How 7 Chicago tech companies foster value-driven cultures

Andreas Rekdal

A lot of companies talk about the importance of their values, but what does a value-driven culture actually look like in practice? We spoke with seven Chicago tech companies to find out.

 

Wyzant matches students with subject-matter experts who provide one-on-one tutoring either in person or online. To co-founder and CEO Drew Geant, hiring lifelong learners is a big priority in fostering a cohesive culture — and with free tutoring offered as a perk, Wyzant has the benefits to match.

What social values are most important to your company?

We have a slate of core values that work against each and every day, but I'd like to highlight two in particular: "Always be learning" and "Enjoy the journey." It’s easy to have a smile on your face at a happy hour, but what about when you’re swamped with work or things aren’t exactly going your way? It wouldn’t be a journey without some long days and obstacles, after all, but with the right perspective and perseverance, these times can be as fun and rewarding as the good ones.

How are those values reflected in Wyzant's culture?

One of the exciting aspects of having a business that focuses on the adult, career-oriented learner, is that Wyzant is incredibly relevant to our own team. Many employees take advantage of the company's complementary tutoring benefit in ways that are directly applicable to their current jobs and also helping them develop professionally.

Moreover, there are lots of examples where I’ve seen people take on a challenging project or situation with purpose, teamwork and perspective — all critical aspects of enjoying the journey. In order to fully do so, I think it’s really important to stop to smell the roses. Pet a dog, take a walk or have a beer. I know well how easy it is to forget to do this, but it truly is an important part of maintaining balance and being happy and productive in a sustainable way.

 

DevMynd builds custom software for companies across a wide range of industries. Market analyst Kelsey Pierson said one of the company’s biggest priorities has been to expand its reach in the "impact sector." To that end, DevMynd has a list of important questions about the kinds of work the prospective client does.

What social values are most important to your company?

DevMynd strives to help our customers in what we call the "impact sector" to solve meaningful business challenges. We believe that good design and and technology can really improve the lives of everyday people, which is why we're committed to working with, and adding to, our client base in this area. We like to ask ourselves: "Does it keep people safe? Does it make you smarter? Does it feed people? Does it help improve their health? Does it improve their environment?" And if it does, that's for sure a client we want to work with.

How do those values drive DevMynd’s culture?

One of our core values and something we seek out in our candidates is the desire to ship quality work and use our skills to create value for our clients. The impact sector and our dedication to it basically crystallizes our core values and helps us draw a point on our purpose as an organization.

 

As an on-demand transit startup, Via is all about getting people to where they need to be. But to general manager Yoav Mordowicz, moving the transportation industry in a more equitable and sustainable direction is equally important.

What social values are most important to your company?

Our core value at Via is finding a way to revolutionize transportation in a way that benefits everyone. We care deeply about making sure our service provides riders with an affordable and convenient transportation solution and drivers with fair and transparent earnings and a robust support system. The cities in which we operate benefit from a reduction in the number of congestion-causing vehicles on the road as well as in the associated carbon emissions of those vehicles.

How do those values drive Via’s culture?

In any discussion we have in regards to our service, we always push ourselves to make decisions that truly cater to this balance. We constantly strive to ask ourselves "Does this benefit everyone?" to make sure that both our riders and our driver partners are treated with the same care and consideration, and that together we feel part of a movement to better our city.

 

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that online second-hand retailer Swap.com is all about sustainability. Raising awareness about the tons of textiles added to American landfills every year is a great way to highlight Swap.com’s value proposition — but it’s also the right thing to do, said CEO Juha Koponen.

What social values are most important to your company?

Sustainability is what our company values most. Our business centers around providing a more sustainable way to shop. By offering quality, affordable secondhand clothing, we give a second life to items and keep them from becoming part of the more than 12 million tons of textiles that fill our landfills each year. We want to raise awareness of this and let customers know that by shopping secondhand first they are helping combat clothing waste. Elevating awareness of this issue is paramount to our business.

How do those values drive Swap.com's culture?

Our company culture reflects our core values. We share a passion for doing our part to protect our earth by offering consumers a greener alternative to shopping. We work hard as a team and are proud to be a part of a company that knows the significance sustainable shopping has on our environment.

 

StratEx develops HR software for multi-location companies in industries like hospitality, retail and the restaurant business. Head of HR Gretchen Van Vlymen said the company works hard to set aside time to give back to the local community through fundraisers, gift drives and other charitable events.

What social values are most important to your company?

We ask that employees actively live out our corporate core values of respect and integrity. Specifically, respect at StratEx means treating those around us like family. Integrity means doing the right thing, the right way, at the right time.

How do those values drive StratEx’s culture?

Our core values of respect and integrity are interwoven into every element of our company. We mine for these values in our interview process and only hire people who will embody them as employees. Further, we include and rate our employees' performance against our core values in their annual reviews so that their growth and future with the company hinges on their ability to live out these principles each day.

Socially, we carry out respect for others and living with integrity through our StratEx Serves initiatives. These events enable our employees to find creative ways to give back to those in our community who are just as deserving of the same respect, love and opportunities as we are.

 

Founded in 2009, Payline's mission is to provide streamlined payment solutions while giving back to the community along the way. At the beginning of 2017, the company launched a new giving program, which involves donating time, talents, resources and money to a new cause for each month of the year.

Content manager Mary Kate Mack said the company gives its employees three extra days of paid time off a year specifically for volunteering.

What social values are most important to your company?

Payline, a complete credit card processing solution located right here in Chicago, has been motivated by our desire to have a positive impact; to our merchants, employees, and within our communities.

How do those values drive Payline’s culture?

We aim to create opportunities and give back beyond being just a business. We allow our team to take three extra PTO days to volunteer in our community and drive our Payline Giving mission.

 

Gesture's fundraising technology helps charities improve their efforts to fund their causes. For many, that might be enough to pat themselves on the back, but Gesture's director of marketing and sales operations Brandon Stec said the company also sets aside time for some charitable initiatives of its own.

What social values are most important to your company?

At Gesture, we help charities raise more money every day and our motto is "Make hope happen." We incorporate that in everything we do, and value every day as we continue toward our goal of raising $1 billion for our charity partners. From our CEO down, our values are reflected in our brand and every essence of Gesture. Every small gesture can make a difference.

How do those values drive Gesture’s culture?

Our culture incorporates giving and volunteering as we continually find new ways to feature the organizations we work with. On April 26th, Gesture is having a Blue Party for Autism Awareness Month in support of the Lit By Love campaign they are running this month. Our CEO is a big advocate for giving back, and we try to do something at least once a quarter that involves giving back. But we celebrate this mission everyday.

 

Images via participating companies. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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