Street Culture: A Changing Culture of Inclusion and Conversation at Dispatch
It’s been nearly two years since we first spoke with software platform development company Dispatch about its culture, and the company now says it is using a secret weapon to iron out a few wrinkles in its operation. His name is Corey.
“Let’s talk more about Corey,” says James Zar, Dispatch co-founder and current chief of strategy. Corey O’Donnell is Dispatch’s new chief marketing officer, hired about six weeks ago.
Like many startups, Zar says that when the company was initially founded (and when Street Fight spoke with him), the smaller team was focused almost exclusively on the value of the business.
“We thought, let’s do the work instead of worrying about marketing,” Zar says. “What we tell people about the business, that doesn’t matter. What matters is the value of the business.”
Of course, the value of the business does matter – but in ignoring marketing, Zar and the company’s other leaders were overlooking what they came to understand was an incredibly important piece of the puzzle.
“We built a strong business over the last couple of years, but there has been a gap,” Zar says. “We realized that while we were focusing on building an amazing business, we didn’t spend enough time letting people know about it.”
Dispatch experienced a lot of organic growth, Zar says, and did some “ad hoc” internal marketing and sales initiatives, but they didn’t have any structure and they didn’t have a consistent message.
Enter O’Donnell. Previously the VP of marketing at Web.com, O’Donnell’s career experience had positioned him perfectly to have a direct influence on Dispatch’s business and its culture says Zar.
“I think it’s important to have marketing leadership from a cultural standpoint,” O’Donnell says. “Marketing isn’t just what you tell the world about your business, it’s also what you tell your employees. It’s really important for the customer to understand what you do, but it’s even more important for your internal resources to understand.”
O’Donnell says that leadership should be able to go to every employee and ask, “Why did you come to work today?” and receive an answer that clearly communicates the company’s value proposition.
“You can have people cooperate, but if they don’t know the mission, that’s a problem,” O’Donnell says. “We should all be able to look each other in the eye and say, ‘I know what we exist for.’”
O’Donnell says he sees things happening at Dispatch that could be a challenge, and they’re directly related to the company’s growth.
“Startup employees are natural entrepreneurs,” he says. “They’re natural go-getters. They don’t hold back and they do what’s necessary to get the job done. The challenge you run into as you grow is that every conversation expands from two to five people, and then to 10 people and to 20 people. Every time you add someone new to that conversation, you’re changing the way the work gets done.”
Many startups find their beginning when people spontaneously share ideas, O’Donnell says. Conversations can be used as a tool to discuss what’s currently happening, and they will often propagate new ideas.
“Startups are born out of conversation,” he says. “If you cut off the conversation, you’re cutting off the progress. The conversation stops, the new ideas stop.”
Dispatch uses a few standard internal means to encourage conversation, including an employee book club, lunch-and-learns, full company town halls, department meetings, and a guest speaker series. Those things help, but it’s more of a culture of inclusion that is fostering the conversation. O’Donnell says that he had been working at Dispatch for three days when he received an invitation to travel from Boston to a client meeting in North Carolina.
“At that point, I was thinking, this person doesn’t know who I am, how I’m valuable to this business, what the scope of my job is,” he says. “They didn’t know what my role would be in that client relationship, but they knew it was going to be important for me to understand how we serve the client relationship.”
O’Donnell says that it was clear that he needed to be involved just to understand how the company works and how Dispatch serves that particular client. He felt the culture of inclusion by being included in the conversation.
“They were saying, ‘You’re new to this conversation and we want to make sure you know how it works and how we help this customer,’” he says. “It was incredibly valuable to have that experience. I don’t need to bring along the new guy, but it’s in the best interest of the business.”
April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.