How These 8 Founders Are Innovating Company Culture
A Note From The Editor
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Simon Sinek once wrote, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” His quote is a reminder to all business leaders of the powerful effect of a thoughtful, intentional company culture.
The culture of your company not only sets the tone for your own employees, but it also shapes the way consumers interact with you, how they perceive your brand and ultimately, your company’s capacity for sustainable growth. As such, company culture must be a top priority of all leaders.
Now, I’m not quite sure when or how the ping-pong table became the symbol of an admirable culture, but a ping-pong table’s existence in your office does not automatically absolve you of your responsibility to actively build and nurture a happy, productive and effective culture.
Perks such as ping-pong tables may work to attract some initial attention to your company, but they won’t be enough to earn affection or dedication from your team or from your customers.
To get your employees -- and, subsequently, your customers -- to fall in love with your company, you have to give them the right opportunity. The entrepreneurs behind these fast-growing companies have focused their efforts on building unique, impressive company cultures:
1. John Hall and Kelsey Meyer, co-founders of Influence & Co.
Not only have John Hall and Kelsey Meyer created a content marketing agency that’s taken an innovative approach to the traditional PR industry, but they’ve also nurtured an award-winning culture.
Beyond unlimited paid time off and flexible scheduling, the co-founders restructured their team in 2015, removing traditional departments and introducing client service pods. These pods -- almost viewed as employees’ own businesses -- better support communication, creativity and autonomy for employees, which encourages them to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and figure out how they work best for clients.
Along with hosting one of the largest Startup Weekend events at their office, John and Kelsey also host an internal Startup Weekend at their company retreat. The event gives all employees the chance to pitch new ideas -- for products, services, processes, etc. -- directly to the company’s leadership. Teams form around the best pitches, and three ideas are chosen and considered for implementation across the whole company. These events showcase the company’s investment in its employees and their ideas, including how it gives team members ownership over the direction in which the company is headed.
2. Al Goldstein, John Sun and Paul Zhang, co-founders of Avant.
In December 2012, John Sun and Paul Zhang completed Y Combinator and teamed up with Al Goldstein to build Avant, an online lending company that facilitates personal loans.
The culture Al, John and Paul have created at Avant isn’t what you’d expect of a typical financial services company. The founders reject bureaucracy and instead embrace a “the best idea wins” mentality. Team demo days, town halls and group outings give team members the chance to learn from other departments, ask questions and talk candidly with company leadership and build a sense of community.
More than flexible scheduling or gym memberships, Al, John and Paul believe their commitment to communication and transparency supports their high-performing culture. And with a team that’s grown to more than 800 employees in less than four years, they must be on the right track.
3. Landon Ray, Pin Chen and Steven Schneider, co-founders of Ontraport.
A serial entrepreneur himself, Landon Ray founded Ontraport with co-founders Pin Chen and Steven Schneider as a tech solution on which entrepreneurs and small-business leaders can scale and operate more efficiently. All of Ontraport’s team members share that entrepreneurial spirit, and that passion for efficient yet balanced entrepreneurship shapes the company’s award-winning culture.
Ontraport’s culture features unlimited paid time off and sponsored fitness programs that help everyone maintain a better balance. The company also offers three email-free hours a day to keep employees productive and engaged without distractions. Perks like these align closely with its mission to support customers and provide an efficient and productive work-life balance with a healthy personal life.
4. Erik Huberman, founder of Hawke Media.
Led by Erik Huberman, Hawke Media is an outsourced digital CMO agency that was ranked fifth on HappyCity’s Top 10 Happy Places to Work list in 2015.
In addition to organizing friendly office competitions, Erik’s company hires based on personality. In fact, Hawke Media’s COO, Tony Delmercado, even published the company’s three main culture components in an Entrepreneur article -- one of which is, “don’t be a jerk.”
The culture at Hawke is characterized by employees’ willingness to learn, stay cool and do whatever it takes to get the job done. More than specific technical skills (which can be taught in training), that collaborative, get-work-done personality trait is what Hawke Media looks for in new hires. The company understands that when your team is made up of cool, fun people who are ready and willing to do what it takes to push your business forward, you’ve built a solid company culture.
5. Dr. Deepak Upadhyaya, founder of KalpTree Energy.
Dr. Deepak Upadhyaya founded KalpTree Energy with years of experience in startup environments, success in commercializing innovation and a clear vision for revolutionizing how people use portable energy.
Comprised of talented engineers and scientists, Deepak’s team understands that bringing innovative ideas to market requires unwavering commitment to a better future. That commitment doesn’t yield results on its own, which is why the culture and leadership style at KalpTree centers around what it calls CPR: collaboration, persistence and results.
Failure is inevitable, and when you’re trying to revolutionize energy, you have to be able to take it in stride, learn from it and try again. This kind of CPR culture keeps KalpTree’s employees motivated -- and their ideas alive -- despite setbacks.
6. Jorn Lyseggen, founder of Meltwater.
Jorn Lygessen has grown Meltwater from a team of two in a Norwegian shipyard shack to a global media intelligence company, with offices in 20 countries.
Maintaining a good company culture is hard work even in one office in one city -- but with offices around the world, it takes a true commitment to culture and alignment with core values.
Initiatives such as employee resource groups and community outreach programs give employees opportunities to push themselves, collaborate on projects outside of their roles and support causes and organizations that are important to them. These groups and programs are rooted in Meltwater’s core values, giving employees a chance to feel more connected to the company and improving culture.
7. Joe Griffin and Jay Swansson, co-founders of ClearVoice.
Joe and Jay have been working together since 2005, and they finally became business partners in 2009. After recognizing a distinct need in the market, the two created the ClearVoice content marketing platform in 2013. The ClearVoice team embodies a passionate, hardworking and creative spirit.
ClearVoice maintains a “coffee shop culture” with standing desks, quiet rooms and music playing at all times. With a dedicated culture committee that routinely meets to organize activities like bake-offs, charity drives and pool parties, the staff has a family-like feel. Baseball games and even the “Office Olympics” are all part of the norm.
8. Wil Schroter, founder of Startups.co.
Through founding nine startup companies, Wil Schroter learned a lot about how to sustain productivity over the grueling cycles of launching businesses. One of the things he noticed was how the energy level of his team would change from Monday to Friday each week. Mondays and Tuesdays were usually wildly productive, but by Friday it seemed like productivity across the team was nearly shot.
So a few years ago he and the team at Startups.co tested a new concept: “Work From Home Wednesdays.” The idea was that if the team never had to feel like they were going to the office more than two days in a row, they would be able to get a little bit of a break on Wednesdays by working from home. This would also allow them to catch up on normal life tasks, ranging from laundry and doctor’s appointments to spending more time with their kids.
The plan worked beautifully and has become a hallmark of the work culture at Startups.co. As Schroter reports, “We now attack Thursdays and Fridays with the energy we had on Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s like working in mini sprints versus long, exhausting marathons which leads to more creativity and interaction. I also enjoy making executive decisions in my pajamas.”
A company culture your employees love isn’t defined by ping-pong tables or free beer in the break room. While these perks are nice to offer to your team, a truly powerful company culture comes down to trust, respect and autonomy to let your employees work how they work best. These fast-growing and high-performing companies have found what it takes to inspire their employees. Take a page from their books and identify what could work in your own environment, too.