I went spelunking for the first time last week. While I am not a spelunker by any stretch of the imagination, I enthusiastically descended hundreds of feet into California's largest cave complex in support of one of my portfolio companies. The company is called Splunk Technology -- aptly named after the task of debugging complex system failures by "spelunking" log files. Splunk enables IT organizations to more easily traverse the massive IT datasets created by the heterogeneous infrastructure of today's enterprises. In honor of the company's recent financing and launch, Nick Sturiale of Sevin Rosen and I went cave exploring with Splunk's founders, team members and advisors. I am pleased to report that Nick and I lived to tell the tale.
It is fair to say that I took my spelunking very seriously. I suppose that is a bit of a misstatement. I did not take the actual spelunking trip seriously. Anything but. It was all in the name of fun. But it was also very much in the name of team building. And that is serious business. I don't think that I can overstate the importance of community, team work and commitment in a startup. Startups are hard work and take a lot of sacrifice over time. They require teams of people to deeply believe in what they are building and the mission at hand. And in order to engender that sort of commitment to a company, team members have to view it as more than just a job, it has to be personal. To my mind, that is precisely what distinguishes startups from most big companies and what gives startups an unfair advantage.
Over the years I have seen lots of team building activity at startups. There is, of course, the obligatory company t-shirt, sweatshirt, hat, frisbee, pen, USB storage device, cocktail shaker, keychain, temporary tattoo . . . . While I've made fun of the t-shirt culture of Silicon Valley in the past, the truth is that nothing is more affirming than wearing your company colors. I am always hugely encouraged when I visit one of the companies in which I have invested and find people wearing the company gear. It suggests to me that the team is fully engaged -- people aren't just there doing a job, they are there working together in the name of building a great company, and they are literally wearing that commitment on their sleeves. To my mind, company t-shirts are a must have in startup culture.