Street Culture: UberMedia’s Transparency and Deliberate Growth Helps them Win Halloween

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UberMedia's 2015 "Madmen"-themed Halloween costume contest entry.
UberMedia’s 2015 “Mad Men”-themed Halloween costume contest entry.

Last year, the team at local ad company UberMedia put on a Mad Men-themed skit for a Halloween costume contest. They called it “Uber Men,” and they won.

The team is now working on their costumes and the skit for this year’s annual contest, hosted by tech incubator idealab. The team’s participation in and enthusiasm for this event in particular is so ingrained in the culture that Gladys Kong, UberMedia’s CEO, almost forgot to mention it.

“UberMedia has been the prevailing champ of the contest,” Kong says. “The team comes together, learns the parts for the theme, everyone has a costume. I love it because I discover hidden talents that everyone has. I never knew that some of them can sing like they can or dance like they can.”

Singing and dancing isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, of course, and Kong says some employees stick to moving props around behind the scenes. Everyone is different, and the company’s core values nurture that.

“We’re very focused on learning and growth,” Kong says. “We look at if employees are exposed to new things, if they’re happy about what they’re doing every day.”

She says the team talked about this at a recent company meeting – about how the company-wide strive for excellence and integrity in what they’re selling is what’s gotten UberMedia to where they are now.

“We do a lot of different things every day, but it’s not like, ‘check check check,’ everything’s done,” she says. “It’s about not being afraid to try new things. Keep learning. Keep working at it. Have integrity and deliver excellence.”

UberMedia has experienced a deliberate, less common stage of growth during its six years in existence, which Kong says is a conscious choice made to promote independence.

“Our employees have worked really hard,” she says. “There are 30 employees who started with me around 2012 who have really worked very hard to build this company up with little resources. We are on a path to build it to be profitable and so we’re not having to raise funds to grow faster.”

Today there are 62 employees, many of whom have been with the company for an average of three or four years. Kong says the core team helps push the cultural values forward as new employees and managers join. And culture, Kong says, is closely tied to individual employees’ job satisfaction.

“The number one reason an employee will stay with or leave a job is job satisfaction,” she says. “I have managers who I have sat down with and ask them, ‘Do you know if your team is happy? Have you talked to them lately? Do you know what their goals are? Have they been achieving what they want to achieve?’ I always ask about what they want to achieve. Are they doing what they want to do?”

Some UberMedia employees have started in customer service and then moved into quality assurance and even on to the development team, Kong says. Others have moved from marketing into sales.

“We look for potential,” she says. “We’re not afraid to hire people with less experience. It’s about their potential, their ability to learn and to work hard. We have really high rate of interns turning into regular employees and moving into the organization full time.”

Kong says that the company’s hiring process strives for transparency – they want to make sure candidates know what kind of startup they could be joining. UberMedia isn’t on a path to grow 200 percent in the next two years, and by being open about the company’s strategies, they’re attracting employees who understand that and are prepared to contribute.

“Four years ago we were struggling to build the product,” she says. “There was a lot of uncertainty, but you have to have faith that we can build the product and that it will be a success. I am very transparent and sincere about where we are as a company, and I haven’t had a candidate come in who was expecting something dramatically different.”

The number of employees grew from 30 people to 50 relatively quickly, Kong says, and then in the last two years about ten new hires have joined.

“We’ll probably continue scaling alongside with revenue growth because we want to be on a profitability path,” she says. “We don’t want to grow so fast that we lose track of our revenue goals.”

For this year’s Halloween costume contest, rehearsals are in full swing as the groups prepare costumes and read lines. The competition takes place on Monday the 31st, but Kong and UberMedia’s marketing manager, Jessica Harwood, wouldn’t spill details.

The theme was all they would share: the 2016 Presidential Election. Laughing, Kong says that her role is typically awful. One year, she was assigned to act out the lead part in a cringe-worthy scene from Game of Thrones.

“Every year they put me in the worst roles,” Kong says. “But it’s part of the fun.”

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.