Startups are a team sport. Some people are recognized with salaries or equity, however much of the help we've gotten along the way has been less formal. Our team may be small, but the "ReadMe family" is much larger.
When I heard about Challenge Coins, I knew we'd found a way to include and recognize everyone who made ReadMe what it is today.
What's a Challenge Coin?
The concept of the challenge coin originated in the military. Each unit has coins minted with their emblem, which they award to members and outsiders who go above and beyond. If ever challenged, a member of that unit can show this coin as proof of service.
Presidents are often presented Challenge Coins. Obama has been caught slipping coins of his own to servicemembers.
Challenge coins also carry a drinking game tradition in the military. A soldier can call a “coin check,” slapping their coin on the table, and whoever doesn't have their coin has to buy a round. If everyone in the bar has their coin, the challenger has to buy the round.
Challenge coins are a badge of honor that create a camaraderie hard to replicate in our digital world.
I was listening to a podcast when I learned about Ironman director Jon Favreau's adaptation of this military practice for movies he worked on. He gave challenge coins to everyone involved in the film, from movie stars to craft services. It felt like the perfect fit for startups.
Last year, we had our coins custom minted. Owlbert adorns the heads side, while tails is our logo and a number. Each coin is chronologically numbered, based on when each person contributed to ReadMe.
Our litmus test is simple: we give coins to anyone we couldn't have built ReadMe without. The list includes employees, contractors, investors, early customers who took a big chance, friends who were were overly supportive and mentors who gave great advice at pivotal times. For each one, I include a personal message detailing specifically why we're giving them a coin. Each person's impact is unique, and we want to make sure that they know why we appreciate them so much.
Here's an example of one that we sent to Product Hunt.
Just like in the scrolling credits at the end of films, we also created a Credits page so that we can publicly acknowledge everyone who helped build ReadMe. Our About Page does a good job of introducing our current team, however we wanted a running list of everyone who has contributed over the past few years. (Unfortunately, Nick Fury doesn't show up at the end of ours.)
We've given out a little over 50 challenge coins so far, and people seem to love them. Some even carry them around at all times—they don't want to get caught having to buy a round of drinks!
A Culture of Gratitude
At a brand new startup, culture is incredibly important, and often hard to do without seeming forced. A good culture empowers a team of people to work towards a common objective, to challenge and be challenged, and enjoy the process.
These coins have served as literal tokens of appreciation, but they ended up becoming more valuable than I could have imagined. We've been able to craft a close-kit community of coin carriers.
The Challenge Coin Challenge
The more time goes by, the more we see the value of the challenge coins. Our network expands as ReadMe grows, but our community remains tightly-knit. It’s helped us maintain and nurture relationships with people who have been with us since the beginning, as well as welcome new people into our team.
The amount of manpower that goes into getting a startup off the ground is unbelievable, and the behind-the-scenes work shouldn't be taken for granted.
You're Up Next!
Since Jon Favreau started doing it, the practice has become more common in Hollywood. Even though employment is much less transient in startups, people move around and help each other enough that it seems like a great fit. We'd love to see a bunch of startups start doing this!
They're easy to mint. Just Google "Challenge Coins", and you'll find a ton of companies who manufacture them (we used ChallengeCoins4Less, and recommend them). They're incredibly affordable, and come out great. Don't freak out about it seeming too complicated – they literally accept "napkin sketches" as a format. Let us know if we inspire you to get some made... we'd love one for our collection!
Every company needs guidance and friendly encouragement to keep afloat. As ReadMe grows, I can't wait to hand out coin #100, #1,000 and even #10,000.
Want a ReadMe challenge coin? We're hiring!