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What the Top Private and Public Cloud Companies Have in Common—From Someone Who Worked at Both

Published Apr 25, 2019

Battery Ventures just announced its “Best Cloud Companies to Work For” list, powered by Glassdoor. Revered companies pepper the ranking. Should anyone doubt the wisdom of the crowd, the proof, they say, is in the pudding. Battery’s list highlights world-class organizations by any standard.

Personally, I was wowed to see that HubSpot, my former employer, topped the Public Cloud list, while Pendo, my current employer, capped the Private Cloud list. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person to have worked for both organizations, which provides me with a unique perspective on what traits unite these two “top places.”

For starters, it didn’t take Glassdoor’s list to surface the similarity. I experienced it on my first day. A few weeks back some 140,000+ people viewed my LinkedIn post announcing that I’d joined Pendo, and it felt like all of them messaged me in the days that followed. “How is it?” was their most common question. “A lot like HubSpot,” was my standard response. In other words, special.

If companies were people (enter: Mitt Romney joke), both are heavily “left brained” organizations. Data informs every decision, literally. The only guesses are so educated that they don’t feel like guesses at all. Seriously, these companies can tell you not only the exact probability of a customer renewal a month into a contract, but more importantly why. Sitting in a leadership meeting feels like bellying up to the blackjack table with the MIT quants in “Bringing Down the House.”

But as obsessed with data as they are, they are also smart enough to understand the power of a self-policing, self-reinforcing culture. At HubSpot, the company’s evolving culture code is central to the way the business operates. It’s the backbone for candidate interviews, and it’s the neutral party —the arbiter, if you will—in times of interpersonal conflict (“I’m not calling you intractable. The culture code urges adaptability.”).

Though less viral from a marketing perspective, Pendo’s values are just as foundational. Weekly executive meetings and bi-weekly, full-company town halls (which, as an aside, is another common trait—these companies are unwavering about getting staff together regularly to ensure information doesn’t get trapped in leadership’s pockets) begin with a recitation of Pendo’s values.

One could feel like a culture code as an invisible referee or a habitual read-out of values has, well, let’s just say it, a “true believer” quality. And that’s half the point. The codes are there, in part, to help candidates who may be bad matches self-select out of the hiring process. For those who do go on to work in the companies, the prominence of the values acts as behavioral guardrails — and a little cheat-sheet for how to make a persuasive argument.

Of course, there are all sorts of other shared characteristics: both companies are obsessed with growth, neither is all that fixated on any particular competitor (figuring, I’d assume, that competitors should be fixated on them), both leadership teams are disorientingly accessible [I recall when HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan asked if he could have “my” desk because he liked that the seat was situated under a “dinosaur” (it was Godzilla, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him) wall graphic. He sat there day after day, flanked by me on one side and an intern on the other]. Erica Akroyd, longtime Pendozer (both companies enjoy kitschy nicknames), recently described how she received a major promotion: the CEO, Todd Olson, walked over, tapped her on the shoulder, and asked if she’d like the new role. Disorientingly accessible.

This, however, is the easy stuff to cite—it’s the central nervous system that animates each organization. But there’s something arguably more vital that both companies have in common — and that’s their perspective on the team.

Leadership holds themselves accountable for building the kind of company that they, themselves, want to work for. This aspiration manifests in ways ranging from quirky (everyone at Pendo gets a hand-drawn avatar when they join) to life-altering. Both, for example, value “athleticism” (overall ability, intelligence, curiosity) at least as much as experience or specialization.

Jack Roney was a swim coach with literally no background in sales or technology before joining the Pendo sales team. A married father of two, he reached out to a Pendo recruiter, explained his life circumstances, including his lack of relevant experience, and promised to draw from his hyper-competitiveness to do whatever it took to earn the job. He became employee #47 and is one of the company’s top sales reps today.

While Jack’s story isn’t the rule, it’s not exactly an exception either. My April 2019 orientation class, for example, included a tech first-timer who had until recently operated a blow dry bar.

When it comes to employee retention, both organizations apply the Steve Jobs “cannibalize yourself before someone else does” ethos to lateral movement. They’d rather lose an employee to another department than to another company. Maddi Ury hit the ground running when she joined Pendo as a business development rep. In six months time, she ranked among the top performers, which is gold for a fast-growing sales team. Yet despite her success, she didn’t feel like her future was in selling software. So the company found a new role for her — sales recruiter — where she’s earned three promotions.

It would be difficult to find an employee who has held more, and more diverse, roles than Pendo software engineer Adam Lohner. In three years Adam’s held positions in sales, customer success and engineering—and this is after joining from a company that distributed military fasteners. Neither HubSpot nor Pendo thinks in terms of swim lanes—in part because that sort of growth creates new and unanticipated organizational needs; in part because they value curiosity, and curious employees often want to take on new challenges.

Simply, at the heart of both of these top-ranking places to work is a sense of empathy for the employee, a recognition that career enrichment for some takes the form of vertical movement, for others it’s lateral, and for others it’s about finding a company willing to take a chance on them. Of course, these are fiercely competitive companies, so there’s a commercial reason why empathy plays such a fundamental role in both cultures. Akroyd’s advice to all incoming Pendozers sums up the reason succinctly: “If you don’t care about people, how are you going to build software people love?”