Marketing tech company Adcellerant has been in its current office in Denver for a few months, an open-plan location with big windows and conference rooms lining the back wall. Empty desks in the center of the room await new employees, several of whom were just hired in August.
Co-founders Brock Berry and Shelby Carlson came from an old-school corporate culture, and that atmosphere was one of the reasons they started Adcellerant.
Corporate culture often means checking to make sure employees are in their chairs at 8 a.m., and then checking to make sure they’re still there right at 5 p.m., Berry says, and those hard lines were major stressors. One day, the corporate culture hit a breaking point for them.
“They took the coffee away,” he says. “As a punishment. We didn’t hit a number and they said, ‘Well, if you guys can’t hit your numbers, we’re taking the coffee away from the floor.’ Wow. That was the only perk we had.”
There was a sort of rebellion, Carlson says, though Berry says he’s blocked it out.
“It was really remarkable,” Carlson says. “It was a group of incredibly hardworking intelligent people, and they were constantly fighting for their jobs. Here, we focus on hiring the smartest, most talented people, and give them an environment that we believe makes them skyrocket in their talents and abilities.”
The environment now at Adcellerant definitely includes coffee. Two dogs greet visitors at the door and roam the floor, though Carlson laments that they had to put a dog cap on canine office attendance. A crew of engineers sitting near the back points to a 12-pack of beer under one of their desks, and then reminisces about the time one of them convinced another that management was implementing a dress code. The three agreed that having no dress code is one of the top perks of the job.
Brenda Folak, a campaign manager bundled in a blanket in a desk chair, says she intentionally sought out her job at Adcellerant.
“It’s on all the top lists,” she says. “I wanted to work for a company with all the best ratings. I did a phone interview with Vivienne [Duclos, Adcellerant director of operations], and she said that everyone is close friends and that it’s important that everyone gets along, not only with work stuff. I end up coming in early and staying late just to hang out with people.”
Adcellerant has been on Inc.’s Best Workplaces list for the last two years, and ranked as the No. 2 best place to work in Colorado for a medium-sized company this year by the Denver Business Journal. The company was founded in 2013 and currently employs about 40 people. The culture, though a driver of creation, wasn’t a conversation until the founding team first started looking for an office location.
“When we were first working from home, we were just three founders mostly trying it out, trying to figure out how to get something started,” Berry says. “When we started talking about getting office space and started looking, that’s when culture came up. We wanted a place where there was a more open work environment, where we could have pets, have beer in the workplace, little perks, and we love family so we didn’t want—”
“—We didn’t want to push someone to neglect their family duties,” Carlson says, finishing the thought. “If you need to drop someone off at school, that’s OK. If you need to leave early to pick up your kids, that’s OK.”
The third founder is CIO Bill Chamberlin, and the trio believes that being family-friendly is a critical piece of how the culture has shaped up. In reviewing the first draft of an employee handbook provided by a payroll company, right away they noticed something that wasn’t OK.
“I see maternity leave, but no paternity. And only partial, not full,” Berry says. “It was crazy. It took 90 days just to get that one subject cleared. We were passionate about it though—[at previous jobs] it was unpaid maternity and zero paternity. You had to take a vacation day.”
If zero paternity leave is typical, then it’s just one more thing that contributes to this company’s culture.
“It’s funny because it’s been a topic of conversation every single time we grow,” Carlson says. “It is incredibly important to every single person out there that we try to maintain this culture that we’ve created. It’s a conversation that comes up when we interview. It comes up before we sign the offer letter. We talk about it with the person in their first two weeks of working here, because it is a non-traditional workplace.”
Still, fast growth has meant that hiring can be a challenge.
“We have to make sure we’re making the right hire. Number one, we try to understand exactly what this person likes to do for work, and then as it relates to the position, exactly the things we need in that position, because a lot of positions are new. The company has gone from three founders to 40 people in a matter of four years,” Berry says. “It’s really critical to know exactly what we want in that role. What gets that individual excited, motivated to come to work, is it in fact what they’ll be doing in that role?”
The hiring team has boiled down the science to two indicators: One, what personally gets that person excited about work, and two, is that person going to be comfortable with the culture, which includes a lack of working privacy and a playful, relaxed physical surrounding.
“Is it going to bother you that the person next to you is drinking a beer at two in the afternoon?” Berry says. “We have to verify with them personally whether this environment, if this whole office structure or the playfulness of the office, if those are a good fit.”
April Nowicki is a staff writer at Street Fight.