Company Culture in Tech: More Important Than Money?

With Tech in Motion’s upcoming Women in Tech panels across the country, company culture and treatment of employees in the technology industry has been a big topic of conversation. Taylor Aldredge, Grasshopper’s Ambassador of Buzz, dove further into these topics with a Q & A discussing the importance of a company’s culture and how culture has shaped Grasshopper and its employees.

Why is company culture so important in the tech industry?

Company culture is vital because things move at lightning speed in tech.  Bad culture or none at all can exacerbate issues in a heartbeat.  If you’re growing without structure and goals, then you’re just growing for the sake of growing.  It helps the entire organization when everyone is on the same page and those people are aligned in how to help their customers as well as their colleagues to solve problems.  This will reduce employee churn and morale will be higher.

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Speaking of morale, in light of Women’s History Month (March), what can tech startups do to help women employees feel more comfortable in the office culture?

First and foremost, hire more women. Plain and simple.  From a culture perspective, make everything more inviting and gender neutral.  Immediately saying that this perk is for women and this perk is for men, and thinking of things separately is counter-intuitive.  That’s not going to improve anything.  Instead, do things and create things that everyone can believe in and buy into.  That will go a lot further in creating an environment that everyone wants to be a part of regardless of whether they’re men or women.  Ultimately, there are bros everywhere.  The hope would be to filter those bros out in the hiring process and bring in people that understand how your culture operates.

Just why should companies take note of Grasshopper’s view of culture?

Companies should take note because it shows there are other ways to build a sustainable company that lasts over a decade; plus, we’re revenue positive (and profitable), and we did it without constantly raising rounds of funding.  We’ve shown that if you hustle hard, work hard, and build a great company with shared beliefs, then anything is possible.  So many companies get wrapped up in raising too much money too fast and fall flat on their face without figuring out what they believe in first and how they should build revenue.  The feeling of understanding our customers and building a great company has permeated into our decision-making – and our customers would tell you it’s reflected everywhere they interact with us if you ask them.

So what does Grasshopper offer its employees that makes it different from other companies?

The more important thing – beyond the benefits and perks that we offer – is that our culture operates from top to bottom.  Top to bottom means that every interaction we have internally and externally with customers reflects our brand promise and core values.  Sure, we have the standard benefits like Health and Dental as well as a PTO policy and various other perks to working here, but that’s not culture.  Culture is the shared belief structure that we all operate within here.  It helps us make decisions about how to grow our company, help our customers, add new features, and create new perks for employees.  Our brand promise is to empower entrepreneurs to succeed and our core values are:

  1. Go Above and Beyond
  2. Always Entrepreneurial
  3. Radically Passionate
  4. Your Team

This structure has helped us grow as a bootstrapped company without taking any VC funding and to do things our way.  That’s one of the greatest perks about working here.  It’s very free and loose to try things and be creative.

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Well, what are some of the results Grasshopper has seen from its benefits and perks?

Everything has improved because we’ve done a better job hiring the right people based on the core values, making decisions about the product, reducing employee turnover, and increasing revenue each year. Since 2008, employee turnover has reduced from 25% to 10%.  That’s huge.  We’re a small company, and if we have turnover at 25%, we’re constantly in flux.  We need to hire the right people and keep them here.  In turn, that’s enabled us to keep revenue goals on track with over 20% YoY growth the last two years.  Additionally, the marketing team has been together at its core for more than two years now.  I don’t know a lot of marketing teams that can say the same thing in the tech world.

About the Author

taylor a grasshopperTaylor Alredge is the Ambassador of Buzz for Grasshopper, a virtual phone system for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Founded by two entrepreneurs in 2003, Grasshopper is dedicated to making it easier to start and grow small businesses. Grasshopper set out to empower entrepreneurs with a product that enables businesses to sound more professional and stay connected from anywhere in the world. Grasshopper also offers resources and guides to help small business owners succeed. To date, Grasshopper has served over 150,000 entrepreneurs—and the company continues to grow.

What You Should Know About Startup Incubators

Written by Chris Norris of EvoNexus

Startup incubators provide startups a faster, better chance of success through mentorship driven programs. In essence, that’s the allure of an incubator.

Incubators typically provide startups the key ingredients needs for success: office space, the best network of mentors and investors, networking events, collaboration with other like-minded entrepreneurs and a program that drives a startup to move fast. Incubators are often seen as the best place to launch a startup. It’s rich with benefits and allows the startup to focus on company and product development without having to worry about the hassle of things like leasing an office or getting an Internet connection set up. For most startups, creating and innovating sounds a lot more appealing than waiting four hours for the cable guy that may or may not show up.

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In addition to giving companies the freedom to focus on work, incubators give startups access to business networks and investor contacts they otherwise might not even know how to find. In exchange for all these great benefits, the startup typically gives up some form of equity to the incubator or pays a fee. Y-Combinator takes 7%, the 500 startups accelerator takes 5%, and there are some programs that take even more, as much as 50%!

For some entrepreneurs, this can be more than worth the benefit received in return.   Access to a network as strong as those offered from world-renowned programs like Y-Combinator or 500 startups can be tough to beat. However, there are several options out there that don’t require any equity or fees.  One such option is a local incubator in San Diego and Irvine that has proven an excellent accelerator or incubator program does not need to come with the stipulation of giving up anything in return.

Where EvoNexus differs from traditional incubators is that they offer startup companies all these benefits without requiring any equity or IP-related obligations from the company. In other words, entrepreneurs reap all the benefits of the incubator without having to sacrifice any shares or percentage of their company.

EvoNexus was formed by local San Diego entrepreneurs who wanted to inspire the talented people in San Diego to launch startups.  EvoNexus wants to move the needle in growing the San Diego economy.  Their mission is to build a sustainable community supported, technology business incubator to launch companies, raise capital and create outcomes.

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With 3 locations, over 83 admitted startups to date and 88% of those startups still active, it would appear the organization is succeeding.

EvoNexus is a fully pro-bono and community supported technology incubator that has a mentor driven program, hosts speaker and networking events, and workshops on a regular basis for the incubator’s aspiring entrepreneurs.

EvoNexus gives companies access to executive level contacts from large tech companies like Qualcomm, Sony, LG, Samsung, etc.  Additionally, EvoNexus has strategic funding partnerships with Qualcomm, Cisco, and Mitchell International.  Each respective company has a representative on the EvoNexus selection company and will consider investing seed funding into startups admitted that fit within their areas of interest.

The relationships EvoNexus has built over the years with these companies, as well as others, has resulted in eight companies being acquired and $573 million in total venture funding and acquisition outcomes by companies from the EvoNexus incubator.

Accelerators and incubators have become increasingly important to startups all across the country, especially in southern California. It’s why establishments like EvoNexus have been able to grow and thrive. As the region’s only fully pro bono tech incubator, EvoNexus is launching a third location in Irvine, hoping to replicate its success in San Diego by being a resource and a hub for startups.

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About the Author 

Chris Norris is the marketing coordinator at EvoNexus. Chris earned his B.A. in Communications and Economics from Southwestern University and his Masters in Global Business Management from the University of Alabama. Prior to joining EvoNexus, Chris was involved in the creation of startups and served in the United States Peace Corps. His hobbies include writing and playing sports.

Year in Review Panel Discussion: Net Neutrality, Cyber Security and IoT

On Tuesday, January 27th, tech enthusiasts around the Washington metropolitan area braved the snowy weather to gather at 1776’s downtown location for Tech in Motion’s ‘A Year in Review’ panel discussion. Mike Chan, co-founder of local startup ribl and organizer of Startup Weekend DC, moderated the discussion. Panelists included Rob Pegoraro (Yahoo Tech), David Young (VP of Public Policy, Verizon), Lauren Maffeo (Aha! Labs), Patrick Merfert (9Lenses), and Mike Leurdjik (Core Capital).

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Upon arriving, attendees were encouraged to enjoy some light networking before taking their seats to listen to the discussion on the biggest tech headlines of the past year as well as predictions for the upcoming year. Before the panel took to the stage to discuss the past year’s tech headlines, a few words were spoken by representatives from event sponsor companies Jobspring PartnersWorkbridge Associates, and Verizon FiOS.

Become a Tech in Motion sponsor in your city.  

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Mike Chan launched the discussion by making introductions down the line, and launched the conversation by asking each panelist to reflect on one big technology-related headline of the past year. With the annual State of the Net address having occurred earlier that day at the Newseum, Rob and David kicked things off seamlessly with a passionate dialogue about Net Neutrality, with each representing opposite sides and debating the pros and cons of net neutrality, title II, and Section 706. David finished the discussion by summarizing his stance supporting net neutrality rules, but asserted that implementation of title II would be a mistake.

Lauren then steered the conversation towards Fintech, a movement focused on disrupting the banking industry which gained tremendous momentum this past year. As an example, she cited the hugely popular Transferwise which has recently announced a 58M round of funding to expand their offerings internationally.

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Almost inevitably, the dialogue turned towards the security breaches of the past year. Corporations such as Home Depot and Target fell prey to credit card hacks, the now infamous Sony hack revealed multitudes of confidential data, and the Central Command Twitter account (@centcom) was hacked while President Obama was giving a speech on the importance of cyber security–all of which served to highlight the growing importance of this industry.

“A scary trend that we have been seeing and will continue to see is data breaches. The size, volume, and sophistication of these attacks are increasing,” Patrick stated.

He spoke at length about cyber security and the seriousness of the problems that it’s presented. Despite these problems, Patrick also highlighted an upside to the issue.

“The silver lining about this is that it’s a great opportunity for security and defense startups,” Patrick noted. “[There is] a ton of opportunity for new entrants and agile startups to tackle these specific types of attacks.”

In a change of pace, Mike Leurdijk observed that the rate of change in the industry has continued to trend upwards over time. Resources are becoming more easily accessible and there is an increase in the amount of disruptors and collaboration occurring in the space.

“This [the rate of change] is something that’s increased from the past few years and it will continue to improve,” Mike stated. “It’s cheap, affordable to become an entrepreneur, there’s a huge amount of opportunity in the enterprise space, you see corporate VCs going further…it’s an exciting time to be here.

Predictions for trends and headlines to look for in 2015 covered a wide breadth of the sector in the conversation. Topics included technology in the enterprise space moving to the consumer level, wearables continuing to tailor their offerings to fulfill the market need for devices that specifically address and target consumer needs, a value shift in startup accelerators and the democratization of angel investing.

Lauren predicted that cyber security and the broader genre of privacy will only increase in importance and relevancy. A recent study by Cisco estimated that 25 billion devices will be connected to the Internet and make up the Internet of Things in 2015.

“Global governments will not able to keep up with growing technology demands, therefore it will be up to startups and corporations to promote privacy and trust,” Lauren predicted.

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Interested in being a speaker or demo company at Tech in Motion? Contact us.

A topic that was perhaps the most popular in its prediction of continuing to trend from 2014 in to 2015 was the theme of diversity in technology. Mike Chan started things off by discussing how the lack of diversity seen is the black eye of the industry. When speaking on the diversity reports that companies are feeling pressured to release, he asked if these reports were part of a PR stunt.

Rob was quick to point out that of the companies that have actually released reports; their findings don’t necessarily cast them in the best light. An example cited was Twitter’s diversity report that resulted in backlash for not having a single female on their board. The debate then morphed into how to bring about change and increase diversity.

“The idea is to let this diversity happen more organically,” Lauren weighed in. “Once you start talking about setting quotas or things of that nature, that’s when things start to get tricky.”

Mike Leurdijk kept things in perspective when discussing the amount of time that it will take to make that change happen.

“Change needs to start at the bottom. It’s a cultural change that needs to happen. It will take a long time, but keep encouraging that change,” he asserted.

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After the discussion came to a close, there was a brief Q&A section. The audience, as ever, was filled with engaged and inquiring individuals who stayed long after the panel came to an official close to network with one another and speak with the panelists before the space, 1776, closed for the night.

1776 is a prominent startup incubator located in the heart of Washington. The startup incubator is a household name in the DC area, known for everything ranging from their Challenge Cup to visits by prominent figure includingg the British Prime Minister and President Obama. The space, which boasts an ultra-modern and comfortable interior, held the 120+ event attendees easily.

Interested in learning more about the DC chapter of Tech in Motion events? Check out the event page and join this rapidly growing membership base. The next Tech in Motion DC event will be a Demos & Drinks on February 24th at the WeWork WonderBread Factory.

‘Tis the Season for a Tech Mixer in San Francisco

Last December, over 300 SF techies joined together at Alchemist Bar & Lounge to celebrate the end of a great year. The bar was lined with holiday decor and lights as members streamed in.

Upon arrival members were greeted by the Tech in Motion team and given a name tag. Many huddled around the drink ticket bowl set up for a “Tweet for a Drink” contest and creative Tweeters started crafting 140-characters to describe the event.

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As the bar began to fill up the conversations were flowing. Talk of the latest tech and holiday tech gifts were in the air. Members enjoyed the signature cocktails served by the Alchemist bartenders as they traded ideas for the holiday season. Popping up as the most popular gift in these discussions was the iPhone 6.

As members moved around the room they were constantly meeting new acquaintances. Members were excited to meet all different types of people–ranging from out of towners, new startup CEOs and recent SF transplants. As Tech in Motion member Bill roamed the space he stated, “I’ve never seen a Meetup with so many interesting stories! Everyone has something new to tell.”

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As the event continued members flowed in and out of the sponsor booths from Jobspring Partners and Workbridge Associates. With the new year upon them, attendees were more interested than ever in the career advice the booths had to offer.

Check out the Tech in Motion Job Board! 

One guest, Devin, approached the career booth and exclaimed “My new year’s resolution is to find a new job.” He gladly spent a few minutes at the booth.

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As 8 p.m. rolled around, the SF members were not ready to leave. The conversation was flowing and what started as acquaintances had become new friends. As the sponsorship booths packed up and the check-in table closed, techies continued to inhabit the bar area. Upon closing the official event, the Alchemist was happy to keep the overflow of guests.

As one member left she stated, “that was by far the best meetup I’ve ever been to.”

To attend an event near you, find the closest Tech in Motion chapter here.