Colorado startup founders explain how employees — at every level — make an impact

by April Bohnert
July 26, 2018

One of the number one reasons people tell us they join a startup is because they want to make a real impact on a business — and what better way to do that than to join a company in its early stages? However, as startups grow, that sense of playing a critical part in a company’s success can dwindle into a feeling of being just another cog in the machine.

At least, if a company lets it.

We talked to three local startup founders about the cultural foundations they’ve built that enable every employee — from the newbie fresh out of college to the seasoned tech exec — to make a difference with their work.
 

ezCater CEO employee impact Colorado tech
Photo courtesy of ezCater.

From routine office lunches to important client meetings, ezCater brings the simplicity of an on-demand food ordering app to corporate catering. Users can set their budget and ordering policies, browse thousands of catering options and user reviews, and then have meals delivered right to their offices. Co-founder and CEO Stefania Mallett gave us a glimpse inside the company’s culture and how she works to earn the hearts and minds of her employees.

 

How have you created an environment in which all employees feel they're able to make a meaningful impact and be heard?

When you hire people, you’re renting their behaviors for X hours a day. But you can’t rent hearts and minds; you have to earn those. Of course, we want everybody’s heart and mind. That’s terrifically fulfilling and gets the best results. So, we created nine ingredients in our culture recipe around transparency (so everyone has full context), continuous improvement (so we all know that “up” is always our path), and insane helpfulness (so we balance results with kindness). And then — and this is critical — none of our culture recipe is lip service. We all do what we preach.

 

How do you think this impacts the business?

This is why we’re so successful. Period. Yes, we have product/market fit, but without all our excellent people constantly improving everything — whether it be internal and external — we’d have one-tenth of the success we’ve had.  

Real life doesn’t offer that many opportunities for big contributions. ezCater is the beneficiary of the huge cumulative effect of many small contributions.”

What are some examples of when employees at varying levels of seniority have contributed in big ways to the company?

You know, real life doesn’t offer that many opportunities for big contributions. ezCater is the beneficiary of the huge cumulative effect of many small contributions. For instance, many, many of our people have introduced process improvements that get us better quality or higher productivity or both. One great behavior is that no one just fixes a mistake or improves a shortcoming; we also figure out what drove the mistake or shortcoming, and change something structural so it doesn’t happen again.

 

Eave CEO employee impact Colorado tech
Photo courtesy of Eave.

Eave puts the mortgage lending process into overdrive, enabling home buyers to close on deals faster and make stronger offers. Borrowers fill out a brief application and then receive a full underwriting decision in one day. Co-Founder and CEO Jack McCambridge shared how his team collaborates across departments to drive major change within the organization.

 

How have you created an environment in which all employees feel they're able to make a meaningful impact and be heard?

When Saro, Anoop and I started Eave, we wanted to learn from the best engineers, operators and leaders. To do this well, we knew we needed to build a cultural foundation that encourages collaboration and ideas from all parts of the company — regardless of role, level or experience.

We’ve done this in a few ways. Some are fun and informal — like dinners at our CTO’s house, karaoke junkets, impromptu video chats and teaching each other to saber champagne. We take other approaches too: off-sites for team building and idea generation; demos where we all “demo” the work we’ve done over the past week and solicit input; retrospectives where we pause as a company every two weeks to look back and acknowledge what went well, what could have been better, ideas we may have, and more. We love it when you take the initiative at Eave.

Diversity of thought drives us forward in innovative and progressive ways, and we’re all the happier for it.” 

How do you think this impacts the business?

I’m certain it only helps. Our team members grow faster. Diversity of thought drives us forward in innovative and progressive ways, and we’re all the happier for it. Building a company is confusing, hard, creative and exhilarating work, so continually improving how each of us has an impact on Eave is critical.

 

What are some examples of when employees at varying levels of seniority have contributed in big ways to the company?

Our engineering, product and design teams recently had an offsite that focused on generating ideas for marketing. The takeaways were well thought-out and generated important new ideas for getting our brand out there. Then, part of our engineering team moved to focus exclusively on these efforts.

Now those folks are helping create interactive content for our realtors and homebuyers, redesigning our blog, SEO optimization efforts, customized landing pages and more. In parallel, other engineering team members are advancing key parts of our income underwriting system to provide an even better experience for our clients who have complex financials. Our collaboration with and support of one another builds trust and makes us more connected and effective.

 

CANVAS Technology co-founder employee impact Colorado tech
Photo courtesy of CANVAS technology.

CANVAS Technology is on a mission to revolutionize the manufacturing, movement and delivery of goods through autonomous robots. Creating truly first-of-its-kind tech, the startup has, from the beginning, embraced great ideas — no matter who they come from. Computer Vision Scientist and Co-founder Juan Falquez explained how an egalitarian environment encourages employees — from interns to execs — to bring their best ideas to the table.

 

How have you created an environment in which all employees feel they're able to make a meaningful impact and be heard?

For the first few years of the company, we had a very flat organization. We reinforced the idea that each and every person mattered and not only could have an impact but needed to have an impact for the company to succeed. As we grew we had to add management support layers, but we stayed true to our origins. We look for bright people with low ego and a talent for communication and collaboration.

I have personally witnessed world-class PhDs deferring to engineers just out of school with their bachelor’s degree because they came up with a great idea. We have given people with less experience enormous responsibility when they showed drive, good sense and the ability to bring people together.

 

We have given people with less experience enormous responsibility when they showed drive, good sense and the ability to bring people together.”

How do you think this impacts the business?

When you work in an egalitarian environment, everyone feels both the opportunity and the responsibility. I think it helps everyone care deeply and allows the best ideas to flourish.

 

What are some examples of when employees at varying levels of seniority have contributed in big ways to the company?

A mechanical engineer joined CANVAS just after finishing his undergrad and, within a year, given his intelligence and drive, was not only designing but leading the development of our charger — a complex electro-mechanical device.

We’ve even had summer interns contribute in substantial ways, from designing critical boards to debugging code. It’s rare for a short-term and inexperienced employee to make an impact at any company, but at CANVAS, even interns can make very significant contributions due to our culture of inclusion and respect.

 

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