Time Tested Company Culture: Mindspring

Earlier this year, Charles Brewer came to the Center for Civic Innovation to talk about how he started MindSpring. Charles rarely speaks at public events, so I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones that had a chance to attend this event.

Mindspring was founded in February 1994 and became one of Atlanta’s first successful startups and one of the first internet services providers in the US.

What’s fascinating about the Mindspring story that Charles shared is that he created a list of core values even before he knew what type of business he was starting. 

His core values existed before the company name, the business concept, and the product list came to be. He shared that he originally didn’t know what type of business he wanted to start, but knew that the business would be have these core values as the foundation no matter what.

[quote Text=”The most important thing about this company is its culture” name=”Michael McQuary” name_sub=”Mindspring’s former President & COO”]

Here are Charles’ Core Values and Beliefs, which were later referred to as CV&Bs:

  • We respect the individual, and believe that individuals who are treated with respect and given responsibility respond by giving their best.
  • We require complete honesty and integrity in everything we do.
  • We make commitments with care, and then live up to them. In all things, we do what we say we are going to do.
  • Work is an important part of life, and it should be fun. Being a good business person does not mean being stuffy and boring.
  • We are frugal. We guard and conserve the company’s resources with at least the same vigilance that we would use to guard and conserve our own personal resources.
  • We insist on giving our best effort in everything we undertake. Furthermore, we see a huge difference between “good mistakes” (best effort, bad result) and “bad mistakes” (sloppiness or lack of effort).
  • Clarity in understanding our mission, our goals, and what we expect from each other is critical to our success.
  • We are believers in the Golden Rule. In all our dealings we will strive to be friendly and courteous, as well as fair and compassionate.
  • We feel a sense of urgency on any matters related to our customers. We own problems and we are always responsive. We are customer driven.

His business partner Mike McQuary later added The 14 Deadly Sins, but these were later removed with the EarthLink merger in 1999.

What was amazing to me was that the culture at Mindspring was so strong, that decades later, they came to see Charles speak at this particular event. The culture was so great at Mindspring that now, decades later, ex-employees will occasionally host parties and reunions in the Atlanta area.

It was powerful to hear that one man could document values that he personally held close, and that this alone created a movement strong enough to tie his employees together like a bonded family.

Charles shared some of the ways he incorporated these values into his business:

  • Replace and incorporate your values with everything. Make it clear that it is the foundation of the company, and include this into daily business and internal processes.
  • Make everyone accountable by expecting customers and fellow employees to communicate when values are not upheld.
  • Hire the right people. Hire for culture over skills.

Something so simple yet so authentic can shape a company, and other’s lives, and last for decades beyond exposure. Something to think about for your own business.

What do you think? What have you implemented to help your company culture flourish?

I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave your thoughts, comments, and feedback in the comments below.

~ Christine