Working at a younger company isn’t always easy — and that’s a good thing for Justin M

“Part of the excitement of a startup is rank ordering ongoing challenges in real time as you learn more about what your customers want and where the pain points are for existing technical debt,” he explained. 

As head of engineering at Unchained, Justin steers his team’s efforts to deliver the company’s array of bitcoin services, from cold storage to trading. He explained that accomplishing this work requires cultivating a team culture defined by talent, hard work and passion. 

“We hold each other to a very high standard and expect that accountability to be mutual,” Justin said. 

Having a strong culture enables team members to show up to work each day eager to contribute toward the company’s goals, something Matt M., Unchained’s head of product, has seen firsthand. He believes that his team’s work environment — anchored in empathy, self-motivation and evolution — is key to their success. 

“We take our craft very seriously and constantly challenge our approach and process to build something that will last long after we are all gone,” he said. 

 

“We take our craft very seriously and constantly challenge our approach and process to build something that will last long after we are all gone.” 

 

Matt noted that there’s one ritual his team holds sacred: weekly meetings to discuss ongoing initiatives and blockers. It’s critical for his teammates to have space to engage in debates and share constructive criticism. 

Given this focus on empowering employees, Matt added, it’s important for those who join his team to embrace challenges and pursue the unknown without holding back. 

“Take the initiative, and get outside of your comfort zone,” he said. 

To inspire team members to continually drive progress, Matt and Justin adhere to a certain set of practices, approaches and beliefs. Read on to learn how each leader builds culture on their respective teams. 

 

Unchained team members watching presentation together in the office. 
Unchained

 

 

The ‘Bitcoin Ethos’ 

Justin believes that the work Unchained’s engineering team accomplishes requires embodying the “Bitcoin ethos” — meaning it’s transparent, brutally honest and based on proof of work. 

“We want to see a strong sense of ownership, intrinsic drive, a desire to learn and grow and, ultimately, output and results,” he said. “If that sounds like just the thing you’ve been missing in your career up to this point, we look forward to seeing you in our inbox.”

Guided by this mindset, Justin’s team is responsible for helping support everything that’s ever been created on the bitcoin blockchain; a feat he considers far from simple. 

“Maintaining this notion can be incredibly frustrating and challenging, but incredibly rewarding and pride-inducing at the same time,” he said. 

As his team members stay busy accomplishing their work, Justin strives to build a culture that prioritizes setting expectations and communicating frequently and clearly. His team also relies on various rituals to stay motivated, including engaging in an “escape room” exercise, during which team members work together to solve a real-world problem while leveraging the tools available to them to solve issues as quickly as possible. 

For Justin, maintaining traditions like this one is important, as it creates an environment that encourages passion, collaboration, creativity and curiosity — all of which ultimately benefits both team members and the company as a whole. 

“Team culture leads to coherence, which leads to laser focus, which in turn leads to both collective and individual growth,” he said. 

 

“Team culture leads to coherence, which leads to laser focus, which in turn leads to both collective and individual growth.”

 

The Keys to Building Culture

If there’s one thing Matt has learned throughout his career, it’s that culture is difficult to define in writing. 

“You know a good culture when you see one, but each one is unique, and most of the things that make it good are unwritten,” he said. 

Matt considers his teammates to be the main driving force behind the team’s culture, influencing each other in a way that “no written artifact ever can” — which is why he aims to ensure the time he and his peers spend together is as productive as possible. His team structures their day-to-day activities around a six-stage product development process: discovery, build, acceptance, delivery, measure and review. 

“The most important parts of this process are the strategy and discovery phases, which can be summarized by the phrase, ‘We think before we do,’” Matt explained. “We don’t immediately jump into the most expensive process any tech company can perform, which is writing code, unless we’ve thought through why we’re doing it and what the plan is.”

While Matt naturally keeps an eye on tech trends, such as the emergence of ChatGPT to improve productivity, his main focus is on creating a team culture that is so easy to understand from the outside that it attracts the right people: those who are empathetic and self-motivated.  

“The key is to develop a strong and opinionated culture so it’s clear to outsiders whether they would be a good fit,” he said. “The best cultures in the world are obvious — you know exactly who will fit in and who won’t.” 

 

 

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