Immediately after their first board meeting, Matthew Prince and his co-founders made a radical decision: No employee at CloudFlare, a company that now processes 250 billion page views a month through its security apps, would go by a hierarchical job title. There would be no VPs, managers, or executives--only engineers, designers, etc. Prince told Inc.’s Jeff Haden why checking egos at the door ensures that the quality of an idea--not a person’s rank--always wins.
What made you throw out hierarchical titles in favor of more functional titles? We presented a candidate for VP of technical operations, and a board member asked, “How many people has he hired?” We didn’t know. “Fired?” No clue. He said, “I’m sure he’s brilliant, but you’re implying by the title that he will build a team he will manage.” In fact, we wanted him to help build a product.
So he was more tech guy than VP. But why strip co-founders of their rank, too? We left the meeting thinking, “None of us has hired or fired many people. We shouldn’t be VPs. We’re engineers. We’re programmers.” Now, new employees don’t expect titles that imply hierarchy, because no one has one.
Still, conventional wisdom says the cheapest perk you can offer a candidate is a title. Oh, no--titles definitely come with a cost. The best ideas are bottom-up, not top-down. But in most companies, the ideas come from the top, and hierarchy can mean artificial authority wins, not the best idea. Here, the engineers who write the code push their ideas across and up.
Aren’t you afraid you will miss out on talented people? No. We want people who want to be here. I had tried to hire John Graham-Cumming, an incredibly influential programmer and author, for years. Finally, he called and said he wanted to join us. He said, “My first job was programmer, and that explains what I do and like to do. Let’s make that my title.” I get goose bumps every time I tell the story, because it encapsulates what we’re trying to do.