Never Make the Same Mistake Twice

How Kinnek built a company culture of continuous improvement.

Never Make the Same Mistake Twice

Karthik Sridharan is the CEO and co-founder of Kinnek, a company that connects small businesses with suppliers of equipment and supplies of all kinds. It's a groundbreaking idea, and collaborating to build a company from the ground up is quite a feat. Yet Sridharan has a reasonable and humane philosophy toward achievement.

"It's OK," he says, "if you don't actually hit your lofty goals, as long as you're making sure to use the learning and you're not making the same mistakes twice."


Building Something Larger Than One's Self

It's a philosophy for himself, but moreover for Kinnek team members, and it is part of a larger culture of learning that is one of the company's most crucial traits.

A business that emphasizes growth and improvement is one that takes the ceiling off of expectations and opportunities. "Building something larger than one's self" is a key value, and this is connected to a sense of ownership that employees are given--in fact, everyone in the company is an equity holder. Placing no one on a pedestal, setting aside egos, and being collegial are all key ideals. Seemingly, Kinnek applies a light--rather than frenzied or cutthroat--approach to the tremendous growth and great success it has enjoyed.

Perhaps one of the reasons that Kinnek is a "learning organization" is the Sridharan and his co-founder Rui Ma had to build a technology for negotiating the transition from being part of a small egalitarian team to being the leaders of a larger and then even larger company.

Sridharan describes the search for knowledge in this realm: "Even when you do an incubator program or an accelerator program, or you talk to other founders, they are always telling you about how do you grow the company, how do you raise money? How do you hustle? How do you put in the hard work to build a company? People don't really talk a lot about how do you hire twenty people? How do you deal with people management issues? How do you deal with it when you have a team of a hundred and suddenly you need to be hiring a leadership team?"

The way he and Ma approached the quest for learning on this issue was to work with an executive coach. It actually took some digging to find out about these coaches and how common they are, since conversations with other up-and-coming founders include a conspicuous absence of references to the help of one.

Sridharan's executive coach is richly experienced with working with CEO's and founders, and helps him with a wide variety of interactions with employees and with personnel and team-building needs.


Fridays Are For Wins

In a company that places great emphasis on ownership, transparency, and the value of learning from projects and endeavors (as opposed to the bottom line only), it isn't surprising that celebrating "wins" of various shapes and sizes is given priority.

The slogan Fridays Are For Wins (FAFW) guides Kinnek's celebrations. Each week on...guess which day, the company assembles in the kitchen at 5 for a chance to share their wins of any kind. "It can be something as big or little as you want," Sridharan says, adding that the idea is expressly to wins of all shapes and sizes.


As for recognizing colleagues for wins of any shape, Kinnek has turned to Disco as the last step in a lengthy evolution that took the company through various tools, and also a ragtag array of GIFs and emojis meant to show recognition. While Sridharan appreciates the way Disco organizes and keeps track of kudos, he finds deep value in the statement made by codifying the recognition process--a sort of "medium is the message" phenomenon.