AngelList “corporate policy” is that team members should ask forgiveness, not permission.

We would rather have someone do something wrong than ask permission to do it.

Or better, we would rather have someone do something right and not need permission to do it. This is the most common outcome.

We would rather have people ship to production whenever they want, than go through an internal review process. We can fix it on production. We prefer the customer’s review process. And it isn’t too hard to reveal a new feature to a small portion of our users and iterate on it as we expand it to more users.

Eliminating permission increases speed and diversity

Eliminating permission increases the speed and diversity of our decision-making. Our incubator applications are a good example of diverse decision-making: one of our team members built it even though I was telling him, “This is fine, but I don’t think it is that important. Why don’t you work on something else.” It ended up being very important to our users and mission.

There are some sensitive parts of our product that are walled off from this “ask forgiveness” policy. There are some things we want reviewed by the people who “know better”. But it’s really rare.

How it works

This policy only works if you hire insanely smart and capable people, and let go of the ones who are not. We also filter for people who are mission-oriented, care about our customer and want to learn more.

And it doesn’t mean that the founders aren’t standing over your desk telling you, “this isn’t good enough to ship”. That’s why we write down and promote these ideas. Because there is always pressure from someone important to do it another way.

It also wouldn’t work without these other items of corporate propaganda:

You break it, you bought it

If you break something or your stuff is buggy, please fix it. As in straight away mate.

Sweat the details and corner cases

If people are going to ship whatever they want, we need them to sweat the details if they’re going to avoid mistakes.

The best way to do that is to have the rest of the team constantly complain that your code and/or design sucks or, in polite terms, “contains opportunities for improvement.”

Actually, mistakes are fine. They’re something you trade off for other variables like speed of iteration. We just want people to sweat the details because we care about the details.

Be real

Again, if people are going to ship whatever they want, whenever they want, how do we get them to make good decisions? One answer is that we ask them to “be real”. As in, treat our users like real people. Treat your teammates like real people. Just be real and do the right thing.

Do what you think is right (and be right)

If you have the freedom to make decisions, you also have the responsibility of being correct.

S/he who codes, rules

Another way we promote good decisions is by pushing the decisions down to the people doing the work. We memorialize that with the motto, “s/he who codes, rules”. As in, when we disagree, the person doing the work makes the decision.

Own the result

Pushing the decision-making down to the worker works best if the same person is responsible for the metrics. So we try to have 1-wo/man teams whenever we can, and we ask them to own the result. We also hire people who care about our customer and want to solve problems for them.

Freedom and Responsibility

All of these dictums are variations on freedom and responsibility. Netflix has a great presentation on the topic. So does Valve. Peter Drucker probably wrote about it 50 years ago. We didn’t invent this stuff, we don’t claim to know what we’re doing, nor is this a perfectly accurate or complete model of how we operate.

Freedom

  1. Ask forgiveness, not permission
  2. Do what you think is right (and be right)
  3. S/he who codes, rules

Responsibility

  1. You break it, you bought it
  2. Sweat the details and corner cases
  3. Be real
  4. Own the result

If you’re interested in working with us, we’re always hiring.

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6 comments · Show

  • Ian Waring

    “Seek forgiveness, not permission” and “Do the right thing” were both Management mantras at Digital Equipment Corp throughout the 70s and 80s. As was looking after warranty (existing) customers before chasing any new ones. As was “the Network is the System”.

    The rest of the world don’t give Ken Olsen the credit for foresight some of us lived with for many years :-)

  • Justin Kistner

    Thanks for sharing this level of detail on your management perspective.

    The dictum “S/he who codes, rules” is very strong. You mentioned a scenario where if you have a disagreement, then the person writing the code decides. Can you elaborate on what level of decision making you extend this rule to? Is it simply around decisions for how a feature should be coded or does it also extend to how it should function? If it does extend into functionality, do you run into issues where market expertise exceeds the developer? In other words, if you disagree on whether or not to build a new feature or not, does the person who codes decide then? Or is it a matter of how the feature is implemented?

  • Natalie Hodge

    Great Post Nivi…

    I need your help on a healthcare project I’m working on…

    http://personalmedicine.snappages.com/signup-for-beta.htm

    I’d be honored for you to be one of our first 1k fre e users when we get this up and running…

  • Simeon Howard

    I think this strategy would work very well in a very small office setting, but less so for a giant corporation with multiple departments. There are just too many points of failure when you are dealing with large projects. It sounds like you have been very successful at hiring the right people, however. Perhaps you could go into more detail about that in a future post.

  • Gustavo

    Love u guys/girls! I always believe in “ask forgiveness not permission”;)

  • Shawn

    Great article. I’ve always told me team to “commit errors of action, rather than errors of inaction.” Don’t be afraid to break something; it’s a learning experience.