In an era of job hopping, these employees are staying put

Andreas Rekdal

Employee retention is good for business. It cuts down on training costs and on productivity lost as new employees ramp, and it helps companies retain critical institutional knowledge. But how do you foster a company culture that encourages employees to stick around? We spoke with employees at eight Chicago tech companies to find out.

 

For Kate Owens, joining SpotHero was the start of a journey into an entirely new industry. Before joining the parking startup’s 10-person team in 2013, Owens’ key resume bullet points included Sotheby’s and Anthropologie. Today, she is SpotHero’s business intelligence manager. To her, opportunities to continuously try new things and grow professionally are the best part of working there.

With SpotHero since: 2013

What drew you to SpotHero?

After graduating with a bachelor of fine arts in sculpture and working in art and fashion for a few years, I wanted to try something completely different. I started networking everywhere I went, not really knowing what I was looking for. I ultimately ended up at SpotHero after meeting a friend of a friend of a friend at a party who shared a job posting that her friend had posted on Facebook with me. I applied, met the entire team (which was only 10 at the time) and began my foray into the parking world.

What it is about SpotHero’s culture that keeps you around?

The fact that I’ve been able to continuously pivot and grow within the company. My initial role at SpotHero was customer service, which led to building out our customer service software and tools. That led me to implementing and building out our first company-wide business intelligence tool, which led me to creating all of the pitch decks and data materials for our fundraising. Ultimately, those experiences led me to managing data and business intelligence for the entire company. SpotHero values people who think big, are team players and take the initiative to grab new opportunities. It also helps that our culture is extremely social and values work-life balance.

What has it been like to watch the company grow over time?

Pretty crazy! We now do over twice as many sales in a single day as we did in the entire month I started. What’s been coolest to see, however, is how many people, myself included, who have experienced major career transformations during this growth.

 

A product owner at ActiveCampaign, Tim Jahn joined the marketing automation startup as employee number 11. Having just stopped working on his own startup, Jahn was looking for a place where he could still flex his entrepreneurial muscles. But to him, the best part of working there is the relationships employees enjoy with each other.

With ActiveCampaign since: 2013

What brought you to ActiveCampaign?

I had just decided to stop working full time on my startup and was looking for an opportunity at a small company with an entrepreneurial culture. I was looking for a place where I could grow, learn and truly make an impact.

What it is about ActiveCampaign’s culture that keeps you around?

The importance placed on respect and diversity. ActiveCampaign cares deeply about our culture and a core principle of that culture is respect. From lunchtime discussions about favorite movies and music to afternoon workplace discussions about the best way to market a new feature, each person at ActiveCampaign respects the opinions of their colleagues and feels comfortable expressing their opinions. The ActiveCampaign team is a diverse one, with people from all sorts of backgrounds, with all sorts of ideas. This is why it's such a fun place to work: you can truly be yourself and contribute to a great product.

What has it been like to watch the company grow over time?

Thrilling and unbelievable at the same time. I've seen the company grow from 11 people to over 130 at the time I'm writing this. That's part of what I love the most, though. A growing company presents lots of exciting challenges and I look at those as opportunities to learn and grow.

 

For Steven Rabulan, CraftJack’s combination of startup-like size and agility and the stability brought by a larger company was the biggest incentive to joining the company. But over the course of his tenure with the construction lead generation startup, Rabulan has been able to get into the weeds of how the business works far beyond what his position as a front-end developer would suggest. To him, the opportunity to weigh in across departments is a major reason to stick around.

With CraftJack since: 2013

What brought you to CraftJack?

I was almost skeptical at first, because I thought I was far too young to stumble upon what appeared to be a dream job so early in my career. Flexible time off, great benefits and a chance to see my day-to-day work positively impact the company in real-time was very appealing. It's the perfect crossover of small startup feel backed by a stable parent company. Other than confidence in being a good fit for the posted role (and the prospect of such a short commute from my home, at the time), that's what attracted me to work with CraftJack.

What it is about CraftJack’s culture that keeps you around?

Before joining the team, I sensed that CraftJack's culture was centered on hiring only stars and on a practical understanding of work-life balance. After three and a half years, that has definitely held true. I also totally resonate with its philosophy that "A players” don't need to be micromanaged; you just need to trust them to work in their own style and they will deliver the results. But one of the coolest things about my experience has been the freedom to step outside of my job title. My suggestions about marketing, split-testing and even company parties have never been dismissed without consideration. The management at CraftJack values its employees' voices and I love that.

What has it been like to watch the company grow over time?

I'm glad to see that our culture continues to be upheld and refined by our newer teammates. As to be expected with a growing company, each additional team member brings a new flavor to the mix, but the end-results and the transparent and sometimes goofy environment stays the same. It's been wonderful watching the company mature over the years, but, more importantly, it's been amazing to have the opportunity to tangibly shape its path.

 

When she joined FourKites in 2015, Brett Corey brought seven years of shipping industry experience. In the freight tracking startup’s technology, she saw the solution to some of the biggest challenges she confronted in her previous roles. Today, she is FourKites’ senior customer success manager. Her favorite part of working there has been the opportunity to have her voice heard, and to wear different hats through the company’s rapid growth.

With FourKites since: 2015

What brought you to FourKites?

When I read about FourKites I was immediately intrigued, because the solution it is providing to the logistics industry is way overdue. A tool like this would have revolutionized my previous roles and the potential to be part of this change really excited me. I also appreciated their humility and honesty through the entire interview process. They were looking for great candidates, but were not in a position to hire yet. I was kept in the know the entire time — as if I were already a member of the team.

What is it about FourKites’ culture that keeps you around?

When I started at FourKites, there were six U.S. employees. Although the company was small, I was immediately impressed by the thought, professionalism and respect that was brought to every decision. Every person's opinion, no matter how new they were or which position they held, was considered in making the decisions that built this company. Even though we are growing at a rapid pace, significant thought goes into the people we hire, which helps maintain that culture.

What has it been like to watch the company grow over time?

Being part of FourKites’ growth has been an addictive experience. With a small team, we get the opportunity to wear different hats and collaborate with all aspects of the business. Continued success only seems to motivate the team more. As we grow, we continue to work hard, not take ourselves too seriously and celebrate the little things. I feel extremely lucky to part of this team and I am proud of what we have accomplished thus far.

 

At fast-growing startups, veteran status can come more quickly than expected. Senior Software Engineer Jim Shedlick joined Label Insight last summer as employee number 51. Today, the food transparency startup employs 102. For Shedlick, one of Label Insights’ biggest draws is its balance between collaboration and empowering employees to make independent decisions.

With Label Insight since: 2016

What drew you to Label Insight?

In the past, I’ve worked at larger and mid-size companies, and I was searching for a company where I could make a more direct impact. I was drawn to Label Insight because they were a fast-scaling company that could provide exciting technical challenges to solve. Additionally, the Label Insight engineering department was committed to leveraging new technologies and providing engineers with the opportunity to explore and implement them. It felt like an ideal fit, where I could jump in head-first while also having the opportunity to apply my existing skills and grow my skills as the company scaled.

What is it about Label Insight's culture that keeps you around?

Label Insight is a true believer in transparency, which has given me opportunities to work cross-functionally and has given me exposure to areas of the business that I never imagined as a software engineer. I certainly do not see a plateau in my personal growth anytime soon. Additionally, Label Insight has a great team of smart people who are enabled by the culture of innovation and accountability. We strike a good balance between collaboration and the ability to explore and make decisions on your own, which is exciting, empowering and fun.

What has it been like to watch the company grow over time?

None of us have been bystanders; we’ve all been very active in the process. This growth has presented a multitude of opportunities to jump in and solve problems. I’ve had the opportunity to work with our engineers to design and swap out portions of our systems as we reach scale bottlenecks. While the rate of growth sometimes pushes you out of your comfort zone, it’s that much more rewarding when we’re successful at each milestone. I’m excited to see where the wave will take us.

 

Lead Developer Jason Shanmugham moved to Chicago to join NextCapital more than ten years ago because he was looking for an opportunity to grow professionally. He said he stuck around, both because he found the growth he was looking for and because he enjoys NextCapital’s bureaucracy-free culture.

With NextCapital since: 2006

What brought you to NextCapital?

My first job out of college was for a mid-sized IT company in Kansas City, MO. It turned out to be a dead-end for my career, so I started interviewing and putting my resume out there. BusinessLogic (now NextCapital) reached out to me for an interview. Chicago was one of my top choices for cities to move to, and once I went through the interview process and learned about the company and business model, I knew this was where I wanted to be.

What is it about NextCapital’s culture that kept you around?

NextCapital has talented, hard-working employees who take their job seriously but know how to have fun. There isn't a lot of bureaucracy or red tape, and everyone is very accessible. The people that NextCapital hires buy into the culture right away, and the culture is one of the many selling points of the company. It's nice that you can walk in at 8 in the morning and grab a beer from our kegerator before noon — well, "officially" not until 5 p.m.

What has it been like to watch the company grow over time?

I've been working at NextCapital for over 10 years, so I've seen a lot of changes both in personnel and in the company's vision. The last few years have been the most exciting for me, given the growth of NextCapital and the maturity of our product. I'm one of the "old guys," but I enjoy working with new hires as much as with long-tenured folks. It's great to see all the hard work over the years come together.

 

Adam Moffatt joined iLoan less than two months after the office was founded. Now a senior software engineer, Moffatt said the biggest draws for him were the promise of startup agility paired with financial industry stability. What kept him around was the company’s open, laid-back culture.

With iLoan since: 2014

What brought you to iLoan?

I liked the idea of a startup culture with the security of a 100-year-old financial institution. The management team involved are also battle-tested and proven leaders.

What is it about iLoan’s culture that keeps you around?

It's a very collaborative and open culture. We're laid back, yet hard working and productive.

What has it been like to watch the company grow over time?

Having been here from the beginning, it's been really fun to onboard new people and watch others join our culture. Everyone has such unique backgrounds and stories, it's great to see that all come together to work on our products.

 

Rocketmiles Director of Partnerships Danny Fohrman joined the company only a month after its launch. In the past four years, he’s witnessed the company grow tremendously, first as a standalone startup and then as part of The Priceline Group after its 2015 acquisition. As part of the team that originally built the company’s culture, Fohrman said the continued emphasis on core values has been critical to employee retention.

With Rocketmiles since: 2013

What has it been like to watch Rocketmiles grow over time?

I was lucky to be an early employee of Rocket so I feel proud to have had a small role in helping shape the Rocket culture. It's been incredible to see the team and culture grow and evolve. So much has changed, yet the core values have not. I believe this has a direct impact on employee retention. Even post-acquisition, the culture was preserved. Rocket culture to me means accountability, humility and passion. I see these three traits on full display each and every day I come to work.

 

Images via featured companies.

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