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COMPANY CULTURE

How to Quadruple in Size--and Keep Your Company Culture Intact

Hiring 75 people in just over a year brings plenty of challenges. Here's how one HR software company made sure its startup culture stuck around.
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GuideSpark, a Menlo Park, California-based software-as-a-service company that turns dense and boring employee handbooks into fun and creative videos, knows a little something about fast growth. Over the past 15 months, GuideSpark has hired 75 people. 

Scaling up that fast presents all kinds of challenges, from finding the right employee fit to maintaining a cohesive culture as new faces join every day. 

But GuideSpark, which now has 90 employees, is doing just fine on both accounts, according to CEO Keith Kitani. The team has plenty of fun with lacrosse sticks, whiffle golf, dartboards, etc.--but it's also hitting goals essential to the health of the business. The company raised $15 million in March and tripled its revenue in 2013. GuideSpark now has 240 customers--up from 60 in 2013--including Adobe, News Corp., L'Oréal, 7-Eleven, AOL, and Dropbox.

"For me, it's about having an open, transparent culture where communication and learning is part of who we are. It's also important for us to enjoy our work and who we work with," Kitani says. "We're helping companies communicate and engage their own employees. If we're not doing a great job of that, who is going to listen to us?"

Here are a few of the unwritten rules that have helped GuideSpark keep its culture as it has grown:

Rule #1: Take employee recognition seriously (but in a not-so-serious way). 

To keep communication and engagement levels up across the company, Kitani holds a weekly "wins" meeting each Friday with all the employees to recognize the biggest accomplishments of the week. Also, any new hires must introduce themselves to the team with a joke, dance, or original song.

During the wins meetings, awards are given out: the sales team gives an old coffee pot to the member who closed the most deals, the "Coffee is for Closers" award; the developers give the "Geek of the Week" award to the programmer who wrote the best line of code or is responsible for the most number of video views; and the "Sparkle Award," a big, gaudy ring, is given to the person who worked across departments the best. 

Behold: GuideSpark's gong and weekly awards given out during the Friday "wins" meetings.

"We have so many new people, we need to make sure people know each other, are recognized for their hard work, and communicating," Kitani says. "In a fast-growing company, it's important to keep the company close-knit."

Rule #2: Let employees create their own rituals.

With an open floor plan, employees have started their own engagement rituals. The sales team brought in a gong, which they ring every time someone makes a sale. The customer success team rallies through marathon workdays with pushup breaks. Some employees blow off steam while taking lacrosse breaks or throwing some darts.

Rule #3: Look for 'stage fit.'

Kitani has had to hire quickly to keep up with the company's growth. To make sure he's finding people who are a good fit, he focuses on candidates who match GuideSpark's trajectory.

"We are focusing on skill fit and culture fit, but also stage fit. One of the keys for us is whether or not a candidate can work at the particular stage our company is in. We are an early stage startup, growing very quickly," he says. "We try to do things designed to see if they can take on new problems, put them in tough situations and see if they can adapt."

Rule #4: Make the interview interactive.

After three rounds of interviews, the candidate is assigned a project to present to the executive team. If it's a sales job, the candidate may have to do a presentation about demand generation for GuideSpark's product; a marketing candidate may be asked to make a competition study, and a recruiter would probably be asked to make a hiring plan.

"We do something different for every role, but the senior team will pick a topic and [candidates] have to present to the executives just like it's a normal business meeting," Kitani says. "We see how they handle questioning, adapt to new ideas, and run with a topic they don't know that well. We are looking for personalities that can handle spontaneous situations and run at our pace."

Check out the video below to see some of GuideSpark's team in action. 

IMAGES: Courtesy Company, Courtesy of GuideSpark
Last updated: Apr 3, 2014

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported in the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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