Street Culture: At Ibotta Good Ideas ‘Come From Anywhere’

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Four office locations in five years — either something went wrong four times, or something is going very right.

Ibotta, the fast-growing mobile shopping app, moved again this year when the company outgrew its third location faster than anyone had expected. Alison Meadows, vice president of human relations, told Street Fight that Ibotta is fast approaching critical mass at this new location as well. The company plans to add between 80 and 100 full time professional positions and another 130 or so customer service employees. Currently employing about 350 people total, Meadows says she has been rolling with the fast-changing needs of the company.

“It’s been a challenge as we grow with how to disseminate information,” Meadows said. “We’ve been conscious about getting the next level of leaders below the senior leaders involved in decisions, because they’re going to have to roll them out. They have to make sure their teams are on board and that things are implemented correctly.”

A diligent IT team recently migrated employees to a single chat application, and a new intranet is being built out of the current customer relationship management tool.

“We’ve been using five different ways to chat it up during the day,” Meadows said. “It used to be this Dropbox over here, that Dropbox over there, ‘Oh hey do you remember that email I sent six months ago? Wait, I have to go find it? Crap, I hate Gmail!”

Ibotta’s cultural growth is also fast changing, featuring a mish-mash of initiatives linked by the IBOTTA values acronym: Integrity, Boldness, Outhustle, Transparency, Teamwork and “A good idea can come from anywhere.” Meadows laughed at the randomness of the last item, because it doesn’t fit with the other five items, but represents itself in its non-conformity.

“We want to invest in personal growth,” she said. “It’s important to take feedback well and for everyone to be building their own sets of skills, and that can mean different things for different individuals. We’re still making sure that we’re investing in who we are to become better and propose creative solutions. That ties in with ‘A good idea can come from anywhere,’ but it’s one thing to have an idea and another thing to have a solution. We need more of those as we continue to change.”

A recent suggestion from a new product designer was an idea and a solution, Meadows said, and referenced a whiteboard-walled hallway in the office, where the designer had laid out his idea in precisely spaced handwriting and design layout. His idea led to a change in the Ibotta app user interface, showing smaller tiles that allow more inventory items to be presented on one screen. After recently expanding the app from grocery items into clothing and jewelry, the next redesign plan is to personalize the tiles to show more relatable items to users.

The Ibotta office is designed in a big circle linked by the smart elevator bay (a front desk person will show non-millennials how to use it), and the company will likely expand onto another floor in the same building in the next year or so. One initiative that will hopefully keep the team connected is the buddy program.

“Every new hire is paired with someone who’s been here,” Meadows said. “We grew so fast, it used to be someone who had been here for six months would be paired up. Then it was anyone who’s been here for six weeks, now it’s ‘Hey, you’ve been here six days? Great, here’s your new buddy.’ We’ve seen how some buddies have blossomed into actual friendships.”

Alex Walker, Ibotta’s head of public relations and communications, started with Ibotta about six months ago. Zev Barsky, vice president of customer support, is Walker’s buddy.

“When [Alison] said that about the buddy program turning into real friendships; Zev and I are like, real friends now,” Walker said. “We have kids the same age and they both are into fencing. When I started the job, Zev took me to lunch and we hit it off. Just last month when I hit the six month mark, I was paired with Mark Long on the engineering side, and I took him to lunch at the same place Zev took me!”

Meadows said that of course, challenges have come up during the last five years, but there are still some employees from the original team who have stayed with Ibotta throughout all four moves.

“For all of them, they have a spirit of true teamwork,” she said. “They’ve had to wear many hats along the way, and they’ve lost some of those hats, which has been a good thing for them to focus on what they’re good at and what they’re skilled at.”

Teamwork is a pretty standard startup value – Ibotta’s office is decorated with honeycomb-inspired detail – and it sometimes works in opposition to other company values.

“It’s interesting because those values don’t necessarily translate into behavior,” Meadows said. “Outhustle can mean something very different to each individual. Some people think outhustle is, ‘I’m going to work as late as I can to get the job done,’ and others think, ‘I’m going to work as fast as I can to get what I need done.’ But what does that mean to an engineer? Engineers typically don’t hustle. They need thoughtful, logical, analytical. So that wasn’t translating across all the teams.”

Now, they’re working on collaborating and working cross-functionally to make sure that individual efforts complement the overall team efforts.

“We’re all moving at a very fast pace,” Meadows said. “A piece of advice that I live by is ‘assume innocence.’ When we come out of a meeting and think there’s been a communication mishap, we need to sit down and figure it out. Assume innocence and approach with respect.”

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.