1. Why a self interview?
I am part of the team who are constantly trying to improve the way we communicate what Ethos is all about, which feels like treading a thin line between ‘over-simplification’ (which can result in losing the essence of what we are) and ‘not clear enough’ (leaving people baffled!).
One of the ways we’ve decided to do that is to tell our collective and individual Ethos stories in a variety of ways using different media – ie blogs, social media, video, audio, photos – so people can choose the one that seems most relevant to them. So, I am using words but thought the interview format might be a clearer way to present my thoughts and could also prevent me waffling too much… and since I am working at home today the only possible interviewer is myself!
2. How did you first hear about Ethos?
I answered a job advertisement in April 2013 on the part-time job site Timewise. I was self-employed at the time, working as a digital marketing consultant, and was always on the look out for interesting looking temporary or part-time opportunities. Since 2008, the year my daughter started school (and when decisions around childcare became more complicated), I have chosen to work part-time so that I can be around while she is growing up. For 20 years I worked client and agency-side in marketing and account handling, specialising in digital comms for the last 10 of those. I also completed 4 years of counselling training last year, and now have my own private counselling practice, so flexibility is very important to me.
Ethos were recruiting across a number of ‘back-office’ areas, including marketing, and were offering flexibility and home-working as well as working on large projects, so I applied.
3. What was your first impression of Ethos?
I have to admit, even though I looked at the website, I didn’t understand what they did, only that they were in business services, were entirely virtual (which appealed to the die-hard digital comms person that I am – I first became interested in the Internet in 1997) and seemed to employ lots of ex-military, a community I had no experience of!
However, I heard back within a week to say I was successfully through to the next stage and received a very long, but refreshingly honest email from Rob Pye, the CEO. I’ve recently re-read it and I think these few paragraphs answered most of my queries and doubts, although I was left concerned about the ‘leap of faith’ I felt I would have to make:
“Ethos – what’s in it for me then?
Working with Ethos is both a lifestyle choice, and an investment.
The flexible, networked nature of the company puts you in the driving seat as to when you work. If you want to contribute from midnight to 3am every third Tuesday, when there is an ‘r’ in the month, that’s just fine with us! And we are even happy if you want to change your hours to cope with the kids being home for school holidays, or to take that 3-month trip to South America you’ve always dreamed of. The thing is, your working hours, along with what you will do to create value for the company, forms the basis of your offer to Ethos. And what’s more, you can also rewrite it whenever you need to, as your life changes!
As I mentioned, Ethos should also be thought of as an investment opportunity. In our brave new world of flexible home-working, we don’t simply pay you for the hours you put in. We all know people who put in the hours but deliver nothing of value don’t we? Instead we reward on the basis of the value you add. In a conventional job, you invest your time in exchange for a guaranteed rate of pay – a bit like investing your cash into a fixed income savings account for a guaranteed (but rather unexciting) return. At Ethos you invest your time, but the return is determined by the performance of the underlying investment – more like an equity-based investment. And just like an equity-based investment, you shouldn’t invest time you can’t afford to lose, and the value of your investment can go up or down! Unlike an equity-based investment, however, your own efforts have an impact on value!
What does all this mean?
Firstly, you must not rely on Ethos to feed your family or pay your mortgage in the short-term (any more than you should put your mortgage payments on the stock market!)! Ethos is ideal for people who have time to invest and other means to put food on the table.
Secondly, Ethos could make you a lot of money. Or it might not – indeed the time you invest could go completely unrewarded. The point is we are all in the driving seat together – so if you like to put in the hours and deliver little then this is not the place for you – you will get found out! However, if you are the sort that contributes a great deal, then the opportunity to have that recognised is here! Reward for everyone in Ethos is ultimately based on the value of the company, and the part you play in creating it! And there is no special deal for the founders or the directors – our arrangements are all structured in the same way – democracy in action!’
4. What made you decide to take that ‘leap of faith’?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure that this opportunity was right for me, as I do need to earn money and I have never thought of myself as a business person or particularly entrepreneurial. However, there was something so refreshingly different about their emails, and the way they calmly handled the technical issues I had on our subsequent Skype interview (my audio decided not to work), that I was eager to find out more. I have to admit I was not 100% sure even after accepting one of the 7 positions available (the understanding was we would all have a trial period of 3 months before any agreements were discussed and signed), but it was the ‘induction’ session, where we met the partners and got to learn more about the Ethos businesses, their way of working and aspirations for the future, that clinched it for me. I found everyone so open and easy to talk to and there was no hint of a ‘catch’. I came away feeling like I needed to be part of the journey they were on.
5. Has working with them lived up to your expectations?
It has exceeded them, and I am constantly pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoy it and how fulfilled and supported I feel. This is more than any other I’ve had a role that I have freedom to make my own. I have been able to involve myself (and I think mostly add value!) in sectors that are totally new to me, such as Sport sponsorship and Smart Cities. I wrote my own ‘value exchange agreement’ in which I agreed to invest a set amount of days per year , payment for which is accrued in my partner account as debt owing. I receive dividends twice yearly (with my share pot growing each year at a rate dependent on my time commitment and performance), a basic PAYE salary and unbelievable flexibility – I sync my personal and Ethos calendars so everyone knows when I am available, and we use Skype for conference calls, chat and to show if we are online, and Podio for project management and internal information sharing.
I think what I appreciate most though is the work culture. Projects really do feel collaborative, and I don’t feel like I often used to in agencies, that there were always other people ready to judge my contribution harshly or to take full credit for a team effort, for their own gain. Of course Ethos is not politics-free, but we are all valued and respected as individuals, and if there are problems to be solved it is in all the partners interest to find the best solution. Moderation of self-interest is one of our company values, and that works at a number of levels to create a culture of work that is very positive and inspiring.
Any ‘yes, but’s…’ I have had are usually dispelled by the almost unbelievable transparency that exists – you can find out almost everything about how the company works and how business is going on our shared Google docs drive, the weekly all company conference call starts with a live look at our online bank account, and the obstacles and red tape that exist in most other places I have worked are just not there.
Oh. and as if I could forget, we really do believe that having fun while working is as important as being passionate about what you do (you would not believe what a good Laurel & Hardy impression Andrew McMorran and MDM can do), and that online communication tools are fantastic but there is nothing like face-to-face communication.
6. What’s the future look like?
There are no guarantees at Ethos and I do accept that the time I am investing and the shares I own might not come to anything monetarily speaking. However, we have changed so much in the last two years since I joined, and our network and business activity is growing so fast, that I feel very positive.
I do sometimes sit at my desk at home feeling unsure where I should focus my time or unable to come up with new marketing ideas,, but I just have a look at who is online and call for a chat. Everyone is usually in a good mood, even if they do have a deadline to bid for a million pound project…
… and then I also remember that everyone has taken their own ‘leap of faith’.
7. Anything else?
Er… I think I waffled anyway.