Building A Better Workplace: An Interview with Exygy CEO Zach Berke
Alyea Sandovar, Organizational Manager at Exygy (2013 Best for Workers Honoree) interviews her boss, and all-around geek for good, CEO Zach Berke Exygy is a small software design and build shop in San Francisco.
Alyea: Zach, so what do you think is different about Exygy as place to work?
Zach: We have a mission to make a difference. Our mission is to empower the world's leading change makers, like google.org, the United Nations World Food Program and Unicef by providing them with the technology they need to achieve their missions. Our powerful mission to empower change-makers and innovators means that everyone on our team can give a crap about the work they do, every day. In spite of being recruited by innovative startups like Square and established companies like Google and Facebook, our team stays at Exygy because every day is an opportunity to use their talents - working with people, design, or engineering - to create software that generates real impact for real people.
Alyea: Yeah, that is true. That's the main reason I joined Exygy too! I felt like I could do good while working in technology. And that is not easy to find. From a business perspective, that must be hard walking the line between doing good and running a business. What is a challenge we have encountered as B corp technology company and what have we done to make it better?
Zach: A huge challenge for us as a small technology company is recruiting and retention. Recruiting is hard and expensive. Having a great place to work is great from a business case for two reasons: when people care about they do, it makes finding great people easier, and it makes keeping great people easier (which means you're doing less recruiting to combat churn). Other great companies like Google offer terrific food, free shuttles, all the gummy bears you can eat, and trampolines in every office. What they can't offer, that we do, is the opportunity to design a piece of software that makes aid giving to war refugees more effective, for example. Having a mission doesn't replace offering market-based salaries, providing health benefits, retirement, flexible PTO, team outings, community service, public transportation reimbursement etc. But the most important thing is to allow people to care about their work. If they care, they'll stay.
Alyea: Yeah, that is a great insight. I like that our mission is the driver for creating a culture of caring individuals. I am always impressed with how helpful and considerate we are with each other. Like when we bring each other coffee or are helpful around the office when things need to get to done. Or the way we all pulled together for our holiday party last year. Which leads me to my next question, can you share some of the things that Exygy does well with regards to our work environment?
Zach: In addition to being mission-driven, I think we do four things well:
1) We have a non hierarchical structure and have self-driven goals. Everyone also interacts with me every day and has an opportunity to help set company goals as well as their own personal goals.
2) We are entrepreneurial. There are a lot of opportunities to be entrepreneurial within the organization. Justin, one of our employees, did a blog post of being an entrepreneur as an employee (http://exygy.com/how-i-live-like-an-entrepreneur-and-get-paid-like-an-employee/). It was so awesome to see that -- it validated all the things we are trying to do to create a great work environment. To see someone so enthusiastic about the kind of job they were able to create within Exygy that they wrote a long blog post about it -- that blew me away.
3) We support project autonomy. We have some of our own projects which our team “owns”. Ownership is similar to caring -- it motivates and creates job satisfaction. It's really important, as a service company that mostly does client projects, to have our own projects like livewith.us and conferenceapp.com, often developed in house at fun hack days and then continued by all of you as personal and company projects.
4) We thrive on balance. We really have a place with great balance. We operate and feel like a startup, but we don’t work the crazy 80 hour startup weeks. Like a startup, you have big important projects and products that you own and you can be entrepreneurial. But unlike a startup, we have less job risks that funding might dry up or we might pivot and your job will disappear. Instead we're a stable, reliable business that has been operating profitably for many years. I also think it's important that we are centrally located in the Castro -- everyone can bike to work, we're surrounded by awesome places to eat, drink, and play. We have two of our employees who moved away from San Francisco and they work remotely very successfully, so we're becoming a hybrid local + national / physical + virtual company. It feels very organic and very cool. We do fun things together, like training for and running a 5k race together, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, and playing Frisbee golf in Golden Gate Park.
Alyea: Balance is definitely one of the reasons I stay at Exygy. I love that I can start my work day at 10 a.m. and then take a break to run, then continue to work. And also, I really appreciate the flexibility to try new things. Like leading our annual review process and doing some user experience for LiveWith.US. So just to wrap this up, what's most important tip that you wish to share with other company leaders who want to create great places to work?
Zach: Hmmm;.A few tips come to mind:
- Create a work environment where people feel valued
- Recognize people for the work that they do
- Give people work that they can feel good about doing
- Create a space where people’s opinions are heard
- Don't overwork people, life balance is key
- Remember, you're not Steve Jobs. Don't be a jerk.
Alyea: Thanks, Zach. These are really cool tips!
Zach: Sure, no problem!
Exygy is a 2013 Best for Workers Honoree, part of B Lab's Best for the World Series. The B Corp Best for Workers List honors businesses that earned an overall score in the top 10% of all Certified B Corporations for their positive impact on their workforce, as measured by the B Impact Assessment, a comprehensive assessment used by more than 10,000 businesses to measure their impact on their workers, community, and the environment. Check out the full list at bestfortheworld.bcorporation.net
Visit them at: www.exygy.com