So the Wealthsimple Culture Manual. What is it exactly?
Rudy Adler, Chief Product Officer: I don't mean to be abstract — well actually, I do! — but it's who we are. It explains who we are to every person who works at the company so we can all make sure we keep our priorities straight. And our, for lack of a better term, corporate soul.
What do you mean, you want to be abstract?
Rudy: Okay. So I went on my honeymoon a few months ago and I read this book, Sapiens. It's by this Israeli historian named Yuval Noah Harari, and it's a history of humanity. The book’s amazing. And maybe it's because the setting was so spectacular — I read it on the beach in Hawaii. I mean I literally saw a whale breach in the water while I had the book in my hand. And Joe Montana was also on the beach. But the book really made an impression on me. Humans are unique as animals because we've found a way to work together so well.
Wow. Montana’s gotta be getting up there. How's he look these days?
Rudy: Surprisingly good. Anyway, the book explains how our brains have developed in a way where instead of just describing things that we all can see — like this table we’re all sitting at — we can create these abstract ideas that you can’t see, that don't physically exist. Like democracy, religion — stuff like that. This ability to discuss abstract ideas is the thing that allows large groups to work together. So, I was looking at the ocean, thinking that Wealthsimple has grown into this pretty large group of people, between our employees and our clients. Together, we have this really amazing mission, which is our shared mythology. I realised we haven’t done a good enough job explaining it.
So the mission has grown out of the growth of the company?
Rudy: No. It actually started with a mission. There has been a version of a culture manual since the very beginning of the company in 2014 when there were just four of us working together out of Wealthsimple CEO Mike Katchen’s apartment. I can't remember, but I think we probably all wrote it together. It was just a word document.
Mike Giepert, Executive Creative Director: We called it the Wealthsimple Way. But it was just a few paragraphs in black and white. It didn't feel as fully realised as it should. We wanted to bring it to life.
Pretend someone doesn't have time to read the new Cultural Manual. What are the main points?
Rudy: You gotta read it! It's short and really looks great. Like everything we make, it was entirely conceived and executed in-house, by Wealthsimplers like Devin Chaves and Dafi Tamir who made it beautiful and fun to interact with.
Mike: There are a few parts. The first is our mission. Which is pretty radical — to completely democratise wealth. To see access to financial freedom as a human right for everyone no matter where you come from or how much money you have.
But there are also philosophies that are meant to guide every decision we make and action we take as a company. They're vitally important to us. The first is to Keep It Simple — whether it's the way we do business internally or the way we design our app. The second is to Do What's Right For Each Client. That's self-explanatory. The third is what we call Ship It. Which means we have a bias toward putting things out into the world — products, creative content, whatever — rather than sitting on them. And the last is to Take Care of Each Other. Which means working as a selfless team.
It's way more boring when I talk about it. Really. You need to check it out.
How close is the thing you see here to what was in that Word doc?
Rudy: Well, it depends on what you mean. Our mission hasn’t really changed at all over the years. We’ve always been about democratising investing, providing the tools so that everyone can invest intelligently, not just rich people.
It sounds like that great scene in Citizen Kane, where Charles Foster Kane writes out his statement of principles before even publishing his first newspaper.
Mike: I just re-watched it on a plane six months ago. It’s a little like that, except Kane ends up violating those principles at the end of the movie, right?
Totally, yeah. Bad example. But like, does it really matter that much? Why not just keep it as the Word doc it used to be?
Rudy: Well, for a few reasons. One is that we want to make cool things, and we believe in this. But more importantly, we have a really cool story. Our mission, and how we work together, is pretty unique. We wanted to share it with a much larger group using the things that we're good at, which is design and storytelling.
Mike: When Rudy and I worked in advertising, we used to create stuff like this to give a brand a spirit even before we’d start making their advertising for them. A lot of times the clients would show it around their company, and workers would get really inspired by it. Only now it wasn't just made up — we aren't an advertiser retrofitting a mythology onto a company. We're the people who built the company explaining what's important to us. We want people to feel proud of being here — and we want the people who invest with us to share in that pride.
Is there anything significant about the fact that you're putting this out there now?
Mike: It wasn’t premeditated, but we were just talking yesterday about how we’re launching it right around the time of the 10 year anniversary of the financial collapse. Which if you think about it was the result of all these bad actors violating the trust of the people who used their products. I think it’s really refreshing to be a financial brand that is so open, so transparent, and has lofty goals that feel rooted in democratic principles. Namely to give access to people who never had access to good financial tools before. And I think making this public, and sharing it with our clients will help keep us true to these principles as we grow.
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