Connectivity Culture Growing Beyond ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’

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They’ve worked together forever, one of them said.

I’m the funny one, and he’s not, the other said.

Both immediately started laughing. Their jesting banter and easy, frequent laughter hint of a company culture moving beyond the standard startup “work hard, play hard” dynamic.

But Matt Booth, CEO of marketing technology company Connectivity, doesn’t seem to think it’s anything especially strategic. He and co-founder and COO Emad Fanous are aligned with their focus and goals for the five-year-old company. They’re in a rhythm, their skills complement each other, and they grant each other the same independence to get things done that they give to employees.

“We just do the standard things,” Booth agreed. “You basically treat employees as your partners so they enjoy coming to work. Give them autonomy to make decisions around a goal.”

The two are dedicated to their business and have been in the tech industry long enough to know which corners to cut, and where to step on the accelerator.

“Generally in startups, you need to be much more aggressive, you need to move quickly, and you have an advantage over large companies in being nimble,” Fanous said. “It’s important to get the right people in place who are smart enough to figure out what needs to be done, and then actually implement it.”

Connectivity went from a 20-person company to an 80-person company in a year and a half. Booth and Fanous are confident that they have the right team — for now.

“We want to make sure that we’re being prudent with the financial capital we have,” Booth said. “If we need to add more people of course we will, but right now we have the right people in the right places and it’s time to focus on continuing to scale the business.”

The company is poised to continue accelerating its already-supercharged growth, and Booth anticipates hiring for more new jobs in the first quarter of 2016. Booth and Fanous previously found success in growing businesses and driving new customers by experimenting, and that is what they are looking for in their current team and future hires.

“We always want to hire people who are entrepreneurs themselves, and let them know that they’re not going to get in trouble for failing,” Booth said. “People are never going to be penalized for making mistakes. Let’s experiment with different ideas and see what works. We might try 20 things and in those we might find one gem.”

In 2001, Booth and Fanous were working to expand a different business. Booth said they modified their product so that it didn’t have an annual contract and was instead all based on performance. “We told clients: ‘We’re going to get you a certain amount of calls or clicks, and if we don’t, then you don’t pay.’ The company went from 4,500 advertisers to 60,000 within five months.”

The main reason that concept worked was because Booth and Fanous were given the freedom to try out different ideas and investigate where the results would be the greatest. The opportunity they took, to test options that didn’t necessarily have guaranteed positive outcomes, ended up changing that business forever.

Now, they’re giving Connectivity’s current employee team that same freedom. By combining that approach with open lines of communication and minimal ego in the management sector, the company is scaling its culture successfully, according to a May 2015 employee satisfaction survey the HR department performed.

Eighty percent of employees responded to the survey, an exceptional engagement rate, said Sue Dickinson, Connectivity’s senior director of human resources. Dickinson, the company’s first human resources employee, had been working there for only a few months when she decided to use the survey to get a better idea of employee satisfaction.

Connectivity employees take a break from work for company-provided lunch from a local food truck.
Connectivity employees take a break from work for company-provided lunch from a local food truck.

The number-one response received from multiple employees was that they all loved their coworkers. Employees also were grateful for the free lunch available five days a week and the kitchen stocked with snacks, and liked that they felt their work was effecting real change. In addition, the survey highlighted Connectivity’s need for a clearly defined mission.

“When [employees] were asked to describe it, a few people said they didn’t know, others said it was very clear,” Dickinson said. “Mostly, they were saying, ‘I understand what I’m doing day-to-day, but why am I doing that?’ That’s what we need to work on.”

Putting the company vision and mission into words is the goal, and in the meantime, the team is using a simple strategy for focus and progress: communicate, collaborate, and keep everyone on the same level.

“The main thing about Matt and Emad is that they don’t want any preferential treatment,” Dickinson said. “They don’t even have parking spots or offices. Emad goes from couch to table to wherever there’s a spare desk so he can work closely with different teams. They want to be treated exactly like everybody else. They want to be approachable and make sure that people know they can come to them with anything.”

Employee satisfaction can be difficult in fast-growing technology startups, and Connectivity’s management team is anticipating challenges that will only become more pronounced as the company scales. Dickinson said she is working to differentiate the company in the tech startup world, and is aware of how hard employees are working to move it forward. In the past year, the product and tech teams have worked weekends and late into weekday evenings for weeks at a time.

“So many startup tech companies are not as family-friendly as other companies have been in the past,” Dickinson said. “We really try to involve employees’ families in many things we do. We appreciate that they have lives outside of work.”

This year, after weeks of long hours, Connectivity sent 38 employees to Disneyland — and paid for each to bring along a plus-one, or even the entire family.

“They all got to stay overnight at the Disneyland hotel and have that time back with their families,” Dickinson said.

Nearly 100 people, including 25 kids, got to celebrate at Disneyland as a thank you to Connectivity’s hard-working employees. Next week, the company is holding a big potluck Thanksgiving celebration. It regularly takes the whole company out for dinner or happy hour at a local bar.

“These are things that are going to be harder to do as we get bigger,” Booth said. “Not financially, just harder to do because where can we find a bar that’s going to take 300 people? If you just drop into a bar at 3 o’clock, it’s hard with that many people. It makes taking teams out infinitely more complex.”

Booth said the company is anticipating some interesting partnerships that are set to go public before the end of the year, but he couldn’t disclose what they were. Instead, he and Fanous took to more banter and jokes.

“We’re buying Apple,” Booth said.

“I thought it was Google,” Fanous joined in.

“And Facebook too,” Booth said.

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.