Compassionate Workplace Culture Leads to Triple Bottom Line

ShineBy Kevin Owyang

“Get to financial success first,” says Sonny Vu, CEO & Co-Founder of Misfit Wearables.  “If you build a culture that cares about its social purpose and its spiritual purpose on this earth,” you will realize the goals of social and environmental responsibility.  Vu is John Sculley’s latest brilliant partner, and creator of one of the Top 10 Gadgets of Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2013.

Success follows Vu

Vu is a New Hampshire-based serial entrepreneur, but global companies like Toyota embrace his message.  His previous venture, AgaMatrix, created one of the first hardware medical devices that works with the iPhone and is heading towards $100 million in revenue.  Vu left as chairman about a year and a half ago to start Misfit Wearables and has since raised over $8 million in financing.

Misfit Wearables’ first product, the Shine, is an elegant, all-metal activity tracker that you can sync with your smartphone just by placing the device on the screen.   It can track cycling, swimming, walking, and running.

Purpose is different from profit

Vu says Misfit has two purposes.  The first is “to provide goods and services that enable communities to flourish.” That means, “you’re making stuff that’s really useful for people… and as a result you earn the financial and well-being rewards to flourish [yourself].”

The second is to “provide opportunities for people to express their innate capacity for productivity and creativity in meaningful ways.”   For Vu, this has deeper meaning.  “Does that mean job creation? Yes.  Does that mean making work meaningful? Absolutely.”

“Those two things are actually in our corporate charter at a very deep level and it’s actually repeated in every single [employment] offer at the very top.”  “It’s an employment offer agreement so it’s like the official thing you sign on to… it’s the first thing you see when you encounter the company.”

Servant leadership delivers results

“One of the most distinctive features about Misfit is servant leadership.   We believe that the customer is the leader.  And scientists, engineers, and designers serve the customer, or the user, first and foremost.”  “The team leads serve the engineers, designers, and scientists; I serve the team leads; and the board serves the company.  So when you look on our website, you don’t see leadership or management.”

And while Vu admits group dynamics are never perfect, “a servant’s heart exists across the organization” and that makes tension constructive and healthy when it could otherwise be difficult.

Meritocracy measured on cultural fit

Vu emphasizes “first and foremost is [corporate] culture. In fact, we will fire a person on a culture basis alone.  You know, we had one guy who was a superstar, very good at what he does, top of his field.  [He] was not a cultural match. And we let him go. It was a difficult thing to do but it was not a difficult decision to make.”

Is Vu onto something?  Steve Gandara, co-founder of ExcellentCultures, works at the highest level of global companies like Toyota’s Scion Division. He notes that cultural solutions are in demand because “the most recent Gallup Employee Engagement Survey tells us that 71 percent of employees are disengaged from work and ineffective leadership style is the primary cause.  What’s more, 70 percent of managers lead in a way that stimulates defensive behavior and destroys productivity and morale.”

What about the environment?

At this point, Misfit is not in production.  Yet, Vu notes that thoughtfulness is a core value. “Put away the dishes. Push in your chair after you get up from a meeting. It’s very subtle, but what is expressed internally will be expressed externally.”   And perhaps this is the basis for a sustainable supply chain that is thoughtful about the environment and workplace of companies that manufacture Misfit’s products.

Vu will be appearing at Digital Health Summit with Dr. Sanjay Gupta January 8-11 and CES2013, with Arianna Huffington and Deepak Chopra January 8, 2013.


Kevin Owyang is Founder of B Jibe.  B Jibe reports on people and companies that “Give Back”.  B Jibe is a not for profit project of Avolusis, LLC where Mr. Owyang is CEO.  Previously Mr. Owyang held various executive level positions in technology and telecommunications and was Executive Vice President, Risk Management at Kinder Morgan Inc.  You can read more about him here.

image: courtesy Misfit Wearables

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