Editor's Note: Hudl is one of Inc.'s 2017 Best Workplaces, our annual recognition of companies creating employee-centered organizations.
The Lincoln, Nebraska, technology company makes software tools that professional and college sports teams use to analyze performance and teach technique. Video, statistics, and old-fashioned X's and O's can be collected and served up on any device, either for sideline analysis during a game or as a practice tool. As an employer, Hudl draws much of its inspiration from the culture of the more than 150,000 teams it serves, says CEO David Graff.
"We have a very fun environment," says Graff, who worked in the athletic department at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, before founding Hudl with Brian Kaiser and John Wirtz in 2006. "It's very much like a professional sports team in that we're all pushing to get better. It's a competitive environment, but one where the overall interests of company and team and seeing the customer succeed rank higher than any individual's success."
To help its nearly 400 employees feel connected to clients, Hudl pays for each of them to see the team of their choice play--anywhere in the world. "We give them a budget for flights, a budget for tickets," says Graff. The only condition: If an employee is going to see a pro team, he or she is urged to take in an amateur client team's game as well.
Hudl also pays for workers in all of its satellite offices--London, Sydney and Boston--to visit the headquarters twice a year. Remote workers who aren't office-based have the same option. While Lincoln has become something of a bustling hub for Midwestern startups, semiannual trips there might not sound like everyone's idea of a fantasy perk.
But another Hudl benefit might: Every five years, employees are given a budget of $4,000--after taxes--to take a sabbatical of at least two weeks in another country. "It has worked out well for us," Graff says. "Our team loves it. You hear a lot of great stories." There's Eric Broulette, for instance, who visited Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his fiancée. "The highlight of our trip was when we were elephant 'owners' for a day," Broulette says. "The treatment of elephants is an especially sensitive topic, but we found this farm to be really ethical. It gave us a new appreciation for the animals and the groups working to promote their well-being."
Graff sees the sabbatical as one reason Hudl has a low churn rate. While it's true that tech workers in Lincoln don't have as many opportunities to jump ship as those in Silicon Valley, the talent pool is also smaller, so hiring is competitive. Graff also relies on "a little bit of a Midwestern mentality. Once you get them in, if you treat them well, there's less bouncing around." Hudl's unlimited vacation policy doesn't hurt either.
Hudl's software helps coaches break down the particulars of an athlete's performances so they can truly understand who's contributing and who's not. That's the spirit Graff seeks to create at Hudl. When you're looking to build a team of impact players, he says, "it's not necessarily the hours you put in, but the work you get done."