By Péralte C. Paul
In launching a business, there are the concrete components, such as the idea itself, the leadership team, and funding.
Just as critical, though, is something that can be hard to achieve not just for startups, but also for established firms: company culture.
Many companies strive to create it, but it’s not something than can be forced, says Craig Hyde, chief executive and co-founder of Rigor. An ATDC Select Company, Rigor is a maker of Web-performance monitoring software that helps its clients optimize their website and mobile applications from the end-user’s point of view.
Having a strong focus on creating the right company culture and doing it organically is not only beneficial to the company, but also is reflected in the work being done for clients, Hyde says.
“Our approach is to focus on building a culture of the best people first,” Hyde explains. “Because we know that if we have the best people focusing their efforts on creating the best products, services, and experiences for our customers, the rest will take care of itself.”
His approach makes Rigor a model to follow. In fact, the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Book of Lists, released in December, ranked Rigor the No.1 small employer to work for in metro Atlanta. (SalesLoft, an ATDC graduate company that helps firms find actionable sales lead lists via the Internet, took the No. 8 spot.)
“We have intentionally put forth the effort to become the best place in Atlanta to work, so more people want to work at Rigor,” Hyde says. “Because of this, we are able to find the very best people. On average, we go through over 100 applicants per hire and we have extremely low turnover.”
In this edition of Tech Square Talk, we ask Hyde, a Georgia Tech graduate, what makes company culture so critical and why it’s crucial to the bottom line:
Q: So much of a startup’s early years is about building the business and making money. Culture sort of develops. What was your strategy with building company culture?
A: In a startup, or any business for that matter, there are three main constituents:
- Customers — those who pay for your products or services
- Investors (or owners) — those who seek to generate a return
- Team — those who make it happen
I agree with most startups, all the focus is placed on the first two. Occasionally, culture shows up as an afterthought or a box to be checked such as purchasing razor scooters, catering lunch, or getting a pingpong table. By taking this approach, you’re skimping on the most important part of any organization, the people in it.
Q: Why is it so important to you?
A: Creating an unbeatable company culture is important from both personal and business perspectives. On the personal front, the reasons are admittedly selfish. I enjoy being surrounded by smart, driven, like-minded people. I don’t have the patience to micromanage. I want to actually be excited about going to work every day. That said, our culture is also amazingly beneficial to the business. Because of our culture we have access to better talent, have lower turnover, happier customers, and a more productive team than any of our competition. Simply put, our culture gives Rigor a huge competitive advantage.
Q: Why do you think so many companies try to do it but aren’t always successful?
A: The biggest reason is culture cannot be manufactured. It cannot be created by implementing a list of bullet points from a “How to Create Company Culture” blog. For company culture to stick, it must be genuine and come naturally to those in the organization.
Q: Is it easier for a startup to keep that culture intact than when it goes into expansion mode or is acquired?
A: Within a great company culture, there is ownership of that culture by each and every employee. It is definitely easier to maintain your culture in the early days, but if you build a culture the right way (hiring the right people and not merely establishing “perks”), that culture will be stickier during periods of rapid expansion or through an acquisition.
Q: Where should building company culture fall on the list of priorities of a startup’s operation? Why?
A: Building company culture should be a top priority from day one. If we had waited until our fourth or fifth hire to start focusing on building a strong company culture, it would have already been too late. At the end of the day, culture is not about the perks or the benefits provided by an organization. Culture is the people within your organization. If you don’t have an idea of the type of culture you want to foster when you start hiring employees, it’s nearly impossible to build a strong culture after your first few employees have been hired.
Q: The Atlanta Business Chronicle named you the No. 1 Small Employer in Atlanta this year. Have others reached out to you to ask for help in making their workplaces better for employees?
A: Since that recognition, we have had a number of organizations and individuals reach out to us for advice. The most typical questions revolve around what are the best perks that they should offer to improve their company culture. Our response is that while perks are always fun additions, it’s more important to create a positive organization that fosters freedom and responsibility among team members.
Q: What was it like being publicly recognized for building a company with that culture being seen as a key differentiator?
A: It was great validation for us, but at the same time, every person within Rigor already knew that they were part of something special. One of my favorite quotes from the Atlanta Business Chronicle article was an anonymous quote from one of our employees: “We all already know that Rigor is the best place to work. We just want an award so more people will believe us.”
Q: So it’s more than outings and fun out-of-office events?
A: Yes! I would argue that having a great culture can come without having any of the “perks.” What creates good workplace culture is team cohesion and a positive and supportive work environment that encourages independent thinking and free exchange of ideas and opinions.
Q: Many companies offer some of the perks Rigor does, but aren’t necessarily ranked as good places to work or known for having good corporate culture. What’s the difference?
A: The difference between Rigor and those companies is the people. Everyone at Rigor takes ownership of the culture that we have built. We have three core values for our company that we look for in potential hires: are you positive, supportive, and self-starting? Outside of our core values, we also look for people who are genuine people who have demonstrated a long track record of success in their previous endeavors, regardless of what those endeavors were. When it is time to hire new employees, each department is involved to ensure that a potential hire maintains a positive outlook, will work well with the team around them, and will thrive in our work environment. We’d rather hire someone who is smart and willing to learn who fits in with our culture than someone who has all the necessary skills but won’t play nice with others.
Q: How important is picking the right employees?
A: For all companies, hiring the right employees is vital to success; however, because Rigor is a “results-oriented workplace,” hiring the right people becomes even more important. At Rigor, we don’t track vacation days, we allow our employees to work remotely, and generally offer an enormous amount of flexibility to those we hire. Not everyone can thrive in such an unstructured environment, but those that can are extremely self-starting, committed, and hardworking people who value the flexibility and freedom that our workplace provides.
Q: How does it help the bottom line?
A: While there can be a perception that a focus on freedom and culture is costly and comes at the expense of productivity, the results are surprisingly beneficial to the bottom line. As a result, we are able to build a faster growing, more profitable business and without the burden of high human resources costs.