Boston-Based Dispatch Retains a Startup Mentality as It Sets Its Sights on Big Growth
This is the fourth installment of Street Fight’s new Street Culture series. Every few weeks, Street Fight will take a look at the inventive ways that some of the fastest growing companies in local create the kind of unique company culture that attracts the best and brightest.
For many, the startup culture of just “getting s*** done” means long hours and everyone pitches in.
For Dispatch, a barely three-year-old software platform development company, that scene is quickly changing. Dispatch grew from three employees to 25 in the past 10 months – one new employee was assigned the title of “Getting S*** Done” – and the company is on an upward trajectory. As it scales, the executive team is hoping to maintain that small-time ambiance while segmenting responsibilities.
“It’s easy to get a lot of stuff done when there’s way too much to do,” said Dispatch co-founder James Yaakov Zar. “We used to be doing way too much and everyone was doing a little of everything. We’re trying to balance and maintain that ‘culture of hustle’ as we grow.”
Prospects increased when the startup closed on more than $3 million in investments in November 2014, and then an additional $3 million since then. Currently, Dispatch is in the fine-tuning stage of developing software that “Uber-fies” plumbing repair, carpentry or other home services that have not, so far, had the type of push-button response time that consumers are increasingly demanding.
One challenge Dispatch has faced is its growing need for engineers, who are notoriously hard to find and keep, said Sam Crowell, Dispatch marketing director.
“It’s really hard to get engineers to join your team,” Crowell said.
Their secret is to first hire engineers as contractors, and then invite them to the quarterly company event – a weeklong “hyper-focus session,” Zar said. They use business hours to double down on product development, and then down time to go paintballing, go-karting, out to dinner, and get to know one another.
“So far we have a 100 percent conversion rate for engineers going from contractor status to full time,” Zar said.
It might be a perfect combination of people at their monthly events that shows potential full-timers what they’re missing, or it might be that added to the long list of perks employees enjoy. Health insurance premiums are covered 100 percent, Crowell said, and each employee receives Uber credits, gym passes and hardware allowances. The office also sports a fleet of drones and a 3D printer to play with. (“You know, if you just need a break and you want to print something cool,” Zar said.)
This technology startup isn’t in Silicon Valley, San Francisco or anywhere on the West Coast. Dispatch, along with about half of its in-office employees, is based in Boston.
“Boston is a great place to get some young talent,” Crowell said. “We draw a lot of our interns from local schools, and two of our three founders went to Boston University which is very local. Currently we’re looking for a few interns from local design schools like RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and Mass Art (Massachusetts College of Art and Design).”
Dispatch pays interns a standard full-time salary, Zar said.
“It’s a competitive space and we want to get the best talent,” Zar said. “We know that interns also have expenses. You’re going to learn a lot being here, but we want you to be living comfortably and be happy to be working here.”
The focus when hiring, Zar said, is on talent, not location. Eleven employees work remotely.
“Most of our engineers are remote,” Zar said. “One of our professional services people is remote. We love interacting every day with our team in person, but if we see the right talent in the right person, remote is okay.”
Several of the most recent hires were for engineers, and Dispatch is currently looking for one more, as well as a designer.
“I think that every one of us looks at it as a privilege to be a part of this company,” Zar said. “We did our time sleeping on couches.”
April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.