Open-sourcing Our Style Guide

in 18 months Fomo grew from a couple dudes in San Francisco to a double digit team around the world.

how does a remote company maintain high levels of customer success?

by codifying the positive choices that got them there in the first place; by adopting a shared style and approach to getting things done.

easing into it

if i describe our product as a "social proof notification" but a team member calls it a "widget" or worse, a "popup," that's no bueno.

having written about hating popups, cognitive dissonance is likely.

or, what if an engineer in California explains a new feature to a client in Australia, that a team member in Japan deployed before going to sleep.

think our game of "telephone" might backfire? you betcha.

loose language confuses customers, and it hurts brands.

so today we're sharing this style guide to better govern:

  • copywriting on our website, newsletters, and knowledge base
  • conversational tones in live chat and emails
  • presentation materials for trade shows, FBI investigations, etc

and just like that, now we're "in" it.

is it OK to make jokes about the FBI watching us? sure.

why?

because they're not very trustworthy these days, and Fomo favors honesty over political correctness.

oh boy, this will be fun.

style guides are critical

whether a company documents language preferences or not, they exist.

engineers know how to describe their code. support teams know how to articulate common user challenges.

sadly, these insights are rarely shared.

to absolve this internally, last fall we launched the Fomo Bible.

fomo support bible

this is an employee-only handbook of tips, tricks, and best practices for technical support requests.

everything from "how to upgrade a pricing plan mid-subscription" to "bypassing iFrame cross origin blocks on Windows 10 Chrome" to "mapping SKUs to product URLs in Magento Enterprise" has been documented ad nauseam.

the Fomo Bible is a game changer.

start small

with a successful pilot under our belt, let's formalize a set of principles for external communication with customers and partners.

  1. brand voice
  2. attitude
  3. tone
  4. vocabulary

brand voice

when i worked for Red Bull we did an exercise where they explained, "if Red Bull were a person, he was the first of his friends to start smoking, and the first to quit."

later someone said "a logo isn't a brand unless it's stamped on a cow."

this was 8 years ago, and it stuck with me.

brand is the personification of your pathos, ethos, and logos.

couple examples:

our first landing page featured this doodle of Arnold Schwarzenegger holding a pistol, with a headline "Inspire Action" underneath.

Fomo and the Governator

days after launching on Product Hunt, a prospect complained about the weaponry. our designer immediately resolved the issue, replacing the hand gun with a much larger assault rifle.

fast forward a few months, Fomo introduced achievement badges for milestones like 1,000 clicks or 50 conversions.

the verbiage in our badge emails was... crude at best.

Fomo badge

customers griped just hours after our first batch of ~900 emails.

in this case, we did* change the email copy and are less likely to be sued (or laughed at) when Fomo accounts achieve 5,000 impressions.

did we handle these situations correctly? maybe. the point is, we're OK with offense if it means getting closer to the truth.

a poster on my Kindergarten class wall read "The popular thing and the right thing are often not the same."

attitude

at my first full-time job after college there was a period where 3 team members told me what to do, on a team of 10 people.

i said to our CEO, "if i wanted more than 1 boss, i would have just gotten a real job..." for the remainder of my tenure i reported to him alone.

since leaving that role and starting companies myself, i think a lot about the trade-offs between startup gigs and corporate gigs.

tl;dr: if your startup feels like a big corporation, minus the money and the perks, you're doing it wrong.

how this translates to Fomo?

  • nothing is irreversible (bugs and server crashes make us laugh)
  • tight monthly budget but "loose" on team retreats, trade shows, etc
  • flat org structure, aka politics-free

we also say "no drama" a lot, but that's probably the fault* of our Canadian engineer Chris.

*we're a diverse team, tolerant of all cultures, even Canada

tone

in startup mantra the idea is to build an MVP, achieve some degree of product-market fit, then scale.

step 1
building MVP's is easy, you just hack for 13.5 hours straight and launch.

step 2
product-market fit is also easy. ask people to trial your product [free], then fix bugs until Stripe auto-charges them. hit 100 charges and investors will fund you.

step 3
scaling is generally where startups hire a sales team, measure a "pipeline," sign up for e-signature tools, and send Calendar invites with conference bridge PINs.

because Fomo = social proof, we believe there's a reservoir of opportunity hanging out in your existing client pool, sales-call free.

for this reason we don't do Step 3 (yet).

we also don't push people to 'act' a certain way when they contact our support team. even if they bribe us:

Fomo bribe fail

Fomo's tone is characterized by phrases like "no worries," "take your time," and "I definitely encourage you to check out competitors before making a decision."

after all, if we wanted to treat strangers aggressively we would have become Financial Advisors.

vocabulary

in the first draft of this post, grammar and vocabulary were at the top.

but our words are a representation -- a manifestation -- of everything else, not the other way around.

pending attitude, we may be more or less kind. pending brand voice, our speech may be prepared in advance or censored by corporate overlords.

at Fomo there is no conspiracy.

here are a few speech patterns i dislike:

  • basically -> patronizing to tech savvy customers
  • pop-up -> Fomo is not a pop up
  • ask them -> delegates blame to external forces or tools
  • sorry -> unless it's true

and here are a few i enjoy:

  • snippet (instead of "widget")
  • thank you for waiting / for your patience
  • we're all set (no action needed by client, it's magic)
  • stoked to have you on board
  • ping us anytime, or call my cell XXX XXX XXXX

Fomo is perhaps the first multi-million dollar enterprise where "executives" write in lowercase: blog posts, newsletters, sales pitches to Fortune 500 companies, everything.

we also don't believe in hyperbole or exclamatory rah-rah tactics.

this means few or zero "!" exclamation marks in our copywriting.

no "better act fast" false urgency or scarcity for products (software) that inherently have unlimited supply and near 100% margins.

question for you, dear reader:

why do modern tech companies rely on language from 1950's consumer packaged goods commercials to sell their products?

don't "!" me bro.

what's next?

today's "intro to Fomo Physics" barely scratches the surface of our approach to brand identity and communications.

Fomo

this doc is a living, breathing one; my colleagues are invited to contribute their own wisdom and best practices.

future sections might include:

  • handling unhappy clients (ethical judgements framework)
  • launching features hype-free
  • guide to admitting when we screw up (and learning from it)
  • competitive marketing do's and dont's
  • social media strategy
  • partnership sales techinques

hope to see you back here, then.