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Dave Olson, Published April 26 2013

Conference fans flames of entrepreneurial spirit in F-M

FARGO – Organizing workers into small, effective teams can have a big impact on whether a company succeeds in today’s economy.

That message was underscored numerous times Friday at the CULTIVATE.you conference at the Fargo Theatre. It featured talks by Rich Karlgaard, a North Dakota native and publisher of Forbes magazine, and Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder and co-CEO of Atlassian, a Sidney, Australia-based company that is one of the world’s fastest-growing enterprise software firms.

The aim of the conference, sponsored by Arthur Ventures, a Fargo-based venture capital company, and the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., was to nourish innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Karlgaard told the audience that successful business people tell him small employee teams work best for many companies.

Cannon-Brookes said a goal of his company is to ruin their talented employees for any other employer. One way they do that is to make sure employees have fun in addition to working hard.

He said touchscreens are set up near exit doors and workers are asked to answer a single question as they leave work.

The questions range from “How do you feel?” to whether the worker thinks their supervisor knows their strengths.

“We take the pulse of our people every day,” Cannon-Brookes said.

Karlgaard said he is bothered by a trend among Silicon Valley managers and others who believe that for a company to make it big, employees must suffer.

“I’m very disturbed that in the American culture today a lot of kids are growing up thinking you have to be a jerk to succeed,” he said.

Karlgaard maintained that people won’t work for “an ego-driven jerk,” but they will work for a hard-nosed CEO who is concerned about maintaining the value of the company, serving customers and innovating.

While some communities continue to languish in the wake of the recession, Karlgaard said cities such as Fargo are proving the exception.

“All the forces are lining up for a community like Fargo,” he said.

“You’ve got great business leaders and sources of capital led by people like Doug, and all the other entrepreneurs,” said Karlgaard, referring to Doug Burgum, an entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded a number of companies, including Arthur Ventures.

Burgum is also chairman of the board at Atlassian, a job he landed after the company looked at – and rejected – a number of other hopefuls, Cannon-Brookes said. Atlassian places great importance on values and a mindset that the company can improve the world, he said.

At Atlassian, “our purpose is to empower teams to advance humanity through the power of software.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555