A look at our experimental, sociocracy-based, self-funding, remote-first structure
Out of necessity, dmarcian operates with an experimental structure. As a mission-focused company, our structure is a direct reflection of our mission: to fold DMARC into the Internet. Building a business around a free piece of technology that lies at the intersection of Internet domains and email has forced us to rethink how companies can be structured to succeed where traditional structures fail.
The sweet spot for traditional companies is to create and sell products into markets. If there is already an appetite for a service or good, it’s easy enough to figure out how to compete and thrive. Unfortunately for dmarcian, DMARC is not a product and most people need to be educated about the value of DMARC. This means dmarcian has had to figure out what is valuable to customers in a product-less non-market.
To make the space even more challenging, everyone everywhere uses email all the time. The installed base is about the size of the Internet. The good news is that DMARC isn’t for everyone, just for the people that are serious enough about their online presence to get themselves an Internet domain – which is still a huge potential market. A traditionally structured company might set its sights on the potential market size, open up the Silicon Valley playbook, raise huge amounts of venture capital money, and race to “create value” for investors before the money runs out.
The problem with this type of traditional business structure is that email changes really slowly. A traditional business could spend years pumping money into online ads, printing endless glossy brochures, and blanketing conference floors with gimmicks and see very little impact when it comes to actual DMARC adoption. This activity makes a good show for investors but means very little in terms of accomplishment. Pouring money into a traditional business structure where the ecosystem is as large as email just adds another player to the table – the rules and the game stay the same. To change the game – even as slight a change as DMARC introduces – a different approach is needed.
dmarcian is Self-Funded
At dmarcian, we decided not to borrow huge sums of money (IOW raise capital) to avoid having to choose between increasing DMARC adoption and improving email for everyone (and doing right by our customers) or increasing investor value. In the beginning when these things are in alignment, everyone is happy. Because of how slowly email changes, though, as VC money starts to run out, the importance of demonstrating investor value would quickly take over. The company would be forced to raise prices, target only potential customers with deep pockets, and sacrifice the mission of spreading DMARC everywhere all in the name of increasing investor value.
To stay true to its mission, dmarcian self-funds its own growth. This has allowed the company to discover what is valuable to customers even in a product-less non-market.
Idea Circulation at dmarcian
A second problem with traditional business structure is related to how ideas circulate around companies. Ideas at really small companies can circulate freely as people’s brains are typically right next to each other and focused on the same objective. Small companies where ideas circulate freely and can be implemented rapidly do not stay small for long. As companies grow, teams of people are given focus, and management layers are added to make sure teams remain aligned. These management layers end up inhibiting the circulation of ideas – brains are kept farther apart and decision makers end up acting as barriers to idea circulation.
To meet a crazy mission like “fold DMARC into the Internet,” dmarcian needed a way to keep brains together and yet remain focused and aligned. A traditional business structure would hire a bunch of C-level executives responsible for specific areas, fill out VPs to report to the C-levels, and give the VPs their own teams consisting of directors, managers, and individual contributors. This structure works well for most businesses. The hierarchy is clear and execution can be managed by the Chief Executive Officer. For a good idea to travel from an individual contributor in one area up through the chain of command and down another to finally meet with an individual contributor in a different area would be exceptional. At dmarcian we want this type of idea circulation to be expected and not exceptional.
Most companies can get by with traditional structures as they don’t need to listen to their customers — or the general public — very much. Paying attention to how and why random people across the world are looking at DMARC requires a different approach. The people within dmarcian that are actually talking and working with people to increase DMARC adoption have the most insight and can cause the most impact (read: accelerate DMARC adoption). This recognition forced dmarcian to adopt an “upside-down hierarchy” where managers are present to support the people who are doing mission-critical work.
dmarcian and Sociocracy
To maximize idea circulation and implement an alternative business structure, dmarcian turned to a little known model called Sociocracy for inspiration (thanks Gerard Endenburg!). Aside from being a nice governance model that tends to attract really great people, dmarcian pulls into its own structure the sociocratic concepts of double-linked circles, built-in transparency, and an acknowledgement of interdependence in how the company operates. Sociocratic circles are different from traditional corporate departments in that sociocratic circles execute, measure, and control their own processes while pursuing its goals. Double linking (where two people from each circle sit at the intersection between two circles) is used to connect circles so that information can flow between and across circles and to avoid situations where a single link might lead to one-way information flow or poor decision making.
Instead of departments, dmarcian uses sociocratic circles. Instead of having managers that act as conduits between department activities, dmarcian doubly links its circles. Doing this keeps ideas circulating across the company as managers’ brains are not in place to act as gatekeepers between circles. An added bonus with doubly-linked circles is that internal politics is deemphasized as important decisions are made in daylight and not backrooms. This can be jarring (and in some cases incomprehensible) for people that are born and raised in traditionally structured business.
Transparency and interdependence are two concepts that go together within dmarcian. The company doesn’t expect dmarcians to pay attention to everything all the time. Transparency here means that people are operating with information that is readily available. Unlike in a traditional business structure where information is kept to a “need to know” basis, information withheld or kept secret at dmarcian undermines peoples’ ability to take informed action.
To riff off of the parable of the elephant and the blind men, interdependence at dmarcian is an explicit acknowledgement that no one at the company knows everything — the contours of the DMARC market, the shape of every customer, or every aspect of how the company operates right now. We’re all blind to some degree and need to be able to rely on each other to gain a more complete picture of what is going on. (Unlike the parable, no one claims to know the ultimate truth which makes fist fighting far less common within dmarcian.)
dmarcian is Remote First
“How to provide support and services to people around the globe” is the last problem that dmarcian attempts to solve through a nontraditional business structure. It turns out that most people looking to deploy DMARC are not email experts, and they’d really like to talk with people that can provide simple, direct, and bullshit-free answers. Just to be in a position to provide such answers, dmarcian operates as a Remote-First environment.
Remote-First companies operate so that employees can work from anywhere. The remote employee is a first-class citizen. All documentation, meeting minutes, decisions, and gatherings are held so that it doesn’t matter if you’re face-to-face or using the Internet to connect. The company is Remote First because we do operate a few offices around the world where people can meet and work — otherwise we’d be Remote Only (no offices anywhere).
Nick Hristov (Left – VP Product & Partner Development) and Victor Minev (Right – Strategic Alliances Manager) collaborate at a coworking space in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Remote First means two very important things at dmarcian: we can hire the best people possible regardless of where they’re located. It also means that dmarcian can hire the best people possible *because* of where they’re located. This becomes very important when we start to offer services in regions of the world that are just waking up to the importance of DMARC. We can hire the best people to meet the needs of a region, regardless of where our new hire lives. If region doesn’t matter (as in the case of product development), dmarcian can tap into the global talent pool of excellent people that are happy right where they are.
Hopefully this description helps explain why dmarcian’s unique mission of spreading DMARC everywhere resulted in dmarcian’s experimental sociocracy-based, self-funding, Remote-First structure.
- Leadership in a flat organization
- Company culture overlaid across many different cultures
- Experimenting is not for everyone
We continue to grow alongside the growth of DMARC adoption, so the experiment continues!