The Org: A Primer

A look into The Org; trying to emulate Matthew Ball's Epic Games primer

The Org: A Primer

Written by me for Contrary Capital

Inspired by:

Part I: Intro

In November 2017, Christian Wylonis and Andreas Jarbøl founded The Org. It’s a platform that contains a database of org charts of the largest companies in the world across numerous industries and countries, and a professional community that tracks  companies and news to keep it’s members updated on leadership and personnel changes, new hires, and relevant promotions.

The Org’s goal is to depict the organizational structure of every company worldwide and to monetize it with features such as job advertising, hiring, and more. Valued at $11.1mm, the New York City-and-Copenhagen-based startup just recently completed its Series A round by Founders Fund, Sequoia Capital, Balderton Capital, and some angel funding.

Part II: Founder Profiles

Christian Wylonis, CEO and co-founder

  • Former Chief Operating Officer at Vivino
  • Former CEO & co-Founder of Fitbay, a social network for shopping (co-founded with Andreas Jarbøl).

Andreas Jarbøl, CTO and co-founder

  • CTO & co-Founder at Fitbay (co-founded with Christian Wylonis)

The duo decided to found The Org in 2017 after reading a single article by The Information that inspired   them, linked here. In short, it is a discussion about Airbnb’s structure, but it also showcased an organizational chart that went viral within the company and outside of it too. Wylonis writes,

“It seemed obvious to me why somebody outside of Airbnb would be interested in this information. Org charts provide insight into a company’s decision-making hierarchy and makes it easier to find the most relevant person to contact. Not only can you see everyone who works at the company, but you get a better understanding of their responsibilities and their decision-making abilities. What really interested me was why this article was going viral inside of Airbnb. According to company insiders, the article was a hot discussion topic among employees and was even discussed at board level. Org charts have historically been an internal tool that nobody cared about but making it public completely changed the dynamics. Employees were frustrated about being omitted and other mistakes in the org chart.

Essentially, he realized that there was a need for transparency in organizational charts, not to mention that there is vastly inaccurate company information out there in places such as LinkedIn and Crunchbase. Wylonis pitched to Jarbøl, “We’re going to build every org chart in the world, let people edit the org charts, and that’s how we’re going to build the world’s biggest platform for teams.” The pitch was well-received and in no time, the duo began their journey.

Part 3: The Product

It’s easy to assume that org charts arn’t too critical for a company. But in reality, they are incredibly important for a couple reasons: reporting, long-term planning, restructuring, aligning goals, and managing/leading people. In simple terms, it reflects how the business is fundamentally composed and the responsibilities that come from it’s facets. They date back to 1855, with the first one being created and designed by Daniel McCallum, a Scottish-American railroad engineer and general manager of the New  York and Erie Railroad (drawn by George Holt Henshaw). The first org chart was the intricate, flowery tree-like diagram attached here. The original purpose of it was to depict the divisions of responsibilities and the number of employees in each department of the railroad system  that McCallum managed. McCallum believed that diagramming the   division of responsibilities would establish a sense of order and make relationships and hierarchies more clear. He also believed that it was a necessity to make all of this transparent.

The next major evolution of the org chart came in 1896, when Herman Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company. He created it after he was awarded a federal contract to develop a machine to count the number of immigrants to America at the height of the Industrial Revolution. The company took on multiple product launches, consolidations, and mergers, eventually being renamed to the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR). The business expanded quickly and needed a form of visualization for the relationships and hierarchies within it. Out of this  need came the org chart that  we know today: a nearly- symmetrical, pyramidal form with functional divisions. In addition, the divisions portrayed the geographical and departmental subcategories of each function. As a plot twist, the CTR went on to eventually become International Business Machines, or IBM.

The CTR diagram popularized the org charts that we see today. After decades upon decades, org charts have seen innovation in themselves with different forms being applied to different types  of companies. For example, now we have more than just hierarchical org structures: Functional, Horizontal (flat), Divisional (market-based, product-based, geographic), Matrix, Team-based, and Network (hub-and-spoke) org structures. Considering all of that, the general consensus about org charts is that they reflect the dynamic of the company and that they are of critical importance to establish if the company wants to scale. Intuitively,  they show the structure of the company and everything that comes with it. This is, in fact, very important for people such as those in sales, recruiting, and management (product, project, general, etc.). Historically, companies tended to keep accurate org charts secret to protect against others poaching their employees or copying their structure. However, that perspective is changing. How, org charts are becoming more and more transparent, and The Org is capitalizing on that.  

The Org’s website sheds some light into its mission and vision:

“Who are your company’s unsung heroes? The superstars? The ones who get things done? Businesses aren’t made of bricks and clicks, businesses are made of people, and the best businesses find a way to show that their people are appreciated, celebrated, and honored in the workplace."
"We believe a company’s greatest asset is its people. This includes the folks that are never highlighted on the company website, never lauded in the press, and never showcased to the outside world on professional networking sites. We believe that if we can shine a light on these people, everyone will benefit."
"We’re making organizations more transparent, and as a result, we’ll understand more about our own companies, the people in them, and finally sing the songs of the true heroes.”

To fulfill these goals, The Org established an open-source community of organizational charts of businesses worldwide. With their public-facing database, they plan to provide services such as job updates, job postings, and a platform for teams. While you can search for a specific business, The Org begins by categorizing institutions by their country or by their industry. Thus, users and followers of a specific country or industry can find relevant information for their own context without being bombarded by others. Then, users can log in and browse specific companies that match their target criteria and study how it is structured. At first glance, The Org only offers the chart of a company’s leadership team. For a deeper, more specific look into the structure, users have to make a free account (as of now) to access the niche information.  For example, here is the limited org chart for Apple.

Another key aspect of how The Org makes these charts is how they get the information. It would be extremely  tedious to contact every single company out there and interrogate them for their org charts, which are sometimes proprietary information. Thus, The Org crowdsources the information from people at these firms. They verify the people based on their official email formats from their company. Verified users can go into the org chart of their company and modify it by adding, deleting, or editing the existing structure. All of this is supported by The Org’s research team, which uses public data sources for some of the work as well. To clarify, The Org’s services are currently free of charge. They have not publicly announced their entire business model.

Altogether, The Org is setting out to solve a problem in professional social networks that Linkedin can’t: accurate organizational charts and company structure. LinkedIn has no way of keeping up with leadership teams and the unsung heroes that may get lost in a network of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree connections. Simply put, LinkedIn fails to put together a verified collection of current leaders and employees. Furthermore, a major pain point today is that organizations lack transparency in how they are built. Sometimes, they are not publicly available, are misleading, or are entirely outdated. This is where The Org shines. Wylonis and Jarbøl devised a solution to this by aggregating data from innumerable public data sources and then crowdsourcing the verification process. Currently, their product is free to use, but the business model has secretive plans to monetize in the future. Among other unknown plans, Wylonis said that The Org may place a premium on power searchers, such as sales, recruiting, and business development leaders, and give them access to even more tools.

As they work towards their goal of mapping out every company, The Org has profiled 50,000 companies and 200,000 professionals in its database. The website reaches nearly 100,000 people per month. Those people are usually from two distinct target markets:

  • External - those who are interested in a company’s dynamic and navigating leadership, such as recruiters, HR professionals, professional social network users, etc.
  • Internal - those within a company, from people on the board to individual employees looking to see who they work with and for.

By the end of 2020, The Org plans to have 100,000 organization charts on its platform and is focusing on tracking US companies before expanding. In the long term, that number is 1 million.

Part 4: Strategy

OrgTech? I’m not sure if that name will catch on. But, The Org — and a few other startups — recognize the market for transparency in companies, which is portrayed through organizational charts. Having a centralized and accurate collection of this information, not to mention crowdsourcing-induced network effects, provides a valuable, in-depth look into the company’s dynamics value for all of the stakeholders of a company. Even major venture capitalists realize this. Roelof Botha, partner at Sequoia Capital, says that “today, information about teams is unstructured, scattered, and unverified, making it hard for employees and recruiters to understand organizational structures.” The Org directly alleviates that concern with it’s community of verified organizational information. Many in Silicon Valley and tech ecosystems worldwide even agree that org charts have been the secret weapon to forging partnerships and business model innovation. Similarly, former LinkedIn executive Keith Rabois, who is also a board member for The Org, emphasizes the importance of accurate organizational charts: “up-to-date org charts can be useful for everything from recruiting to sales, but they are difficult and time consuming to piece together… The Org is making this valuable information easily accessible in a way we were never able to do at LinkedIn.” Considering all this, it becomes clear that The Org is undertaking a pain-staking task. But, their strategy in doing so is innovative in its own way.

Community-driven crowdsourcing. The Org strategically created a community of transparency and giving back that benefits them in the long run. Take their crowdsourcing strategy, which allows people to modify the organizational charts for their place of employment (users are verified by their company’s unique email addresses). The crowdsourced, wiki-style strategy allows for constantly updated organizational charts without The Org having to individually source the information through publicly available sources. It’s user-generated content, but as accurate and up-to-date as can be. Crowdsourcing is especially valuable because it allows The Org to focus on building out other services and forms of (future) monetization while spending tangibly less resources for it’s biggest product offering. This yields benefits such as:

  1. Reduces management burden with the faster co-creation of org charts by the public
  2. The give-and-take nature creates an opportunity for greater customer engagement before other services are rolled out
  3. Data-driven network effects, or exponentially more value for all with one more user and their company’s org chart updates
  4. A platform for distributed value-add that creates a flywheel: more crowdsourcing → more submissions for their respective company’s org charts →  more accurate + constantly verified org charts →  more transparency and value for others → more crowdsourcing

Data moats: Invade, then Conquer. The Org emphasizes transparency in how some of the most successful companies are structured, thus offering a resource for organizational structure for others. While there is no set guide on how to do so, the organizational charts allow external users to experiment with teams and leadership capacities within their own firm. Managing a design team? Check out Airbnb’s Chief Design Officer’s team. Leading an engineering team? Reference one from SpaceX. Curious how to establish a company hierarchy? Check out the hierarchy that Apple implemented to surpass a $1T market cap. The possibilities for experimentation are nearly endless. The biggest surface-level concern for this is that some companies may want to operate in stealth. But, The Org found that almost 99% of companies so far have been fine with their product. There have been very few cases of individual people asking to be taken off their company’s organizational chart, but most accept that transparency and showcasing talent is of the best interest of those inside and outside of the company.

With that, the crucial thing to note is that The Org is playing a long-term game as it's keeping its products free while offering transparency in org charts and a plethora of other services. Keeping their business model free allows for more engaged users to incorporate their own content, which will ultimately bolster The Org’s defensibility. The data that The Org holds thus becomes proprietary and sets the stage for a potentially compounding moat. Coined by Warren Buffe, the term “moat” is a company’s ability to maintain a competitive advantage over its rivals and protect its long-term profitability and market share. Data moats have enduring value because they enable companies to derive never-before-seen insights to serve their customers, enhance the products, or even sell B2B. Not only does The Org generate data, but they also extract key findings for their community that no one else can make. As they keep up with their rate of org chart generation, The Org will slowly become a leader in a niche that companies like LinkedIn could never appeal to. Yet, once they “invade” that niche and establish themselves as a leader in it, then they can “conquer” other operations without sacrificing bandwidth or customers. This means that as the company bolsters its data moat, there will be a point at which no other company can replicate the value of their product and at which they will have enough market share to delve into lateral services seamlessly.

In the end, their grand vision is simple. 1) Report the org charts for every possible business they can. 2) Build a community of transparency and value. Then, 3) become a leading professional social network.

Part 5: Competition

The org chart market is relatively small in terms of competition, but becoming a professional social network puts The Org in direct competition with many other companies.

Coincidentally, almost on the same day that The Org announced it’s Series A round, another “OrgTech” startup called ChartHop announced it’s own Series A round, led by Andreessen Horowitz and many other big-name investors. ChartHop is an HR and organizational management platform, so it is not a direct competitor with The Org. The only aspect that they share is that both are trying to streamline the process of making organizational charts.

However, another set of competitors that The Org faces are existing professional social networks— the biggest one undoubtedly being LinkedIn. LinkedIn has especially cornered the market for data and profiles about individual professionals, careers, and industries. At this point in time, LinkedIn is focusing on lowering the COVID-19-induced unemployment rate by working with Microsoft to teach 25 million people digital skills for a post-COVID economy. That said, the company has some glaring faults that “LinkedIn killers” are trying to capitalize on. While the professional social network giant continues to innovate and scale, there are many concerns that it is straying away from its main value proposition of advancing careers and industry networking. The general consensus is that LinkedIn is declining in the quality of its experience. On one hand, you have a platform conducive for spam and “bots,” and on the other, you have a collection of inaccurate and outdated information regarding the employees of a company and their org structure. In addition, there is no way to filter for spammy people or check the validity of who works where and what relationships they have with the next person. Many believe that the lack of quality in connections, users, and content will lead to the decline of LinkedIn, unless it is fixed sometime soon.

In response to this, The Org is focusing on where LinkedIn fails: quality information full of signal and rid of noise. You get what you ask for, from company updates to org charts, all without messages about joining a pyramid scheme. Wylonis claims that while “LinkedIn is a compilation of online CVs, [The Org] is more like a CV for your company, where everything happens on a company level.” Not only that, but it’s a verified platform of relationships and the transfer of resources within a company.” That said, The Org is representative of a larger trend in professional social networks. We are constantly seeing the rise of verticalized professional social networks, which ensure quality and relevancy in users, content, and opportunities for those within a niche industry, all relative to LinkedIn— the gold standard. Take Bravado, a professional social network specifically for sales professionals; Behance, a professional community for creatives; StackOverflow, a platform for developers. Some consumer experts are even saying that the next unicorn will be a verticalized social network.

For now, all we can do is wait to see which professional social network will take down the 17-year-old champion that is LinkedIn