Houen's Blog

Thoughts on life, startups, tech & code

Your startup needs a polaroid wall


The Polaroid wall at Crealytics in Berlin

Note: This is a follow-up to a post I did on How Silos are hurting your startup. Have you read it already? We will both get more out of this post if you read the other one first. You will get the backstory. I can assume you know it. Win-Win. Go on. We will wait for you.

Hi again. I hope I have made the case for why silos are hurting your startup. Here is a little trick to help break down silos.

Here is a recap of my postulation from earlier:

The best thing we can do against silos is let camaraderie and friendship develop between employees of different departments.

How do friendships develop? Initially, by chit-chatting to each other. By taking an interest. By bonding through the art of conversation. More than one. Repeated display of interest between amicable individuals is the surest sign to a budding friendship.

There is a very important part to a conversation of people getting to know each other. Their names.

Dale Carnegie said it well:

A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language

This is true. And so is the opposite. There is nothing more hindering for friendship than if one person does not know the other persons name.

Some people are very good at this. Were they born with this ability? Did they learn it somehow? I do not know.

Let us go a year back in time. I had a bit of a problem with names then. Introduce me to someone. Then wait a day. I can now tell you all sorts of interesting facts and wonderful sides to that person. Their name, however…
Wait, it is right on my tongue…

I noticed this being a hindrance several times. There were people I was genuinely interested in talking to. But I could not. They had told me their name. I had told them mine. They likely could remember mine. If I struck up a conversation, it would get awkward. So I did not.

Then I remembered something from when I was working in the Rainmaking Copenhagen office:

The polaroid wall.

When a new employee joins, a polaroid is taken of them. They write their name on it. Possibly also a little doodle. It is fun. It is old-school. It looks great in the office. It helps with a feeling of “one big family”.

And when someone forgets the name of another employee, all they have to do is take a cup of coffee. Study the wall. Learn the name. Then go make new friends.

This is why your startup needs a polaroid wall.

Thank you for your time.


PS: I highly recommend the Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 instant camera. I have one myself, and it is just the right size for a company wall.

PPS: A common objection I hear at this point is this: “But we already have names and pictures on our website”. Yes. You do. And what does it take to update that website? Let us compare:

  • The Website way
    • Find a digital camera. Who had it last? What event was it used at? Ok, here it is.
    • Now take the picture.
    • Now upload it to a computer.
    • Now crop it.
    • It does not look good enough. This is a public branding page. We must look good to the public.
    • Take a new one.
    • Now upload it to the website. Oh, you need IT to do that? They are too busy developing features. File a ticket for updating the employee page.
    • Wait two weeks.
    • Now it is updated.

      I know, I know, maybe all of the above hassle does not apply to your company. Then you are one of the lucky few. Trust me on this.

      At Crealytics, the process would be much simpler. A polaroid wall is still superior.

  • Polariod way:
    • Take picture
    • Write name
    • Done!


Get a polaroid wall. Your silos will be a little less powerful for it.

Silos will hurt your startup. Friendships will make you strong

Update: Part 2 is now up. Read this one first, though. There is a link in the bottom as well.

Are you just five people to your startup? I envy you.

I envy the shared direction you feel with your colleagues. How you feel at one with the vision. You are one entity fighting for a common goal. You can rely on your teammates. They can rely on you. This is a wonderful feeling.

Now your startup gains both traction and success. Champagne all around!
It is time to start hiring so you can keep up with x, y and z.

Your company grows. You get the need for specialisation. You develop teams, departments. Areas of responsibility take on a power of their own.

There is a side effect to this. Silos happen.


Silos are when teams distance themselves from each other. Let us enter the mind of a person in a silo. It is now most important how something affects your team.

Your work. Your stress. Your relationship with management. Your little silo.

How things affect your silo become more important than how they affect the company. Others will take care of that. This is in essence an instance of the Bystander Effect.

In a silo, employees will gradually care less and less about the company as a whole. An employee in a silo will not feel a strong relationship to the company. They do not work in the company. They work in the silo. The company is what causes problems. What hurts their silo.

The end result: The company is hurt greatly by these silos.

It is vital that they be kept in check.

Keeping silos in check

A way to keep silos in check is very simple:

Communication. Talking. Caring.

Silos occur naturally. Banding in groups is part of human nature. Luckily, so is caring.

What we need to introduce is compassion for the other silos. You just got an amazing friend in another team. You had the best talks over those Friday beers. Suddenly, you care a lot about her workload. His stress. Her work-life balance.

You need your engineers to buddy with sales, sales to buddy with HR, HR to buddy with Operations. And so on and so on.

Basically, you need friendships to evolve across departments.


Now go forth, and do all in your power to help your employees make friends with each other.


For great insight into how to make your company GREAT, I highly recommend the book From Good To Great by Jim C. Collins


PS: I had more to say about silos than I first thought. So this blog post came to life. It will be followed up by one about Why your large-ish startup absolutely needs a polaroid wall.

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