Customer Comes First
The customer experience is what drives us as a company.
Everything we do at Zeus is to provide the best experience for the owners and residents who use our service. We look for engineers who have a customer-first mindset and want to solve customer problems through technology. For owners, we pay them guaranteed rent and handle all of the work. For residents, we ensure they have a simple booking process and an amazing place to stay for a few months.
Our customers place a great deal of trust in us: owners are handing us their biggest financial asset and residents are spending tens of thousands of dollars with us. We take these responsibilities seriously and go above and beyond to make them happy. We approach our customer relationships with the mindset that we want them to be lifelong customers. To earn their trust, we are transparent with them, even if it’s bad in the short-term. We go out of our way to delight our customers with thoughtful gifts because we want them to know that we care about them. We personally call people who have negative experiences with Zeus so we can find out why and keep them as a customer. Any feedback we get, good or bad, is shared in a Slack channel so that everyone can read and learn from it.
The customer experience is so important to us that everyone at Zeus uses the product at least once so they can put themselves in the customer’s shoes. An employee stays in every new home on Zeus before a resident stays there as a quality check. It’s our version of “dogfooding.” We’re testing new programs for Zeus employees to stay in Zeus homes for months at a time and really immerse themselves as residents. We get tons of great feedback this way and there is no greater motivator than feeling the customer’s problems yourself.
Plan, execute, debrief, and repeat. This is our mantra.
The faster we go through these cycles, the faster we learn and improve. We learn much more by putting out something good in 2 weeks than something perfect in 6 weeks. We use data and our instincts to understand how new features are being used and then rapidly iterate on a new set of hypotheses. These short cycles are easier to execute and de-risk building the wrong thing.
We work in small, autonomous teams at Zeus so that decision-making and execution are fully unblocked. This means that things can go quickly from idea to release because you don't get stuck waiting for someone else. As the team has grown, we have had to balance adding process while maintaining speed. One example is whether or not PMs/designers need to give final approval before releasing something. For big projects/changes, it makes sense to get a review done. However, for most things, it's not needed. Some things may not be perfect, but that's a tradeoff we’re willing to make.
We work with a sense of urgency every day.
Zeus is accelerating in growth (we’re up 5x YoY) and we need better software tools to maintain our high standard of customer service as we scale. The operational challenge of managing hundreds (and one day, thousands) of homes across multiple cities is enormous and our speed often pushes us to the breaking point. Seeing your teammates struggle with the tool you built is a great motivator to make it better.
When you do release an improvement, our ops team is often overjoyed and you’ll receive virtual high-fives on Slack or even an IRL one at lunch. The immediate and real-world effects of your work are one of the most rewarding parts of working here. You can see how appreciative residents are when they are when they have a great experience. You spend half of your life at home so it has a huge effect on you everyday. We invite residents in for lunch to hear about their stay and it’s always a good reminder of the impact we’re making.
High Employee Retention
Zeus was founded in 2015 and has grown to 70 employees, but only one person has voluntarily left the company.
We have ambitious goals as a company, but we believe that the first step is building a place that people love working at. As the company grows in size and geography, this becomes a bigger challenge and we spend an increasing amount of time maintaining our high standards for culture and work environment. The best way to do that is to hire people who believe in our cultural values (which is why we’re on Key Values).
When you meet our team, you immediately feel how much we truly care about one another. We celebrate each other’s successes and always as a team. We have a Slack channel dedicated to giving each other shout-outs whenever someone goes above and beyond in their job. New employees are often greeted with “Welcome to the Zeus family!” We have a welcome breakfast for every new hire so that the team can get to know them. We put on many company events including a quarterly offsite because we believe learning more about one another enables us to work together better. Another fun company tradition is that every new employee gives a short presentation on their childhood (where they grew up, hobbies, etc) and it enables us to get to know one another on a deeper level. In fact, one engineer presented their life in the form of charts which made us realize that he loves data. He later started our data engineering team.
We appreciate everyone here and we make sure to take care of our people. In addition to medical, health, and vision insurance, we have a 401k plan where we match the first 3% and then 50% of the next 2%. We have 20 days/year of PTO, 12 WFH days/year, and provide 12 weeks of paid maternity/paternity leave plus 8 weeks unpaid. We also have a relocation benefit that includes a free month of Zeus housing and a $5k reimbursement. Following that, employees have 3 months of Zeus housing every year at a 15% discount. As an engineer, we buy you a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro, whichever IDE you want, and any ergonomic accessory you need.
All work and no play make engineers dull people.
As a company, we want everyone to be happy at Zeus for a long time, and maintaining work/life balance is key to that. We believe that enjoying a life outside of work gives you the energy, creativity, and positivity to be at your best when you are at work. Engineers are a naturally curious bunch and their hobbies are how they explore the world and develop new skills whether it’s learning new languages, photography, boxing, or doing real estate investing in Chicago and California like Yohannes does!
If a team is falling behind on a deadline, Joe (our CTO) advises them to cut scope in order to meet the deadline, or to push the deadline. Pushing extra hard is warranted occasionally, but in general, it leads to poor decisions, lower quality work, and ultimately, burnout. (We don’t want that!)
We asked everyone on the team and our engineers self-report working an average of 45-50 hours per week. Joe doesn’t believe that “hours worked” is relevant when it comes to performance though, and focuses on output instead. Our work hours are flexible and people can work from home or remotely for up to 12 days per year. We also give 4 weeks of paid vacation per year and people most definitely use them (and then tell us about their awesome adventures when they get back!).
Each of the 4 business departments at Zeus has a small tech team dedicated to them.
Our mini tech teams are comprised of 3 engineers, a designer, and a PM. Tech teams sit with one another and at minimum, meet once a week with the head of the business department that they work with. As an engineer, you’ll work closely not only with designers and PMs, but also the other members of the biz department who give feedback, report bugs, and ask questions.
Cross-functionality is important for us because much of the software we build are internal tools, which means engineers need to work well with and understand the needs of non-engineers. We also have some deep technical challenges on our data science/engineering team (like collecting, cleaning, and processing millions of points of data and deploying ML models to price homes), and we encourage anyone interested in depth vs. breadth to do so.
As we hire more engineers, we will be fortifying our existing teams (Owners, Residents, Operations, and Data). We may also spin up new teams to focus on finance, marketing, and the physical home product. Exciting things ahead!
Fosters Psychological Safety
Psychological safety is something we often talk about and something we actively work to protect as a company.
Our founders (Joe, Kulveer, and Srini) are humble individuals who prefer to give the credit and praise to others rather than draw attention to themselves. They’ve hired folks who are equally humble and to this day, we don’t hire anyone who is quick to dismiss others or their ideas.
Two of our core cultural values are “friendly” and “transparent,” which are often related. By having friendly individuals, it makes people feel safe to be open and honest about their thoughts and feelings. We also believe that creating psychological safety for all members at a company requires both bottom up and top down effort. Our founders repeatedly emphasize the importance of psychological safety, and we discuss it as a company at every offsite.
We also do 360s of managers and execs every 6 months. Everyone at the company has the opportunity to submit feedback through an anonymous feedback form that goes to our HR department. We want to hear everyone’s ideas, thoughts, and comments, even if they might not feel comfortable vocalizing them directly to the group.
By default, we avoid meetings and only schedule them if they’re really necessary.
Having technical founders, our culture of light meetings started from the very beginning. We try to schedule all regularly meetings on Monday and Tuesday to get them out of the way, and we encourage people to leave meetings if they feel like they’re not contributing or getting anything out of them. No one takes offense. In addition to our all-hands every Monday, engineers also have a 1-on-1 with their manager once every other week.
Generally, we prefer asynchronous communication and protecting long blocks of uninterrupted working time for engineers. We encourage folks to turn off Slack notifications when they want to get in the zone. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t Slack someone unless it requires immediate attention, and even then, an ad-hoc meeting is better if something needs to be addressed right away. As far as bug reports and new feature requests, we view PMs as a buffer between users and engineers.
If you often question the number and length of meetings that you attend, you’re not alone!
Ideal for Parents
Two out of our 3 founders are parents themselves.
Yes, we’re on a mission to become the most trusted housing company in the world, but we’re also a good place for moms and dads to work. You don’t need to sacrifice spending time with your loved ones in order for Zeus to succeed. We have flexible hours so that you can build your work schedule around your kids’ schedules and any other commitments you might have.
We offer 12 weeks paid family leave and 8 weeks unpaid family leave for both moms and dads. In 2018, three of our team members became new parents, including our Head of Product, Tyler. In fact, here’s an email from our Head of Demand, Karolis, after he got back from paternity leave:
Dear Kulveer, Srini & Joe,
I wanted to express my utmost gratitude for the opportunity to have so much time off work to be with my daughter over the last few months. It's been so great to see all her development milestones in person and to care for her. Words cannot describe the love I feel for this little person and without having this time to just be there for her I would have missed out so much.
Not everyone is a fortunate to work for a company that values this family bonding time the way you guys do, or are willing to pay the price. For this I will forever be grateful to the Zeus fam.
Thank you so much!!!!