Street Culture: Synup Culture in the Chaos of Super-Fast Scale

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Kevin Clark is pulled in a lot of different directions these days: having joined digital knowledge SaaS company Synup less than a year ago, he’s trying to hire lots of new employees, he’s in charge of business logistics on which he’s not necessarily an expert, and his boss might call him at any moment.

Clark’s boss, Synup CEO Ashwin Ramesh, is based in Bengaluru, India. Even if it’s 11 p.m. there, he might still be (he probably is) working.

“He’s still working at 1 a.m.,” Clark says, laughing. “He’s crazy.”

Synup was founded in the tech-heavy Indian megacity in 2014, and Clark was the first employee hired when the company expanded to the U.S. in late 2017. It’s now grown to almost 25 people in the U.S., including employees in Boston and Charlotte, N.C., and will soon be expanding to the West Coast. One challenge, Clark says, is establishing a consistent culture across offices that span the globe.

“We’re scaling really fast,” he says. “We’re hiring multiple people, and it can be hard making sure everyone is up to speed on our technology and our processes and values here. Everyone goes through a couple weeks of onboarding, but after that you’re kind of just thrown into the pit and it’s time to start performing, but you’re still developing and learning a lot.”

Clark says the management team makes sure to check in with employees regularly, and the team uses Slack to help scale the learning process. A Slack “onboarding guidebook” serves as a resource for new employees who have questions that have already been asked and answered.

“It’s still in process and has only been operational in the U.S. since late last year,” Clark says. “They can search through and find what they’re looking for, and we don’t have to bog down the people who have answers to those questions by asking them multiple times.”

Clark says Synup’s values and mission are focused on helping brands and agencies manage their location data.

“That’s really our north star when it comes to formalizing our values,” he says. “We want to make sure that new employees understand that yes, their job is to hit numbers, but at the end of the day the focus is on helping these brands and agencies with their local data, their reviews, and aligning that with everything else we do.”

Clark wants all his new hires to have an empathy with their customers, many of whom have already used other technologies and experienced frustration or poor results.

Though much of the team is literally on the other side of the world, the in-person factor is still very important to Synup’s leadership.

“A lot of employees have gone to India so we can make that personal connection to the people we’re working with,” Clark says. “I’ve gone; we’re sending about five people in the next month over to coordinate and meet the people they’re already working with digitally, on the phone and video chat. We want there to be a real personal connection, for them to train and work together and optimize results.”

Experiencing Bengaluru is also part of what strengthens connections among employees. They’re encouraged to spend social time out of work, and those encounters contribute to making Synup an exciting place to work with lots of opportunities.

“There’s a startup atmosphere, where someone who joins the team is going to have direct access and will be working with the executive team,” Clark says. “If they have a process they think could improve things or an idea, they can bring forth that idea, and it can be implemented in a matter of days or weeks, whereas at a much larger corporate company, you might be sort of a cog in the wheel. Product plans are laid out for a year, you can’t implement new ideas, you’re just doing what you’re told.”

It’s exciting for many, but it can also be a challenge for some people who are not looking for this type of workplace. Clark says Synup does have some advantage at choosing the right people to hire, and much of that is due to CEO Ramesh’s experience founding other companies in the past.

“Given he’s built several companies before, he is very insistent that we’re not just hiring because we need headcount,” Clark says. “Especially for the first five or 10 people, these are the leaders who are going to be building the culture in their departments.”

New York especially has a tight labor market for hiring right now, and despite Clark wanting to hire at a faster pace, Synup is taking an intentional approach.

The New York office doesn’t yet have an HR team, and the company is using a recruiter to find candidates.

“It has been very helpful to have them help us identify and sort out candidates who are familiar with the technology space and have the target skills we’re looking for,” he says. “But because we work with external recruiters, they’re kind of playing both sides sometimes. They want to bring us the best talent, but if they get a person hired, they get paid on that. We want to make sure it’s the right fit.”

Clark learned quickly to ask candidates early about their compensation expectations. He asks for information both about what they’re currently making, and what they want to make if hired at Synup.

“I started doing that more often and sooner,” he says. “It is making the process more efficient, it is. It’s a waste of time to have someone go through a whole interview process with multiple people and waste hours of my time and other people’s time, and then at the end of the process negotiate salary and find that you’re 20, 30, 40, 50 thousand dollars off. It’s good to get that baseline.”

Synup has four jobs open in New York and more than double that number in Bengaluru.

April Nowicki is a staff writer at Street Fight.