6 Secrets to Building a Bad-Ass Company Culture : Under30CEO 6 Secrets to Building a Bad-Ass Company Culture : Under30CEO
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6 Secrets to Building a Bad-Ass Company Culture

| July 25, 2013 | 10 Comments

seamless-office-holiday-party-madmenThis year, the employees of SpareFoot (we call them SpareFeet) gave the company one of the biggest compliments an employer could ever receive.

In confidential surveys for the Austin Business Journal’s Best Places to Work program, the people of SpareFoot gave the company high enough praise that we were named our region’s 2013 Best Place to Work among midsize employers. This honor was no accident. Every day, SpareFoot strives hard to make the company a place where people truly want to work and truly feel valued—and where they really want to stay.

What’s particularly noteworthy about this recognition is that SpareFoot has managed to foster and maintain an awesome company culture while growing from just two employees five years ago to about 90 today.

Here are six tips on how to cultivate a phenomenal company culture like the one we have at SpareFoot.

1. Put Culture First

Whoever’s running the company must embrace the concept that building an awesome culture is one of the most important parts of his or her job—spend plenty of time focusing on it and adapting it as you grow. Culture is like your product; what works for 10 employees won’t necessarily work for 100 employees, so you must adjust accordingly.

2. Treat Your People Like You’d Want to be Treated

This seems simple, but it’s amazing how most companies somehow treat their employees differently from how they would want to be treated. A big part of that is not getting emotional and not taking things personally. Everybody at SpareFoot is working toward the common goal of building a big, valuable company, so we don’t have the time or resources to get caught up in silly emotional drama.

3. Avoid Hierarchy and Politics

At SpareFoot, no one is special, and no one’s opinion matters more than anyone else’s. We use data to make decisions; we don’t rely on feelings, opinions or power. And we don’t use titles internally, as those tend to lead to internal hierarchy.

4. Be Transparent

Share everything—financials, operating results, big company news, how and why major decisions are being made, and so forth. At SpareFoot, we post financial information for everyone to see, and we pass along all sorts of data at weekly all-hands meetings. If someone asks a question about our company’s performance, we don’t shy away from answering it.

5. Work Hard and Play Hard

In a startup environment where everyone must work harder than they would at a normal job, you must reward your team for working their asses off by hosting lots of fun social events, such as happy hours and boating trips. These can be expensive, but they’re invaluable from a team-building perspective.

6. Focus on Hiring the Best People

Don’t settle for mediocrity, even if your need to fill a role is absurdly time-sensitive. Be extremely hard-core about your hiring process, and get everyone on the team to treat hiring with the utmost importance.

Chuck Gordon, 26, is co-founder, CEO and culture leader of SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based startup that runs the country’s largest online marketplace for self-storage.

Image Credit: blog.seamless.com

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  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Hey Chuck, good basic points here, but would love to hear more about specific things that you’ve done.

    I get that you guys work on things like avoiding hierarchy, and are working towards big common goals, but I would love to hear what your “Work Hard, Play Hard” consists of. Tell us about your parties, and how your employees go on crazy adventures on the weekends… would also love to hear about how you guys find people that “fit” your culture in your hiring process, who a great example of someone who came in and fit right in, or a little story about someone you had to fire when you made a mistake.

    Anyone who wants to read more about company culture, and awesome stories that can be directly relatable to your business should read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness. One of my favorite books for the stories, and the specifics on how this culture built a company with a $1B exit.

  • Melissa Krivachek


    This article was a bit vague and left me wanting to know more. While building a company culture is important HOW and WHY you built that culture is even more important. Have you heard of Ben Frein from Cedar Falls, Iowa who has done something similar offline and is the same age? I would have loved to see you integrate stories, case studies, examples to make this a bit more lengthy, detailed, and fun to read. I somewhat feel like it was a way to pitch your company without pitching your company. Kuddos for going from 0 to 90 in 2 years that is undoubtly a huge accomplishment and worth recognizing. I would love to see more from you but in a more structured and engaging format.


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  • Jenny Zhang

    Hi Matt, thanks! We actually go into pretty graphic detail about our company culture + events that support that culture on our blog. We also provide a lot of advice and insight into our hiring process for all prospective applicants.

    A guide to SpareFoot Happy Hours: http://blog.sparefoot.com/3639-sparefoot-happy-hours/

    Our advice for writing a perfect startup cover letter: http://blog.sparefoot.com/3424-cover-letter-and-resume-dos-and-donts-startup-edition/

    In-depth coverage of our party at Interactive during SXSW: http://blog.sparefoot.com/3336-ryan-gosling-google-glass-and-dance-frenzy-the-sparefoot-party-recap/

  • Lucky13X

    It actually took longer than 2 years to get from zero to near 90.

    Hopefully, Chuck won’t mind me bogarting his chance to respond but if you really want to know more about SpareFoot and it’s culture that lead us to where we are, please feel to visit SpareFoot’s blog: http://blog.sparefoot.com/.

  • Andrea Francis

    I am not sure about point 2. Treat others how you would like to be treated, yet don’t involve emotions? It seems counter-intuitive. You’re dealing with people here! Do you mean “leave your problems at the entrance, you’re here to work”?

  • Michael Luchies

    Through interviewing Chuck, I did find Sparefoot’s corporate culture interesting, but I think some of the specifics and more unique aspects could have spiced this article up.

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Hey Jenny, thanks for sharing. Would have been cool to see more of these examples in the article and what their out comes were.

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Hey Andrea, I think it’s important to understand that lots of decisions in business aren’t going to please everyone, but being emotionally intelligent is also super important if you are going to build an awesome company. I think a company that can come together like a family is awesome, but keep in mind not all families are functional!

  • Andrea Francis

    It’s tricky, and one I wish there was an answer to!