“Looks like a shuffleboard is in our future.”
Neighborhood community connection app Nextdoor is still a private company, said Margie Mader-Clark, VP of human resources. As such, sometimes they can’t offer lots of elaborate perks, like extensive game rooms, at their San Francisco headquarters. But it’s not about the perks, it’s about the people — and a collective employee mindset is worth more than any game room. By fiercely emphasizing open communication and collaboration between everyone at all levels, and accommodating workers’ individual needs, Nextdoor is slowly but surely creating its own company community of great neighbors.
“The same program that we implement externally in the app for finding good neighbors, we’re using to look for good neighbors in our employee base,” Mader-Clark said. “The prize is cash, and they get to choose how to spend it on the company.”
Mader-Clark said that the past four “good neighbor” employee winners — nominated by their coworkers — chose to combine their winnings and now have about $1,000, which they might spend on an office shuffleboard.
Nextdoor has four other culture-focused initiatives in play designed to promote communication between employees and management and support individual growth. With 118 employees, Mader-Clark stressed that establishing a crisp definition of the company culture is not the goal.
“One hundred and eighteen people is not a lot, but corralling those opinions is a more difficult task,” she said. “It’s about a stewardship of culture, taking care of it, making sure the negative aspects go away as early as possible.”
Nextdoor also uses a culture survey of employees to gauge which processes are working and which are not, how management is succeeding, and to determine which of the perks that they do have are appreciated and which ones can go. A speaker series is combined with social events to support employee aspirations, and executives hold open office hours to help encourage employees to voice ideas, suggestions, and concerns. Mader-Clark said between two and three dozen employees usually attend the open office hours, and more attend the speaker series.
“And, when you get big enough, grassroots things start happening,” she said, referencing an employee group called WAND, for Women At Nextdoor. “I think it was originally one of our female engineers, she wanted a forum for women who work here to get together and talk about how it is working here; how to make the place more female-friendly. It turned into ‘How do we do outreach? How can we attract more women to work here?’ The group put a lot of focus on hiring and I always support any ways we can build relationships with potential hires. This group is doing it from a grassroots perspective. It’s fantastic.”
Nextdoor was founded in 2010 and launched officially in 2011, and management realized quickly that the platform would benefit with a focused strategy for growth. One opportunity presented itself in the form of public agencies, such as local police and fire departments and government agencies, whose representatives were reaching out to Nextdoor as a way to connect with local communities.
“We piloted [the public agency platform] very carefully and saw it starting to work,” Mader-Clark said. “We began to target not just the inbound requests, but also the top 100 cities in the U.S. We started building partnerships with public agencies as a way to reach out directly to neighborhoods.”
The public agency platform, which is separate from the main Nextdoor platform, looks the same but protects the privacy of neighborhood members by preventing agencies from reading messages sent within communities. For example, a police department would be able to post an update about a vehicle accident and read only replies to that post. Since launching in 2011, the platform has grown to connect nearly 100,000 neighborhoods across the country, and is also successful in expanding via neighborly word-of-mouth.
Nextdoor is currently hiring for 22 open positions, a process motivated by how deeply applicants care about things beyond the actual job.
“We look for a really concrete, tangible belief in our mission of growing neighborhoods,” Mader-Clark said. “We’re willing to teach people the skills they’ll need for the job if they have that core value.”
Nextdoor currently does not generate revenue, but is well into Series D financing from more than a dozen investors. The location-based community connections between Nextdoor members have tremendous potential to link them with local businesses and service providers, and Nextdoor promises the app will always be free for members.
April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.