How Mediafly Built an Award-Winning Startup Culture

By John Evarts | April 16, 2019

CRAINS_image1-750x703 Mediafly is thrilled to once again be recognized by Crain’s Chicago Business as one of the 2019 Best Places to Work in Chicago, ranking #21 overall and #12 in small business. It is truly amazing to see how our hard work and dedication towards creating and maintaining a unique and scalable culture has put us into a position to win an award that values workplace policies, practices, and demographics, as well as the experiences and attitudes of individual employees.

The Formation of a Special Culture
Let’s take it back to the beginning. Mediafly was founded in 2006 by Carson Conant, who had a vision to create a digital content sharing platform. In order for his vision to become reality, he hand-selected a small team that set out to develop, launch and grow a customer-centric company built on an elegant software solution. In the formative years, Carson was responsible for all of Mediafly’s recruiting and hiring. He was particularly focused on hiring amazing developers that could deliver an enterprise-grade solution to the world’s leading companies. With Carson recruiting the most talented and brilliant employees, Mediafly started with a very strong foundation for our culture. He had built a team of like-minded and extremely talented developers with a very strong affinity for each other and product excellence.

Growing Pains: Preserving Startup Values While Scaling Up
As Mediafly began closing very large contracts with very large companies like The Walt Disney Company and Goldman Sachs, it became clear that we needed to hire incrementally in other areas of the company. Admittedly, this resulted in a few missteps. We made a few bad hires, waited too long on a few transitions and, appropriately, this led to internal grumbling from our amazing developers. But you may ask, “John, really, what’s the cost of a few complaints?”

Well, as a good Chicago Booth grad, I have some data. According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, a bad hire leads to a transition and onboarding process that will ultimately cost 30% of employee’s first-year earnings. Had more time been spent on getting the right person in the first place, this is a cost that could have been completely avoided. In addition, according to a 2013 study by Robert Half, supervisors lose more than one day per week on a bad hire, a 20% decrease in productivity per supervisor, per bad hire. Delaying the departure of someone who needs to be transitioned is also incredibly costly. Big picture? For a small company, a $100,000 investment in the wrong person is a legitimate threat to the business. The loss of productivity (and cash) could be catastrophic. The “few complaints” were an indicator that we were losing productivity and needed to adjust our thinking.

The Mandate: Defining the “Right Fit” and Nurturing our Values
CRAINS_image3-r3 As a result, we made the commitment to add only “Stunning Flyers” to the team. We also were explicit about ensuring that we needed to avoid losing any Stunning Flyers as well. The problem was that our talent pipeline, especially outside our technical team, was limited, we didn’t actually know what it meant to be a “Stunning Flyer” and we had no predictability for when we would be able to hire given the lumpy nature of cash inflows at a B2B enterprise software start-up.

Get the Data!
The executive team was determined to meet the needs of our employees and learn how to “do right by them” in their eyes. As a result, in 2011 we launched our first Mediafly Culture Survey. We needed to know what was working and what was not. We needed qualitative information from our team as to common traits of successful Stunning Flyers. And most importantly, we needed to establish a roadmap for establishing which priorities we needed to focus on getting right first. To do this, we sent a totally anonymous survey to the team in the hopes that they would feel comfortable enough to share their wisdom with us. Luckily (and a little painfully) our employees were not shy to give us our scorecard. On the painful side, the data told us that our comp was off and our benefits package stunk. On the positive side, the team told us the necessary traits for Flyer success (See Graphic #1). They also told us that they trusted Carson and loved the product. A great start!

We Have the Data… Now What?
CRAINS_image2-r3 Empowered by this new information, we got to work making a few transitions, adjusting comp where we could and transforming the benefits package to be much more reflective of our younger, retirement-conscious Flyer demographic. We called a meeting to walk through the results of the survey as well as the changes we would be implementing immediately. The bump in morale was fantastic. Our leadership team got a significant bump in credibility as well as an increase in referrals of potential new hires and prospective customers.

The energy was so positive following that meeting that what had been planned as a one-time initiative has become a centerpiece of our annual planning. We use what is now our Annual Mediafly Culture Survey to frame a number of our key internal initiatives. Major initiatives like the improvement of inter-department communication (See Graphic #2), frequency and framework for our quarterly Town Hall meetings, the creation of our Mediafly Cares philanthropic initiative and launch of culture-focused Flyer Experience Council all stemmed from feedback received in our Culture Survey.

And So We Continue to Invest to Preserve the Startup Mindset that Got Us Here
From Carson’s first stunning hires on the engineering team, we knew that our culture was special at Mediafly. In fact, since our founding, each Flyer must initial this statement in their Offer Letter:

QuoteMarks “You are committed (heart and mind) to embody the Mediafly vision, goals and objectives; to push yourself and the rest of the Mediafly team to a higher standard; to communicate openly and honestly at all times about everything and defend your ideas (not your ego) passionately in pursuit of the best solution for Mediafly. You remain committed to doing everything in your ability to make Mediafly a better company, in all respects.”

We also knew that as we grew we would have to invest in and protect that culture. Our Annual Mediafly Culture Survey provides the mechanism by which we measure our success and identify areas for us to improve. Data leads to informed decision-making, and for Mediafly, it is one of the most crucial elements to maintaining a positive and strong culture that empowers employees. Too many wrong decisions can be catastrophic to a small company’s growth, culture and overall morale. Because of the way we are intentional about our culture, we’re proud to continue developing a culture of trust, transparency, and innovation that inspires and challenges our employees every day.

As we enter 2019, our most recent survey has set out a roadmap that includes major initiatives around Professional Development as well as new ways for our international Flyers to better connect with their co-workers. I can’t wait to see the impact of these initiatives and what our 2019 Culture Survey will say about where we can invest time and focus next to make our culture even better!

QuoteMarks “I have worked at several different companies where maintaining a positive culture was a prominent core value, and Mediafly has the best by far. Everyone here, including the leadership, makes themselves available for feedback and questions which makes cross-team collaboration the norm. The people all genuinely support one another and care about you on a personal level which drives me to do my best every day.” Chris Tran, Senior Product Manager
LauraSinger-HS-r1-750x703 QuoteMarks “It is rare to find a company that puts such an emphasis and importance on the employee experience. At Mediafly, it’s our goal to care for the whole employee. We actively seek out feedback and encourage dialogue from our team members so we can continuously work to enhance our culture.” Laura Singer, HR Manager
EliseOldenburg-HS-750x703 QuoteMarks “I love that I have a voice and that some of my best work comes from collaborating with not just my team, but the rest of the company. Everyone who works here is nothing but supportive, and there is a genuine spirit of cooperation and shared goals across the company. I feel lucky every day to step into our office knowing that I get to work with people who I care about and encourage, but who also do the same for me.” Elise Oldenburg, Director of Customer Operations

Visit Mediafly to learn more about the Mediafly brand, people and culture.

John Evarts has been honored to serve Mediafly since 2010 providing strategic, financial, and operational leadership. Under his guidance, the company has earned recognition by Forrester as one of the top sales enablement automation providers and by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest-growing private companies in America. An MBA graduate of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, John enjoys speaking on topics such as start-ups, finance, and enterprise software.

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