As we continue our 5th-anniversary celebrations I had a candid chat with Elvire Jaspers, WeAreBrain CEO, about how Humbleness became a key value that shapes our company culture, and how we’ve been humbled by challenges we didn’t anticipate. We’re also a company that puts great stock in learning from our mistakes, so we also reflected on the measures we’ve put in place to ensure our team is always ready to take on any difficulties.
Q: What does being humble mean to you?
Well, I think it’s in your DNA. Certainly, there will be moments that catch you by surprise and how you deal with them is what really determines whether or not you have the capacity for humbleness. From the get-go, we also chose to approach everything with curiosity (another of our core values) as opposed to approaching everything with a know-it-all attitude. There is no place for arrogance at WeAreBrain.
The truth is humbleness is not an idea on its own, it factors into all things: creativity, curiosity and ownership, which are all equally important values at WeAreBrain. Being humble also makes you open to new ideas, interrogating your own thoughts and beliefs when it comes to everything around you, not only the products and projects you work on.
For me personally, I have felt both humbled and proud that people like Jack and Mario asked me to become the CEO of WeAreBrain — they chose me over other professionals that perhaps at the time may have had more tech experience than I had. I feel very happy about the opportunities I’ve been given.
Q: Why did you choose Humbleness as one of WeAreBrain’s values and how do you weave this value into day to day life?
We honestly believe that it is important to be modest, it makes you a better friend, colleague and partner. Our team and our clients would never stay with us if we were arrogant or too proud to acknowledge that we don’t actually know everything.
We chose Humbleness as one of our values because we’ve realised that being faced with great challenges, and sometimes stumbling out of the starting blocks has helped us to think more about what we do, and how we do it. We always try to consider different angles, but most of all we acknowledge that each challenge we have overcome has made us a better company. And truthfully, each difficulty we’ve dealt with has helped us grow as people too.
Q: Which are the greatest challenges that WeAreBrain has had to overcome?
We try (and fail sometimes) to do a lot of innovative stuff. We experiment with AI, workbots and develop software for our ventures that the world hasn’t seen yet. This means we have a lot of ‘first-times’ with elements of a project that take us completely by surprise. Those are both learning and teachable moments for all of us at WeAreBrain.
We’ve also experienced a lot of first-times as entrepreneurs. We have been lucky enough to have a business that has grown very fast over our first five years, and that has required a whole new mindset from all three of us. In a very short time period, we found that we had levelled up but that still didn’t prepare us completely for the challenges that came our way!
Q: What kind of challenges do you find yourselves up against?
We’ve had some very interesting challenges over the years and there are two that specifically spring to mind, which really made us interrogate who we were as a company and leaders of a growing business.
The first was hiring talent. We had hired people who, on paper, checked all the boxes but we didn’t realise how important culture fit is. A person may be good at what they do, but if they don’t fit the rhythm of your company it can be quite a problem for projects and teams. So these days we are committed to staying true to our values. We’re very serious about ensuring that everyone we bring on board really feels comfortable with the way we work, as well as our approach and attitude towards each other, getting things done and generally being better people. What this means for us is that we have an exceptional team that we are very proud of.
The second is about intention versus reality. Mario, Jack and I envisioned a business that didn’t have the traditional corporate hierarchy. It was actually one of the key reasons we left our corporate lives behind. We were intent on having a flat structure. But as we grew in size, we realised that rules and processes are necessary for success, especially when you have a team of more than 70 people stretched across four countries and two continents. We still aim to keep the red tape out of our work and try to be as agile as possible so that our environment is empowering and encourages ownership.
Q: How do you try to ensure you learn at WeAreBrain?
First and most important of all, if there is something you know you could’ve done better you have to be humble and admit it. You need to be brave enough to look into what didn’t work out well and the lessons to be drawn, to ensure that next time you actually execute those changes in order to grow in your role and as a person. We have placed great emphasis on sharing our experiences internally so that challenges and successes faced on one project can be shared and duplicated.
We’ve also learnt that trusting our senior team is essential. The reality is they do their jobs better than we ever could. By hiring the best in the business and empowering them to carry out the mandate of their job, we see better results.
Finally Being Humble means being inclusive and receptive to new ideas, criticism and change. We strive to have these kinds of attitudes but sometimes we spill coffee on our keyboards and leave the house wearing two different socks, making us realise we’re only human.