Staying grounded: How 4 Austin tech companies scaled without sacrificing culture

by Kelly O'Halloran
August 8, 2018

For businesses in growth mode, an incoming wave of new faces, promotions and positions generates a buzzing office energy. But while opportunities may be abundant, so are the risks of leaving key aspects of culture behind. Fortunately, these four Austin tech companies have weathered the change by implementing strategies for bringing the cultures that made them successful along for the wild ride.

 

procore austin
photo provided by procore

When Kelly Sheeran joined Procore in November of 2015, the company consisted of under 400 employees and its Austin office hadn’t officially opened yet. Now, just three years later, Procore has more than tripled in size, and its Austin office has more than 200 employees. Sheeran, who serves as Procore’s manager of international support, walked us through how the company maintained its culture during this explosive growth.

Our values keep our culture centered.

 

During your largest and fastest time of growth, what strategies did you implement to keep culture intact?

At the core of successfully scaling company culture is nurturing a strong, shared purpose across teams and individuals. Procore is doing something incredibly impactful and disruptive in the construction industry, and our vision for making that impact is ingrained deeply in our culture. We are collectively focused on the same goals and have a desire to work together to achieve them. Also, cold brew helps.

 

Culture tends to shift a bit once the team grows. Are there still parts of Procore’s culture that are reminiscent of its early days?

Our values of openness, optimism and ownership are hands down the most important aspects of our culture. They’re simple, easy to understand and deeply rooted in what we look for in new employees. They’ve grown with the company and are still a part of our daily operations and company vision. They keep our culture centered.

 

shipstation austin team
photo provided by shipstation

ShipStation launched in 2011 with just two employees. By 2014, it grew to 28, then to 60 by 2016. But the biggest jump occurred within the last two years, as ShipStation nearly quadrupled to more than 200 employees. And there, with a courtside ticket to this burst of growth, sat LeAnna Lowenberg. Lowenberg joined ShipStation in 2015 as an account manager. Today, she leads as sales manager. Here’s what she had to share about preserving the company’s culture.

We standardized our hiring practices.

 

During your largest and fastest time of growth, what strategies did you implement to keep culture intact?

The most important thing we did was ensure we hired the right people. We standardized our hiring practices and taught our managers how to interview and what to interview for. All of our managers are required to go through training and to read a copy of a book on interviewing and hiring that provides the methodologies we follow.

We also hosted weekly meetings where each department would give updates, talk about new initiatives and celebrate wins with food and beer. Additionally, we held, and still hold, weekly provided lunches that encourage employees to spend time together and build community. We’ve also hosted a number of annual events to support our employees and families. Finally, we show our employees we care by continuing to offer them opportunities for skill acquisition, and we promote from within whenever we can.

 

Culture tends to shift a bit once the team grows. Are there still parts of ShipStation’s culture that are reminiscent of its early days?

If you’re in the ever-growing lunch line on any given Wednesday, there will probably be at least one person that you’ve never seen. But everyone at ShipStation has always been very good about welcoming these new strangers, and it’s always genuine.

Before long, you may see that new employee playing foosball or welcoming some even newer newb. This makes everyone feel comfortable and excited about our growth. Professionally, this has also reinforced how well we work interdepartmentally in spite of specialization.

 

optimizely
photo provided by optimizely

In eight years, Optimizely has grown from an early-stage startup that just graduated from Y Combinator to a 400-plus person company with more than $146 million in funding from some of Silicon Valley’s biggest VCs. This growth also included the acquisition and integration of Claire Vo’s Austin-based company Experiment Engine in 2017. Vo and her team then joined Optimizely, with Vo taking on the VP of product role.

Over the past year, the company has steadily grown a local engineering team with plans to add additional Austin roles from other departments as well. Vo filled us in on how the company put culture first throughout the merger.

Our culture doc is a living, breathing thing, and it keeps our culture very much alive.

 

Acquisitions can be tricky. What strategies did Optimizely implement to keep culture intact?

We hold a weekly all-hands that we call “Show and Tell,” which is a time when people can ask our executive team any question they want. People from different teams get the opportunity to present what they’re doing to drive the business forward. We celebrate new hires, anniversaries, financials and have a little fun.

We also publish our cultural values throughout the office and have a living document that’s open to the entire company for feedback. People regularly ask questions, provide clarification and request updates to the culture document to make sure our behaviors reflect our written values. Our culture doc is a living, breathing thing, and it keeps our culture very much alive.

 

Culture tends to shift a bit once the team grows. Are there still parts of Optimizely’s culture that are reminiscent of its early days?

We value having a culture of transparency. We even extend this into the design of the office by having all of our conference rooms enclosed with glass walls. We’ve continued our commitment to transparency even though the company has gotten bigger and more complex; we share regular updates about board meetings, strategy, finances and deals — the good and the bad.

Through this culture of transparency, we hope that all of our Optinauts feel engaged and a sense of ownership over the work happening throughout our company. At Optimizely, there are no closed doors to making an impact.

 

square root austin
photo provided by square root

CEO and founder Chris Taylor launched Square Root in 2006. The bootstrapped company’s first major jump took place when it increased from Taylor to a team of 10. Then, in 2014, staff nearly doubled. Since then, it’s steadily grown to a team of 45 “Radicals.” Courtney Branson, Square Root’s director of culture and people, weighed in on how one-on-one meetings, feedback loops and a widely adopted all-hands-on-deck mentality have kept Square Root’s caring atmosphere alive and well.

We’ve had that family feeling from the beginning; it’s stayed with us even as we grow.

 

During your largest and fastest time of growth, what strategies did you implement to keep culture intact?

After that first big jump in people, we crafted our vision, mission and values together to align the team and encapsulate who we were, are and hope to be. It was also the first time we gave Chris a break and nurtured other individuals to be managers. Now, he keeps a pulse on the culture through regular one-on-ones and our biannual culture survey. In addition to feedback loops, we launched a recognition program through Bonusly, which feeds kudos tied to our values through Slack. It’s a way to give gratitude and foster a shared meaning around our values.

 

Culture tends to shift a bit once the team grows. Are there still parts of Square Root’s culture reminiscent of its early days when it first launched?

One of the first things I noticed about Square Root was the all-hands-on-deck mentality. Regardless of role, if you had an idea, if you wanted to solve a problem, if you wanted to test something new, you were — and are — met with encouragement from the team. It’s created a positive and optimistic culture, which I still feel every day. And, as cheesy as it sounds, we’ve had that family feeling from the beginning; it’s stayed with us even as we grow. When my daughter was born, the team celebrated with me from the first announcement, and they continue to make space for me to be a working mom. It’s a caring environment, which has valued people, their lives, talents and even eccentricities from day one.

 

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