Fast Company Innovation Festival Day 1

Hello friends,

The first day of the Fast Company Innovation Festival is all about the Fast Tracks.

The two main stages of the festival open on day two of the festival so today, once we picked up our festival badges we headed to two fast tracks. 


Session one, Lunch and learn at The Standard Hotel

Title: Inside the Making of a direct to consumer Unicorn with Aviad Pinkovezky, Chief Product Officer, Hippo and Mohan Ramaswamy, Co-founder of Work & Co.


The first thing that stood out about this session was the venue, it was such a lovely space and such a great spot in the city that I’m sure it helped get people to attend the session. 

Hippo is a Direct to Consumer (D-to-C) home insurance brand that has just hit unicorn status. The talk was about how they got there. 

Hippo at a glance; 60 seconds to get a quote, 4.9 average rating, $1B valuation, 25% cheaper policies 

Key points:

  • They decide to go D-to-C because it was a big market in the US, with a lot of growth year on year yet it was an industry that had not been disrupted yet. As Avaid said, “it was almost an industry that had been unaffected by the internet.”


  • Given home insurance isn’t sexy, it’s the last thing you think of when buying a house, they knew they needed to really understand how and when the consumer was thinking about home insurance.
  • They also realised the underlying product is actually out of date. In the fine print, most policies still cover silverware and paper bonds and stocks that might be in a safe in the wall, the product was written in the ’50s and it showed. So they didn’t just modernise the online experience, they modernised the product. 


  • They tried to get the best people in the D-to-C world, not in the insurance world. They wanted new thought and ideas that weren’t confined by industry thinking. 


  • They have experimented with the customer journey when they are signing up for the product, while they wanted to make the experience as simple as possible, as an insurance business they needed to get some data from customers that will take time. They found that when they moved different complicated pages between simple pages it increased their conversation rate.

Finally, they spoke through five steps of the D-to-C product guide:

  1. A roadmap is only as good as the team executing it. Invest in hands-on roles that manage the product lifecycle and accelerate the pace of iteration and product adoption. 
  2. Don’t disrupt. Fix. As d-to-c startups increasingly tackle regulated industries, it’s worth the effort to help modernise the rules or be a change agent for new policies.  
  3. Flip the formula: product, then brand. Establish your customer acquisition strategy and a small set of KPIs first, then brand.
  4. Plan for SKUs 2-100. Speed to market doesn’t have to be a trade-off for differentiated, scaleable product experience. 
  5. Don’t sleep on physical presence. The most successful d-to-c players find ways to engage with customers regardless of the platform. 

Session Two: Beyond the Perks: Employee Culture with Culture Amp, Squarespace, Etsy  and Warby Parker 

On level 12 of the Squarespace office in the East Village, we were treated to a talk from Culture Amp, Squarespace, Etsy and Warby Parker. 

Once again, walking into the Squarespace office was a treat in itself. It’s clear the office is a full expression of the brand and I’m told they use the space for events all the time because they know it’s an easy way for people to have a physical brand experience with a digital brand.
Below is a pic of the lift lobby in the Squarespace office. 

It was a panel event, and full disclosure, the Character + Distinction team pitched the idea to Fast Company and helped pull it together.

The panel was:
Co-Founder and CEO of Culture Amp, Didier Elzinga
Chief People Officer at Squarespace, Mary Good  
Senior VP of People, Strategy and  Services at Etsy Raina Moskowitz
Senior VP of People Warby Parker, Chelsea Kaden 
The discussion talked a lot about what things make your culture stand out. If you take away the beer kegs and the ping pong tables, what parts of the culture are still there? 

With that question the big idea for discussion, here is what they found.

Honesty in the workplace:

  • They all agreed that the idea of belonging and being able to be yourself at work is important. They sited the leaders and the executive team as the ones who set the tone of the place however they also talked about their high engagement results which they know tracks back to each team member knowing they can bring their whole selves to work.
  • Mary Good said she thinks of her role as the ‘caretaker of the soul of the company’ which means she wants to make sure if they see something that doesn’t fit they address it. With a founder lead business, she spoke of the importance to be able to have honest conversations about what parts of the business are fundamental to the culture and what parts need to change as a business scales. 
  • Didier reminded the audience that there is no such thing as a perfect culture, that’s a cult! Culture is always evolving and isn’t perfect, but is honest. 


  • Mission stood out as something that unifies their teams and is the guiding light for their culture. Etsy said they, today, put up an 8-meter wide neon light of their mission in their office. They also tell customer stories at the start of their all-in meetings so people know that their everyday work is making a real difference to their customers.
  • Warby Parker agreed that their mission of doing good drives their culture. Partnering with local communities and also giving employees two community days per year so they can give back to their community are ways they live their mission every day. 

Culture and business outcomes 

  • The panel all talked about the importance of culture and how it will lead to business success if the mission is always the north star and you’re focused on building a team that wants to be there, working for the customer. This lead to a conversation about their values or guiding principals and how they use them for everything from hiring new talent through to KPI conversations. They all mentioned that to keep their values in check they include asking a question in their Culture Amp EES survey about how the individual feels about the values. 
  • Raina from Etsy talked about the importance the company places on the linkage between strategy and culture and how every member of the team feels like they are making a direct impact on the lives of creative entrepreneurs.

Leadership from all parts of the business:

  • Mary Good from Squarespace warned that values can also be something people hide behind so we need to make sure we don’t just create values but we also give context for what that means in your daily work. 
  • As we watched the sunset in the background of the panel session the final conversation was about how important the mid-level leaders are. While the CEOs and Founders are the vision setters and the ones everyone wants to hear from, the leaders you’re dealing with day to day are the ones that really make a difference on how people feel about work each day. 
That's a wrap on day one, I'll be sending another update tomorrow, see you then!
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