Michele shares her takeaways from the book The Culture Map and what it might mean for getting product feedback and building products across countries.
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Michele Hansen 0:00
Hey, Colleen. Hey, Michelle. So, I have been reading, as I am wanting to do
Colleen Schnettler 0:07
Michele Hansen 0:09
That's crazy, right? And there is a book that I just finished recently that has really stuck in my brain might even be the best book I've read this year, which Wow, something? Yeah, it's, it's really just, it's really sitting in my brain in a good way. And I want to talk about it a little bit. So it's called the Culture Map. Have you heard of this book? I have not. Okay. So people have suggested this book to me, like a bunch of people suggested it, and I finally ordered it recently. And then I started reading it. And like 20 pages in I went to Montana. And I was like, you have to read this book. And then he started reading it, too. Wow. And so basically, it's written by this, I guess you could call her like an international collaboration consultants. So she goes into like big companies that have employees all over the world, and helps them work better together. Or like, for example, when I like she lives, she's an American living in France. And so like, if a French company like L'Oreal, let's say, is sending 20 French people over to work in the Tokyo office, like, they meet with her, and she brings in local culture experts to prepare them for the move. Okay, and so this book is based on her extensive research on how different cultures work, like, in a business perspective, is really fascinating, like, and it's very, I think, very well researched, which I feel like it's kind of the little bit of a concern I have about talking about books about different country cultures is that they're basically just based on generalizations or anecdotes. But he actually did extensive surveying and interviewing, leading up to this book. And until it basically puts, you know, several dozen countries on a scale for eight different measures. And this is things like feedback, or how they make decisions, like, are they consensus driven, versus, you know, hierarchy driven? How they think about time, you know, is it fixed linear time versus the more flexible sense of time. And basically, as a kind of, you know, everything is, you know, every country is sort of a center point on their bell curve. So there is variation within a country. And so it's more so to see like, the relative places of different countries on these things, so that if you're, for example, working with somebody in a different country, and you're having kind of a conflict with them, you can be like, oh, wait a minute, is this is actually kind of like a cultural thing, like where we like this is actually relate to how we were trained in school to say, think about how to present a problem or how to make a persuasive argument. And is that why we're having this clash right now. So this book is really fascinating me because it explains a lot of things that I have seen. And it is also giving me new things to think about, and everybody should read it. But I feel like I should start with an example. Right? Because you're probably like, you're looking at me right now. Like, where she going with this. The one I'm going to talk about first is principles First, versus applications, first cultures. Okay? And this is a scale so from so if you just picture like a straight line from principles, first to applications first. And any principles, first culture, people in school, and also how they are taught to make arguments is you start with the underlying principles behind something, before you move to specific examples of something, okay? In an applications first culture, you would start with the examples first, and then you weave in the theory as you go. So you learn the theory, through the process of the examples. The US is an applications first culture, which is exactly why you're looking at me right now saying, what is the point here? And what how does? How do I actually know? Right? That is exactly the point. And I'm reading this and I know I love it. Oh, my God, my book is A Practical Guide to interviewing customers. And I was like, you don't like if you want the theory, you can go find it. Here's some books that give it to you. That's fine. But like, let's just get to the practical things. Right? Very, very, I was like, Oh my god. Meanwhile, other cultures like talks about like France, and actually like Germany, Northern Europe are very much like this, that you start with the principles first. Okay. So like, if you're learning a language, you would learn all of the grammar first, even if you're not going to use it and you have no idea how it applies. You learn the entire system and the structure first. And then you do the specific examples, but it also talks about how like this impacts how people make arguments and how the or the job present ideas, right. And I was proud that I was reading and I was like, Oh my gosh, this actually explained some feedback I got on my book from people in like Russia and France and other countries that like they didn't see like the the overarching theory behind it first and where they were having trouble getting into it. And it's so funny because it actually relates to something that Matias and I talk about very often just like in our life together, which is that he will start talking about something. And I, he will get, you know, the equivalent of like five or six sentences into it. And then he will actually mentioned what his point was from it. And I'm like, you're burying the lede here, like, hold on a minute, like, what, like, this is what you were saying this entire time like, and like we actually, I mean, it was kind of a kind of an argument a couple of months ago, where I was like, I mean, I was like, super stressed out, like, you know, I have language school going on, like everything, and maybe not in my best most listening spouse mode with all the stress going on. And I kept missing things that he was saying, and I was like, I really need you to like, give me the subject line first, when you talk to me, because it's not clear what you're telling me is important until much later, but then I have been spending all of this time listening to you trying to figure out what the point was. And then I lose track of what you're saying, because I'm trying to figure out what the point is, and I can't follow it. And so this basically says, like, Okay, wait, like, and I kind of preempt him now. And I'm like, hold on, you're burying the lede? Like what? Like, what is going on? Oh, okay. Meteor hit the Earth. Wow. Okay. Thank you for telling me that two paragraphs it. And we're reading this, and I was like, Oh, my God, this is exactly why because like, as you know, Americans at school, you're taught, this is my point. Here are my three examples for why I have these points. Here's my conclusion. For my point, you tell them what you're going to tell them, you tell them, then you tell them what you told them. What you tell countries actually start out with, here's the overarching principle behind this. Here are three ways you might see this pop up. Here's a specific example. Here's the point. Wow, like it's all the way to the end. And I was like, that's fair. Oh, my God. It was, it was really a moment and then end. But it's so funny, he talks about it in the book, because it talks about, you know, somebody like, I think they went to work in the UK. And they they prepared what they thought was, I think it was a German person, they prepared what they thought was a very convincing presentation, where they're talking through this, this this overarching theory that, you know, unites everything they're talking about, and all of these, you know, think places people might see this theory and how it applies. And then at the very end, and they got this very, this feedback from their British manager that was like, to the effect of which not they wouldn't say this way is it basically everybody fell asleep before you actually got to the point. Which is really funny. But another thing I really thinking about this one is feedback and how people give feedback. So related to what I was just saying, is, certain countries give negative feedback in different ways. This also depends on whether it's a hierarchical culture or not, and also how open they are to giving positive feedback to really differs. And this is the thing that's, I think, sticking in my head the most given that I spend so much time thinking about feedback and wrote a book on people getting feedback. And, you know, when I wrote the book, I, you know, I spent a certain amount of time trying to make it internationally accessible. So, you know, I talked to people from all over the world, the majority of the people I talked to were
not Americans, or even British. And I like I tried to include that. And there's, you know, examples of how you might use more deferential language in Japan or, or Germany, for example, but different cultures give feedback in different ways. So, Americans, for example, we are known for what I might call the stuffed sandwich, the feedback sandwich, where we say something positive, and then we say something negative, and then we say something positive. Or we will say, you know, two or three positive things first, even though there really aren't any positive things to be said, we will find something Oh, we are so good at finding something positive to say. And then we will say the negative thing at the end. And we will say it much more directly. Maybe not very directly but more directly than say a British person might who might frame you know, they might say, you know, oh, this section here is very interesting, when what they actually mean is is a complete disaster and you need to rethink it entirely. Right? We will be like I might spend a little bit more time on this part of your PowerPoint, right like it would be it would be guarded but on the other hand, is talking about how like people in the Netherlands for Example. And she talks about one of her sessions, there was a man who gave some very, what we would call harsh and direct feedback to one of his co workers in the middle of a meeting they were having with other people there, which, in the US, you cannot give negative feedback publicly, versus this was actually seen as something that is a sign of respect. Do it that way, right. And so it also explains why Oh, like people say Americans are fake. Because we're not giving, like, direct what we would call harsh feedback, right? Or we give too much positive feedback, and other people don't think it's warranted. And they might think it says, like, you know, French people, for example, would start with the negative feedback first. Interesting, and be more reticent to give positive feedback, which I haven't thinking so much about this. It also really makes me think about the merits of kind of doing a process based interviewing because we're not saying hello person, is my product good or bad? Do you like it like that is the when you've learned how to interview or talk to a customer that the first thing you learn is, don't ask that question, you're not going to get anything useful back, right, you're just gonna get social performance back. And but if you ask someone about their process, and throughout the process of that, you learned that the problem you're solving is not a problem that they experience, or it's not a significant one, it's not one they spend a lot of time or money on. Like that can come through without them falling into these social routines, basically this like social programming that we have. But it's also a really interesting thing about like hierarchy to you know, some cultures are very egalitarianism, for example, Denmark is very egalitarian. Where you know, the fact that the Prime Minister or you know, would bicycle to work, or you know, you can see them in the coffee shop, or like, even like the Royals, you see them like jogging down the street, like,
Colleen Schnettler 11:52
you have Royals. Yeah, we got no,
Michele Hansen 11:57
no, yeah. Okay. There's a royal family in Denmark, I have to study all of them. It's part of my right, David shore thing if I have to do. Yeah, no, we have a royal family. Anyway, very egalitarian, even though the fact that we have royal family. And then there's very hierarchical cultures, I think, you know, names like India and Japan, for example, being very hierarchical. And that also impacts the kind of feedback you would give someone, both with how honest you might be and also how you might treat them. So for example, you know, there's an example of a, you know, a Russian person, like calling up someone in another department who they perceive as below them, and like berating them in order to do something. And then she asks them why and she's like, Well, during Soviet times, like, oh, strangers were dangerous, you didn't know if they were gonna report you to the Government or not. So you were just harsh with them, like, because you didn't know. And I was like, oh, okay, you know, or it being like publicly acceptable to call out someone who is inferior, for example, in public, but you would never ever give any sort of feedback to your boss, even if they ask you for feedback. So like this example of a Danish manager who goes to Japan, and tries to brainstorm with his team, and they literally won't tell him anything, because they are so afraid of sharing an opinion that he does not agree with. Interest. Yeah. And so I'm like, Oh, wow, hey, this is really, really interesting stuff for like, how do we first of all as like product people, how do we get feedback on what we're building, but also then all these things about, you know, applications versus principles First, like, that probably impacts how we do onboarding, right? Like that impacts whether someone thinks the idea you're explaining to them is convoluted or not, right? Because I might look at the exact same argument and say, okay, the fact that that's the point, you don't get to it till like the fifth sentence. Like, I didn't know if I should be paying attention until the very end, so I wasn't paying attention. That's very convoluted. But somebody else might look at that, oh, that was a very convincing argument, because you've laid out all of the underlying principles first, and then you got to the point, right. And so I think this also impacts how we build products. And even I mean, I'm like, I'm glad I didn't read this before I wrote my book in a way because I would have liked, like, if I had read this book, in May of 2021. When I was in my intense editing days of my book, I would have like, completely redone it, and I was already complete, like, you know, like, I was already doing a complete structural edit every week. Wow. Yeah. It's like it's really really fascinating stuff. For both of you live internationally, whether you know, you're your spouse is international, like me, or you live in another country, or you're simply selling to people who live in different countries, which most of us are. It's really, really fascinating. It's just it's really just kind of burrowed a hole in a good way in my brain and I can't stop thinking about it.
Colleen Schnettler 14:52
Interesting. Does the book offer or are you now coming up with like, do you actively Let me ask in a different way, have you actively changed your behavior? Because of the book.
Michele Hansen 15:08
I think the one thing I'm really thinking a lot more about is the whole thing about applications first versus examples first. And I don't know if I'm gonna be able to change my behavior on that. Right, but it might explain certain challenges that I've had. Now, I think there's one is worth caveat being that like, the book is about business culture, which can be very different than than personal life culture. For example, something I have struggled with here is that even though the book says that feedback is very direct, and like Denmark is specifically named as being very direct politeness here is very different. And there is the fact that everyone is equal. But the way you the way you structure a sentence to be polite. If you translated it literally to English, it would be overly deferential. And so that a egalitarian this means you basically treat everyone as better than you, in your language. Like it's very, it's like very hypothetical. And like, you know, like, for example, like, if I want to text one of the other parents at the school, I can't, like, I can't just text them and say, like, hey, like, let's schedule a playdate for our daughters next week. Like, I cannot text that. It has to be something to the effect of, hey, like, how was your weekend? I was thinking that maybe it might be nice. If you're around if our daughters got together for a playdate next week. What do you think about that? Like? It's so like, it's like every text message I send, I have to check with your husband. Because I'm like, did I throw in enough maybes in this, like, is this hypothetical enough like versus in English? Like, you just put it in subjunctive? Right? You should say, like, instead of saying, you know, you want to sell you get that from me, what do you get that from it? Right? You just turn it into a would, could or should, right? And then it's yeah, basically, almost effectively polite. And in Danish, you have to throw in tons of maybes. And so I'm like, Okay, so maybe business culture is more direct, but personal life culture is much more indirect. And so and so the book is only on business culture. And I, of course, I have not worked in in in a workplace here. So I think that's something I'm just it's just really, it's giving me kind of framework to think about these things in a way that I didn't have previously. I'm more so at the stage right now, where I'm thinking about things like, for example, you know, the Dutch directness, of course, you know, every country has its differences. Every region within a country has its differences. Every person within a country has their differences, right. And so there's only so many things that are applicable to every single person. But you know, sort of, when he goes sort of all at all, like, you know, the way I would structure an argument is much more similar to the way you would structure an argument than it might be somebody in Germany, right. And there will be some differences there. But it's something that has me thinking about is, you know, so Dutch people are known for their directness, and they're very proud of this too, whenever I've talked to them about it as well. And people from the Northeast where I'm from are also known for our directness, which you see in Dr. Deborah tannins work a linguist, and also just, you know, the fact that basically, everybody else thinks people from the Northeast are kind of rude and abrasive. And I'm like, is this way that like, most of the friends I made the summer at conferences were like, Dutch or Flemish? Like, is it because we share this directness that we found it very easy to relate to one another? Interesting. Yeah. Right. Yeah. And it doesn't mean that you, you know, you can't be friends with other people from from other places, right. Like, I have friends from all over. But it was like, Is this why I was attracted? Like, is this is this why it was so easy for me to strike up conversations with them? And like, kind of sit down and get to know them? Because we're both very direct?
Colleen Schnettler 18:49
Because you have that in common? Yeah.
Michele Hansen 18:51
Yeah. And it also can be directness in like, in like, different ways to, you know, like, you know, I think was saying that, like, you know, British indirectness is actually different than American indirectness.
Colleen Schnettler 19:03
Tell me, I'm curious about this.
Michele Hansen 19:06
There's a whole like, I mean, there's a whole chart in here. I mean, you've probably seen these floating around on Twitter of like, you know, woven white British say and what they actually mean. Okay, this is something that, you know, floats around on Twitter, and usually I see it because British people I follow are sharing it going, Oh, this is so true. It's funny. It's basically like, it's basically like an mean, girls, when she compliments that girl's skirt. And she's like, Oh, my God, I love your skirt. And then like a second later, she like the girl walks in. She's like, that is the ugliest skirt I've ever seen. Like little bit like that. Right? Like they will never actually tell you if they don't like something. Ah, right. Like, like, yes. You know, they might say, Oh, this is a very interesting idea, which actually means this is a terrible idea.
Colleen Schnettler 19:48
It's a terrible idea. Yeah, got it. Yeah.
Michele Hansen 19:52
I mean, it's all these things on sort of like using minimizing words like, you know, like, oh, well, this was a little bit of a disaster means it was a complete mess. faster, right? So Americans would use a word that that income encompasses it. And it's whole, right. So a complete disaster, versus the British might say, it was a little bit of a disaster, which means it was a complete disaster.
Colleen Schnettler 20:12
Okay, I see. Interesting.
Michele Hansen 20:15
Um, and so yeah, it's just, it's really, really gotten into my head and thinking about how we get feedback and, and how we build products. And even just, you know, how we give customer service to people in different countries like us, we have the idea that the customer is always right. But by contrast, in northern Europe, I mean, you know, I've sort of joked that sometimes just trying to buy something from somebody is like, converting to Judaism, like, you have to knock on their door three times, until you finally convinced them that you should be able to buy something like it like that you should be able to give them money. I mean, it's just it's, and then the, you know, you do not get Service with a smile, right? And so that effectively in the US, the customers kind of, if there's a, if you're thinking about hierarchy, the customer is kind of above the person providing the product or the service, even just ever so slightly, which impacts how when I, you know, do an interview, I treat the other person differentially? Yeah, and this is something I haven't been able to figure out is, you know, the sort of, like, intersectionality of okay, hierarchy and feedback, for example, are there cultures where people like you should actually be treated like an equal? Or should they even? Like, should you should you treat yourself basically as superior and how you talk to someone when you're trying to get feedback from them? Like, does that give you more honest feedback, which is kind of confounding to me, but that's confounding to me, because I come from a culture where the customer's always right, right? Like, we elevate the customer above ourselves, right? And so it just has me kind of just rethinking a lot of things and interesting data, or not rethinking that maybe so just kind of thinking about them in a different way. And just thinking about, you know, assumptions I make about onboarding or right, you know, the idea that people want to get to it as fast as possible. What if they actually right, you know, one of the, you know, we're like we've seen all the time that like, our Doc's are the are our biggest landing page. And I think you've seen this too, for simple file upload. And, you know, I asked Adam Lathan, about this a while ago, the same is true for tailwind. Like, what if people want to see the principles first? Right. Like, or when they go to the docs? Like, are the Americans looking at the examples on the side, while the French people are looking at the structure of the street? Yeah. And the principles, right, like, yeah, how does this differ? And like, how would they expect to be treated in a product experience? I mean, and, you know, unless you're a massive company, you know, building products all over the world, like, we can't, you know, I can't design one product experience for each country, right? Like, that's, I mean, as a small company, that's not something we can do. But you know, if if I were a huge company, like Google or stripe, this would be something I would very much be thinking about, is okay, maybe the reason why a product we sold in a new market, the reason why it wasn't resonating is because you know, how we told the story was wrong, right. Like we talked about the book story brand. Right? Is that an American centric version of, of telling a story? How might other countries tell a story? And is that even an individualistic view of a story? Right, like, which is also another American thing? Right, we prioritize the individual over the group, you know, talking about how like Scandinavian countries, for example, but as well as he's talking about Japan, as well, like, we'll prioritize group decision making. Mmm, interesting. Yeah. So it was just really, really, really interesting stuff that I'm so glad I sprang for a print edition and you know, got it shipped to me from Germany, because it was 1,000% worth it. Like, I know, I'm going to be rereading this book a lot in the future. And I mean, quite frankly, it belongs on everybody's bookshelf right next to you. No story brand and no. demand side sales. I would say it should be on there. Well, it will do a whole episode someday on how to do a business book shelves, books, the books that make the the priority shelters I have like I like rankings of like shelves, like if there's like I have like special shelves. Yeah, no, the Culture Map is really, really
Colleen Schnettler 24:24
good. The Culture Map. Yeah, sounds great. Sounds like it was really useful and interesting.
Michele Hansen 24:29
Seems like you're kind of just like sort of absorbing and
Colleen Schnettler 24:33
yeah, so I have a somewhat tangentially related story, which is not really related, but whatever. So when I lived in Chicago, I worked for a division of Motorola. And this is back in the day when Motorola was like the IT company. It's before the iPhone guys. So sorry,
Michele Hansen 24:47
actually, my dad worked for Motorola in the 90s. Did he
Colleen Schnettler 24:51
okay, it wasn't the 90s Okay, yeah,
Michele Hansen 24:53
sorry. You're not that old.
Colleen Schnettler 24:58
Anyway, actually, I think the iPhone had come out, but the razor was still cool. It doesn't matter. Anyway, I worked for the automotive division, Motorola had an automotive division and it was purchased while I worked there by Continental automotive, which is a German company. And so I you know, and I'm 24 years old or whatever. So I did have a little bit of it was a little bit like having never worked for an international company before. I did have some, like kind of interesting experiences switching from an American company to a German company, but I have this like really distinct memory. I have this bad habit where I cracked my knuckles. I feel like a lot of people in America crack their knuckles, it's like not a problem. I go to Germany, I go to Berlin, and I'm there on site for a week. And we're in this conference room. And I just like cracked my knuckles. Literally everyone in the conference room like stopped. It was like, like, it was this terrible thing. Anyway, that's my story about working for German company. I freaked him out when I cracked my knuckles. And luckily, Cal. So yeah, culture is important. So don't freak out your new coworkers knuckle cracking, if you're an American. That's my that's my contribution.
Michele Hansen 26:07
Did you notice differences and like how, you know, like management made decisions or communicated roadmaps or priorities when it switched from being American to German?
Colleen Schnettler 26:19
So we were still I mean, our product manager and our direct manager, I mean, I was at the bottom of the food chain. Right, they were still American. So I wasn't really exposed to that level of decision making, but I'm sure it was there. Right. I'm sure the upper, you know, the upper echelon dealt with that.
Michele Hansen 26:33
Yeah, I mean, because another thing this, this talks about, specifically with reference to Americans and Germans is whether something is a like, I like how groups make decisions. And how basically, when American companies make decisions, it's usually there's like, built in flexibility. They're, like, we'll schedule a meeting to come to a decision, but that decision might actually continue to change throughout time, but it's kind of like a snapshot in time of the decision. And then we continue to learn things, and then the decision changes. And the Germans apparently find this endlessly frustrating because they're like, wait a minute, like, we just, like, we just made a decision. And now we're changing the decision, like what it is, it's against the rule versus like, like, and then they're like, but also everybody wasn't consulted before we had this meeting on the decision, like versus they would spend, you know, three times the amount of time getting feedback from everyone building plans circulating for feedback. And then when they actually get to the point of making the decision, it is a decision like it is done it is final it is a court ruling, like it is not changing. And how this can be you know, very, very, like frustrating for people. Yeah, it's it's really and he's also interested in seeing like the differences a lot between you know, sort of Scandinavia versus versus other, you know, Western European countries versus like Southern Europe, like like the Latin influenced countries. It's really, really fascinating. And it helps explain some things that I have experienced and probably other people have experienced as well. Well, this has been a good book club next time we're going to have a book club I'm gonna tell you what the book is. So you can read it or you can not or you can not read it and then you can relate it to your own personal life, which is just what book clubs are people who have read the back and then talking about their lives.
I will talk to you again soon.
Colleen Schnettler 28:25
I will talk to you later.
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