How bootstrapped Vivid Seats attracted 100+ new hires in each of last 2 years

by Tessa McLean
March 30, 2015
When Vivid Seats co-founders Jerry Bednyak and Eric Vassilatos began selling tickets to live events in 2001, building a high-performing company culture wasn’t exactly a top priority.  The two-man startup was originally hatched at the University of Iowa as a way to pay off student loans, but now, more than a decade later, the bootstrapped marketplace has added over 100 employees per year for two years straight, making team culture an important part of the their continued success.  
 
“The core of our culture is about impact,” said Executive Vice President Tom Spathis. “We know that’s what high performers want out of their career — to have an impact and do something meaningful. We work hard to create a culture that supports everyone’s success, both individually and as a team.”
 
We were lucky enough to host our most recent Built In Brews at Vivid Seats’ new 30,000 square foot office at 111 N. Canal where we got to not only hear about the steps they take to build their unique team environment, but to also experience them first hand.
 

1. Celebrating their mission

 
First, and immediately obvious to any newcomer, is the physical design of their office, with staff desks situated on a large open area "football field" complete with yard line markers.  The lunch area is surrounded by a hockey rink-inspired half board/half glass perimeter, with the kitchen situated on a fully functioning stage complete with big screens, speakers, and color-changing lighting. Team rooms are named after Chicago’s major squads, and the main B1G conference room gets its name in honor of the Vivid Seats official partnership with the Big Ten conference.
 
“Our office was designed to celebrate what we do. We think about sports and music all day, and it’s important that we never lose sight of our goal, namely to help our customers attend great live events," said Spathis (pictured right).
 
Staff members also revel in other industry-reinforcing perks outside of the office, including access to discounted live event tickets that let them join in on the customer experience.
 

2. Cultivating competition and teamwork

 
Sports tickets are a big part of Vivid Seats sales, but their staff doesn’t just like to attend great matchups, they also like to participate. They have weekly ping pong, foosball, and putt-putt competitions, not to mention the occasional Powerpoint presentation battle to decide which beer should be stocked in the office taps.
 
Teamwork and competition might be best evident within the tech team. They host a regular Hack Night that began as building little things with Raspberry Pi, Vert.x and AngularJS, and evolved into talks about what other things they’d like to hack. They have since introduced competitions pitting small full-stack development teams against one another to compete for cash and glory. The first tournament, March Hackness, is structured as a bracket in honor of the concurrent tournament.
 

3. Creating a great work environment

 
“More than just incorporating industry references, our office was designed first and foremost to provide a home-field advantage for our team,” Spathis said.
 
Complete with a variety of unique meeting spaces and even a communal treadmill desk, staff can find the right work environment for their needs and switch it up throughout the day. Even standard work spaces have three to four monitors, occasional standing desks, and easy access to abundant healthy snacks and drinks.
 
And with so many new faces, the company also puts special emphasis on social interactions to help newcomers acclimate to the team. Most notably they’ve instituted a weekly Friday program of alternating catered lunches and happy hours to celebrate birthdays, tenure anniversaries, and competition winners.
 
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the skill and dedication of our talented team,” Vassilatos said. “Being fully self-funded allowed us to combine the best of both worlds, namely the stability, perks, and resources of a profitable company with opportunity and growth of a startup.”  
 
According to Vassilatos, their flat organization structure may be their most important cultural component, especially sought after by top talent. “Everyone is directly involved in making an impact, and in that way our culture is a true competitive advantage.” 
 
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