Email transparency

Posted on by Brandon Klein

A few months ago, Alex blogged about how we work at Stripe. In the post, he described how almost all of Stripe’s email is public inside the company. Since then, many people have asked about how this email openness actually works. Is it really the case all our mail is copied to a list? If so, how do we avoid drowning in email?

This post is an attempt to describe a little more about why we do this and how we stay afloat. Background

Initially, the motivation for having all email be internally public and searchable was simply to make us more efficient. If everyone automatically knew what was happening, we needed fewer meetings, and our coordination was more fluid and more painless if we could all keep up with the stream.

As we’ve grown, the experiment has become about both efficiency and philosophy. We don’t just want Stripe to be a successful product and company. We also want to try to optimize the experience of working here. As as we’ve grown, we’ve come to realize that open email can help.

We value autonomy, rigorous debate, and avoiding hierarchy to the extent that we can. Startups often pride themselves on having a flat management structure but are eventually forced to put a formal coordination infrastructure in place as the number of actors grows. So far, our experience has been that an ambiently open flow of information helps to provide people with the context they need to choose useful things to work on. It doesn’t eliminate the need for other kinds of structure, but it does make emergent coordination much easier and more likely.

It also makes it more likely that controversial issues are addressed as they arise, counteracting inevitable conflict-avoidance tendencies. The open flow obviates a lot of internal politics and avoids the sort of accidental surprises that sometimes crop up in organizations. It also makes everyone happier. Most people at Stripe are information junkies, and are naturally curious about how other parts of the organization work. We want to encourage that.