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The Best Thing I Ever Created: Chris Kaufman

This is the inaugural post of a new monthly series in which industry leaders describe the projects and products that give them most joy and pride. This month’s contributor, entrepreneur, product designer, and UpTo co-founder Chris Kaufman, shares his insights on creating a tight-knit team.

When my partners and I decided to build a better calendar two years ago by founding UpTo, we thought reinventing something that was relatively unchanged for 500 years was going to be the hard part. The idea is half the battle, right? I don’t know who said that, but I do know they were wrong. When we went through a nearly six-month-long process raising our seed round of venture capital, we thought that was the hard part. Wrong again.

The hardest part has been creating and growing a team to help us make our vision come to life. Finding talented, creative, and hard-working individuals willing to put in long hours (the greatest gift you can give is your time), work nights and weekends, and get in productive disagreements with has been the most difficult task of all. But also, the most rewarding (a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor).

I’ve watched this team grow from four co-founders getting ready to quit their day jobs to a bustling team of 13. We’ve hired interns who have become full-time employees. We’ve hired former co-workers from our previous companies. We’ve hired fresh college graduates. We’ve hired developers with years of experience. Our team is unique and diverse, but its members all fall perfectly into our constantly growing and evolving culture.

At UpTo, we created a culture full of trust and freedom (just do it). The rules are easy: There are none (simplicity is the purest form of genius). No set hours. No vacation policy. Work from home if you like (integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking). Travel to Antarctica. It doesn’t matter. We work hard and get our work done while still having fun. And that’s the most important part.

We launched in the Apple App Store a little over a year ago. Looking back at the company, the app, and the culture in March of 2012, things are unrecognizable. We’re a completely different everything, and that’s the beauty in what we created.

Life is fluid and constantly changing. (Be water, my friend.) Our product has changed and evolved because of the culture we have created. Not the other way around.

A college senior built an incredible Android app from the ground up, and watching him work together with the team and learn outside of the classroom was one of our most rewarding experiences. We’ve provided an environment in which the most valuable takeaway is the skills our team members are developing (always be learning).

This isn’t to say that creating a company and a kick-ass culture happened without growing pains.

Server crashes in the middle of an Apple App Store feature made for a very long and tense workday (everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face).

UpTo 2.0 has taken longer to design, build, brand, and launch (less is less) than we would have liked. And cutting “must-have” features from the to-do list and moving them to 2.1 has been difficult (done is better than perfect).

But we’ve grown to trust one another. We’re all incredibly different from each other, and for a co-founder, giving up responsibility is difficult. It’s our growing team that makes everything a little bit easier. Entire projects are handed off, designed, and executed, and the results are mind-boggling. I’ve helped to create a culture in which 13 individuals work really hard because they are having fun.

We recently, as team of 10, took a Friday off from the office and learned the art of letterpress. We each designed and printed our own quote, but took home a set of ten prints — one from every member of the team. It’s those ten quotes that represent the culture we have created. Those ten quotes are what break down our overarching goal: Get shit done. And those ten quotes are what helped me write this post. You’ll find all ten in parentheses above.

We created a culture in which I’m helping my co-workers and this company as much as they help me. And that makes me so incredibly proud.

Chris Kaufman is Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of UpTo. As an entrepreneur and product designer, he has had his work featured by the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Businessweek, among others. He’s worked with numerous Fortune 500 clients, including Ford, Lowe’s, Chrysler, Audi, American Standard, and Pulte Homes. Follow him on Twitter @kauf.

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