Street Culture: mParticle CEO on Appreciating People and the Founder’s Journey

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mParticle’s core employee team began with mostly engineers and has evolved opportunistically, CEO Michael Katz says.

Now, it’s very nearly a mature double-sided operation focusing on both engineering and business functionalities. Katz is also co-founder of the customer data software company, which is headquartered in New York City with offices in three other U.S. cities and in London. His experience founding another company, whcih sold to Yahoo in 2011, gained him a new perspective on the importance of culture, and about how to shape it.

“We’re really trying to breathe a culture of responsibility, accountability, and collaboration,” Katz says. “So ultimately, what that means is choosing and defining the right values to create the right type of team. That’s vital to our success.”

Acknowledging that it’s corny, Katz says that what he’s learned about building culture has come from witnessing the need for validation, notoriety, and money in other companies. The anticipation of an end game sometimes doesn’t give the right appreciation to the journey and the people.

“You have to be present. When I thought about value creation and when you think about values, these are things that form the culture,” he says. “These are inherent characteristics and attributes of every employee we want, whether they’re in the engineering department or the marketing department or the sales department – we want people who are self-aware; people who hold themselves accountable.”

Resilience, flexibility, and humility are other cultural values assigned within mParticle, Katz says, and there are a few other bonus qualities more specific to mParticle.

“The bonus ones are that we want people who have historically been lucky. People who have demonstrated the ability to go out and create their own luck,” Katz says. “People who are curious, who engage and ask questions and generally listen, [who are] not just waiting for a pause in the conversation. People who look at the world as a ‘how to’, not looking at ‘why not’.”

Katz says he’s working to create an environment where all those values are used consistently, and where employees’ best attributes are both recognized and encouraged. As of late 2017, mParticle used a five-person hiring committee to help identify the right people to bring on.

“First and foremost, we’re always going to favor people who come in via employee referrals,” Katz says. “More so than any recruiter or someone who submits an application through the website. I’ll typically interview for cultural fit, the direct hiring manager will interview for core competencies and technical experience, and others may interview for communication skills. Then ultimately what we do is put together a score across the hiring committee. If you fall below a certain score on any one thing, we don’t move forward. We don’t put all of our stock in any one part of the hiring process.”

The committee has interviewed more than 2,500 candidates during the past few years, he says. Each member has had a chance to self-optimize the process, to focus their hiring techniques and more easily identify red flags or to hone in on special skill sets.

mParticle’s employee base has grown significantly twice, first from its initial team of 16 people to 26, and then again in 2016 when the company grew to about 45 people – the same year it raised more than $17 million in a Series B investment round.

“From there, we doubled again from roughly 45 to about 90,” Katz says. “But we don’t need to continue to double and double and double again. We’ve laid the foundation, and we will not continue to double headcount or grow headcount at the same pace that we needed to get to this point.”

Promoting from within is one option he uses to keep employees challenged and focused on the broader mission of the company. Katz says there are countless examples of employees who originally joined the company in a certain role and then grew into other roles, both vertically and horizontally. One employee started as a manager and now “we wouldn’t be able to function without her,” Katz says. Another started as a consultant and worked to onboard new customers, who later moved into a product management role.

“I’d much rather promote or give someone internally the opportunity to expand both their experience and their knowledge and expand into another area of the business, because they already know the business and they know the people,” Katz says.

The idea, he says, is to create a startup environment for adults.

“The ability to work fairly autonomously. No micromanaging, obviously; giving people the freedom to go out and do whatever they need to do. That maps back to the accountability and responsibility values. We want people who are will to take on initiatives, and to drive success through creating value for our customers,” Katz says.

April Nowicki is a staff writer at Street Fight.