Culture at The Ken

Working at The Ken means working alongside some of the most talented, experienced and driven writers, editors, programmers, product managers and marketers in India and South-East Asia. All of whom are connected to each other via a strong and unique culture born of the marriage between journalism and software startups. A culture where programmers understand the value of first-hand reportage of facts while journalists appreciate the minimum viable product design approach.

There are four pillars on which we stand:

  • Our Journalism

    Independent, original, analytical and well-narrated

  • Our People

    Talented, ambitious, ethical and empathetic

  • Our Culture

    Open, transparent, feedback-driven and collaborative

  • Our Products

    High-quality, distinct, data-driven and fun

Our Values

High bar on success

High bar on success

We’re driven, period. We constantly benchmark ourselves against not just the best examples we can find globally, we also measure ourselves against our own previous benchmarks.

  • Zeal for excellence: Call it that, or the drive for perfection, but we don’t settle for “good enough”. (Unless it’s part of an iterative feature launch - explained better below.)

  • We never accept the status quo: Which means we’re often questioning assumptions or realities, and trying to disprove them. Even if they’re our own.

  • We’re (slightly) paranoid We prefer not to dismiss events or competitors offhand.

  • Ambition: We are an ambitious lot who set ourselves high benchmarks for success.

Open by default

Open

We’re open by default, perhaps because openness is a virtue on both sides of our lineage – journalism and software products. Openness manifests itself in various ways at The Ken.

  • Open doors: You can walk up to anyone, regardless of designation or role, with suggestions, questions or requests.

  • Transparency: We are extremely transparent amongst ourselves on everything that we affect or that affects us. Our philosophy is employees should not have to learn about something that affects them from the outside. Our weekly All-Hands calls feature lively discussions on organisational goals, growth metrics, story impacts, hiring policies, product launches and editorial strategies.

  • Communicate: We prefer over-communicating to under communicating. We trust each other to safeguard privileged and confidential information.

Collectively Vested

Collectively Vested

As a team, we are deeply engaged with each other and collectively vested in self-improvement. And we genuinely celebrate each other’s success.

  • Team over individual: We don’t believe in or encourage silos or turfs. Wherever possible, we encourage people to work together. Because in our experience, the best stories, products or solutions often emerge from multiple minds collaborating closely.

  • Peer-to-peer: The best form of learning or self-improvement often happens at a peer-to-peer level. There are numerous fora where we do this, ranging from “writers calls” to brainstorming sessions.

  • Camaraderie: We forge deep and trusting friendships with each other. We take care to sustain and nourish these through even seemingly trivial things like birthday cakes, monthly team events and communal lunches.

  • Default-to-trust:We assume good intentions and trust in each other by default.

Fun

Fun

We have fun doing what we do. Taking pride in your work rarely happens unless you’re enjoying it too. We take pride in having fun while doing our work.

  • Irreverence: Journalists are, by nature, a sceptical and irreverent lot. We don’t think there should be any holy cows and don’t let anyone else convince us otherwise.

  • Collegial: We’re informal and convivial. We value intelligence, hard work and results over formality and decorum. That does not mean we don’t respect everyone’s boundaries though.

  • Humour: Our offices and Slack channels are littered with terrible jokes, emojis, memes and puns. Humour is how we blow off steam and bond.

Continuous learning

Continuous learning

We believe all of us—individually and collectively—are only at the cusp of what we can achieve. That translates to an environment where we’re all always learning something new.

  • Experimentation: While we provide the freedom for everyone to experiment with things that lead to better outcomes, the willingness to do so is a trait we prize greatly.

  • Iterative improvement: We don’t believe in “big bang” launches or strategies. Instead, where possible, we prefer starting small and “lo-fi” and then iterating rapidly into a “hi-fi” version that succeeds.

  • Acceptance of failure: Being willing to experiment means being sometimes willing to fail. We understand that. We encourage that.

  • Resilience: All of this means most of us are fairly resilient when it comes to accepting failures, uncertainty and progressive visibility. Because we’re still a young startup, one that must deal with small and large “fires” on a frequent basis.

First principles thinking

First principles thinking

When faced with problems or opportunities, our first instinct is to approach it using simple first principles. This prevents us from falling victim to existing biases, habits or conventional wisdom easily.

  • Premium on first-hand knowledge: We prefer to generate or uncover first-hand facts before deciding on a course of action. This is also reflected in our journalism, where we have a huge bias for original and deep reporting, over secondary research.

  • Contrarians: Because we strive to be the most honest and best versions of ourselves as writers, editors, developers or managers, we’re often seen as iconoclasts or contrarians. We don’t strive for those adjectives, but we don’t fight them either.

Culture of feedback

Culture of feedback

Because we believe in constant learning and collective improvement, we also believe in having a culture of constant feedback. Feedback is the fuel that sustains our creativity and spark.

  • Freedom to criticise: We provide everyone with the space and encouragement to speak up and constructively criticise anything that they feel could be done better. Without criticism, improvement is hard. And without safe spaces, criticism is hard.

  • Healthy debate:We realise giving and receiving feedback in a way that doesn’t hurt isn’t easy. As an organisation, and as colleagues, we’re always debating approaches and improving on feedback methods.

  • Respect: We respect each other’s work unconditionally.

Ownership and accountability

Ownership and accountability

We love it when people take both ownership and accountability for their work.

  • Empowerment: We try our best to remove needless processes and officiousness from work. So long as there’s a clearly thought-through rationale and outcome assessment, we empower our employees to take charge.

  • Due credit: We realise that its often human nature to provide feedback on what isn’t working, rather than what is. We consciously guard against this by appreciating hard work and celebrating successes publicly.

Equal opportunities

Equal opportunities

Succeeding at The Ken is easy if you’re hard-working, conscientious and open to learning.

  • Non-hierarchical: While we have reporting structures, they’re as flat as can be without compromising coherence and direction.

  • Egalitarian: We don’t like fancy titles or tenure-driven importance. Everyone’s work speaks for them.

  • We actively encourage employees to experiment outside of their areas of expertise. If that means landing in someone else’s area of expertise, that is okay.

Curiosity

Curiosity

We’re always curious. It pushes us to spot gaps or opportunities others may miss.

  • Investigative: Investigative journalism lies at the core of our work and is a big reason why our subscribers love us.

  • Storytelling: We are huge believers in the power of narratives and stories. Stories are how and why human beings process complex information from a complex world. We prize storytelling as a trait in all our employees.

Quality over quantity

Quality over quantity

We prefer doing fewer, higher-quality things than many, average-quality ones. We’re okay with FOMO (fear of missing out) if that means compromising on quality. The list of things we’ve decided to not do vastly outnumber the few that we do. We’re okay with that.

Integrity

Integrity

We hold ourselves to a very high bar on integrity. Which means we aggressively disclose conflicts and take even the smallest of possible transgressions seriously.