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How values guide everything we do at Hotjar (yes, really)

What’s your first thought when you hear 'company values'?

Many of us are immediately skeptical. For the cynics, values = platitudes, corporate lip service, and that meaningless sign you point new joiners to, never to think about again.

Behind the scenes

Last updated

18 Aug 2022
How values guide everything we do at Hotjar

These feelings aren’t unfounded. The actions of many companies—in the news or from past personal experience—have shown that, too often, values are just a poster on the wall. 

But at Hotjar, it’s different. And before you roll your eyes, hear us out!

As words on our Team Manual alone, our values could be just nice-sounding phrases. But we actually believe in them. Our values have thoughtfully evolved over time, and we use them to guide everything from our decision-making to how we interact with our team and our users.

In fact, we anchor much of our success to the way we live out our values. As Hotjar’s COO, Ken Weary, puts it:

“It’s not that our values themselves are magical or perfect. Our pursuit to use them to truly guide the business is what makes us succeed.”

Want to peek behind the scenes of our success? Here’s what we mean by running a values-based company.

What drives Hotjar’s company values?

Respect, transparency, direct feedback, and an unwavering commitment to our customers. This is at the heart of how we work. It also forms the backbone of our company values. Here they are:

  1. Put our customers at the heart of everything

  2. Be bold and move fast

  3. Work with respect

  4. Build trust with transparency

  5. Challenge ourselves to grow

We didn’t pull these out of a hat or pluck them from a list of top values to make the company sound good. We evolved them over time. 

This became especially important as we started hiring beyond our five founding members. We needed to articulate principles that would help guide who and how we hire. 

Hotjar initially had 8 values, based on talks with the founders and learnings from other companies we respected. Three years later, as we continued to scale the team, we brought those values to the whole company for input and iteration. If interested, you can deep dive into how we’ve defined and adapted our values here

But just caring a lot about how you define your values means nothing on its own. What matters is how you use these values every day—from interactions within teams to business-changing decisions.

So let’s put these values to work.

Applying Hotjar’s values to real company situations

Translating carefully considered values to deliberate decision-making is an art we’ve been trying to perfect. We’re far from perfection, but in the spirit of our value to 'challenge ourselves to grow,' we continually push ourselves to be true to what we stand for.

Below are some examples of how we put our values into action across the company.

Designing our hiring process

Values reinforced: build trust with transparency.

Our company values are felt long before someone steps inside Hotjar’s virtual door. 

As a fully distributed team since our founding, we want to offer transparency into how our teams work, and this starts with our recruitment process. We also want to make sure that we identify talented individuals who align with our values. How do we do this?

We embed our value 'build trust with transparency' into our five-step hiring process. In our standard hiring process, it looks like this:

  1. Review received applications

  2. Contact successful candidates for a screening chat, or invite them to record a short video answering questions

  3. Invite candidates for a video interview with the hiring team

  4. Give finalists a paid, multi-day task to complete

  5. Make an offer to the most suitable candidate

Stage 4 isn’t your typical hiring step. The task usually takes a few days to complete, but we understand that people have other things going on in their lives. So candidates have two weeks to finish it on their own schedule.

Candidates are given access to other members of the Hotjar team via Slack. And connecting with team members will help candidates to complete their task. It’s a way for both the company and the candidate to evaluate each other in a transparent, trust-building way. 

We also provide expected compensation ranges from the get-go. We don’t believe in hiding information that candidates want, and deserve, to know.

So how does this contribute to Hotjar’s continued success?

It allows time and interactions for both parties to get to know each other. It also helps ensure that new team members will ultimately contribute to our core values. Ken put it best: 

“We use our core values throughout the hiring process to showcase what’s important to us, and we leverage everyone that joins the team in the pursuit to improve them as we grow.”

Selecting tools for our People team

Values reinforced: be bold and move fast.

As we’ve grown, our Recruiting and People teams have struggled to find the right tools to keep up with all of our people's needs—onboarding, time off, team directory, org chart, and compensation history.

We could have spent months researching and demoing options. Instead, after some initial research into the industry-standard tools, our Ops team made the quick decision to switch to BambooHR. We started with a first version that got the most important features up and running. And with our Business Enablement squad, we continue to ship personalized improvements to the tool nearly every week. 

As with most tools, we know there’s rarely an absolute solution. So we find what works for the people using it and adapt from there. Read more about the tools we use at Hotjar

Reviewing performance and promotions

Values reinforced: all of them.

At Hotjar, we have performance reviews every six months. It’s a 360-process including feedback from managers, peers, self-evaluations, and for leads, their direct reports. While we evaluate people according to their role-specific requirements, we also assess each Hotjar team member against how they exemplify our core values. In which are they the strongest? In what areas do they need to grow? What are some practical examples to help express this?

In a fully remote company where trust is key, personal accountability is essential. Like in any company, people need to prioritize how they use their time and attention. We trust our team to get the work done they’ve been hired to do. And we expect that the way they do this aligns with our core values. As our Director of People Success Emma Atkins frames it:

“People who are successful at Hotjar are good at their jobs. They also understand our values and principles and apply these in their daily interactions and decisions.”

Encouraging personal development

Values reinforced: challenge ourselves to grow.

Personal growth is an ongoing process that we highly value. So we put our money where our values are. Each team member gets an annual €1,000 personal development budget to put toward personal learning. 

What can people use it for? Nearly anything that helps them to grow. Books, courses, workshops—we encourage people to push themselves both in their immediate area of work expertise and also in adjacent areas that will make them more rounded contributors to their teams. Here’s Emma again:

"We don’t just tell people they need to pursue personal development. We provide a budget to enable them to grow.”

And to make sure our team’s own interests are covered by this personal budget, role-specific courses or conferences are covered by Hotjar.

Providing continuous, candid feedback

Values reinforced: challenge ourselves to grow, and work with respect.

When new hires start at Hotjar, they receive two books in their welcome pack: Radical Candor and The Pomodoro Technique. The second contains practical time management techniques. The first is about feedback—direct but caring feedback. 

Bring to mind a great teacher, mentor, or manager you’ve had. I bet they really cared about you and your growth. I bet they let you know when you were doing a great job. And I bet that along with deserved praise, they also helped you work on things you could be doing better. 

At Hotjar, we believe that candid feedback is key for individual growth and company success. We always strive for empathy in how we deliver it, but nobody gains when we stay quiet at the expense of producing our best work. Elephants in the wild need protection. Elephants in the room need attention.

“If we’re not willing to have difficult conversations, we deny each other the opportunity to learn and grow. Radical candor is part of building trust.”

– Emma Atkins, Director of People

Setting goals and leadership accountability

Values reinforced: all of them.

We just saw the CEO close his computer, walk past the front desk team member without saying hi, and head to the bowling alley with his pals at 3 pm on a Tuesday. Just kidding—we live in different countries, we don’t have an office or a front desk, and he prefers playing the drums. But just imagine that…

When leaders don’t live out the company values, the platitude-cynicism and corporate BS-views of values get their wings.

We want to make sure that doesn’t happen at Hotjar. Not because we feel we should stick blindly to some values—but because we actually believe in them.

That’s why our leadership team regularly reflects on how well they as leaders are demonstrating Hotjar’s core values. They know that if they start to slip, so will the rest of the company culture.

And it’s not just personal behavior. We carry this into how we set targets.

“Our values are built into how we construct our quarterly and annual goals.”

– Ken Weary, COO

What does this mean? When we set OKRs, we look at our values and make sure they inform and cross-check our goals. If a goal can’t be traced back to a value, or if an objective violates a value, it’s scrapped or reworked.

Prioritizing product development

Values reinforced: put our customers at the heart of everything, be bold and move fast, and challenge ourselves to grow.

Option 1: plan, design, and build a big, feature-dense product improvement that we think will totally transform our customers’ experience when it’s released in Q3. 

Option 2: put smaller, useful, feedback-driven improvements into the hands of our customers almost every week. 

We opt for option 2. Because the faster our customers can start benefiting from an update, the quicker we hear what they think, and then the faster we can make it even better. 

In the past, we’ve made the mistake of releasing big product updates without proper follow-up to make sure they landed as intended. Upon reflection, we learned why we fell short on those occasions, and we’re committed to not repeating those same mistakes. 

Now we release improvements constantly. And our weekly reviews also challenge us to grow by continually asking ourselves:

  • What went wrong

  • What was the impact

  • What did we learn for next time

Once that’s covered,  we let the mistake live in the past. 

Our mission is to make the web a better place. And we do this by providing product experience insights through Hotjar’s suite of tools. We believe that the quality that comes from fast iteration is more important than the quality of any single iteration. 

So we pursue big goals by prioritizing wisely, making quick decisions, and delivering incremental change. It’s not an obsession with speed. It’s an obsession with our customers. 

Reviewing accounts and making tough decisions

Values reinforced: work with respect, build trust with transparency.

Hotjar has little interest in toting political affiliations or public opinions on policy. But when we discovered that one of our big customers was clearly violating our 'work with respect' value, we took action. 

In 2020, it came to our attention that the Trump-Pence campaign was using Hotjar on their merchandise website. Repeated statements of racism, discrimination, and social division were in stark contrast with our values as a company. After discussion with our team, it was clear that this political platform stood at odds with our values—so we terminated their account. 

This was not a political decision. It was a values-based decision. They violated our Acceptable Use Policy, and they violated what we believe in.

Following that move, another of our values also came into play: build trust with transparency. We shared that Hotjar had earned 780 Euro from the closed account. In turn, we donated that money, plus an additional 50,000 Euro, to fight racism and injustice. Value-driven action.

Improving team meetings and rituals

Values reinforced: work with respect.

Imagine a meeting that begins like this:

“Okay everyone, should we get started? Does anyone have something they want to share today?”

In sessions designed for open feedback, this might work. But most of the time, it’s a sign that we’re not designing meetings that respect our co-workers’ time. 

This is where 'work with respect' comes in. And it goes back to the radical candor and continuous feedback we mentioned above. 

Here’s an example. Our Product teams have daily standups to track progress on weekly sprints. Is there a solid reason, other than ritual, why this requires everyone to drop what they’re doing to connect for 15 minutes each day? 

After some open discussion, we decided it might not be needed. So we’re experimenting with a hybrid standup system: half in real-time, half async via Slack threads.  

We’re also candid about the utility of other meetings. If we realize a scheduled meeting isn’t needed, we cancel it or move the relevant parts to an async chat. It’s about respecting time.

And there’s a flip side we try to keep in mind. A meeting might not feel relevant to you, but it could mean a lot to someone else. So we expect everyone to respect the other people on the call—we listen to what people have to say, and we allow time for questions. And we provide a clear agenda ahead of time.

Sharing through company documentation 

Values reinforced: build trust with transparency.

We all know the importance of being data-driven. But the only way to make that a reality is to have the data easily accessible to everyone. Anyone at Hotjar can access info on product usage or company stats through Tableau and Mixpanel. 

But it’s not only numbers. Presentations, docs, and designs are all accessible in Confluence, and no special permissions are needed to access privileged information. Our Brand Ops lead Adrià Cruz shared his experience with transparency:

"On day four of the job, I somewhat accidentally landed on a spreadsheet containing all the company financials. It didn’t feel right, so I went to my manager, who said with a smile, ‘Of course that's open to you, too.’"

Restructuring our Marketing team

Values reinforced: put our customers at the heart of everything, be bold and move fast.

Our product teams do a couple of things very well. First, they always build for the customer—prioritizing the most familiar frustrations and desires in product updates. They also move fast—delivering incremental improvements quickly while pushing toward the big vision.

In Marketing, we’ve recently restructured our teams to make sure we’re doing the same. 

We’re establishing a test culture, where we run MVPs to see what sticks before making big bets. This won’t keep us from doing bigger projects, but it does push us to break things into smaller chunks, so we’re continuously delivering customer value.

And we never start any project without first being clear on how the initiative will bring value to the intended audience. It might be education they can implement, it might be entertainment to make them smile. But like our product, we create and deliver for our customers. 

Creating content and social media

Values reinforced: put our customers at the heart of everything, build trust with transparency.

We’re writing and recording for you—to help you get deeper insights into your visitors’ and customers’ behavior and product experience.

We also share content to help you get to know us better, like why empathy is the core of our brand and about our failed startups before Hotjar took flight. Because we feel the best way to get to know us is to peek behind our curtain (and to try our product, of course).

Do we get it right? Not every time. But in the interest of challenging ourselves to grow, we encourage you as a reader to reach out and let us know what content you appreciate and what we need to improve. 

But really, do company values have anything to do with success?

Here they are again:

  1. Put our customers at the heart of everything

  2. Be bold and move fast

  3. Work with respect

  4. Build trust with transparency

  5. Challenge ourselves to grow

We’ve just walked through some examples of how these values drive personal interactions and business decisions across the company. But how does this translate into success?

To start, here’s how Hotjar’s business has grown with these values at our core:

Image source: GetLatka

But we don’t just measure success by revenue growth. We’re also building a company where people want to work.

At the time of writing, we have a Glassdoor company rating of 5 / 5. And we’re proud of this! But we still see space where we can challenge ourselves to grow.

We also see that people who work at Hotjar leave comments like these:

Source: Hotjar Culture FAQ (glassdoor.co.uk)
Source: Hotjar Culture FAQ (glassdoor.co.uk)

To see that our own people are willing to publicly share that we are true to our values speaks to the type of company we strive to be.

And we’ll continue to lean on and learn from this foundation as we build with our teams in the service of our customers.

This article was developed through a collaboration by Hotjarians Emma Atkins, Sara Bent, Adria Cruz and Ken Weary.

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