Street Culture: Invoca’s Lessons for Active, Engaged Growth

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Call intelligence software company Invoca has a company band: Undefined Method.

“It’s a software engineering thing,” says Dave Coburn, SVP of strategy, operations, and business development. “Our co-founder and CTO plays keyboards.”

The band has its own sound studio in the basement of the Invoca headquarters and performed at the annual company kick-off party in February. Undefined Method – previously the Invocans, previously something else, and Coburn admonishes himself that he better not get the name wrong – contributes to Invoca’s chill vibe. Based a mile from the beach in Santa Barbara, the company sponsors softball games and ocean-side volleyball.

“The culture is just active and there are lots of different things going on,” Coburn says. “We do a lot in the community. You know there’s been a lot of news out of the Santa Barbara area — the fires that have directly and indirectly impacted our employees and certainly the greater community and people we all know.”

The company partnered with Direct Relief International, a nonprofit that has significantly contributed to relief efforts in Santa Barbara County.

Giving, active, learning – those are the words Coburn uses repeatedly when describing what it’s like to work at Invoca. The “growth mindset” is kind of an overused catchphrase, he says, but it’s one that makes sense.

“A couple times a year we do company-wide off-sites where we do company retros,” he says. “We throw out a bunch of issues that we want to address as a company, then everyone votes on the top issues, and then we break up into groups and do retrospectives.”

The company used the Fun Retro open source tool, the third time it had done so.

“That activity exemplifies our feedback-driven agile environment that we try to promote throughout the company,” Coburn says. “We sort of live and breathe by those principles — whether we’re at an offsite, or it’s the engineering group following up on the latest effort in sprint, or the marketing team working through deliverables and initiatives.”

Coburn’s career background is in product, which is very different from his current job, but that inexperience has actually been helpful, he thinks.

“I feel like I have an advantage in some ways, in taking on this role and having it all be new, because I don’t have my own agenda. I don’t have bad muscle memory,” he says. “If someone says ‘Hey, this is a good idea for policy change for employees,’ or, ‘This is something we’d like to do,’ I don’t have that experience that says, ‘Oh I’ve tried that before, and it won’t work.’”

Instead, he says his first thought is usually that any suggestion is probably worth investigating.

“What are you trying to solve by doing that? I try to frame it with questions and think about what it means, and then, ‘OK, let’s go get the data and find out,’” he says.

These relatively spontaneous decisions to try something new have happened many times, but one of the most memorable came when a team member suggested that the company sponsor a lunch with a local taco truck.

“Someone said, ‘Let’s have this taco truck for our monthly meeting,’ and I thought, in the parking lot? Get in line in the parking lot with a hundred people? Are you sure?” Coburn says. But the event turned out to be a hit, replete with top food and staff enthusiasm.

One thing Coburn says he would have done sooner is implement the employee engagement software Peakon.

“When we started, we didn’t have data,” he says. “Well, we had anecdotal data and feedback from this person or groups, but we didn’t have a way to look at feedback from 130 different people spread out across [the] company.”

In the last quarter of 2017, Invoca implemented Peakon, which gathers data in a way that’s not taxing on employees, Coburn says.

“Previously, we did quarterly surveys which were helpful, but they were cumbersome with compiling the data and tagging things,” he says. “To have a tool that does that in real time and gives access to how people feel, what they care about and what matters, and then quickly identify things we can do to address those – the sooner you can do that, the more you can do that, the better.”

Invoca is currently in growth mode, according to Coburn, but that doesn’t mean the company has a headcount target — not one the startup is prepared to share, at least.

“We use momentum as a leading indicator, but we don’t use cash position or financing as a driver,” he says. “We use where we are in terms of customer growth goals. And we do have an iterative agile planning cycle with a longer term plan.”

Headcount does impact the company culture, though. The metrics of the company are very much affected by the employee base.

“We’re a SaaS company,” Coburn says. “Our biggest investment is in people. Everything else is in the cloud and variable.”