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What does a people-first business REALLY look like?

This piece was originally emailed to Wildbit’s mailing list on September 29, 2021.

Hey there,

If you’re reading this, chances are “What does a people-first business really look like?” is a question that’s been on your mind recently.

Being people first doesn’t come with a playbook, and can look quite different depending on whether a business is small or big, bootstrapped or VC-backed. I want to tell you what being people first looks like for us; and then, if you need more examples, I’ll show you where to find inspiration from other people-first businesses.

What people first looks like at Wildbit

Our team believes that businesses exist to support human beings, so we built a company that allows us to do the work we love, on projects we believe in, with people we care about:

Our team in 2021

What this approach translates into:

  • We choose not to pursue growth at all costs and ignore the traditional markers of ‘success’ you’d find in most business books. In practical terms: we kept a reasonable pace (and stayed profitable) without accepting external funding or cutting corners to grow faster and bigger, even with countless opportunities to do so.
  • In 2017, we implemented a 4-day workweek and encouraged our team to use the fifth day to make an impact in the communities they care about.
  • Early this summer, we introduced location-agnostic pay so team members in the same role get the same salary, regardless of where they live.
  • We focus on personal fulfillment and on understanding how our motivations impact our happiness at work, and then we act on that understanding. Last year, we shut down a well-built product because its lack of traction was causing frustration and low morale. But nobody was fired. Nobody got a pay cut. We just moved on, together, and started working on new projects that felt more fun and rewarding.

People first is a framework that guides everything we do. We make business decisions as a company by considering the motivations and needs of four main groups of people, or ‘constituents’: founders, employees, customers, and community.

You can visualize these relationships as a pulley system: unless you pay attention to all elements at the same time, an imbalance is inevitable—and while you can’t always perfectly balance it all, for us people first means you at least try.

Where you can find other people-first companies

Wildbit is not unique. There are a lot of team-centric, profit-focused, sustainable companies out there doing incredible things. The problem is you don’t often hear about them: it’s usually the funded, growth-at-all-cost companies that get most of the attention and praise.

We started People-First Jobs (PFJ) last year to solve this problem: we wanted to shine a light on businesses that optimize for people over profits while continuing to grow and innovate. There are currently 67 companies listed that have been manually reviewed by our team, adhere to specific criteria, and have answered questions about their team and culture.

I’d like to invite you to go and take a look now, bookmark the page for later, or sign up for PFJ updates. If you’re running a business of your own or are in a leadership position, we hope you’ll find these companies’ approach useful and inspiring. And if you feel like it’s time for a new job, you might just find what you’re looking for.

Until next time,