G2 Crowd: Defining and Building Culture from the Start

August 15, 2013

Culture has always been at the core of G2 Crowd.

Rather than starting with a business idea, we started G2 Crowd (we first called it G2 Labs) because five of us wanted to work together and build something meaningful. We knew each other well from building our last company, BigMachines, into a cloud software market leader with $50 million in revenue and more than 250 employees. We worked, struggled, failed, celebrated, and ultimately succeeded together.

After we sold BigMachines to private equity firms at the end of 2010, they came in and imposed their culture and leadership style. I hated the feeling of having to support people, policies, processes, and decisions in which I did not believe.

So I left the company, my baby. I took some time off and went through a period of anger, sadness and sorrow during which I pondered the meaning of life and the role of work in it.  I reconnected with my feelings, my body, and my family.

What grew in me during the morass of semi-retirement was the desire to be part of a great team again that was focused on winning and delivering new products in a challenging, fun, exciting culture. I missed fighting the fight and battling to win and beat the competition.

When I left BigMachines, my team members shared how much they valued the culture and team we had built together. They loved that the leadership team was authentically committed to building a great business, innovating for our customers, and helping each other succeed. They valued that we could be open and honest with another and share frustrations and joy while working together to achieve something greater. And those feelings stuck with me.

I decided that starting and building companies was what I was meant to do. Pursuing a mission and a purpose and striving for greatness in business life were what I was meant to do. It was not so much a choice as a natural flow of universal energy channeled through me to create.

Thus, with some of my best peers and friends, we set off together to start G2 Crowd to build a company where we would enjoy working hard while winning in the market and succeeding professionally and financially.

Defining our culture

Defining our culture was one of our top priorities as we started our new company. Before we established a business model or wrote our first lines of code, we reflected on our own work experiences and studied great company cultures. While attending an entrepreneur reunion at Stanford, I heard Chip Conley (founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality) speak about how he built  a unique, winning culture in the topsy-turvy hospitality industry. He is able to inspire low-income workers by enabling them to find meaning even when scrubbing toilets. Chip codified his culture code in his book Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow. Chip brilliantly applied Maslow’s hierarchy to create a pyramid of triangles for a company’s relationship with its customers, employees, and investors.

The Peak culture Chip defined – the one which we aspire to achieve at G2 Crowd – starts with heart and authenticity at the core. We serve customers by not only meeting their expectations but also their desires and even their unrecognized needs. This turns customers into evangelists. We take care of our employees by providing fair compensation, recognizing their brilliant contributions, and letting them find meaning in the mission of company. We take care of investors by ensuring not only that we have transactional alignment by offering them sufficient returns, but also being aligned in how we work together, and ultimately having them take pride in our mission and their investment in our company.

Our mantras: How we roll

To personalize and codify our culture, we brainstormed our mantras. These are phrases that we enjoy living by, inspire us, or we just enjoy laughing at.  Together they define our culture:

•   Discourse it
•   Be authentic
•   Feel the flow
•   It’s the juice
•   Give ‘em the slap and tickle
•   Do it live
•   Feel the vibe of the tribe
•   Sprint. Stumble. Recover.
•   Make it beautiful
•   Hug it out
•   Share the joy

Our culture is a key to our success

Our culture helps us succeed by creating an environment in which our team members can perform to their natural best. We feel comfortable and can naturally give our all to learning and winning together. As a software company, our team is entirely composed of knowledge workers who rely upon intrinsic motivation to complete both creative and mundane tasks required to help our company win. We share a commitment to each other and the company that drives us relentlessly forward. Our energy flows into our product, our customers, and ultimately our financial success.

Embedding our culture in our workspace

Our flexible and comfortable work environment supports and reinforces our culture. The office isn’t big or fancy, but it gives us a place to be together and learn from each other.  Most importantly for our high-tech team, we provide top-notch Apple laptops and monitors to all team members and a choice of standing or sitting desks, as well as ergonomic keyboard and mouses for those that want them. Because our space is a bit crowded, team members can also tunnel in by listening to music on company-purchased noise-canceling headsets.

In setting up our intimate space, we’ve attempted to optimize the feng shui to increase the flow of positive energy. All desks face the windows to maximize the amount of natural daylight we take in. We installed a small fountain so we can hear the soothing sound of running water. Our conference room wall is covered with flip charts that document our ideas and features a “tree of life” installed by our brilliant Chief of Design.

We have an office that’s centrally located and easily accessible to our whole team, which is spread out across Chicagoland. Many days we might be grinding through mundane tasks, but when we feel the overarching heart, authenticity, and meaning then it all becomes rewarding and life-fulfilling. We aspire to live at the peak at G2 Crowd.

This was published as a guest post on the Chicago Creative Space blog.