As part of my research on the year ahead, I embarked on a series, 20.17 Big Ideas for 2017, to ask a number of my favorite award-winning marketing experts, authors, and other thought leaders -- as well as some of Firebrand Group's own digital strategy and branding experts -- to recommend one "Big Idea" that companies can take advantage of to get ahead in 2017.

One of the individuals I was fortunate enough to interview for this series was Sameer Dholakia, CEO of SendGrid. Dholakia had a pretty good year, to say the least: he's led SendGrid to $100 Million in revenues and a much-anticipated potential 2017 IPO. His big idea for 2017 is more of a prediction: small businesses and startups will have a leg up on the competition for talent.

Here's some of our conversation:

Company culture is certainly a selling point for new applicants. How does SendGrid differentiate themselves to attract applicants? What stands out in the ideal applicant for SendGrid? Does this weave a bigger narrative for your company culture?

Culture cannot be one size fits all. It should be distinctive to your company as some might thrive in a culture that others despise.

SendGrid's 4H culture is what makes our organization unique. It's the sum of our values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes and it's the way we recruit and retain top talent. The core of our culture is our 4Hs: Happy, Hungry, Humble and Honest. SendGrid's people are Hungry to raise the bar to deliver results, yet are still Humble and always learning from each other and their customers. They are Honest, meaning they value transparency - sharing feedback freely and are Happy to enjoy both their work and their lives outside of the office. Happiness isn't about free food or matching 401Ks, it's about the people.

These cultural values are authentically used in everything we do. It's not just a slogan or something we post on the walls. You'll hear this vernacular being used throughout the office: "Honest H feedback, this wasn't what I had expected" or "We're running a bit behind schedule, we need to add some Hungry H to this initiative." We invest a considerable amount of time and resources throughout the year to ensure absolute alignment on our mission and we are maniacally focused on recruiting and developing those who will raise the bar for the teammates they join.

Sameer Dholakia

Our 4H culture is not just how we live. It's how we hire and it's inherent to everyone at SendGrid... it's in our DNA. Only our company's best culture and talent fits are able to interview candidates and are part of the selection process. It is a privilege that is reserved for those who have demonstrated excellence in their role and their ability to consistently assess and distinguish distinctive cultural fits from average. Each interviewer is responsible for probing on a different H, and asking for specific examples from the candidate's past in which they exhibited those values. If a candidate embodies our culture and is a high performer, that's what gets us excited.

Do you see these hiring trends as a strictly Millennial attraction?

I don't see these trends strictly as Millennial attraction. If you look at the best companies like Google, Nike or Apple, they have one thing in common: a strong and distinct culture. This is what separates the good companies from the great ones and top talent self selects into it.

Do you see the landscape of small business hires vs. corporate hires changing? Will the same categories exists in the future? How will freelance roles factor into this?

With the rise of talent looking for culture above all else, I do expect the landscape of small business hires vs. corporate hires to continue to change. Both groups are fighting for the best and brightest talent but many people have turned to smaller organizations that they find invigorating, innovative and inspiring. A company that recognizes them as individuals and not just a number.

The categories are starting to blur as larger corporations have learned to follow in smaller companies' footsteps. They need to constantly be innovating and adapting in order to stay alive and that increases competition. Given this shift, these are all decision making factors that startups and small businesses can and should instill in their culture whether they have one, ten or twenty employees.

We see freelance talent as bar raisers who have something that we don't currently have, they have a solution for our gap and are typically tapped by scaling organizations or growth companies.


Looking for more Big Ideas for 2017? Access the entire ebook here. And here's wishing you even half as much success in 2017 as Dholakia's been leading SendGrid towards.