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Building a Culture is Deliberate

Written by: Larissa Murillo, Marketing Manager, MarketGoo


Wences Garcia  CEO/MarketGoo

Our company, MarketGoo, was founded in 2012, and we have dedicated four years to building a workplace that enables a semi-remote developer team to be exceptional. Here are a few things we learned.

Building culture does not happen overnight

As is the case with many startups, before “culture” could even be considered a thing founders Wences Garcia and Jose Miguel Perez had to make sure their first hires were the kind of people they wanted to build their culture around. Without even having defined their culture yet, they decided to focus on two factors—transparency and character—as the foundation for the company’s culture and hiring process.


Create transparency or suffer the consequences

We’ve always been totally transparent with potential hires and with the team, not only about finances, but also about work climate and challenges. Employees know how their work fits into the bigger picture, and transparency ensures that everyone is working together toward a common vision. We’re careful to avoid ambiguous goals, which can unwittingly foster mediocrity and discontent. This is especially important when prioritizing tasks and deadlines.

Early on, when we were still developing our culture, we had one particular project that was backlogged into oblivion. There was no common sense of urgency; everyone was thinking about how the project impacted their own team. We put transparency into action, discussing in a company-wide meeting how the project fit into our MRR objectives and how it could be a game-changer for all of us. Everyone was given a chance to air their frustrations about how the project had been lagging, and the development team was able to offer a fresh perspective on why it had been relegated to the back of the queue. After a collaborative discussion we all came up with a simple solution and were able to move forward with a clear, unified purpose. We’ve had quite a few projects like this since then, and each of them succeeds once we gave transparency the center stage.


Where transparency begins and ends

When it comes to the company’s finances, we don’t hold back. Sales, revenue, profits, and major milestones and setbacks are available for all to see and discuss. This empowers employees to make project, budget, and team decisions based not only on a common mission, but on the financial goals of the company. This applies to new hires and established employees alike. Everyone knows what to expect from the get-go, so there are no surprises down the road. We’ve learned that the more each team member knows, the better their performance is.

Transparency does, however, have its limitations, specifically when it comes to individual employee salaries. Everyone has their own roles and responsibilities, so the problem of wondering how much your peers and colleagues make never really took off here.


Beyond technical expertise

The habits and personalities of team members will make or break the culture. No two employees are alike, but we make sure our developers’ qualities and characters work well together to achieve the same overarching goals.

These foundational determinants are based upon the premise that any developer that makes it to an interview round has already proven their technical worth and had their work ethic verified by references. The hiring committee, led by Garcia, our CEO, is there to evaluate the candidate’s personal qualities and how they align with MarketGoo’s culture and mission.

Interviews are mostly used to determine whether you’re a cultural fit, so we can quickly see if someone will succeed at the company or not,” says MarketGoo senior developer, Jaime Martinez. “If the candidate gets invited to interview with us, it’s because we already know they can do the work based on their previous experience, recommendations, and the back and forth we’ve had with them. Having a [ton of] public repositories on GitHub does not a great developer make, and most importantly, it doesn’t tell us anything about the person behind the work.


Hiring by committee

The purpose of the hiring committee is to evaluate candidates’ personal qualities and how they align with MarketGoo’s culture and mission. Interviews are conducted first by Garcia, and then by the hiring team. They’re conversational; designed to make candidates feel comfortable and allow interviewers to really evaluate a person’s behavior and personality. And though everyone involved is clear on the type of hire they want and the type of colleague they want to work with, that doesn’t mean it’s always unanimous. When you are a candidate interviewing with four or five people, it’s going to be hard to impress them all. We find it normal that some might be more enthusiastic than others about a hire. Full-on objections are given the importance they deserve, but we recognize that unanimity is not always possible. We go by consensus, and we haven’t had any problems so far.


Vision is nothing without communication (and good barbecue)

Garcia does a good job of transmitting his vision for the company. Almost two years ago, he began to deliberately discuss culture in our weekly and quarterly meetings. It gives us the opportunity to smooth it around the edges and talk about the entire team and how they relate to the culture. Having consistent talks has made us closer and stronger as a team, created a transparent environment where everyone can make suggestions, and united the engineering/development teams with the rest of the company in a way they weren’t before.

After one of these sessions, we instituted perks like gym memberships, and subsidies for other activities and individual passions. Our current workflow was conceived in a similar manner, with an active collaboration between the development, product, and administrative teams. Weekly meetings are often held at colleagues’ houses, where we have our resident BBQ boss (aka full stack developer Martinez) cook up one of his wondrous meaty delights while we talk about our lives outside of work and later focus on our weekly sprints and current issues and fixes.


Like developers, culture must be fed

The company and its employees feed off each other in order to cement the culture. As anyone who has been part of a company in any capacity is painfully aware, just because you proclaim your culture to be a certain way, shout it from the rooftops, and print it on manifestos, does not make it so. It takes work.

Culture is fluid. Every time we add a new person to the team we create a shift. Every time we sign a new partner or have an end of quarter meeting, our culture adapts, transforms, and molds. But it stays effortlessly coherent with who we are—our values, work ethic, product, and team members.

We work across two time zones, and while it is tricky for scheduling certain meetings, we have made it work to our advantage. It actually increases our efficiency since there is work being done 24/7. We have twice annual retreats where everyone comes together. Our last retreat was on the island of Menorca, Spain, where we worked and bonded between bike riding, boating, and lounging around. Our next retreat? With the number of motorcycle enthusiasts on the team, there is a good chance it will involve long and winding roads!


What we look for in devs

MarketGoo is a small team, so there’s a lot riding on hiring the right people. Says Garcia, “We are looking for team players who will match our culture. We look for autonomous profiles [who are] willing to learn and capable of overcoming remote working challenges. We value past experiences and organizational skills. We need to see a willingness to learn and contribute among our dev hires. ‘Under promise, over deliver’ is the motto we use.”

All of our developers go beyond their technical skills in ways that make them incredible assets. For example, our CTO and senior developer have an incredible creative and marketing instincts and have given us crucial input in product development and marketing actions. As someone outside the engineering team, I always marvel at how none of them fit any stereotype, and their openness and eagerness to collaborate with me makes me want to work with them and make their lives easier. They consistently show their worth as professionals and as people.


What devs like about us

“Our happiness index is very high,” says Martinez. “The company stands out to us because we all feel like we belong, and that we each own a little bit of it. We understand what piece of the puzzle we are and how we fit into the bigger picture.” Martinez says flexibility with work location and hours are a big plus, too. “I can drop off my kids at school, oversee some renovations being done at my house, save time on a commute, and avoid distractions. Slack helps keep us in touch when we are not in the office, and there we also have our watercooler conversations.” All of this is punctuated by our regular retreats, where employees can connect face-to-face.


Did we do it right?

While there probably isn’t one “right” way to create a culture, allowing it to develop organically is a good first step. We are a small team and started out even smaller, so there were some kinks to work out initially. In the beginning it was the norm to just ping someone from the dev team on Slack and comment on something you wanted to try, a potential bug, or something urgent for a customer. The developer you were talking to then had to somehow juggle that with the rest of his tasks and figure out on their own how important it was. This led to inefficiency and a lack of follow up, and it made our developers feel like the rest of us were their customers and they were just receiving “tickets” day in and day out.

Instead of perpetuating the problem, we learned from it. Our current agile framework is a direct reflection of the inefficiencies our culture originally had. We don’t let our culture be driven solely by engineering, management, or external pressures. It’s all-inclusive, avoiding the “us versus them” mentality that can occur with development teams.

By having our development team in close contact with other teams, actively participating in discussions that aren’t directly related to their work, we’ve created a remarkable synergy across the entire company. And by hiring the right people, we ensure this synergy lasts.

As we grow, transparency and character are the two foundational requirements we plan to continue to build from. We learned that building a culture has to be deliberate, and getting to the point we are now has been a very conscious effort.


Wences Garcia is the Founder and Head of Culture at MarketGoo, built to help customers grow and achieve success online without the need for technical skills and expertise. A frequent blogger on startup life, Web Marketing, industry news, SMB Digital solutions and services, SaaS and all things related to make online marketing easier.

Connect with Wences on:  Twitter  |  LinkedIn

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