Ownership is a requirement

One of the cultural values at Tecton is “be an owner, not a renter.” We’ve iterated on these values as the company has grown, but this particular value has been set in stone since the day I joined.

Ownership means taking initiative and treating your sphere of influence as if it’s a business and you’re in charge. Being an owner is a mindset that transcends title, role, or equity.

I care about ownership more than anything else when building a team. Owners are better engineers, build better products, and push the team forward. Growing companies have more problems to solve than people to solve them and any “that’s not my responsibility” attitude is damaging.

There are easy ways to probe for ownership signals when interviewing candidates. The simple question “tell me about a time you went above and beyond in your current role?” usually yields telling responses. But don’t stop there. Dig deeper. Why? What prompted their actions? What was their individual contribution? What was the outcome? What would have happened if they didn’t take any action?

For junior hires, I look for signals of them doing something without being asked. For example, independently fixing a bug they unexpectedly found. For more experienced hires, the scope can be larger and take many shapes. Several years ago I worked on Google Photos. I later learned the entire product was nearly shelved in favor of focusing on Google+. Google Photos was saved by an independent effort by a product and design lead to design and pitch a prototype using an 80 inch TV turned on its side to simulate an iPhone — ownership at its finest.

Each member of a team, especially at a startup, plays a critical role in the company’s path to success. The cost of non-owners is too high and they should be avoided.

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