We speak with Elizabeth Graham, VP of Operations at Hubspot about how they have such an amazing company culture that focuses on solving for the customer.
Jacob: Hello, everyone. I’m Jacob Shriar, Growth Manager at Officevibe, and today I’m honored and delighted to have my guest with me, Elizabeth Graham, who is the VP of Operations at HubSpot. Elizabeth, thank you so much for being here with me.
Elizabeth: Thanks so much, Jacob. I’m really excited for the culture talk today.
Jacob: Awesome. Thanks so much for saying that. First question, we’ll start high level, and then we’ll dive a little bit deeper, hopefully. Really, first question, high level, honestly, tell me what it’s like to work there. It must be such an incredible place to work. I want to hear, really, what’s it like to be there? What’s the culture like there?
Elizabeth: Sure. I agree with you. It is an awesome place to work. We have, at this point, just over 700 employees in our office here in Cambridge, which is where I’m based. We also have a team in Dublin, and next month, we’re going to be opening an office in Sydney, which is incredibly exciting. I would say that the team members here are super smart, really driven.
It’s a very fast-paced place to work, but everybody’s really focused on what we call solving for the customer, which is really thinking about how we operate and engage with our customer from their point of view but also solving for what we call HubSpot enterprise value, which is looking for the greater good of the company, not just for you personally or even your team. It’s a non-stop environment, but that makes it completely dynamic and fascinating to work here.
Jacob: That’s awesome. That’s so cool. I have read a lot about HubSpot, I talk a lot about HubSpot, it’s one of my favorite companies for sure, no question. I’m not just saying that because it’s you we’re talking to. I want to ask you a bit about the hiring process there. Love to understand, if you can give us a few details into how that all works, things like how long the hiring process is, typical questions you might ask, any insights into the hiring process I think would be great.
Elizabeth: Sure. It varies a little bit by position. We have entry-level roles both in our support team and our sales team where we’re pretty much constantly recruiting. Those are the most active roles, and the hiring process for those roles is a relatively short cycle.
For most specialized talent on the engineering side or the finance team, something like that, it could take significantly longer. There’s no time that we’re looking to fill a job. We really focus on getting the right person in the door as opposed to trying to meet an arbitrary deadline to get a position closed, which may mean that jobs stay open for a while until we find the right candidate.
If you want some insights into our hiring approach or what questions you might, there was a great Fast Company piece, I think it was probably about three or maybe four weeks ago now, that focused on a couple of the leaders in our dev and engineering team and some of the things that they look for in their candidates.
I’d say, in general, we’re looking for people who are self-motivated, curious, and constantly learning. I know you’re familiar with our culture deck, and that’s a good place to start if you’re looking to learn more about HubSpot and the types of people that we hire here. One of the acronyms in the culture deck is HEART, and that stands for humble, effective, adaptable, remarkable, and transparent. All of those are culture qualities that we’d be looking for in any candidate that we’d bring on.
Jacob: Very, very cool. When we post this video up, I’ll definitely try to dig up that Fast Company article so I can link to it so everyone has some context. That will make a ton of sense.
Next, I’d love to ask you about the next step in the process, which is onboarding. Let’s say you do select a candidate. Are there any cool and unique things that you do to really welcome them onto the HubSpot team?
Elizabeth: Yes. Onboarding is, I’d say, a process where we’re constantly iterating. We want people to have a really seamless entry into the company and when they start in their role to feel like they are successful out of the gate.
There’s a universal corporate-led onboarding that runs about seven business days, and pretty much anyone who is coming into the company, regardless of what office they’re in, comes to Cambridge for that. It’s an overview of the company, history, culture.
There are specific presentations by our top execs in the different functions, so you would have our COO talking about how our business operates. You’d have our chief financial officer coming in to give a review of the financials and how we measure success as a company.
Our chief marketing officer would come in to talk about HubSpot and how we’re trying to transform marketing. It’s a great way to get to know what the company is all about from the people who, in many cases, were there as employee number five or ten.
After that initial onboarding, most of the teams break off into specialized training for their given function. If you’re on the sales team, for example, you’d spend several more weeks going through the sales training process and understanding more about your role and the skills that you’ll need to connect with customers, how you demo the product for customers.
There’s a more detailed product training for several of the teams on the sales side and the support and services side. You get a much deeper view of the product.
As an employee, you’re given your own HubSpot portal, and you have the opportunity to actually experience first-hand what it’s like to be a customer, and I think that’s really helpful to a lot of employees, because then if you’re a salesperson and you’re maybe having a call with a potential customer who says, “Well, this is really difficult. I don’t think I could achieve this.” You could say, “Let me show you my portal. It took me three weeks to get 1,000 new visitors and here are the blogs that they looked at on my HubSpot site and here’s how they engage with me on social media.”
It makes it more human and real for potential customers, and it also helps the employees understand the product from the inside out, because they’re actually trying to do the same things our customers are.
That’s kind of how the onboarding process goes. We really do look for a lot of feedback on the process. We survey employees afterwards. We touch base with them periodically after they’ve been in the company for several weeks to make sure that the entry is smooth.
I know some teams team up their new hires with people who are relatively new hires, so they might have been here for only three or four months, so that “veteran” is responsible for helping bring the new person into the team, teach them the ropes, be a friend and mentor.
Then, as the new person becomes more tenured, they are responsible with improving the process for the next person who’s new to the team. It’s kind of a constant iterative improvement loop for how we bring people into the organization. I don’t think that’s one that we’ll ever be fully satisfied with. We always want to make sure that we’re delivering a great onboarding for our new hires.
Jacob: That’s amazing, though. That sounds like you guys really do a very, very smart job. I love what you said how the new person is responsible for improving the process. You put the responsibility on them. I think that’s genius, actually. I’m sure a lot of companies don’t do that, so really, kudos. That’s really, really smart.
Next, I’d love to ask you about your commitment to transparency. You guys are really know for, I’ve often hear it called it radical, transparency. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s like?
Elizabeth: Yeah, absolutely. This is something, having been at several companies before I joined HubSpot, was a clear differentiator for HubSpot in my eyes. We share a tremendous amount of information about what’s going on in the company: everything from what happened at the meeting of the board of the directors, our financials, each of the executives who heads up a function every month puts a list of their objectives for that month on our wiki, which is our main internal communication vehicle, and then, at the end of the month, you have to update your progress against what you said you were going to do at the beginning of the month.
Each team has goals for the year, and each month, the leader for that team updates their progress, red, yellow, or green, and at the executive meeting, we review anything that’s in the yellow or red to make sure we’re improving it.
It’s highly visible to any employee in the company where things are at any given point from the management team perspective. The wiki that we have has about 13,000 pages on it. It’s giant.
One of our challenges in trying to maintain transparency is to also give people focus where they look on the wiki for information. We actually this year carved out a dedicated space on the wiki that’s purely for authoritative company information. That’s where you would get the monthly management presentations, updates from the monthly executive meeting, the board meetings, and then the goal updates from each of the teams. We try and make it a little easier for employees to find what they’re looking for.
The fantastic thing about the wiki is it’s really democratic. Anyone at any level in the organization can voice their opinion or put a blog up. We had someone who did an extensive amount of research on the Asia Pacific market as we were entering our office in Australia, and he, nights and weekends, did a ton of research and published this fantastic blog article summarizing all the things that he saw going on in that part of the world. It’s only limited by your imagination in terms of how you can share information within HubSpot.
Everybody, Brian Halligan, our CEO, to Dharmesh, our CTO and Brian’s co-founder, down to sales reps who have been here for two weeks. Everybody can chime in on the wiki. It is truly remarkable and really radical transparency.
Jacob: That must be so cool. Imagine commenting on Dharmesh’s… I can’t imagine. I feel like that would be so cool for me, anyway. It would be so exciting, especially as a new employee. I’m just rambling at this point.
I want to take a quick sidestep and ask you about a product called Signals, which you were telling me offline, has kind of turned into its own mini startup. That’s how much success it’s had. Can you talk to us a little bit about Signals and what that product is?
Elizabeth: Sure. Signals is our new sales enablement product. It started out really small, as a lot of experiments here at HubSpot do, but now, they gained critical mass. They’re growing really quickly. It’s primarily focused on salespeople rather than sale management, so if you think of salesforce.com as a way to manage information about customers, this comes at it from the other point of view. It’s how salespeople can manage their information. It’s been really rapidly adopted.
The cool thing is that the whole Signals team, whether they’re on the engineering side or the marketing side or the sales side, they all sit together here at HubSpot. It really does have a cool startup within a startup feel. It’s been growing like crazy. That’s really exciting news.
I mentioned that we have a lot of experiments here. It’s pretty much open to any employee who has an idea on how we might try something different in the business. I’ve seen a few since I joined here eight months ago. Some of the more successful ones are an employee who a couple years ago started a partner program, which has now grown very rapidly, and we have a large segment of bars, as we call our partners who are helping us grow HubSpot.
Another experiment started out with an employee trying to think about how to help our customers with their onboarding. He developed some online training that morphed into HubSpot Academy. Now, we’ve got a dedicated classroom where HubSpot customers can come to HubSpot training and get hands-on training in addition to the online classroom training. That just started recently, so that’s a really exciting development.
We also have a couple of experiments, one that just closed down recently that was looking at ways of growing some of our business off of trials. Not everything that starts out as an experiment is a success, but typically, whether it’s a success or not, there’s usually a great wiki article at the end of the experiment explaining what the objective of the experiment was and what the employees who were part of it learned. It definitely makes for an innovative and exciting place to be, that we’re not closed off to any opportunities coming from any employees. That makes it really terrific.
Jacob: That’s so cool. I wish more companies would encourage side projects from their employees. I actually just finished writing a blog post about the company Atlassian. They have, maybe you know about this, what they call ship-it days or FedEx days. They all get together and they do a hack-a-thon. They really actively encourage side projects. Of course, Google, famous for their 20% time. Incredible results there. I wish more companies would understand the power there.
I’d love to ask you next about some of the initiatives that you guys have going on there to promote employee wellness, like social interactions, maybe community volunteering, anything like that.
Elizabeth: Sure. HubSpot is very much a place where you can take the initiative to do the things that you care about. Thinking about community involvement, as an example, employees will frequently post on the wiki. We’ve got a subspace within our culture space on giving back, so if you have an organization that you’re looking for volunteers for or you’re passionate about or you’re fundraising about something, you can share that on the wiki, share it in our employee newsletter, drum up volunteers.
We had a breakfast that we hosted back in April to support the HubSpotters who were running the Boston Marathon to give them a fundraising opportunity here. There’s any number of organizations and community opportunities in the greater Boston area or over in Dublin, if you’re at DubSpot.
In terms of employee wellness, again, a lot of HubSpotters start their own activities. We’ve got HubYoga, which I do on Wednesday nights here at our office. We’ve got running groups. The Dublin folks have a soccer team that actively plays other startups and tech companies in Dublin. In Cambridge, we’ve got two nap rooms. We had Arianna Huffington as our keynote at Inbound, our conference, last year, and she talked about the power of napping and taking time to recharge, so we actually just added two nap rooms this year, which is fantastic. We have gym membership discounts and things like that that employees can take advantage too.
We love to celebrate. We just had our 8th birthday, so we had ice cream last week to celebrate our 8th birthday. We do fun things, minor holidays, whether it’s Saint Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo, just encouraging social interaction, because it becomes a challenge when you’re several hundred employees to help everybody get to know each other and try and do that for people who might not necessarily have their paths cross during the work day, just to make the team feel a little more connected.
Jacob: That’s perfect, actually. That segues beautifully into my next question, which is, do you ever get worried that, as you continue to grow in scale, the culture might start to slip? How do you maintain that culture as you grow so quickly and as there are so many people? That must be so hard, no?
Elizabeth: It’s definitely a challenge, and it’s got a lot of our attention focused on how we can continue to grow in a way that maintains the best parts of our culture. Publishing the Culture Code was certainly one aspect of that. It helps people understand what type of company we aspire to. I think Dharmesh has noted a couple places in there where we’re not quite meeting our goal, but we’re actively trying to live up to what we say in the Culture Code. That’s one thing that gives folks a sense of the company that we want to be.
We do a quarterly employee happiness survey. We use the Net Promoter Score as a way to benchmark our progress, and that’s relatively high-level, so it can remain pretty anonymous.
This quarter’s survey had four open-ended responses and three rating scale questions, so I read through, personally, about 2,000 HubSpotter comments and categorized them to try and understand where we were being successful and where some opportunities for additional focus could be.
I wrote up a big wiki article, as you might expect, and published all of the verbatim comments and ratings so that any employee could easily duplicate my results, if somebody wanted to check my math. We don’t hold back on sharing information here.
It is certainly a challenge. It’s no longer a small startup. It’s not easy to get to know all of the new hires when, like this month, you’ve got 50 new people coming in the door. We actually started a new wiki page with a photo of the new hire class and everybody tagged in it and some short fun facts about the new hires.
Every new hire has the opportunity to take up to four other HubSpotters that they don’t know out to lunch as a way to help them get to know more people as they settle into the organization. We tie balloons on new hires’ chairs so they’re easy to spot around the office if people want to come up and introduce themselves.
It’s something to take really seriously. How do we scale and how do we help people understand what we want to be as a company? Our NPS survey is probably the most predictable way that we do that, and each quarter we share the good, bad, and the ugly there, and we try to continue to work on things where we might have had challenges.
Jacob: Very, very cool. My last question for you before we go is in your opinion, is there anything about the culture that you would want to improve, anything you think that you’re not doing amazingly that you think you have some opportunities for improvement?
Elizabeth: I mentioned this a little bit in my last question around cross- team communication. I think it does get harder as you get bigger and as you become international to really help folks stay connected and get to know their peers. That’s one area that I think will always be a focus of ours. Also, just making sure that HubSpotters have the opportunity to take advantage of all aspects of our culture.
Some of the things that I think you’re aware of, we have club talks where we bring in really interesting people twice a month. We had the Harvard men’s basketball coach in this month, and a couple months ago, we had someone who heads up a nonprofit on immigration reform.
It’s a wide range of topics, but it’s scheduled during the work day, so we need to try and make it flexible for people to participate. We have a WebEx set up. I record it whenever possible and post it on the wiki.
Again, if you’re in Dublin, with the time shifting, it’s sometimes a challenge to take advantage of everything that we offer here in Cambridge. Making it a great opportunity for everyone regardless of their position or regardless of the level of flexibility they have in their position, I think will be something that we constantly hold ourselves accountable for improving.
You can follow up with me in six or 12 months and let me know how we’re doing. We can have this conversation again and see if we’ve been successful.
Jacob: Sounds good to me, yeah, for sure. Really, it sounds like it’s a very natural issue to have and it sounds like at least you are aware of it, and you’re maybe doing some things to try to fix it, so obviously, kudos to you for that. I think we’ll end it here, but honestly, like I said, Liz, seriously, thank you so much for taking some time to chat with me. This was a huge pleasure. HubSpot, incredible company. Obviously, you guys know what you’re doing. Hopefully, we can do this again sometime soon.
Elizabeth: Terrific. Thanks so much.
Jacob: All right. Take care.
Elizabeth: Thanks, you too. Bye.
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