & 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020
🥜 2021 in a Nutshell
We grew our team (including a handful of contractors) to roughly ~45 active members, and launched the garden3d website!
Facilitated our first-ever parental leave, which is, from our understanding, the most generous parental leave program in the USA.
$329,968.01in profit with our team.
Setup a Charitable Giving Program and split
$13,365.97across 4x different charities.
58.69 TCO2e(150% of our 2021 carbon emissions), and wrote about moving into more meaningful climate action in our 2020 & 2021 sustainability reports.
Made our skill levels (and thus salaries) transparent to our internal team, which launched a bigger company-wide conversation around our diversity, equity & inclusion efforts as a business.
Doubled down on mental health through our Herb Center, BIPOC & Gardenxers groups.
Improved on “democracy of information” by further documenting Conventions, Training Manuals, and a Roles charter.
Evolved our decentralized organization design through roles, push based communication, and diagramming our node-like, studio coordinator role.
Introduced our Support Team!
What is garden3d?
At the end of 2019, XXIX and Sanctuary Computer agree’d to weld our teams together.
At roughly that same time, I had started building Manhattan Hydraulics and Seaborne, and it was starting to become confusing to talk about. We want to be viewed as “multiple offerings, one team” — so we built a loose collective to house our studios (XXIX, Hydro, Sanctuary Computer), our enterprises (Index, Seaborne, In-House, and others), and equity partners (The Light Phone and Open Tender).
That collective is garden3d, and in 2022, we’re using it to offering a long-term incentive program to our broader team that looks something like a worker-owned co-op, and a law firm partnership.
Our Charitable Giving Program
In 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, and stretching into the Black Lives Matter uprising, we ran WEB PRESENCE INTERNATIONAL — a weekly trivia night during lockdown where we gave roughly ~$6k+ to PPE & Bail Fund charities, among others, in those few months.
This kicked off a broader conversation around charitable giving at garden3d. We’re a profit sharing company, but we’re equally interested in social progress. Kay, Flick & Angeline proposed an algorithm that would not effect our individual profit shares, but would aim to maximize our generosity as a business.
→ Last year, we split
$13,365.97 among the following 4 charities:
In 2022, we’ll be giving more under the same program.
Transparent Salaries & DEI
For most of our existence, we’ve set salaries based on a deterministic scale, through an evolving process called P2P (peer to peer) Skill Tree Reviews. That process has the reviewee work through our Skill Tree matrix with ~2+ peers, and determine a skill tree level collectively.
It’s a process that ultimately aims to reduce bias, and improve the reviewee’s comfort in advocating for themselves, thereby improving equity in salary setting (when compared to the status quo).
In 2021, our Gardenxrs group (our support group for all gender-expansive people, transgender people, and allied cisgender women) & BIPOC group (a safe space for folks who identify as black, indigenous, and/or a person of color) wanted to see these skill levels (and thus, salaries) made fully transparent. So we did.
In this process, a few facts were laid bare:
There was clear inconsistency in our P2P Skill Tree Process. Some of our most experienced people seemed to be scored more critically than others, while some younger team members seemed to be jumping levels quickly.
The dominant majority among our most skilled (and thus, highest paid) people were white & male. This is no surprise to me: Jake & Jacob (XXIX founders), and myself (founder) are white men, and we entered the industry 10 years ago, when aggregate tech diversity was much more homogenous, but the clarity of this data still caught others off guard.
How we are addressing skill tree inconsistencies
At first, we were concerned that our group salary setting process was not as free-of-bias as we initially thought, but on closer inspection, we found that individuals who were being directly reviewed by our our founders (or most senior members) were scored more critically than peer groups that had a lower aggregate skill level.
Put simply, younger groups “didn’t know what they didn’t know”. They would (artificially) raise each other’s skill levels through a collective “pat on the back”, whereas founders or seniors members would provide thoughtful, constructive criticism through a deep understanding that in the mid term, that has greater benefits for reviewee, and garden3d at large.
So, I used our experiments process (more on that in our 2020 open source P&L), to ensure that appropriately experienced members of garden3d are always present in skill tree reviews.
How we are improving diversity at our senior levels
This one’s not quite as easy to address. The (gender & racial) diversity of an organization is a function of aggregate diversity of the hiring pipeline (which, in an any business, is usually a moment when you don’t have much time to actually make that hire).
When I first started hiring in 2016, candidly, I was shocked by the lack of diversity in our applicant pool. To this day, I’ve consistently found that for US based, senior-level technology roles (ie, 6 — 10+ years of experience):
Roughly 90%+ of candidates are white
Roughly 80%+ of candidates are male
Today, junior candidate pools (0 — 3 years of experience) do not suffer from the same issue.
From my anecdotal experience, the aggregate diversity of candidates entering the industry has risen dramatically over the last roughly ~2 — 4 years; so my approach to building a diverse group of thinkers has been that we’d focus on training, and hire up from within. (Which is working, but is a 5+ year endeavor per member — that’s a lot to take on, and it isn’t moving fast enough).
Here’s some improvements we’re actively working on:
→ Today, our DEI working group is collaborating with Affirma to revisit our company policies across the board, identifying blindspots & corner-cases that aren’t empowering for everyone equally, work to build policy to reinforce against them.
→ We’re now using the BICEPS framework when designing new policy, to ensure we’re actively considering how that policy might affect everyone on the individual level.
→ Our job postings now include our demographics, and a commitment to applicants, to ensure that individuals from underrepresented backgrounds (who may be escaping cultural burnout in a different organization) understand that commitment.
→ We now (anonymously) record our group’s DEI data (in our private software tool, called Stacks), to make it easier to spot diversity problems in real-time (like attrition due to cultural burnout).
→ We’re building a stronger focus on “Career Growth Mobility” (an initiative that I’m leading, to provide grow our team’s skill level as quickly as possible), we are building formal approaches to up skilling that involve Training Manuals, and multiple checks and balances involving Shadowing & Coaching from more senior members of the team. “Hiring up from within” continues to be a key part of our strategy here.
→ We will be releasing a yearly DEI report from here on out (our first report is coming in a couple of months!), to set goals publicly, and check in on them periodically to hold everyone accountable to creating equity in all corners of the organization.
→ We have formed studio-leadership-level working groups that are open to all people to participate and contribute to guiding the studios in an open manner, so that no company-wide governance happens in backchannels anymore.
→ We have formed a DEI working group to revisit our company policies across the board, identifying corner-cases that aren’t empowering for everyone equally, and fix them.
2021 was a big year for Index. Elie kept the vibe strong. Megumi joined as Head of Education. Sam now heads up Community. We launched our PALS program, we upgraded our Zoom account multiple times to support the massive turnouts at our town square, and we launched weirder and weirder courses. We made friends with friends with benefits. We ran pasta making courses. We talked belonging and bias in branding. We went deep sea diving on the internet.
Our First Parent
At the end of 2021, Nicole became the first person to apply for our parental leave program. Isabel originally rolled out our parental leave program, inspired by Basecamp & Patagonia.
Iz drafted the proposal: 4 months paid time off for new parents, making no distinction between the primary care giver.
It was passed without any concern. We now sport the most generous parental leave program in the USA (that we’re aware of), and Isabel wrote more about it in early 2021, here:
I have for the longest time had problems with the “fence” allegory for equality vs equity. Yes, it makes clear that point that people don’t start from the same place, so an organization should aim to design policy that is dynamic in how it supports people.
However — the meme offers more questions than answers: Where did these boxes come from? Who is awarding the boxes, and why is that box-giver out of frame? What part of the fence was built by society, and what part of the fence is an organization responsible for?
Instead, I think Joseph put it best recently when he said:
Our parental leave program is an example of equity, rather than equality. Not everyone will use the program, but we are stronger as an organization by making it available the few who’ll need it.
In last year’s post I introduced “The Crystal Lattice” — garden3d’s approach to building a decentralized organization that subverts hierarchy and traditional power structures in our organization.
Well — between that post and now — we’ve learnt a few things:
Role definitions matter
We don’t have a traditional, pyramid-shaped org chart, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have different jobs-to-be-done. We originally set out to solve for this by simply leaving “ownership” undefined, but it meant that the hardest tasks fell by the wayside with no clear owner. We’re now mid-flight on describing the roles at our organization, and building democratic processes to help people move between them as the grow through their career.
Visualizing an org is helpful for everyone
Just because we’re not pyramid-shaped does not mean we are shapeless.
→ Tim, Simone & the Hydro team set about diagramming out how our team of teams model works in How garden3d works, and it’s been incredibly helpful for everyone at the org to understand where they fit in.
Flat organizations don’t exist
Whenever two people are together, a power dynamic forms. That’s not a bad thing — without power dynamics, nothing would get done, and the company would flail. We are a decentralized, mesh-like team of teams, so for that reason, centralizing power around a traditional hierarchy doesn’t work either.
→ So, we aim to toe the line between defining power dynamics (through transparent skill tree levels, studio co-ordinator and project leadership roles) to be supportive and set clear expectations between individuals, while shirking the status quo, and avoiding an overly prescriptive hierarchy that oppresses and stifles individuals, with an array of wordy job titles (which can often be used against an individual to limit their agency).
Policy design should be self-reinforcing
In a busy, non-top-down organization, it’s all too easy for decentralized actors to “drop the ball” without others noticing. This hurts us in a myriad of ways — the important work (like driving org-wide initiatives) doesn’t get done, but worse, our team loses faith in the structure itself.
So — we now design new processes to be self reinforcing (or lattice-like) in nature. If a process is hinged on one individual remembering to do something, it is too brittle, and asked to be revised.
→ We instead aim to build moment around groups through recurring calendar invitations, and build processes around specific lifecycle hooks in existing processes (not unlike habit stacking).
Convention over Configuration
Last year, we talked a lot about “Democracy of Information”. This last year (and tying into our DEI efforts, read more above), we’ve been focused on building out a mega table in Notion called “Resources, Tools & Conventions”.
This table gives clear instruction for how to perform the most common tasks across our organization, empowering everyone to grow and learn without boundaries. It now has almost ~200 different conventions.
→ Tim talked a little about conventions in Our distributed company is a garden, and we’d recommend a skim of the Rails Doctrine, and The Checklist Manifesto, too.
✨The Support Team✨
Last year, Nicole & Michael joined Isabel as our first and only non-billable team members, holistically focused on the overall health of garden3d.
→ That means profitability, team happiness, client happiness, diversity & inclusion, efficiency, communication, autonomy, solidarity, and more.
We chose the language Support carefully. In adding this team, we did not want to trigger a regression into traditional hierarchical thinking. At garden3d, we define leadership as not a label, but a thing you do, and the support team is no different. The supports team helps steward big changes and institute new policy (like anyone else), but at the same time, they field requests from the team, run new biz, trim expenses, handle invoicing, and more.
You’ll notice we intentionally place the Support Team below the creative teams (visually, with open hands 🤲), to perpetuate the idea that the Support Team provides consistency & rigidity by leading from below, like girders on a bridge.
The Support Team have now become a tremendously important structural element of our design.
We're not a "Traditional Agency™"
Last year we made a switch that was well overdue. We move to hourly billing for all projects in May 2021. We wrote a lot about why we feel this model is better for all parties here →
This was seen as somewhat controversial by the more old school thinkers out there — they’re still clinging to the idea that their value is too special or magical to be described by an hourly rate, and that we’re missing key financial opportunities as a business by simply selling our time.
¯\(ツ)/¯ — I’ll let the early results speak for themself:
Meaningful Climate Action
We released our 2021 sustainability report earlier this year. At this point, we had been calculating our carbon footprint for a few years, and in the move to remote working, our 45 people working day-in-day-out didn’t even hit 40T CO2e (that’s about the same footprint as two Americans throughout a typical year).
We’ve always seen our biggest potential impact as less about our actual emissions, and more about our ability to shepherd cultural changes in our industry, so while we did offset our footprint to the effect of 150% of our carbon footprint (continuing to make us carbon negative since 2015), we really focused on a couple of key tools that help set the tone around our work.
Our Moral Compass & Sustainability Rebate
We stopped counting ~last year, but to date, we estimated we’ve now turned down at least $1million+ USD in potential client work, because it did not meet our sustainability requirements, defined here, in our Moral Compass.
However, in order to make this easier for clients to adopt — we now offer a 10% rebate on up to one full year of our hours if they commit to rolling out a sustainability plan that meets our requirements within that year of working with us. Our clients can then take the money they’d usually spend on our services, and give it to the environment instead.
Given that we’re seeing companies have their best sales day on record when they roll out their sustainability initiatives, and that they tend to sell 5% - 10% more product when they can show a rigorous, science backed sustainability initiative to their customers, we now have data that clears shows: sustainability reporting pays for itself, and then some.
Seaborne, our sustainability consultancy
Off the back of our climate work, in 2020, we launched Seaborne, our fledgling sustainability consultancy. We’ve now built sustainability programs for user electronics, soft drinks, alt-milks, soil laboratories, SaaS products, and more. Those companies are seeing fantastic support amongst their customers for these initiatives, and I spoke at Yale’s School of Art earlier this year about some of this work.
Watch this space for more announcements about Seaborne later this year.
garden3d over time
Here’s where we’re at with growth in PSU (Profit Share Unit value in USD), our Profit Share Pool, Revenue, and Profit Margin.
Much love — Hugh & g3d
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