Transparency at Startups: My Experience at Opendoor

When on vacation a few weeks ago I was reflecting on what are some things I love about Opendoor and Transparency as a value rose to the top. Transparency has always seemed like one of those things that’s a no-brainer to follow and I’m grateful to see the steps we’ve taken at Opendoor to put it into practice. More so as a recap for future me, I wanted to outline some aspects of it.

Transparency can be encapsulated into one of our “5 Core Principles”: Build Openness

Productive communication depends on a foundation of trust and goodwill. Approach difficult conversations with curiosity. Avoid hearsay, passive aggression, and snark. Give feedback early and often.

Some activities that enable transparency:

  • All-Hands Q&A: Ability to ask the leadership team questions that will be publicly answered even though the questions itself can be anonymously asked.
  • Windows: I didn’t realize the impact of windows until we moved from moved offices. Initially, all the meetings rooms came with frosted windows which added a strange layer of secrecy that felt unnecessary. Within a few weeks of moving in our workplace team unfrosted most of the meeting rooms barring a few which are in the corner of recruiting and legal, and a few private rooms which are understandable.
  • Public Calendars: Everyone can see anybody’s calendar by default. The onus is placed on the person to make an event private when needed. It also allows for easier scheduling of time with co-workers.
  • Slack/Company Updates: There’s a healthy default towards posting messages in public channels as more than half the messages are read in public channels. Weekly Update and retros for most teams publicly shared(email and to #meeting-notes)


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  • Documents: Not everything is searchable but if you come upon any link it’s likely that you’d be able to open it without needing to request permissions.
  • Metrics: Most metrics are now hosted on an analytics portal that everyone can access. Additionally, every morning a performance report of the business goes out.
  • Feedback: Various channels of customer feedback including reviews, NPS, twitter mentions, and more are automatically posted to slack channels which showcases the impact and experience of the service we offer. Additionally, there’s quarterly feedback from managers to direct. reports.
  • Financials: All numbers are presented to the entire company which exposes everyone to the ups and downs the business constantly faces. What’s been impressive is that even as we approach a 1000 people this information is held in the confidentiality that it’s shared with and my sincere hope is that this never changes(until the company goes public of course).
  • An Open-Mind: honestly, this is the real secret. We’ve got an amazing team.
  • Total Rewards/Compensation: Total rewards are still very hard to understand and I think we’ve gotten pretty good at this now. What makes it more complex is things like what’s the liquidation preference from the latest round, how much is my equity worth if to company exits at these 5 different valuations. I love how we’ve taken steps to create a rewards packet which better outlines this.

Upsides:

  • There’s transparency for transparency itself but it also allows for tangible value. A few upsides:
  • It helps builds trust much faster across the organization.
  • It helps collaboration happen faster as folks are exposed to more information earlier. It also allows ideas to flow across the organization even when people are not in the same business or functional unit.
  • It allows folks to have less postured conversations and as our core value describes, approach challenges conversations with curiosity as the information about what happened has already been shared.
  • It allows for a stronger muscle to handle organizational thrash.
  • It also allows for a stronger muscle to handle a few bad months or years as we’ve seen ourselves bounce back. In my opinion, this helps with talent retention.

Downsides:

  • Information Overload: As we get bigger availability of constant streams of data vs. synthesized information that’s most important to you might become a challenge. I’m curious on whether there’s a software solution here: AI for notifications.
  • Criticism: More people can be critical of other people’s work as you can see the short/medium term volatility.
  • Transparency vs. Oversharing: can introduce people to the sausage making which can be a bit hard on new employees & those with only a few years of experience.
  • There are some things you likely cannot be transparent about such as legal, recruiting, firings, etc.

What I think we can still improve on:

  • Context: allowing for a stripe-like email system so that most messages are available publicly. Most messages are still sent via email/DMs, especially as you go further up the organizational structure.

  • Salary Information: While there have been big strides mad here: I still have a desire to have all comp be on a public spreadsheet though I can understand why no company might ever do this.
  • Reducing Rumours: though I’ve never been at a company of this size and everyone tells me this is the least they’ve seen of anywhere else. I am definitely guilty if this too. The onus here primarily falls on the individual.

Overall, I think it’s very valuable and gets me excited about Opendoor. Future Varadh looks forward to sharing specific stories. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts about transparency.