Safe Environment to Fail
To create a culture of experimentation, you first need to create a culture of safety.
We encourage everyone at Custora to try and test new things, and we want everyone to also feel comfortable with the failures that often come with experimenting. In fact, our actual product emphasizes the importance of experimentation. Our app allows users to test different types of emails based on their customer demographics and compare how those emails perform. A/B testing is a core feature and a value prop of Custora, so much so that we provide it to our customers.
We’re open about experimentation even on an organizational level. Inspired by Spotify’s squad system, we tried implementing squads at Custora, too. After some time though, we realized it was too process-heavy and we were too small of a team for squads to be effective. Even though it was a bit of a failed experiment, it was a useful exercise for everyone, and we all happily reverted to our old way of doing things, operating in teams.
Even though engineers always work on a team, individuals are never restricted to working on any one particular thing. While our workloads are shaped by business goals and product plans, engineers have agency to choose what they work on each product development cycle. Having a say in what you work on keeps everyone excited and challenged, and it also cultivates more creativity in how we solve problems. Just like our customers, we encourage one another to experiment and run tests, learning from both our failures and successes.
EQ > IQ
We are a people-first company.
Beyond the scope of our product, our mission has always been to be a great place to work – a place where people are happy and growing. Everyone at Custora has autonomy, not only in what they work on, but also in determining how they work. Whether it’s because you are more of a night owl, are transitioning back into the workplace after becoming a new dad (Congrats Ben!), or have a sick puppy at home, we support flexible scheduling that each person defines for themselves. We're proud that our culture supports the unique needs and preferences that let us do our best work.
While we want your work schedule to complement the other parts of your life, we also want people to feel comfortable at the office. We have a number of employee resources groups (ERGs) and internal community groups at Custora, including an engineering-led knitting club, and a Data Science bootcamp that our data scientists (Nick, Andy, and Luke) put together to help bridge the gap for a non-technical team at Custora.
As a company that has been around for over 7 years, we only recently reached the 50-person milestone (and shortly after that, 65). We’ve always prioritized steady growth and have been focused on scaling our culture rather than growing to add numbers. All of our interviews involve culture ambassadors who assess how well aligned an interviewee’s values are to ours, and look into how a candidate will contribute to our existing team and culture.
We all have a voice and impact on how we grow.
There isn’t much hierarchy or red tape in how we work together. We encourage people to express their opinions and contribute in all capacities, regardless of their role. We also don’t have mandatory assignments to certain projects or business units. Anyone can work on any project whether it’s because you have domain expertise or simply want to try something new.
Our execs are also very approachable, and there aren’t layers of management that keep you from interacting with the leadership team on a tactical or strategic level. In fact, our CTO, Jon, continues to code side by side with the engineers on the team, and it’s not uncommon for him to be this week’s “bug snagger” (aka the person in charge of wrangling bugs and creating an action plan if something crashes).
Our executive team is always transparent with the company.
To encourage open communication between teams, we have an all-hands meeting every Monday over lunch. Each week, a different team presents what they've been working on, explains the strategy around their decision-making, and discusses what did and didn’t work. We also do a deeper diver once a quarter where our leadership team shares updates from that quarter’s board meeting, we look at our clients’ “health cards” (the status of each client’s account), and what individual teams might work on for the next quarter.
To ensure that everyone at the company has visibility into the health of the company, we also created a company dashboard that shares where Custora is in accordance to the goals we’ve set for the quarter. (This is something new we are trying out as a result of the feedback we received in our annual employee survey!)
While we value business transparency with one another as colleagues, we also enjoy being open with one another as friends. to At the end of every all-hands meeting, since we’re already sitting together over lunch, we always have a bit of fun... Every week, Nick leads “Weekend Update,” which it’s our version of SNL’s popular weekly segment (theme song brought to you by our head of design via phone-recorded humming). We all try to answer a trivia question and also get an update on popular culture – either an explanation of a viral meme or millennial slang. Everyone always has a good laugh and often learns something new.
Actively Practices Inclusion
We value people that add to our existing culture and elevate the team we have.
At Custora, we focus on values when it comes to hiring. Our values include willingness to experiment, being constructive, and taking ownership. During the interview process, we have a culture add session where our culture ambassadors deep dive into how a candidate could potentially contribute should they join us: what projects have they led in the past, what are things they’d do different, what are things they want to add to Custora?
We also provide an opportunity for folks to learn more about our values and how we practice them day-to-day. This often includes individuals from other teams - like Nitika from Product, or Asher from Partnerships - as we want perspectives outside of just our technical teams. As a collaborative and smaller company, inclusion and cross-functionality are extremely important to us and how we work. People from different walks of life and with different perspectives are the greatest additions to the amazing team we already have.
Abe is a perfect example of this. We were really excited about him joining Custora not just because of his technical skills and domain knowledge, but because of his ideas for how to shape Custora’s culture. Abe wanted to introduce ERGs, focus on diversity, and participate in hiring and branding, all of which he has delivered on. We now have have a ERGs for our “Queer-storians,” new parents, and some others groups that are currently in the works. (Stay tuned!)
Inclusivity also extends to skill sets and teams. At Custora, we want everyone to have the opportunity to work with everyone else, and encourage people to work on projects that aren’t the “obvious choice.” Staying outside of your comfort zone keeps you engaged and learning. Twice a year, we have our hackathon, THON. The entire company shuts down for an entire day and everyone works on a side project (which aren’t necessarily work related). The goal is to unite people that wouldn’t typically work together on a project that they find interest in. In the past, we’ve installed light sensors to indicate empty bathroom stalls, built harmonographs, and we’ve even shipped a feature: Spotlight. The possibilities are endless and the team mashups are refreshing!
Flexible Work Arrangements
Work and life, balanced.
We have an unlimited PTO policy and yes, people really do take time off. In fact, we love hearing about what people do during their vacations. Our design team hosts lunches where we’ll dedicate an entire hour to sharing pictures from the vacations we’ve recently returned from. We also have a #travel channel on Slack where we share our travel experiences, flight deals, and hotel recommendations.
We also offer flexibility with schedules, and many people work from home. We recognize that people are in different stages of life and that those stages can change at the drop of a pin. If you’re a new or expecting parent, we have a great ease-in / ease-out program in addition to offering 12 weeks of parental leave for primary caregivers. Ben, a new dad with a longer-than-typical commute, has the flexibility to work remotely a few times a week as he fully transitions back into work as a father.
Another way that we accommodate different schedules is by minimizing the number of meetings we have and keeping meetings short. We default to asynchronous communication and asynchronous processes wherever possible. This allows people like George, our resident data and devops engineer, to embrace his night-owl preferences and work later shifts that better suit him.
Are you most productive early in the morning, or do you prefer working in the evening? Either way, we respect your preferences and want you to set whatever schedule that allows you to be most productive.
Committed to Personal Growth
We believe the happiest engineers have the freedom to choose what work on.
This is facilitated by our development cycle of 8 weeks: at the end of every cycle, you have a chance to step back and move on to something different. We operate like we are all part of one team which allows people to move around fluidly.
We have an on-call system that encourages engineers to learn our entire stack, too. Every week, someone is the "bug snagger." They're in charge of wrangling bugs and creating an action plan if something crashes. The thing is, there can be bugs from all parts of the stack, so you get to learn a little bit of everything. 😉
We take pride in the quality of our work.
Since great ideas come from many people, that means encouraging collaboration and feedback. Project designs are posted for comments before work starts. We write both unit and system tests, and all code is reviewed by other engineers. And we keep ourselves honest by measuring our performance and error rates week over week to make sure we're maintaining our standards of quality.