Building Cocoon: Our focus on a meaningful product and sustainable culture

Cocoon co-founder and CTO Amber Feng shares our approach to building a product that matters, putting personal priorities first, and growing an exceptional team.

Building Cocoon: Our focus on a meaningful product and sustainable culture

When I joined Stripe in early 2012 – when the company was just 10 people! – I was struck by how intentional and principled the team was about building both the product and the team. Through the years of intense growth, I saw these values repeated over and over again: knowledge sharing and learning, rigorous thinking, and an emphasis on end-to-end ownership that formed the backbone of the incredible culture and product excellence. 

Fast forward to today: we’re just getting started with Cocoon, and the customer and product momentum we’ve seen in our first year has been extraordinary. We went from launching in January 2021 to working with many of the fastest-growing companies in tech, including Notion, Carta, and Superhuman. 

The hardest part of building comes after you’ve found your initial product-market fit. How can you sustain a high quality bar of product, team, and culture for decades to come? Much of this revolves around having the right team of folks who care deeply about building the right product and company together (we’re hiring!), but we’re also spending a lot of time being thoughtful and deliberate about how we work. 

Here are some of the underpinnings of our early company culture. If any of these resonate, we’d love to work with you.

We’re building something that matters

We’re not building software for software’s sake. Our product has a direct, positive impact on people’s lives, in an area in desperate need of something better. When Lauren, Mahima, and I first started hearing about “leave” and what a huge problem it was, we were baffled: how could something that seems so incredibly common be so painful? 

The status quo is not an experience we’d wish on anyone. We learned that going on any type of leave required hours of wading through government and insurance bureaucracy. These are some of the most emotionally exhausting moments of people's lives, and everyone had a nightmare story to tell—whether it was trying to find a fax machine in the hospital or calling into insurance hotlines at 7:59am every day hoping to get someone on the phone—and we wondered to ourselves why nobody had solved this.

That’s why we do what we do every day at Cocoon. When we hear feedback from users like: “I'm so grateful that I'm able to talk to someone about this. I've been holding it all in and have been so stressed, and I didn't know anyone who I could turn to about it”, we know we’re making a real, meaningful difference in their lives. 

Everyone works on product

Being at Stripe for 8 years taught me a love of diving into messy, regulatory areas, and simplifying them into magical experiences, and that's exactly what we’re doing with Cocoon. 

Everyone’s deeply involved, whether you write code, design, sell, or directly support our users or team. We’re a team of doers who are excited to roll up our sleeves, dive into the nuts-and-bolts of how things work, and who thrive in having a high level of craftsmanship in everything we do. We obsess over the details, whether it’s getting that user experience, code abstraction, or copy just right. 

Most importantly, we’re all building this company together. 

We debate (and reflect) without ego

We want to work with folks who are kind, open-minded, and generous, but who aren’t afraid to passionately debate for what they believe in or raise a concern. We care deeply about what we're working on, and we also have high trust and mutual respect for one another. While we may disagree and debate, we do it to push each other, our product, and company to the limits we know we’re capable of.

This also means that we trust our team to move quickly and make the right judgment calls for the company. When things break or we make a mistake, we strongly believe that these are due to a system (or lack thereof) that has failed a person, not the other way around. As a team, we highlight and examine things that went wrong (without blame or judgment) so we can learn from them and do better next time. 

Transparent by default

We care about writing things down to force rigorous thinking and reflection, and enable better context and knowledge sharing. This helps us be radically transparent: we have open email lists and documentation, and share strategic context like board meetings notes and fundraising plans internally so everyone is empowered with the same information.

Without a strong, shared writing culture, information becomes siloed (even with the best of intentions!), goals become unclear or misaligned, and it’s hard to execute efficiently. Many companies default to adding more and more review or “sign-off” processes in order to make sure the right decisions get made, which is the opposite of the autonomous culture we want to build. 

Our personal priorities come first

When Lauren, Mahima, and I first started talking about founding a company together, one understanding between the three of us was that work was not, and could not be, the most important thing in our lives. 

It’s not that we don’t care about what we’re working on, or can’t (or won’t) work hard. We’re extraordinarily ambitious about where we want to be and thrive in the work needed to see it through. 

However, nothing will ever be more important than our personal priorities. I had a baby six months into starting Cocoon—he’s now an energetic and demanding 8-month old who wants to eat everything—and I know that my family will always come first. Whether it’s someone else’s family, friends, pets, community, passions, or anything else, we’re building a culture where it’s okay to be transparent and explicit about the fact that those things should take priority above work.

Fundamentally, employee leave is about creating space in your work life to focus on whatever it is that’s going on in your personal life. That philosophy is ingrained in our day-to-day at Cocoon.  

Come build the future of leave

If what we’re working on resonates with you and you’re excited about building this company together, we’d love to chat.

It's time to enter the next generation of employee leave