Transparent Team & E-Mails

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Introducing GND Intel’s E-mail Transparency

How would you like everyone on your team to see every email that you send?

At GDN Intel and our platforms, we love it! Our value of transparency extends all the way to the inbox. Every email is public within the team. Every bit of communication gets shared. Everyone knows everything. There are no secrets.

If this seems like a radical idea, well, it kind of is. I came from a traditional office environment where the email was as standard as it comes: You emailed only those people who needed to know. You cc’ed folks sometimes, when you remembered. You hit reply-all, about 20 percent of the time.

GDN Intel and our platforms are different. We are fully transparent with our email. Everyone knows everything.

 

3 moments when transparent email is awesome

We find that it’s hugely helpful for the way we get work done and the trust we’ve built among one another.

For instance …

Situation #1: Unexpected unavailability

Sometimes things come up. When a member of the team has to hop out of town at the last minute for a family emergency, I took over where she left off. How did I know where she left off? There was a paper trail of email to show me where things stood, and since I was following along with email threads the whole time, I could pick things up immediately. It took seconds for her to bring me up to speed because I was already familiar with what was happening.

Situation #2: Information/education for those you didn’t know might need it

It’s amazing how often a helpful conversation between two people ends up being helpful for so much more. When a team member sent an email to a new team member about how to pull reports in one of our tools, the instructions hit home for others, too. A single email provided a solution for many, and we only needed to send it once.

We’ve seen this happen lots. Someone will email about requesting a Dropbox invite, and it gives others the opportunity to glom on, too. Someone emails about a bug or feature and others can chime in. It’s a huge time saver and efficiency boost.

Situation #3: Surprise-free work

Transparency is a great equaliser. A couple weeks back, we had a last-minute change to our customer product development, something that our Academic team were fast to fix. It would have seemed like a much bigger surprise to the rest of us if we had heard about the switch last-minute. Instead, with transparent email, we got a sense something might be up two days before rather than a couple hours.

I could go on and on with examples, but I think you get the idea. Transparent email is hugely helpful for working smarter, not to mention for working remotely. We stay in touch by seeing what everyone does. I can honestly say, having seen both the traditional side of the business and the GDN Intel way of business, that I feel more connected to my distributed team than I was to my office team. Transparent email is a huge reason why.

2 big advantages of transparency

Why transparency? I outlined a couple specific examples above as to how and when transparency can be extremely helpful. Our great insight into two of the big-picture advantages for transparency:

  • Trust
  • Decision-making

Transparency—consistent through good times and bad, little things and big things—breeds trust. It allows others to see our level of responsibility and how we strive to do the right thing.

In terms of decision-making, transparency helps accelerate the process by providing the context and information that are often absent from a closed-loop communication. With all the team having access to everything, decisions can be made faster. Here’s how Square COO Keith Rabois puts it:

Ultimately, if you want people to make smart decisions, they need context and all available information. And certainly, if you want people to make the same decisions that you would make, but in a more scalable way, you have to give them the same information you have.

A guide to how we send transparent email

To keep things fully transparent, we’ve put some practices in place to ensure that all email gets shared across the team.

For starters, we have several internal email lists, one for each team and much more for different aspects of the company.

  • team@ – this goes to the entire team
  • research@ – includes all our product research and development team
  • support@ – for our customer support team
  • content@ – related to content marketing
  • design@ – for design discussions
  • product@ – for product feedback and signals
  • roadmap@ – anything to do with customer product roadmap
  • bizdev@ – for business development activities (partnerships, integrations)
  • marketing@ – related to press
  • improvements@ – for team improvements
  • hiring@ – anything related to hiring
  • report@ – all report writing for customers
  • community@ – related to our customer and social community engagement
  • housekeeping@ – anything to do with bills, insurance, and misc. HR
  • culture@ – for culture and value discussion

These lists can either be sent to directly, cc’ed, or bcc’ed depending on the context. Here’s generally how we decide how to send to a list.

  • email a specific team member and cc a list
  • email an external person and bcc a list
  • email to a list to notify a whole team

We’re a team of 8, so you can imagine that the volume of email gets pretty big pretty fast however we have come up with a few other practices for reading and responding to the many emails that come through the inbox.

  • if it’s “to” you, you’re expected to reply
  • if you’re specifically cc’d, you’re expected to read it
  • if it’s your own team that’s cc’d, you should read that
  • you should strive to always cc or bcc a list

A few fun methods for email management

We’re far from the only people who receive a lot of emailsSome estimates say that we send and receive an average of 105 work emails each day. So how do you surf through the inbox as efficiently as possible?

There are a few fun methods. Here are some of my favourites.

You can also tap into the power of apps to help you manage email.

We’re also big fans of Sanebox, too. You can achieve inbox zero without having to reply or decide on everything right away. Another app that might help, especially if you’re fond of newsletters, is Unroll.me, which collects all your newsletters into a single daily email. You can manage your subscriptions right from within Unroll.me and unsubscribe or leave in the inbox however you choose.

Another way to look at email with a fresh perspective comes from Elizabeth Grace Saunders, writing at 99u. She suggests that we think of email in terms of setting expectations. Part of the burden of email can be that we feel people expect an immediate reply to their message. If that’s the case, then Saunders suggests a number of possible replies that can buy you some time or change the expectation of the recipient. Here are a few examples.

Thank you for your note. I’ll be in touch with a full response soon.

I know it’s been a while since you sent this note. I wanted to follow up with [my thoughts, a reply, the information you need].

Thank you for your message. It sounds like you have a great idea! I’ll need to talk this through with my team to see if we have the capacity to add this to our project list right now.

Of course, doing things in this way might mean that you’ll need to set a reminder to respond at a later time or follow up when you’ve said you will.

 

We have also made an optional rule to not allow e-mails out of work hours for each country. Where as in the UK it may be between 8 am – 6 pm. If they decide to travel to Spain for 3 months, we match the siesta hours of 8.30 am – 1.30 pm and again from 4.30 pm – 8 pm.

Inside an inbox: Transparent email in practice

Here are some tips of utilising your Gmail account:

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Colourful, isn’t it?

There is no hard and fast rule for how team members must set up their inboxes. That’s how we end up with such a fun variety of inboxes and labels and colours. Another GDN Intel and our platform value is to find the way that lets you work most productively, and that includes email.

That being said, we have a few standard best practices for making things as organised as possible.

  1. Set up email filters

Since we’re set up with Gmail for our emails, we have access to the extensive Gmail filters. You can set them up manually, choosing to filter based on who the email is from, who the email is to, what’s in the subject, or what’s in the email itself. You can even filter based on what isn’t in an email or based on attachments and chats. There’re lots of options!

To get started with filters, click on the gear icon in the top right corner, choose Settings and then Filters. At the bottom of the Filters page is a link to create a new filter.

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Another quick way of doing this is to set up a filter as emails come in. When you’re reading an email, you can click the More button at the top and choose “Filter messages like these” from the drop down. Gmail will automatically recognise what you’re trying to filter and suggest accordingly.

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  1. Create labels

The next step after building a filter is to decide what should happen to those emails. We choose to apply labels to the emails so we can quickly categorise and file.

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  1. Give the labels some colour

This is where the variety comes in. I chose to leave most of my labels the standard grey and added colour to those I tend to look for most often. I gave team@ emails green, crafters@ emails yellow, and any emails that are sent specifically to me get a red label.

Here’s how you choose a label colour in Gmail.

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  1. Gmail search

There are some truly powerful features of Gmail search, and if you know the quick shortcuts, you can find anything really fast. Here are some basic ones. You can combine multiple search queries by adding a space in between.

is:unread

in:inbox

in:heroes@

to:mousuf@

from:sharon@

  1. Keyboard shortcuts

We quite love keyboard shortcuts, so it’s no surprise that we have some favourites inside Gmail. Here are the ones we use most often.

  • e = lowercase e = archive
  • # = shift + 3, also known as the pound or hashtag sign = delete
  • U = shift + u = Mark as unread
  • ? = shift + / = See all shortcuts
  • j = move down (these are also shortcuts in helpscout)
  • k = move up
  • x = select an email
  • ] = archive and move to next email

We’ve got a few bonus tips, too, that doesn’t exactly fall under the category of shortcuts. There’s still quite handy in a pinch.

  • In Gmail settings, change your default reply toreply-all.
  • In Gmail Labs, turn on the lab to add an“undo send” option to the emails you send.

It makes sense to wonder how transparent email will scale as the team grows. Will our inboxes be able to handle the extra volume?

We have given this a lot of thought. With transparency as a core value, we’re committed to maintaining transparent email and coming up with new ideas and solutions to keep it in control. Here is a couple of ways that help us think about and handle the topic.

  • We’re starting to encourage filtering out some emails between other team members so they’re not in your inbox but they’re easily accessible and browsable
  • Transparency often simply means that you can access that information when you want to, not that it’s pushed in front of your face

As we grow, we will keep updating this post and see where we go!

 

We were inspired by Buffer to implement such system. You can find more information on our transparency system their website.

Transparent Revenue

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Introducing our plans for Public GDN Intel and our platforms’ Revenue Dashboard: our plans to make public Real-Time Numbers for Monthly Revenue, Paying Customers and More

A few weeks ago, we had a conversation with one of our most amazing advisors. About once a week we have an hour long discussion about everything we do at GDN Intel and our platforms, mostly focused on Growth and Product and get her advice.

She showed us an amazing new product, Baremetrics. It was a real-time revenue dashboard for Stripe that you could see in one click just by connecting your Stripe account. What was even crazier about it was that Josh had made the dashboard to make Baremetrics own revenue public.

What an incredible opportunity to take transparency to a whole new level and show it to the world in real-time. We intend in the near future to have our own Live Revenue on Baremetrics available online very soon.

With transparency as one of our 6 defining values at GDN Intel and our platforms, we were excited to see this as an opportunity to take transparency even one step further. As a key part of that, we want to extend transparency to our revenue, too. We have strived to remain completely open about our progress.

We’re hoping our latest push toward transparent revenue will be just as helpful and valuable for you and everyone who is interested in getting some real insights into how GDN Intel and our platforms work.

The dashboard will contain the actual revenue numbers for GDN Intel and our platforms, updated in real-time. We’re working hard to making it completely open for you to look around, to view reports, and to see how we’re doing minute-by-minute and day-by-day.

A complete view of revenue: Real-time dashboard plus monthly reports

We have been publishing as much behind-the-scenes data and info on GDN Intel and our platforms journey as possible. Report we publish monthly GDN Intel and our platforms —the same one we send to attract investors.

These reports will continue. Our planned revenue dashboard will simply take this transparency to another level!
Previously, our reports have touched on monthly views of the following metrics:
• New users
• Daily / monthly active users
• Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
• Bookings Revenue
• Monthly / yearly revenue and churn
• Conversion rates
• Cash in the bank
• Team size

The real-time revenue dashboard greatly enhances any reporting of these metrics, and it adds many different numbers we have yet to share (and some we have yet to fully track internally either). With the new dashboard, you get access to the following stats in real-time, whenever you want to see them:
• Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
• Net revenue
• Fees
• Other revenue
• Average revenue per user
• Annual run rate
• Lifetime value
• User churn
• Revenue churn
• Customers
• Upgrades
• Downgrades
• Cancellations
• Coupons redeemed
• Failed charges
• Refunds
• A live stream of transactions

Here is a bit more about some of the numbers you’ll find on the dashboard.

Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)

One of the key metrics (if not the key metric) at GDN Intel and our platforms is MRR. This measure most accurately describes the type of revenue we’re actually receiving—a difficult number to find when you must factor in annual payments plus monthly subscriptions.

On revenue dashboard, MRR is calculated in the following way:
Gross volume from recurring revenue (minus) refunds (minus) fees

 

Lifetime value

This metric tells us the expected revenue we may receive on average from a customer over the lifetime of their relationship with us.

For instance, a £8,600 bespoke subscription could be interpreted as a customer spending two years subscribed to our Research Plan.

Average monthly recurring revenue per customer (plus) user churn rate

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User churn

User churn is a valuable metric to understand the rate at which customers are downgrading from paid plans, and it is an integral part to our formula in calculating lifetime value.

On the revenue dashboard, churn rate refers to those customers who have canceled a paid account (either a Bespoke plan or a Research plan), plus failed payments and refunds.

The lower the number, the better—which is why you’ll see percentages highlighted in green when they’re trending downward and highlighted in red when they’re trending up.

3a3b

If you click through to the full report on user churn, you can see the breakdown by individual plans (where applicable). The stats here represent a three-month average of monthly churn.

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Upgrades, downgrades, customers, and cancellations

These three parts represent how customers move in and out among paid and free plans.
• Upgrades are those instances when a user goes from a lower-tiered, paid plan to a higher tier.
• Downgrades are when a user goes from a higher tier to a lower, paid tier.
• Customers are those who are on a paid plan. Another way of looking at this is Customers are those who have upgraded from our free plan.
• Cancellations are those who went from a paid plan to no paid plan.

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The live stream of payments (with fake names)

On the right side of the dashboard, we display a live stream of incoming payments, charges, cancellations, and refunds. The stream refreshes automatically as new events occur in Stripe, so you can see in real-time how our revenue ebbs and flows throughout the day.

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One important note here: None of the names associated with these payments are real. We all value the privacy of our customers and their payment information, so you can ask the Baremetrics team to come up with some fake placeholder names in these instances. The charges and all other data, however, are the actual numbers from Stripe.

We hope you find this real-time revenue to be valuable; for us, the Baremetrics dashboard will definitely be a huge improvement to how we track metrics at GDN Intel and our platforms.

Transparent Whistleblowing

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Building Trust In Management Consulting

Sometimes management consulting gets a bad name through few bad eggs. At GDN Intelligence, we are adamant to set precedent standards.

If you become aware of any risk, malpractice or wrongdoing that is in our and public interest to know, you can report your concern anonymously here or email us at info@gdnintel.com. Upon notification, we will investigate and take appropriate measure.

Transparent Pricing

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Introducing GDN Intel and our platforms’ Transparent Pricing: What Your Money is Used for When you Purchase a Subscription

One of the things we’re incredibly excited about at GDN Intel and our platforms is transparency. A big part of that is because being transparent simply feels like the right thing to do, intuitively. That by itsel, seems reason enough to pursue it.

We’ve seen some incredible things happen since we started to focus more on transparency in the last few months. Reading about transparency a while back, with the fitting quote about what transparency triggers:

“Transparency breeds trust, and trust is the foundation of great teamwork.”

To put things into perspective, here are a number of things that we’ve made transparent so far:

If we think about all the things we’ve made transparent, they often times largely affected team members and partners directly. And we’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by the kind encouragement from customers and anyone who came across our transparency changes.

 

Extending transparency to customers and people using GDN Intel and our platforms

Extending transparency directly to our customers, by making it very easy to understand why something costs as much as it costs, hasn’t been something we’ve done before. And exploring that idea always got many of us very excited.

A quote from Semco   , which deeply resonated with me and a lot of other team members:

“On several occasions I have taken our internal profit calculations out of one of the director’s briefcases and given the customer a copy. Here is what we plan to make as a profit, I’ve said. Do you think it’s too much? What do you suggest? What should we do? Many times this is the first occasion in which a customer has seen a profit calculation, and he’ll pinch himself. But this strategy almost always succeeds.” – Ricardo Semler, CEO of Semco, Inc.

What’s even more interesting is that some amazing companies have already started to do this even more pro-actively. One great example is Everlane, which shares very explicitly how their prices for their clothes come about. Check out their Slim Sweater Blazer for example (which I really like btw!).

What’s interesting with both Semco and Everlane is that they have clear fixed costs – they produce physical goods and how a price comes together is very helpful to have broken down.

With building software, it’s often more obscure with what goes into producing an app or a product. With every new “unit” that you produce, you don’t necessarily incur more costs, so setting a price can often seem arbitrary.

We tried to change this and think hard about what someone pays for when they purchase a GDN Intel and our platforms subscription. Breakdown of the costs which your paid GDN Intel and our platforms’ plan helps us to cover:

Pricing

 

The table below breaks down our monthly costs and equates each cost to the portion of the your Research subscription payment. So we can see below how much of the payment goes to each of our costs:

Items Fixed Cost Variable Monthly Cost Total % of the charge
Team Member Salaries 1922.77 250 2172.77 60.37149208
Servers & Systems 22 0 22 0.611280911
Fees to Stripe 0 50.586 50.586 1.405557099
Advertising & Marketing 0 350 350 9.72492359
The Tools We Use 160 0 160 4.445679355
Health Insurance / Workers Comp 200 0 200 5.557099194
Co-working space 125 0 125 3.473186996
Payroll, Legal, Accounting 200 0 200 5.557099194
Travel 0 100 100 2.778549597
Other 0 0 0 0
 
Profit 218.644 6.075131981
      100

 

Let’s break it down a bit further and talk about what each item contains and amounts to. Here we go:

Team member salaries: 60.4%

As you can see from above, team member salaries makes up 0.4% of any £10 that we receive from a Research plan payment. Our total monthly cost for each customer is £2172.77.

The way we come up with salaries is that we have a simple salary formula to determine each person’s salary when they join GDN Intel and our platforms.

It will be interesting to observe how this split changes over time as we grow the team based on various needs we see emerging.

 

Servers and System: 0.61%

The GDN Intel and our platforms’ product is built on top of many services hosted. Here are some of the AWS tools we use:

  • Elastic Beanstalk
  • EC2
  • SQS

Our production database is the core of what we’ve built, we make sure this is provisioned to scale. With the help of expertise we’re able to ensure our database scales as our usage grows, is speedy and highly available (through the use of replication and backups). If an unforeseen circumstance occurs, we have options to automatically fail over or recover with backups. We look at them as our database ops team so we can focus on GDN Intel and our platforms. So to break it down into the main two expenses that make up “hosting”, we get:

  • io
  • Amazon Web Services

Merchant Fees to Stripe: 1.4%

One of the services we’re incredibly grateful for is Stripe. They make it super easy for us to handle payments coming in, changing plans, providing refunds and more.

 

Distributed team and office costs: 3.5%

Office expense is a very interesting one, as the GDN Intel and our platforms team is completely distributed. We rely on a lot of amazing tools that help us create a vibrant place to work and live for everyone.

 

Advertising and Marketing: 9.7%

Earlier in 2016, we experimented with much more money that went towards paid marketing, including Google Ads, Facebook Ads and Twitter Ads. We couldn’t quite make them work to be profitable so we scaled back.

 

The Tools We Use: 4.5%

We’re grateful to rely on so many amazing tools to keep us running here at GDN Intel and our platforms. The tools and subscriptions we pay for help with everything from managing our customers’ happiness to staying connected as a distributed team—and everything in between.

All told, in October, we counted 9 wonderful tools and subscriptions into our expenses.

Before we get to the individual breakdown of the tools we use (and how they fit in our pricing puzzle), we thought it’d be neat to share how the use of tools is spread out among four main areas at GDN Intel and our platforms.

We have brokendown the reasons for the tools and subscription, which are among technology and engineering, marketing, customer happiness, and distributed team tools.

Tech gets a big piece of the pie due to some of our larger reporting and management tools like Looker, Mortar Data, and New Relic. Mortar data is something we’re experimenting with to power our ability to quickly analyze and transform large amounts of data.

New Relic is used particularly as a compliment to AWS monitoring. It provides us a deep way to monitor application response times and up-times, transaction traces in case we need to dig in further and will help alert us if we see a rise in error rates. This ensures we’re proactive and on the case at the slightest inkling of an issue.

Marketing’s most significant chunk comes from our subscription with the SendGrid email service, which powers all of our transactional emails as well as the marketing emails that we send to GDN Intel and our platform users. 

Note: Most of the tools above are monthly rates. A few, like 1Password, are annual or one-time fees.

 

Profit: 7.5%

One of the most interesting numbers that we can show to customers, I believe, is how much profit we’re making. Through running GDN Intel and our platforms, from a financial standpoint, we want to accomplish a few things:

  • Offer a fair price to our customers
  • Build a sustainable business that can fuel its own growth

We feel that with the current profit numbers we’re achieving almost all of our goals very well and are excited to keep doing what we’re doing for a long time. I’m particularly interested to hear from you how our amount of profit makes you feel! E-mail us on transparency@gdnintel.com.

 

Where do we go from here?

Other than for accounting purposes, this is the first time we’ve ever broken down every penny of our costs and made it easy to understand, both for ourselves and for you, our customers and followers. Until we spent this time to clearly outline the costs and breakdown, we really didn’t have a good idea of how our money was spent. This now puts things into perspective.

One of the things we’re really excited about is to charge our customers a price that is fair and that allows us to keep working hard on GDN Intel and our platforms. Knowing the exact breakdown and tracking it over time consistently might help us to adjust prices, so we can offer GDN Intel and our platforms’ tools to the widest audience possible.

It’d be also great to hear from you on what things might stand out about our costs and how we operate and whether there’re things you see we could improve on.

Thanks for being part of this incredible journey with us, exploring a new way to do business and making things as transparent and accessible as possible.