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Living Our Values: An Inside Peek Into Tendril

Tendril was recently inducted into the Global Cleantech Hall of Fame by the Cleantech Group. It’s a significant honor that highlights our continuous innovation and ability to be ranked on their annual Cleantech 100 list for several years now.

If we got there easily it may not have been as gratifying and we have definitely had our share of ups and downs. Five years ago our CEO, Adrian Tuck, gave an impassioned speech at the Cleantech Forum called, “How I almost killed my company.” It was a moment of brutal honesty that lacks in our business. But we are still here and thriving. In his speech, Adrian started with the line “I thought I’d resist the temptation to tell an up and to the right story.” Now 5 years on, I think it’s fair to tell that story.

Today, we are a healthy, growing business, with differentiated products and customers that love us. To those that don’t follow us closely, it probably looked like it was done overnight, but it took quite a journey to get here (hence the ironically titled blog post “An Overnight Success Story in Only 10 Years” that Adrian recently penned). We’ve always had this idea of making people smarter about their energy usage, but the execution of that idea didn’t always work the way we envisioned.

Our one core message that hasn’t changed over the years is that you have to focus on your customers. You have to put the customer experience at the heart of every decision you make and if you do, you will weather the macro-changes in our environment and morph to the changing demands of your customers. If you don’t, someone else will. But we weren’t adhering to our own message. So five years ago, when we made the decision to get out of hardware and to refocus the company on energy software solutions to empower the utility of tomorrow, we recognized that we would never be successful if our customers and employees weren’t happy. That was obviously not an easy decision and it wasn’t made lightly. But it was made easier by the one thing that allowed us to get from there to here, and that is…our focus on the customer, or more specifically, our focus on the employees who support those customers.

There is a quote we cite frequently at Tendril - “Create a great place to work and great work will take place.” We’ve changed every aspect of how Tendril works. We rebuilt the technology, we changed our processes, we changed our relationships with our customers, and we changed the nature of the relationship with our employees. “Create a great place to work” doesn’t mean ping pong and catered lunches, though we are a software startup so we have those, too. It means creating an environment that allows amazing people to do brilliant work. I believe a big part of enhancing our customer relationships was further solidifying the relationships with our own employees. If people continue to be proud and happy with the work they are doing and they feel like they are a part of something bigger, your customers will feel that too.

This is probably the biggest aspect of what we changed. We documented our values and posted them everywhere. We changed how we interviewed people. We defined what a good candidate looks like – not from a technical merit perspective but from a values and character perspective. We built a new company comprised of passionate people that all genuinely like each other and worked under a common purpose. We put our customers at the center of every decision we made. We make sure that every employee understands why we are making a decision and how it benefits our customers.

I mentioned our values, and one of them is “be bold, be accountable, and fail fast.” This, more than the rest, embodies the spirit of what we look for and how we act. Combined with another of our values “Do the right thing,” which paints the picture of the kind of company we aspired to be and how we wanted to treat our customers and each other. “Be bold, be accountable, and fail fast” is a great set of guardrails for entrepreneurialism. It encourages taking risks, owning mistakes, and learning quickly from those mistakes if something isn’t working. “Do the right thing” is the moral compass part of our values. I think of this as the “what would my 6-year-old do?” question. Children are innocent and generally make decisions that are “the right thing to do.”  Well most children anyway. My 6-year-old has somehow decided that Darth Vader is the good guy so I’m a bit worried about her moral compass, so consider that a parenting fail. In all seriousness though, these values and the behaviors they drive are what changed our relationships with our employees and our customers and has led us to the industry-changing solutions that we offer today.

So here, 5 years on from Adrian’s infamous speech and more than 10 years in the making, we are happy to embrace being an “overnight success,” but we wouldn’t be here without our customers, without our employees and without the understanding that without them, there is nothing else.





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