Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Went Looking for a Ball...

...and I found something I didn't expect. The back story is that I was talking to a colleague about the merits of different jobs, and I started to talk about what kind of company I'd set up. Small group, about fifteen or so, mostly engineers, and the goal would be to let the producers produce as freely as possible. Trust the team. We could make anything. But where would the seed money come from?

My colleague said, "Have you heard of Ooga Labs? They're right down the street." I hadn't, so I asked the Internet and came across an article on SFGate from 2007 about Ooga. It mentioned "Calvinball", a game where the rules are always in flux. I'm always interested in how companies arrive at a culture, and a place that played a game based off the comic Calvin and Hobbes and features a CEO doing a head stand in the news can't be too bad a place to work, so I headed down Market St. to see what was up.

Up on the fourth floor of 703 Market St. is a sign "Ooga Labs Please use other entrance", so I did. After just a few seconds of looking totally lost someone offers to help and points me to David when I ask about Calvinball. We grab a conference room, but not before I get the chance to take in the office. But it doesn't feel like an office - there aren't cubes, there aren't high ceilings, and the desks are well decorated with everything from half drained cans of your assorted sodas to a fave figurine. While I'm looking around David informs the immediate area he's winning Calvinball, but there's no ball around and yet no one contests his winning.

The chairs are comfy in the conference room, there's a projector on the side wall and plenty of white board to collaborate on. It quickly becomes clear that Calvinball is not the core of this company. It's a game, it's fun, but it's the result of something else. David said one word about working at Ooga Labs: TRUST. I do not hear that word too often in business, and for someone to tell me his company is about trust when I just walked in off the street to ask about a game, it has to be genuine.

From what I gathered, everything good about the company stems from that trust. If you trust a person to do his job well, to make mistakes, but to do it well, he's going to love his job a lot more than the guy who has to write a detailed tech spec, and submit it for review, and have constant code reviews, and make presentations on why he should use widely accepted best practices. The trusted guy is gonna speak his mind, and his trusted colleague is going to disagree when he thinks there's a better solution, and they're going to come up with something great because they can talk. And when their trusted boss says that the priorities have shifted, his employees trust that he's got the company, not just himself in mind.

Bigger than the day-to-day, what happens because of this trust, is that they make a great product (check out GoodTree), and people go home feeling rewarded - happy. So yeah, they play Calvinball, but what they have, is the best thing a business can ask for.

Ooga Labs

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