How 6 Chicago tech companies scaled without sacrificing their cultures

by Michael Hines
April 10, 2019

Growing a tech company isn’t easy. Growing a tech company while keeping its culture intact can be even harder. So, what’s the secret to ensuring the ties that bind and motivate a team are the same when headcount climbs from “a handful of people in an office” to “hundreds of people across the country?” We recently spoke with six local tech companies to find out.

 

Green Thumb Industries Chicago jobs
PHOTO VIA GTI

Green Thumb Industries is a national cannabis cultivator, processor and dispensary operator. The company has grown rapidly since launching in 2014 and employs 600 people across the country. VP of People Eunice Kim said that despite scaling so rapidly, GTI has maintained its team-focused and mission-driven culture thanks to policies that encourage employees to stay connected to each other, senior management and the communities they work in.

 

What’s the defining quality of your company culture today?

At GTI, we operate as a team. You’ll never hear, “That’s not my job.” We show up for one another and celebrate our wins together, including a formal “Mad Props” program where those who go above and beyond are cheered publicly and rewarded with a monetary bonus. We are a very mission-driven organization with a passionate group of people who believe in that mission, which is something that really connects us all.

As we continue to grow, it’s important for all employees to remain connected and continue having fun.”

 

What are some steps you’re taking to stay true to that as you grow?

We have an all-hands meeting across our markets once per week, and we’re instituting quarterly town halls to ensure everyone is well informed and can ask any questions they might have. Another way we ensure employees are connected is via an open-door policy with senior management, including our CEO Ben Kovler. Ben holds weekly office hours where employees are encouraged to ask questions or present ideas.

As we continue to grow, it’s important for all employees to remain connected and continue having fun. By hosting events, employees get to hang out with their peers and spend time with people they may not work with. We’re also a community-driven organization, and many employees bond by giving back. Recent examples include a toy drive in Chicago, a beach cleanup in Florida and renovating a community shelter in Pennsylvania. Coming up, the home office is teaming up with the Special Olympics for a bowling outing.

 

G2 Chicago tech jobs
PHOTO VIA G2

G2, formerly known as G2 Crowd, lets companies browse user-sourced ratings and reviews of business software and services to make more informed purchasing decisions. In addition to its Chicago headquarters, the company also has an office in San Francisco. VP of Employee Success Stacy Carlone said a commitment to communication — and technology — has helped keep the team across the country connected and culture consistent.

 

What’s the defining quality of your company culture today?

Our culture is driven by people who are passionate about helping businesses reach their potential. We have brought ambitious individuals with varying backgrounds, perspectives and experiences together with a common purpose to help business professionals make better decisions for their companies. Harnessing the power of different perspectives propels us forward faster and has helped create a culture defined by performance, entrepreneurial spirit, authenticity and kindness.

Our culture is driven by people who are passionate about helping businesses reach their potential.”

 

What are some steps you’re taking to stay true to that as you grow?

Communication is critical to maintaining our culture as we grow in size. We take advantage of video conferencing and instant messaging apps to make it easy to connect face-to-face with co-workers across regions and time zones. We’ve been able to cultivate a culture of authenticity and transparency where employees are encouraged to “discourse it” and move forward together.

All G2 offices are designed with the same foundations of our culture and brand to ensure all employees, no matter where they are, come to work in an energizing space that feels uniquely like us. At the same time, we strive to embrace the office’s local community. For example, our San Francisco office conference rooms are all named after local neighborhoods.

 

10th Magnitude Chicago tech jobs
PHOTO VIA 10th magnitude

10th Magnitude leverages Microsoft Azure-based cloud solutions to help companies become more agile, operationally efficient and customer-focused. While its fast-growing team is spread across the country, VP of Talent Mike Denton said the company’s culture committee — made up of both in-office and remote workers — helps keep everyone connected through fun activities.

 

What’s the defining quality of your company culture today?

The company’s values were created by our people and then supported by leadership. Because of that, it’s easy for people to get behind them. They describe what it’s like to work here. Those values include the following:

Continuous innovation: always seeking to better ourselves and our organization. Camaraderie: valuing the team over the individual. Celebrating success: recognizing and acknowledging those who go above and beyond to help out the team.

We have a culture committee that was specifically built to address and promote cross-office collaboration and the continuation of our values.”

 

What are some steps you’re taking to stay true to that as you grow?

We have a culture committee that was specifically built to address and promote cross-office collaboration and the continuation of our values. We talk about what is going on in our employees’ lives, the office vibe and life as a remote worker to try and stay in front of any potential issues and provide a great employment experience. From this group come things like wellness initiatives, celebrating the most fun “National Day” each month, coordinated happy hours and all-company online trivia. Keeping everyone connected as much as we can is key to our continued growth.

 

Bento For Business Chicago tech jobs
PHOTO VIA BENTO FOR BUSINESS

Bento for Business helps small and medium-sized companies manage employee expenses through smart debit cards that can be managed remotely. Chief Marketing Officer Tracy Hansen said the defining quality of the company’s culture is “energy,” which teammates derive through both their work with customers and each other. Hansen said Bento for Business’ leadership team has been intentional about creating meaningful relationships between its two major hubs to keep this energy high.

 

What’s the defining quality of your company culture today?

Several people, in their own way, have told me that they leave the office each day more energized than when they came in. Employees are emboldened to do what’s right and trusted to act with integrity and respect — these things give people energy. Energy also comes from building things together for a common cause: making our customers successful.

We reward behavior that shows empathy for our customers, respect for the businesses they’ve built and a dedication to providing help when they reach out. We are fiercely protective of each other and are incredibly supportive of company goals. We are one team in all we do and give each other energy to do more and do better each day.

We are intentional about creating shared experiences between cross-functional teams and hiring people who embrace our mission and culture.”

 

What are some steps you’re taking to stay true to that as you grow?

Our company has two major hubs: Chicago and San Francisco. As a leadership team, we often talk about culture and how to ensure that we create a fluid, meaningful relationship between locations. We are intentional about creating shared experiences between cross-functional teams and hiring people who embrace our mission and culture. We encourage people to visit the other office at least once a year and hold all-team off-sites to set strategy and nurture relationships. We use Slack to keep conversations moving, and to have fun, and hold a daily five-minute standup to address customer issues, technology updates and new programs and projects.

One of my favorite mechanisms for building our culture is the “Bento Lunch.” Every day at each office, some or all of us grab lunch at a new place, come back to the community lunch table and share stories. This is one of the most rewarding parts of the day because we get to know people from different departments and learn about their motivations, passions and interests.

 

Paro Chicago tech jobs
PHOTO VIA PARO

Paro connects companies in need of financial expertise with finance professionals on-demand. When hiring, Head of People Randi Jakubowitz said the company places a big focus on finding people who will add to its culture. According to Jakubowitz, this focus stems from the defining quality of Paro’s culture: empowering people to be their whole selves at work.

 

What’s the defining quality of your company culture today?

We are focused on allowing people to be their authentic selves at Paro. This expectation and celebration of authenticity brings diversity of thought, experiences and backgrounds, which strengthen our team, collaborative spirit and ability to drive results. While many companies hire for culture fit, we go out of our way to hire talent who not only fit within, but also enrich and add to our culture.

While many companies hire for culture fit, we go out of our way to hire talent who not only fit within, but also enrich and add to our culture.”

 

What are some steps you’re taking to stay true to that as you grow?

As we grow, we are staying true to our commitment to hiring high-quality talent. Our bar is incredibly high, and we do not drop it. We look for people who truly want to join us on our journey, are results-oriented and intrinsically believe in living our values: take smart risks, never settle and have each other’s backs. We focus heavily on our interview process, the questions we ask, the nature of the interactions and case studies and projects. Before we make an offer, we believe it’s critical for Paro and the candidate to know it’s a mutual fit.

 

tastytrade Chicago tech jobs
photo via tastytrade

Financial content network tastytrade creates original videos designed to be educational, informative and fun. CTO Linwood Ma said that the company doesn’t take a black and white approach when it comes to defining its culture. That said, there are a few key components of tastytrade’s culture that the company looks for in employees when hiring.

 

What’s the defining quality of your company culture today?

We have a variety of components in our company culture that drives our success. The fundamental character is one of self-starting, self-actualization and self-teaching. Our story is one of creating businesses from the ground up, running them directly and relying on ourselves. This also leads us toward a pragmatic and transparent way of treating products, people, processes and strategies. We embrace employees who pick up on this approach and lead by example.

Company culture shouldn’t have to be thought about as a binary assessment.”

 

What are some steps you’re taking to stay true to that as you grow?

Different locations can lead to the development of different company cultures, and we think that is probably a natural outcome. The response to this is similar to all human relationships: keep an open mind, listen, observe and be ready to adopt good ideas. We are lucky enough to have very senior staff at all our locations, so there is always some representation of our prime DNA. Company culture shouldn’t have to be thought about as a binary assessment, but more of a spectrum of different behaviors rooted in real experiences that takes into account different locations and activities.

The only way to stay true to our goal is to pay very close attention to who we hire and how well they understand our culture. The process of finding good employees and working with them for the long haul is a slow, patient one that we feel will pay off in the long haul.

 

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