As reported in TechCrunch today, for the past six months my team and I have been quietly working on something new. It’s a software startup called Murmur, and it’s going to change the world of work.
Let’s face it, work sucks. You’ve seen it firsthand. Tensions between teams. Meetings to prepare for meetings. Leaders who suck up all the oxygen in the room. Talented people unable to make decisions and move the work forward. Unclear priorities. A lack of diversity, equity, and belonging. Products and customers that suffer as a result.
The challenges humanity faces— from pandemics to politics — are complex. And the recent shift to remote work adds a whole new layer of confusion and frustration. The time has come to stop treating the way we work as an afterthought.
But change is hard. If you’re a fast growing startup, there’s no time to stop, think, or catch your breath. If you’re a global enterprise, the red tape and overwhelming scale just wear you down. Even with billions and billions in potential savings and gains on the table (not to mention the hearts and minds of every working adult), we have yet to see a system of record for change emerge and conquer the status quo.
Deep down, we know how to unf**k our organizations and institutions (ask any employee what’s holding them back and they’ll tell you). We simply lack the means. The vast majority of teams have no mechanism for making things better in a distributed way. Until now, we’ve left it to our “fearless” leaders to save the day. But, leadership doesn’t have to be lonely. The truth is, if we want rapid growth, or agility, or diversity and inclusion, we need everyone working IN the business working ON the business. The question then, is how can we unleash teams to solve their own problems?
- We build amazing software on top of code developed by other teams. Why not build a company with personalized policies borrowed from the most famous work cultures in the world?
- We create some of the world’s most groundbreaking ideas using processes like design thinking. Why not leverage a proven process for decision-making around working practices that brings teams to consent faster and cultivates a culture of experimentation?
- We test-and-learn by deploying a thousand different versions of our digital products. Why not create a feedback loop around every team’s work practices so that we can learn from experience, and each other?
We can and we will. Murmur aims to do for working practices what GitHub did for code. Our mission is to help every team agree to work better together. We bring this to life through a software application that enables teams to create, test, improve, scale, share, and implement something we call “working agreements.”
Everything is an agreement.
Agreements about what? Nearly everything you’ve ever argued about at work. Policies, processes, principles, charters, strategies, goals, metrics, meetings, missions, structures, roles, tools, and workflows... all are potential agreements. If it’s about how teams work, we probably support it.
Murmur gives teams at every level the power to create agreements from scratch, from a template, or by borrowing ways of working from some the most famous work cultures on Earth. Creating a vacation policy, for example, could be an uphill battle for a startup — but adapting Patagonia’s policy as a starting point is an octane booster, keeping teams focused on solving problems that haven’t been solved before.
Every agreement is an experiment.
While the principles behind successful cultures are not experimental, the way they’re expressed is always an adventure. Murmur allows teams to set expiration dates that reflect how experimental an agreement might be. Totally novel? Perhaps it expires in two weeks. Totally proven? Let’s re-examine it in one year. And what’s more, Murmur collects feedback about every agreement in action on a regular rhythm. You’ll know what’s working, what isn’t, and what to do about it before the competition finishes editing their PowerPoint proposal about their next great re-org.
Good luck getting my colleagues to agree!
We get it. People can be… difficult. There’s a graveyard of Google Docs out there, buried in passive aggressive comments. But that’s why our method is so revolutionary. We’ve transformed the best thinking on governance and organizational decision making into an automated flow that’s based on the principle of consent. It’s not consensus. Our goal isn’t for everyone to love every agreement. And it’s not autocracy. Teams hold power in Murmur, not individuals. Consent is about what is safe to try — tolerable, coherent, and moves us forward. So, our software holds everyone to that standard. You’d be surprised how fast you can move with that principle built into the fabric of the process. The famously self-organized Morning Star Company shaped their early culture around two powerful beliefs: Don’t use force. Keep commitments. That’s the spirit.
From whence we came.
On the journey from idea to incorporation Murmur was proudly supported by The Ready, the organizational change practice I founded five years ago. My colleagues and partners there, many of whom are now shareholders in Murmur, have been incredibly helpful in creating the space and possibility for something new to emerge. They know better than anyone that achieving our purpose — to change the way the world works — is going to require leverage. And nothing scales like software. Murmur plans to partner with The Ready (and other change firms like it) to help them scale their impact. Together, we can build a platform that increases everyone’s reach.
Meet the team.
Though it’s still early days, Murmur is already supported by an incredible group of people. Our small but mighty team has built the future before at places like Webflow, Front, and Google. Their experience and intuition is helping us get a lot of things right, and also pushing us to make new and more interesting mistakes. Our initial investment was led by Lerer Hippeau Ventures, with participation from SemperVirens, Human Ventures, and Remote First Capital. They were joined by a group of phenomenal angel investors including Steve Schlafman, Mariano Suarez-Battan (CEO Mural), Brian Sugar (CEO of PopSugar), Lisa Lewin (CEO of General Assembly), and Adam Pisoni (co-founder of Yammer). We are truly lucky to have access to these brilliant and principled human beings.
What’s different this time?
Many other companies have attempted what Murmur is setting out to accomplish. With wikis. With websites. With documents in folders, in folders, in folders. But in our humble opinion, it never quite works out. What makes us different is that we focus squarely on the magic of agreements—the ability to get everyone on the same page and try something remarkable—and in that area we aspire to be unabashedly world class. We’re not a doc editor. We’re not a new OS in a box. We’re not trying to eat your other software. We’re here to help you work better together, truly. And that requires commitment and audacity.
We won’t rest until Murmur has made working agreements the norm rather than the exception. Why should Netflix, Spotify, GitLab, Basecamp, and a dozen other firms have all the fun? We envision a world where every team gets better every day through the magic of agreements — and work becomes as adaptive, transparent, inclusive, meaningful, and human as it can be. I hope you’ll join us on that journey.
Want to be the first to test Murmur?
We are conducting usability tests now, with plans for a private beta in Q2. If you’re interested in testing Murmur with your team, sign up at murmur.com. While you’re at it, follow us on Twitter.