Street Culture: How RetailNext’s Growth Is Driven by Diversity

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In-store analytics company RetailNext will celebrate its ninth birthday in about a month.

As the company has grown, according to CEO Alexei Agratchev, it has experienced two “productivity peaks,” where fewer people are doing a huge amount of work. Then new hires are brought on, and the productivity stays about the same for a few months as the growth potential is realized. It’s a frustrating cycle, and one that management hasn’t quite figured out how to handle yet. For now, the company says it is leveraging diversity as a way to continue up the growth curve.

RetailNext was founded by three former Cisco employees – Agratchev, from Russia, Arun Nair, from India and Marlie Liu, from Taiwan. All three are still with the company, and Agratchev says that their own understanding and backgrounds in non-American culture is what has driven global growth in the last decade.

“The business culture in Japan, for example, is so different from the culture in Malaysia or in the Middle East or here in the U.S.,” he says. “We have customers everywhere.”

RetailNext has already expanded its employee base with teams all over the world, but hasn’t been easy going global.

“In the Asia Pacific, a lot of customers have been very skeptical of doing business with us,” says Agratchev. “Sometimes they think that we’re not able to be sense to needs and requirements and culture. But the company was started with the cultures of Russia and Taiwan and India, where the three founders are from. It really can make customers feel more comfortable about working with us.”

Agratchev said that the offices in Japan and the Middle East are growing especially fast, and the team in Cape Town, South Africa has nearly 40 team members. Caitlin Davis, RetailNext’s head of human resources and organizational development, says that with teams all over the world, part of her focus is on building RetailNext’s reputation as being a really great employer in each individual location.

“We’re trying to keep holding on to our core culture but still let each office develop its own culture that reflects how people work in South Africa, or in the different offices,” Davis says. “It’s definitely a challenge, but kind of a great challenge that we’re getting to work through. We’re bringing new people in, we’re embedding them in the culture. We do a Google Hangout with the South Africa office once a month, so new people can get to know everyone, and just to open the forum for everyone to learn more about the business.”

The management team travels often, a necessity that Davis and Agratchev agree helps the team connect.

Positioning the startup – Agratchev’s first, he stresses – as a leading employer involves less planning than one might think.

“We try not to do performance reviews,” he says. “We try to promote a culture of constant feedback and that’s something that I haven’t seen implemented well [at other companies]. You want to create a culture where people feel comfortable enough to speak up and not focus on instituting too many processes.

Agratchev explains: Say a sales guy does something really stupid, and makes a mistake that costs a lot of money — or loses the company a good client. The first reaction to that might be to create a new operations procedure.

“The first reaction of, ‘Let’s put a process to prevent that from happening again; something that makes sure no one else does that.’ Instead of getting rid of that guy, putting that process in place pisses off all the sales guys who are doing a good job,” Agratchev says. “But that’s how you lose your top performers.”

Mistakes will happen, he says, no matter what. The focus should not be on those mistakes and keeping them from occurring, it should be on creating a culture where employees are held accountable, but at the same time they are not scared.

“We want to encourage people to do things on their own and be resourceful,” he says. “But at the same time, we want people to know that making mistakes is not the same as being sloppy and careless.”

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.