Culture as a business accelerator
Conjuring the magic from millennials
Our hero: Vishen Lakhiani. Founder of Mindvalley
Vishen Lakhiani. Founder and CEO of Mindvalley, a technology company that designs educational programmes and apps for students.
After an expired visa forced him to relocate from the US to Malaysia, he struggled to recruit the millennial talent he needed to grow his business.
Today, Mindvalley turns over USD 35 million a year. The average age of their employees is just 24. And experts credit Vishen with creating ‘a work culture that is highly desired by the new generation’.
Their story: How to build a Silicon Valley-style company – in Malaysia
Vishen set up his company 13 years ago in his spare time while working in sales for an Internet business. Within a year he and his business partner, Mike Reining, employed four members of staff.
However, crisis struck when the company had to move its operation from New York to Malaysia because Malaysian-born Vishen’s visa for the US had expired. This relocation brought with it a wider challenge of hiring talented young millennial staff with the right skills and experience who were willing to relocate to Asia.
‘I thought: If I couldn’t be in Silicon Valley, I would figure out how to build a Silicon Valley-style company in Malaysia’,i he says.
But the move to Malaysia meant Vishen had to compete with technology firms all over the world for the talent that Mindvalley needed, and had to persuade them to move to Malaysia, which, at the time was viewed as a remote location. In addition, the country had been experiencing its own brain drain of skilled young Malaysians moving abroad since 1990.
Make it appealing to millennials
Vishen’s strategy in the last decade has been to focus on creating an appealing culture for millennials. ‘The ultimate competitive advantage beyond strategy is the people you attract and the culture you create,’ he says.
Mindvalley’s culture now is characterised by flexibility in work location and style; lots of company fun – including parties and all-staff holidays; and hiring for talent rather than specific roles. ‘The best company cultures combine profits with pleasure,’ says Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer, Zappos. Vishen echoes: ‘That’s really what we’re trying to do.’
The company has achieved this by changing its workforce’s mindset to one of ‘getting into a state of flow’, in which people are fully immersed in what they are doing, and ‘have a feeling of energised focus, full involvement in the success of the activity’.
‘It’s a state of supreme creativity,’ according to Vishen. But the only way to get to this state of flow is to be happy in the moment and to have a vision of the future – happiness comes from the journey, and that journey must have a goal.
The ultimate competitive advantage beyond strategy is the people you attract and the culture you create
So Vishen has gone about fostering the best conditions to create this sense of flow – or happy productivity – in his employees.
One of the ways he does this is to celebrate successes with everyone in the company. Each week Vishen asks employees for a report of their achievements. He collates the information and presents it in an ‘Awesomeness Report’ which is shared with all employees.
With software that spreads happiness
The company has also created software to spread happiness.
GratituteLog enables employees, customers and partners to share gratitude each day – whether it’s something about a colleague or life outside of work. ‘I can see what is making my employees happy,’ says Vishen. ‘And we find that what we appreciate, appreciates, and magnifies happiness.’
Sweetsugarlovemachine allows employees to send symbolic gifts to their peers online. Thanking each other in this way tends to improve relationships and levels of collaboration. It’s this collaboration that is crucial for Mindvalley’s culture to appeal to millennials. And Vishen combines it with learning to ensure that knowledge and skills are passed around the organisation.
Employees attend seminars and mingle with speakers and clients to learn more and build connections. Software enables a platform for people to share what they’ve learnt on different training courses with their peers. And five of the maximum 45 hours a week employees are expected to work must be spent learning.
‘All this learning means I am able to take a 23-year-old and groom them into a manager who is running a USD 2 million business,’ Vishen says.
This collaborative approach to learning extends to the way Mindvalley recruits employees. Instead of spending thousands on job adverts, the company invests the money in company-sponsored fun, such as Halloween parties and 70s parties. Employees are given two tickets to invite the ‘two smartest, most brilliant people they know’, and the company ‘ends up hiring them’, according to Vishen.
‘We poach people from Google and McKinsey for half the salary because they love the culture we have built.’
Collaboration comes into Mindvalley’s reward strategy, too. Every month, 10% of the company’s profits get distributed to employees, not in stock options, but via their salaries. And employees are each given 100 points to give to any number of their peers who they think are deserving of a bonus.
‘If there is a massive crunch and we need to get a product out, people don’t mind working extra hours as they know they are getting rewarded,’ says Vishen.
And success will follow
According to Vishen the business has ‘exploded by 400%’ and it now successfully recruits, engages, and develops its workforce, the average age of which is 24.The company has also started getting so many applicants for jobs from around the world that they are now asked to submit their cover letters and CVs via YouTube.
In just 13 years, Mindvalley has created ‘a work culture that is highly desired by the new generation,’ according to an academic paper from NedaMottaghiGolshan and Rosmini Omar of the International Business School at the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.ii
‘They have started to give a new meaning to the word of ‘work’, by creating an environment in which people play, create, learn and grow while they are paid.’
Clients now flock to Mindvalley to the point where Vishen has had to say ‘no’ to new potential contracts because the company doesn’t always have the capacity to meet them.
The wider issue: Winning the war for millennial talent
Millennials are now a powerful generation of workers. By 2020, employees born between 1980 and 2000 will comprise half of the global workforce. However, at the moment, millennials with the right sort of skills remain in short supply.
CEOs state that attracting and keeping younger workers within organisations is one of their biggest challenges, according to consultants PwC.iii So understanding the experiences, behaviour, and expectations of the millennial workforce is crucial for businesses to recruit, engage, and retain a millennial workforce.
Understanding the experiences, behaviour, and expectations of the millennial workforce is crucial
According to PwC, it is millennials’ use of technology that sets them apart. They have grown up with broadband, smartphones, laptops and social media being the norm and expect instant access to information. This expectation means they embrace lifelong learning – and technology enables constant learning to take place.
But in the age of collaboration and instant information, relationships and status are more fluid. Millennials tend to dislike rigid corporate structure and information silos, instead preferring rapid progression and constant feedback.
Millennials will shop around
Millennials want an employer that offers them opportunities for learning and promotion, is collaborative and flexible and communicates effectively. And they are willing to wait for the right employer. To them, an employer brand is like a consumer brand – they’ll shop around for one.
So it’s crucial for organisations to get their employer brand right. They need to consider what kind of corporate culture they have to offer bright young talent in the digital age. They need to question how they should recruit, engage, develop, and communicate with millennials.
Companies will need to give people the opportunities to move sideways into other functions and offer opportunities to work in other offices, or abroad. And continued learning opportunities must always be on offer.
Technology is a major enabler for all of these areas. Social media for recruitment, online learning tools, corporate academies and universities can all be utilised to engage a millennial workforce.
Our opinion: Embrace the millennial tide
The growing number of millennials entering the workforce brings with it new energy, creativity, and opportunity for organisations looking to accelerate their digital business.
‘You have to embrace the millennial tide’iv, says Marilyn Chaplin, Group Executive for People and Culture at Dimension Data, ‘both already in your organisation, and in your search for the brightest young talent. Whether that’s through online career portals or graduate programmes, like the ones we run at Dimension Data.’
Reverse mentoring is a growing trend
At the same time, most companies have a wealth of wisdom and experience to share with a younger generation. ‘Millennials are ambitious and want to move incredibly fast in their careers, but sometimes if you move too fast in life, you trip,’ she says. ‘You need to coach, nurture, and lead them.’
There’s not only a ‘top down’ approach to mentorship, Marilyn points out. Reverse mentoring is a growing trend. ‘As digital natives, millennials often have technology skills and social media insights older generations don’t have,’ she says. ‘They can give you a fresh point of view, or help you understand markets you might not know about.
‘To help achieve their ambitions’, she adds, ‘it’s important to equip leaders in an organisation to be able to offer millennials the right support and best career opportunities that support the overall business strategy.’
Back to our hero: What’s next for Mindvalley?
In 13 years Mindvalley has grown from 1 to 200 employees and zero to around USD 35 million annual revenuev. It’s achieved this with no angel investor or venture capital funding.
Now it’s looking to target an initial public offering within the next four years. Vishen has a vision for Mindvalley to become the largest technology IPO from Malaysia. ‘Investment is necessary now,’ he says.vi
The company is also looking to expand by providing its digital courses to schools and companies and hopes to grow its 500,000 current customers to one billion by 2025.
ii Neda Mottaghi Golshan and Rosmini Omar, A Success Story of Managing Millennial Talents: A Case of Mindvalley International Business School, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, 2011, www.ipedr.com/vol19/2-ICAMS2011-A00006.pdf
iii Millennials at Work: Reshaping the workplace, PwC, 2011, https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/managing-tomorrows-people/future-of-work/assets/reshaping-the-workplace.pdf
iv Marilyn Chaplin, 7 ways HR earns its seat at the boardroom table, Dimension Data, 7 February 2016, http://blog.dimensiondata.com/2016/02/7-ways-hr-earns-its-seat-at-the-boardroom-table/
v Approximate annual revenue reported on Zoominfo http://www.zoominfo.com/s/#!search/profile/company?companyId=81511779&targetid=profile
vi Liz Lee, Exclusive: Mindvalley’s fundraising: aiming for acceleration and IPO in four years, 28 September 2015, Deal street Asia, www.dealstreetasia.com/stories/mindvalleys-fundraising-aiming-for-acceleration-and-ipo-in-four-years-13804/
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