Learn Trevor Noah's secrets for building a creatively diverse team

David Barrett
David Barrett Expensify Team Posts: 38 Expensify Team
edited November 2021 in Expensify news

tl;dr - Watch Trevor Noah, host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, explain how he recruits and inspires such a creative team in the first episode of our new video series "LAT Talks", where respected voices share their personal journeys building businesses that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

The path that led us to creating this new video series was a long one.

When I started Expensify 13 years ago, I aimed to build a company nobody would want to leave. Unsurprisingly, this is a lot easier said than done, and it's taken a lot of experimentation to find the right mix of tools that is flexible and empowering, while remaining productive and fair.

Some of our now-common tools were a bit ahead of the curve when we put them in place many years ago, such as transparent and asynchronous internal processes that enable truly productive remote work and work from home, along with compensating to a global standard without penalizing employees who choose low cost of living areas.

Others might still be seen as "forward looking" but are gradually becoming commonplace, such as six months fully paid maternity/perinatal leave (and three for dads/co-parents/adopting parents), a strong internal mentor program, fully paid medical leave and mental health support, etc.

Some are still a bit "out there" and it's unclear if anyone else will follow, like taking the whole company, plus partners and kids overseas for a month a year (when not in a pandemic), eliminating internal titles and hierarchy so nobody has a boss, and deciding internal compensation by universal vote, just to name a few.

But even though these can seem a little random when listed out, we've realized over the years that our most important programs all share a common thread: each is designed to create an environment that is truly welcoming of everyone, in any stage of life, in any country, with any kind of personal need. Each tries to eliminate an "invisible barrier" -- something that most people don't need and won't notice, but is a complete showstopper to those affected.

Without really realizing it, we sorta backed into building a company that prioritizes inclusiveness, equity, and fairness above all else -- and in the process, ended up with an extraordinarily diverse team from a huge range of cultural backgrounds and lived experiences. That team diversity is what drives the intensely creative product design we have become known for.

Continuing this general trend toward more inclusive programs and thinking, and given that everyone is empowered to do whatever they want here at Expensify, one of our team invited Zanele Mutepfa Rhone to host her Here to Stay series at our office in Portland, where she regularly brings an incredible series of powerful speakers up on stage to share their personal stories with our employees and guests from the public.  

We've enjoyed and valued the experience so much, a couple more of our team -- Joanie Wang and Puneet Lath, two very long time employees (7 and 9 years, respectively) -- decided to work with Zanele to seek out other speakers to come in and talk to the company, and their top choice was obvious: Trevor Noah. He likely needs no introduction, but is the comedic genius behind The Daily Show. We were eager to hear first hand about his journey from the South African townships of Johannesburg, to taking over the premiere late night staple on Comedy Central.

The initial idea was for a private conversation with employees. Given that we have people scattered all over the world -- from Baltimore to Burkina Faso -- we were going to wait for the next time everyone was in the same spot, so everyone could benefit first hand. Then came COVID, and that day was delayed indefinitely.  

Undaunted, their next thought was to livestream it, so everyone could ask questions in real time. But we have people in every timezone, so that plan didn't really seem fair to whoever would be asleep when it happened.

In the end, we settled upon just filming it and sharing it out with employees. But it felt silly to just have someone film it with their iPhone, so we decided to get a real crew, which requires a director… and the next thing you know, we engaged the same team that developed our 7 times Cannes Lion winning music video and Super Bowl ad with 2 Chainz and Adam Scott.

Then, when it was done, we screened it internally and used it as the basis of an open discussion about representation and belonging in the company -- what we've done right, where we can improve, and specific next steps to build an even more inclusive company than we already have.

So, maybe it got a little out of hand. But the results are worth it. It's hilarious, it's informative. It's Trevor Noah spilling the deets on his own challenges trying to build a business in this crazy world. Even though it was only intended for us, it's just too good not to share.  Check it out, and when you're done, skim our discussion guide for ideas -- I truly hope you can find it as valuable in your company as we have in ours.


Founder and CEO of Expensify

Questions? Ask me on Twitter! @dbarrett

PS. Have an idea on who we should interview for the next LAT Talk? Tweet your suggestion to @expensify!