A Look Inside Tilt’s Company Culture

Video Transcript

Marissa: Alright, today we have with us Renee Robinson from a San Fransisco-based company called Tilt. Thanks for joining us today, Renee.

Renee: Thanks for much for having me.

Marissa: Yeah, I’m really excited to hear a little bit more about what you do in your HR manager and operations role. I’ve heard awesome things about your culture so it’s going to be fun for us to be able to figure out what it is that you’re doing over there to help make such an awesome place to work.

Renee: Great.

Marissa: So can you start off by telling us a little bit more about Tilt?

Renee: Sure. Tilt’s mission is to power the collective creation of the world. And what that means is seeing groups of people come together for a common cause and making amazing things happen…[tape skips 00:00:45] One new case that I’d really like to talk about is a community in Oakland. The community saw an increase in crime rates and together they pulled their funds to get a patrol company of an evening. And what they saw was a diminishing rate of crime in that area.

Marissa: Yeah, that’s cool.

Renee: So that’s one example of how a community has come together, people don’t necessarily know each other, but has made something amazing happen with the help of Tilt.

Marissa: Great. And I know you guys help people do some really fun things, as well, and I was reading up on the biggest Halloween party on the west coast and I know you guys were involved in that. So what was Tilt’s role in working with San Francisco on such a big event?

Renee: Sure, so our annual Halloween party has been held for three consecutive years now, and every year it gets larger and larger and crazier. Last year, we had 1500 people attend and the exciting thing about the Halloween event is that the entire cost of the event is covered by ticket sales.

Marissa: Hmm.

Renee: So that’s another interesting aspect of the product that if you’re an event coordinator and you’re hosting an event, you can cover the entire cost of the event by using Tilt.

Marissa: Yeah, that’s cool.

Renee: Yeah, so we had some great DJs come on board. We had games on our lower level, and it was a really great night and we definitely plan on holding it year after year and making it better and better each time.

Marissa: Great. So there’s a lot of different ways that people can use Tilt, depending on what they’re trying to pull together.

Renee: Yes, absolutely. Yes.

Marissa: Awesome. Now you’ve been with the company just over a year and a half and I’m curious when you joined the company…

Renee: Yes

Marissa: …I know you guys are quickly growing, so what size were you when you joined and then how many employees do you have now?

Renee: Sure. So I joined 18 months ago and we were approximately 20 people at that stage. Now we’re at 72 and we have a team in Canada, as well. So I’ve definitely seen a lot of change and I think the most interesting component is that we’ve been able to keep our culture the same from day one.

Marissa: Mm-hmm.

Renee: And for us that’s all about collaboration and working together and insuring that our team is passionate and on the same page about what we want to achieve.

Marissa: Yeah, I know it’s kind of, not unique, but I work with a lot of companies and I’ll say “Oh, do you have core values?” and sometimes they say, “Yes,” and sometimes they feel like they’re too small. And what I love is that you guys aren’t terribly large but yet you’ve got this set of really cool values that helps you in HR align everything that you do for your people around the values that are meaningful to the company. Can you share the values with us? Because I thought they were a great collection.

Renee: Yeah, absolutely. So, number one is love our customers. We are customer crazy. Everything that we do from product to customer service, even operations, our public events, it’s all about our customers and engaging with communities. Another one is speed is survival. So we’re a young company and definitively changing and evolving, and implementing features that our customers want is a top priority for us.

Another one is keeping it simple and I particularly love this one. So it’s about getting down to basics, doing what we need to do. Don’t over complicate things. Just keep it simple, and again, think about our customer who’s our user. And we always talk about simplification is power. So just simplify, simplify, and simplify.

Marissa: Mm-hmm.

Renee: Another one is raise the bar, and we talk about this all the time. And this is definitely part of our DNA as a company. Everyone in our team thinks like an owner and they think about how they can raise the bar every single day. And we regularly recognize and reward our team for things that they’ve done beyond their everyday role. So we talk about taking the initiative to try something new. It may not always work, but that is what we want to embody in our culture.

Marissa: Yeah.

Renee: And the last one, and I did make mention to this, is thinking like an owner. So everyone feels like they have a hand in the company’s growth, the strategy. We regularly use our team feedback to put initiatives and projects in place, and everyone really contributes as though they’re the founder and CEO of the company.

Marissa: Yeah. There’s a couple of things I actually love about your values that I think people can really learn from. The first thing is they have personality and character. Right?

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: They’re cool. When you hear those words and phrases, you get it. You kind of get what that means and you feel something because of the way those phrases are put together. The second thing is they’re bite-size.

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: So they’re quick and easy to remember. They’re not over-engineered or over-designed. They’re not too wordy. And the third thing is, and we didn’t mention it within the core values, but I know it’s a phrase that you guys use a lot, just that the golden rule is golden.

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: And I love the fact that that’s sort of a mantra that you guys talk about within the context of the culture that you’re trying to form. Because a lot of companies miss this idea of telling your people that there’s a way that we are going to treat each other in this process.

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: When we tell our people right off the bat, “This is our expectation for how you treat the people that sit next to you every day,” it becomes an environment where people are just nicer to each other. And it’s amazing to me how few companies out there are really focusing on that point of telling people how you expect them to act in a way that’s not making them feel like children. Right? The golden rule is golden.

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: It’s beautiful because everyone kind of gets what that means without telling people and reprimanding them to be nice to each other, just for setting that bar.

Renee: Definitely. One aspect of Tilt that I love, too, is we’re a family and we’re not only colleagues, we’re friends. And that’s where the golden rule is embedded. So we really respect each other. And I love working with passionate, intelligent people every single day.

Marissa: Yeah

Renee: Very lucky.

Marissa: That’s awesome. So how do you as HR help support and foster the culture that you guys currently have and the one that you’ll continue to transform and grow into as you guys evolve as a company? What do you see your role being in that journey?

Renee: Sure. So my role is keeping our employees happy and healthy. That’s how I view my role in Tilt.

Marissa: Mm-hmm.

Renee: So everything that I do from implementing new HR tools like [inaudible 00:07:58] and our boarding process is all centered around what does the team need? How do I make life easier for them? How do I keep them happy and healthy? That really is my true role within Tilt.

Marissa: Yeah, you just hit on something that gets me so fired up and passionate about the future of HR, and that is that your job is there to solve the challenges that your people are having and that you’re there to support your people. Now I think in the HR industry in general, there’s too many HR professionals who look at their job as being the police.

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: And they’ve done it to themselves, right? I mean, HR does get a bad rap sometimes as having to play the police, but it happens so much less when you’ve got HR professionals like yourself who look at every situation and say, “Okay, well what does my employee that I’m supporting and trying to help in this environment, what do they want me to do? And what programs do they want me to roll out?” And when I’m rolling out a process, I don’t roll it out so that it’s big and clunky and cumbersome for them.

Renee: Yes

Marissa: I try to roll out a process that, when they see it rolled out, they say, “Wow! That’s exactly what we needed! You’re right! You solved all of our pain points, and it’s not too much work to do that because it helps me get my job done more effectively and efficiently.”

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: And it’s really important, I didn’t just want to pass over that comment that you made, because I think that statement of being there to roll programming out and to support employees in the way they need to be supported is the future of good HR.

Renee: Yeah. Absolutely, I agree. And a great thing about being in a young company is we’re learning as we go. We don’t have a preconceived notion of what culture is or what the role of a typical HR manager is. We’re making it up as we go, and having focus on my team and the people I work with every day and with what they need, takes away a lot of the complexity of the role and my focus is just making them happy and helping them succeed in their own role.

Marissa: Do you interact with a lot of HR professionals from different types of companies, so stepping out of this technology start-up zone, do you interact with other HR professionals where you feel like sometimes your thoughts clash with what they’re saying and the industry tells you to do?

Renee: In the past, yes. Admittedly a lot of my network is HR and operations people within the tech industry.

Marissa: Yeah.

Renee: I think that’s sort of been the nature of being in San Francisco.

Marissa: Yeah.

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Renee: But I come from a banking and finance career. When I was in Australia, I worked with one of the big banks for seven years.

Marissa: Yeah.

Renee: So I liaised with a lot of HR professionals during my time there and I definitely see a clear difference between what they were working towards each day and I what I work towards each day.

Marissa: Yeah.

Renee: So considerably different.

Marissa: Yeah, it’s interesting, the real pivot in my HR career happened when I was at a big HR meeting, lots of HR professionals, and some of the things I was hearing were just so policy driven and so, you know, they didn’t trust the employee to make good decisions. And because they didn’t trust the employee to make good decisions, they were just creating policy after policy.

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: That nobody likes and nobody reads and 200-page handbooks that nobody ever opens, and stuff that’s just not focused on what the people need in the company. And I just looked around and I thought to myself, “You know, I’m just not going to come back to this. I don’t fit in here.” They were not in the same mindset. And at that time I started a group called Culture Fanatics. And basically what I did in that group was I pulled together some HR professionals across the country who thought the way I thought and very much, I think, they way you think, which is how can we do and deliver the HR function in a way that really is supporting what our people want? Because if we support them well, they’ll do right by us and they’ll do great work.

Renee: Yes, absolutely. And feedback from the team is so valuable. I rely heavily on the feedback that is open and honest from the team.

Marissa: Yep.

Renee: And then I use that to improve all our initiatives.

Marissa: Yeah.

Renee: So I think, reflecting on my past in finance, that didn’t happen a lot.

Marissa: Mm-hmm.

Renee: And if feedback was shared, it wasn’t necessarily put into action.

Marissa: Yep, absolutely. I love to hear that, your mindset. It’s been interesting to get a little bit of more information from you. So, can you tell me a little bit more about just Tilt and the culture at Tilt? Because I see the pictures online. It’s clear people are having a good time. So how do you define or explain to people what the culture at Tilt is like?

Renee: Sure. So when I reflect on the culture at Tilt, I think of two primary things. I think about having true collaboration, and I’ve touched on this previously. We love feedback from our team and our team is empowered to help us put strategies and projects in place. So really I’m working with 70 people every day that are shaping the company with me.

Marissa: Yeah.

Renee: And defining what our culture is. So that’s a really important aspect of our culture. Secondly, our culture’s very social just like our product is. We eat lunches and dinners together at the office. We go out on outings together. We ask the team for suggestions on what they’d like to do for our event series every quarter, and next on the agenda is a hiking day at Marin. We also have this great project that we’ve implemented. It’s called a hackation. So essentially a team can work on a really cool project that they probably wouldn’t work on day-to-day at the office and they could be doing that from the beaches of Costa Rica. Tilt will actually pay for the accommodation. The team will pay for their travel to and from the destination. And it just gives people autonomy on what they want to work on and from where. So we’ve seen some really great initiatives come from that.

Marissa: That’s awesome. Very cool. If you were interacting with a company that’s, let’s say a similar size to you guys, and they were trying to figure out how they could create a culture that was cool and that felt great and where employees really wanted to come to work and do a great job every day, what are a couple pieces of advice that you would give, let’s say the leaders of that company?

Renee: Sure. So I think the most important thing is thinking about the type of people that you want to work with everyday. And secondly who are the people that will best embody your brand and best represent your brand. Culture can’t be faked. It has to be organic and it has to be intrinsic in every component of the business. So if you’re walking into an office, your office, and you’re sincerely appreciative and happy to be working with the person seated next to you, you’re doing something right.

Marissa: Mm-hmm.

Renee: We have a really high bar when it comes to hiring at Tilt and we look for people that embody the attributes that we want. So we always look for humility, we look for creativity, we look for open and honesty, and we want people with personality. Not everyone’s the same. And what we’ve seen is that we have a big group of different, crazy personalities and together we work really well together.

Marissa: Are you familiar with Zappos and their culture story?

Renee: A little bit, yes.

Marissa: So they are a larger organization than you guys are, but they’ve been really focusing on culture now for years. And one of the questions that they ask during their interview process is, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?”

Renee: Mm-hmm. I have heard of that. Yes.

Marissa: And they ask the person to answer that question, and it’s not the number that matters so much to them, so you know, HR people who are cynical will say, “Well, what? So if they don’t give themselves a score higher than five, you don’t hire them?” And that’s actually not what’s going on. What’s going on in that question is the person might say, “I’m a three. I’m a four.” And they’ll say “Okay, well why would you give yourself a three or four?” And it allows in the interview process for that candidate to give you some really personal, kind of fun information about their personality quirks and their personality, and what they’re going to be like to work with at the office.

Renee: That’s great.

Marissa: And it also allows you to start this conversation that you’re already having internally with your people, which is, “It’s okay to be weird and quirky. Bring it out at work. You know, if you wear Hawaiian shirts every day because you love Hawaiian shirts, do it! Don’t put a shirt and tie on for us.”

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: You know, “Wear your quirky shirts every day,” and saying to people that they can walk through your front doors and be who they are is so powerful when it comes to culture. But in order to do that, you have to first start with your hiring processes.

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: So that you’re bringing in people who already embody what you have and are comfortable living in that space and trying to stretch the company even further.

Renee: Yes. Absolutely. I agree.

Marissa: Yeah. How would you define the feeling people have when they walk into your office?

Renee: I think, firstly, I’m very proud of our office. We put a lot of thought and dedication into the aesthetics and what we wanted was a collaborative space where people weren’t confined to their work stations. So we have lounges. We have bean bags. We have a cafe area. We have standing desks. I think when people walk in, they feel that. They feel like we’re not just a typical company. We really put a lot of thought into how people want to work and again, just defining things as we go. We don’t have a preconceived notion of how life should be at Tilt. We change our direction rapidly and if something doesn’t work, we try something else.

Marissa: Yeah.

Renee: We embody that at our office, too.

Marissa: I wanted you so badly to say that they feel it.

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: Because I’ve been studying best places to work, I’ve been inside I don’t even know how many amazing companies that focus really heavily on their culture in the last ten years, and every time I walk through the front door you can feel something different than you feel when you walk into other companies that aren’t focused on their people.

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: Amazing. And when I ask that question to people who have a great culture, more often than not, they say, “You just feel something.” It’s hard to pinpoint it but there’s something you feel when you walk in.

Renee: Yes. It’s a vibe.

Marissa: Yeah.

Renee: It’s a vibe and I think generally we have that and people make comments all the time about how they feel and they really appreciate the time and effort that we put into the details of our space.

Marissa: Yeah. And I think the flip side of that is if there’s someone listening to this and they walk in their office everyday and they don’t feel it, something positive, they’ve probably got some work to do to get that vibe back.

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: Because the way you feel when you walk into an office is very representative of the culture.

Renee: Yeah, absolutely.

Marissa: Well, I’ve learned so many cool things from you. I have one more question for you.

Renee: Sure.

Marissa: It’s a little bit of a tougher question. I’m curious what some of the obstacles are that you faced in the last year, year and a half, when you’re trying to be the person that creates the infrastructure that’s going to support this culture that your company has. So what are some of those roadblocks or obstacles you faced?

Renee: We have a lot of remote people. Engineers and also business development. And we have our Canadian team based in Toronto. So a challenge for us is ensuring that our culture scales beyond San Francisco and beyond our headquarters, and making sure that our remote people feel engaged, they feel like they’re part of the team and the Tilt family, and we’ve done things like we’ve replicated the vibe that we just talked about to our Canadian office.

Marissa: Right.

Renee: We also have a small office in Austin for our mobile engineers and we’ve recreated it there, as well. So I put a lot of thought into how we do this and just making sure that those guys feel really engaged and part of our team.

Marissa: Yeah, what are some tactics that you use to help them feel engaged and like part of the team?

Renee: Sure, so we fly in our remote people at least once a quarter. We’ve also organized activities where we’ve invited our remote people to San Francisco, like we had a great Christmas holiday party late last year, and we welcome their partners to join us, too, since partners and wives and spouses, they’re part of our company, as well.

Marissa: Right.

Renee: They’re the ones that allow us to go to work every day and make things happen and give us sort of the autonomy to do that. So we really want to recognize the spouses and partners, as well. Some other things, we really try to ensure that all our video conferencing is as good as it can be so that way they can video conference into our team meetings, any one on ones, and just make the experience as good as it can be. And that’s always a work in progress. It’s not always perfect but we do concentrate on that and put a lot of time and effort into that.

Marissa: Yeah, and that’s another thing that separates companies, every other company from the companies with the great culture. And that is that they’re never quite satisfied with how good the culture is.

Renee: Yes.

Marissa: So they know the culture’s good, but they always look at it as, “How can we do just a little bit better next time? And a little bit better next time?” Even if you’re scoring really high. Just one example of that, when I worked for Rackspace we used Gallups’ engagement survey for all of our teams a couple of times a year. And in one division of Rackspace, the e-mail and apps division, their managers were scoring in the top 95 percent of all managers across the country for engagement levels, and we still followed up with coaching sessions and we had group discussions, and we pushed even harder to get those scores higher than 95. And I think a lot of companies will look at a score of 95 and say, “What? We’re done,” and that’s a real difference.

Renee: Absolutely. You can always raise the bar and I don’t think you should take anything for granted. I think it needs to be a work in progress, ongoing forever. So that’s definitely something that we think about at Tilt, too. We always make changes, we make improvements, and we never stop still when it comes to culture and our people.

Marissa: Great. Well, Renee, it’s been really nice talking to you today.

Renee: Nice talking to you.

Marissa: And if there’s any point in the future where you’re up against a challenge or you’re thinking through something and you want someone to bounce that idea off of, I’m happy to do that. So please feel free to reach out.

Renee: Thank you so much.

Marissa: You’re welcome. And thanks again for joining us today.

Renee: Great. Thank you, Marissa.

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Marisa Keegan
by Marisa Keegan
Marisa Keegan has held culture and engagement roles inside two nationally recognized great places to work, started the networking group Culture Fanatics, and wrote the book Culture: More than Jeans and Margarita Machines. She was recognized as one of the Top 100 Employee Engagement Experts in the US in 2013 and is currently a consultant to organizations interested in creating a great culture.
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