4 Chicago tech companies weigh in on how to grow your startup responsibly

by Sam Dewey
December 10, 2015
If you’re lucky, your tech startup is destined to thrive. But with great growth comes great responsibility — especially when it comes to hiring the people who will become the heart and soul behind your organization’s success.
But responsible growth is a vague term, and it carries with it meanings that vary from person to person and company to company. We gathered insights from four leading Chicago tech companies who shared their ideas on how to scale your business effectively and responsibly. 

on responsibility and intention 

CEO Dave Cutler’s perspective on growth is a mixture of caution, experience, strategy, and smarts. His startup, Chicago-based mLevel, has adopted a mantra of hyper-intentional, responsible growth. In practice, that means bringing on the perfect person at the perfect time, without exception.  
“Finding the right person is always more important than finding a person,” he said, adding that the productivity and cultural implications of anything but a perfect fit just aren’t worth it. 
And Cutler’s philosophy doesn’t only apply to the way he builds his team. He said the key to growing responsibly is to make sure your product, market, and team grow in synergy. If one of those three tiers develops too quickly or too slowly, it can throw the whole company’s groove out of whack.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of organizations both big and small that’ve grown way too fast and not been prepared for it,” he said. “It tends to have a really negative impact on culture, and ultimately that slows down the availability for the company to grow in general.”
Still, Cutler said responsible growth doesn’t necessarily imply slow growth, so long as you have a sound infrastructure to support it.   
“You can grow quickly as long as you do it responsibly — having the right processes to onboard people, having the right management team in place to make sure that people are well aware of their roles and expectations ... and are able to get the onboarding they need to make an impact quickly.”
mLevel’s team currently sits at about 30, and Cutler said they're bringing on one or two new employees each month. 

 on structure

Raise, the virtual marketplace for buying and selling second-hand gift cards, is one of the fastest growing tech companies Chicago has ever seen. Since the startup’s launch in 2013, the team has already ballooned to 250 and counting — but they didn’t get there through sheer luck.

Rob Crawford, a former Googler and Raise’s current director of talent acquisition, shared with us his thoughts on the hiring process and how to ensure responsible, intentional growth.

Unsurprisingly, structure is paramount.

“I think it’s really important when you’re going through this growth stage that you have a steadfast and thorough process to be able to scale,” he said, adding that infrastructure for every step along the way — from applicant tracking and interviewing all the way to onboarding feedback and data collection/analysis — only helps oil your scaling efforts.

Those processes should be at once flexible and sturdy enough to grow in tandem with your business. If you can’t replicate it at a larger scale, Crawford said, it’s probably not a model you want to bet on.


 on data and core values

Launched in 2010, Hireology provides tech that helps companies turn their hiring efforts into clean, data-driven science. Those insights support companies along every step of their hiring journey, from job description design and recruitment sourcing to compensation analysis and interview guides.

When the tech you’re selling is packaged as a one-stop-shop for hiring management solutions, it’s crucial that your customers see your own faith in the product.

“Not only is it important that we practice what we preach, but our customers appreciate knowing that their favorite Hireologists were recruited using the same tools and processes that they are using every day,” said Melissa Ryan, Hireology’s director of talent.

Hireology’s team has grown to a headcount just shy of 100. Ryan added that identifying and abiding by core organizational values is the cornerstone of successful scaling.

“We believe that authentic culture starts with authentic core values that employees use to guide behaviors and decision making on a day-to-day basis,” she said.


on engagement

An organization’s strategy for growth shouldn’t end once an employee has signed their contract. In addition to structured hiring processes, responsible growth also means developing and improving the at-work experience of employees who are already part of the team. If a worker is more engaged at the office, it leads to a level of professional development that benefits everyone at the table.

No one knows that more than HighGround, a company whose mission is to transform the way organizations motivate, develop, and recognize their employees.

“Today’s modern employees expect the workplace to provide them the same level of service, convenience and instant access to information that they get from consumer technology,” said Libby Rapin, HighGround’s director of people and culture. “Meanwhile, according to a 2015 Gallup study, 70% of all employees are disengaged.”

Their solution? Provide employees with a work environment where peer feedback is celebrated, where coaching is valued, and where goals and progress are easy to track.

This year, HighGround's 70-strong team has been building out its sales, marketing, product, and engineering divisions.

Have a tip for us or know of a company that deserves coverage? Email us via [email protected]

Chicago startup guides

Best Companies to Work for in Chicago
Inside the Best Software Engineer Jobs in Chicago
Tour the Coolest Offices in Chicago Tech
Inside the Best Sales Jobs in Chicago
Your Guide to the Best Perks at Chicago Tech Companies
Your Guide to Healthtech in Chicago
Inside the Best Data Science & Data Analyst Jobs in Chicago
Inside the Best Marketing Jobs in Chicago