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This Is the Best Way For Tech Startups to Solve Their Image Problem The secret to customer success and a strong brand is your employees.

By Isaac Oates Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


It's no secret that the tech industry has a bit of an image problem. Whether it's the bootstrapping lifestyle or the party culture, tech startups are fighting an uphill battle to improve how they're seen in the public eye and, most importantly, by their customers.

There's a crucial first step that many tech companies overlook when they're trying to build their brand and scale with their public image intact. They all have an immediate pool of individuals they should turn to first to foster brand advocacy and loyalty: their employees.

It's not just a nice benefit to have your employees love your brand today; it's essential for your business' survival. We live in a world where a disgruntled employee, empowered by social media, can quickly turn hundreds of thousands of customers against a brand.

Related: 4 Things You Didn't Think You Would Need When You Scaled Your Business

Too many times I've seen companies fail in part because their business priorities came before their employees and culture. Employee success is often placed on a backburner until the company gets larger and a more formal HR team can develop. At this point, the focus is usually on managing back-end HR processes and paperwork -- less so on motivating and cultivating the people themselves.

While it's essential to have these processes in place for the organization to run smoothly, there comes a time when employees and company culture need to shift to the forefront. Businesses that deliver a great employee experience will in turn reap the benefits of a great customer experience. Tech companies need to understand that their employees are the gateway to their customers. Focusing on company culture first enlivens and nourishes customer service which, ultimately, strengthens the company brand.

For example, at Justworks, we host a weekly All Hands meeting. This hour-long meeting brings together all employees, providing an open forum to discuss team updates, connect with management, brainstorm business approaches and celebrate the successes of our fellow teammates and our company. We've also established partnerships with One Medical to give employees access to on-demand medical care and Exubrancy to bring yoga, meditation and massages inside the office, ensuring health is a high priority and easily accessible for everyone.

Related: How a Stronger HR Function Could Have Helped Uber Avoid the Sexual Harassment Scandal

REI and Basecamp are also great examples.

Last year, REI made the employee-focused decision to not participate in the madness of day-after-Thanksgiving sales and instead closed all of its stores. This was a clear decision to put employees first and not have them participate in the typically long hours of Black Friday. While the decision itself may not have benefitted customers -- the stores were closed -- the long-term goal was happier employees, which translates directly to happier customers.

In the technology space, Jason Fried at Basecamp continues to challenge workplace norms and make decisions that put employees first. At the software company, most employees are remote, profits are distributed to employees, and Fried preaches fewer meetings and a generally calmer workplace. This allows employees to focus, innovate and deliver better products for customers.

Investing in activities that internally strengthen employees encourages them to personally invest in meeting the company's goals and, in turn, those of customers.

Related: Is Your Employee Development Broken? Here's How to Fix It.

At Justworks, we've made our own employees integral to our mission of helping entrepreneurs better serve their teams. One of the ways we've approached this is by rebranding our HR team as Employee Success.

Many people think of the human resources department as the group responsible for hiring, firing and all the paperwork that comes in between. We decided that our HR team should mean more than that and transcend its traditional, back-office role to focus on the overall employee experience. As Employee Success, this team is building on our company culture and making Justworks the best place to work that it can be -- by launching new benefits, expanding our health and wellness program, and improving our new hire onboarding program.

As a company that helps other businesses manage their HR processes, we've committed ourselves to setting a standard that others can follow. We believe that making the employee experience a priority -- and formalizing that through the Employee Success team -- has given us a strong foundation to better serve our customers and other stakeholders. We've seen the benefits first hand -- through employees willing to go the extra mile for customers, and business growth as that customer base expands -- and we're not alone.

Related: 4 Ways to Personalize the Employee Experience

For tech startups and other growing businesses, the decision on whether to invest in employees first can ultimately make or break the company's image and reputation. I urge entrepreneurs to think about their business' mission and long-term plans from Day One as they choose where and how to focus priorities, and consider how internal investments can have an external impact. In the end, even a little bit of employee appreciation can go a long way.

Isaac Oates

CEO of Justworks

Isaac Oates is the CEO and founder of Justworks, an automated HR and payments platform that helps entrepreneurs build their business and create great places to work. 

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