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War Stories: User friendly in and out of the office

Thursday, August 10, 2000

By Astro Teller, CEO, Body Media

The underlying methodology for product development at BodyMedia is a process known as user-centered design. This is the process of crafting the experience of use for the user, rather than focusing on technology or marketing details that so often lead companies astray. We have tried hard at BodyMedia to apply this same methodology to creating BodyMedia "the company" and BodyMedia "the culture." Our belief is that by purposefully creating a positive experience for BodyMedia employees, we stand a better chance of creating what we really desire: a team in the truest and fullest sense of the word.

 
Astro Teller, Body Media 

BodyMedia's products and services are designed to promote and enable a healthy daily routine (HDR). Simple but profound if done right. If we are serious about this as a company, we need to practice internally what we preach externally. To this end we have created an open atmosphere, both physically and intellectually. We have committed ourselves to promoting our HDR by offering healthy beverages at work, massage therapy for mind centering, and various other "perks," not as gimmicks, but as genuine attempts to contribute to our employees overall well-being.

I'm willing to bet that BodyMedia is the only start-up company in Pittsburgh whose company handbook clearly states that its employees should try to limit their work time to 9 hours per day. Not that we couldn't keep busy for twice that long, but the HDR reminds us that those extra hours wouldn't be productive ones. They wouldn't contribute to the health of our employees or that of our company.

 
 

In addition, we believe deeply that humor is one of the most important wellsprings of creativity. I'd make another wager that BodyMedia is the only Pittsburgh company whose handbook explicitly states that each employee

 
    BodyMedia

The company develops fashionable, wearable health monitors that sense and automatically record important body stats. These monitors combined with the BodyMedia Web site form a system that helps people define, develop, and maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

 
 

has a responsibility to create humor in the workplace. But these are bets I'd be happy to lose; our interest in health isn't limited to BodyMedia.

Aside from making suggestions to our employees, BodyMedia offers the chance to become a part of various teams from the very first day of work. And I don't mean that figuratively. Each new addition is encouraged to contribute to all aspects of BodyMedia's development. Engineers meet with artists. Writers collaborate with scientists. User experience specialists offer suggestions to the product designers. Most importantly, everybody has a say in who we hire since we encourage a comfort level akin to the intimacy shared between close friends.

To accomplish this, we host BodyMedia outings pretty frequently to which we invite all of our employees, their significant others and kids. And when these movies, picnics or dinners coincide with the recruitment of a new employee, we go out of our way to invite him or her along. There seems to be no better way to convey to our current employees that their opinion of the recruit matters, or to showcase to our recruits that we really value the opinion of all of our employees, not just upper level management. How well we work and play together means a great deal to our ability to operate as a team, so hiring a new team member without input from the entire company would be foolish.

It may seem like a curious way to conduct an interview. But in our collective mind, there's no better way to find out if it's a tight fit than by extending an invitation for an evening with BodyMedia to do something that has absolutely nothing to do with work.

The feedback we received from a recent recruit confirmed that we're accomplishing what we set out to do. The environment we've created seems to give people the legitimate feeling that their input is having an impact not just on their respective projects but on the entire company. And, because of the nature of our products and their focus on healthy living, on mankind as a whole. In fact, this recent recruit just signed his offer letter to come aboard as our new VP of Engineering and in doing so, let us know that his decision to join us was based mostly on his sense of the positive experience he believes he'll have as part of BodyMedia. That means a lot coming from someone who wasn't actively job searching when we first introduced him to BodyMedia.

The secret payoff we get is not based on the success or failure of our recruiting effort. It's the knowledge that working on the recruiting project as a team has strengthened the team we've already built.


Earlier War Stories

Dave Nelsen of CoManage on the importance of checking your equipment

Sanjay Chopra of Online Choice says managing growth is managing people

Marcus Ruscitto of Stargate on not losing your focus while you diversify

Henry Wang of iventurelab.com on the 5 Ps of Pittsburgh start-up success

Tom Hayes of eSpotMarket on pinching pennies

Yitz Francus of e-Cruise on surviving the struggles

Michelangelo C. Celli of CommerBuilder.com on the value of true networks

Astro Teller of BodyMedia on how Pittsburgh almost lost his business

Matt Miller of Internet Venture Works on how Pittsburgh must start talking to the rest of the tech world

Sanjay Chopra of Online Choice on finding investors sometimes means finding yourself.

Dave Nelsen of CoManage on the physical challenges of managing in the New Economy


More on BodyMedia

The New Economy: Welcome! Now justify your ideas (5/9/00)

Wired for wellness (5/2/00)



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