FreshBooks co-founder and CEO Mike McDerment recalls how he was inspired many years ago by the founder of a multi-billion dollar company: "When I interacted with his business, it felt like a personal interaction with him. That really stayed with me; I understood that founders and the culture they create are very important to the success of companies – that culture is strategy for a business."
The need to foster and maintain a positive, values-driven workplace has guided Mr. McDerment throughout FreshBooks' rapid growth. He and his two co-founders began the cloud accounting company in a Toronto basement in 2003. Today, 260 employees work out of their Toronto office and they have more than 10 million customers in 120 countries.
"We have deliberately and diligently worked to retain everything we loved about the work from our earliest days. As we grew, we were very conscious about building a place where people love coming into work every Monday morning," he says.
Among its recent wins, FreshBooks topped the 2016 list of Canada's Best Workplaces in the Top 50 medium organizations with fewer than 1,000 employees in Canada.
FreshBooks' core company values – represented by the acronym PORCHFEST, for passion, ownership, results, change, honest, fun, empathy, strive and trust – form the foundation of the firm's high performance culture. In fact, when making hiring decisions Mr. McDerment and co-founder Levi Cooperman personally interview every candidate before they join the team, looking for people who embody the firm's values, and weighing "emotional intelligence" equally with technical skills and experience.
Nurturing a service culture is also important, says Mr. McDerment. To that end, all employees, regardless of their role, spend their first month at FreshBooks working in customer support.
"I want everyone to be exposed to that so they make good decisions grounded in our customers' needs – not just an academic understanding of who our customers might be," he says. "It's also very personally rewarding to have day-to-day interactions and experiences with the people you affect with your work." FreshBooks has won many customer service awards, including seven international Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service.
FreshBooks' positive work environment is also supported by open office space with glass meeting rooms and common areas that encourage "connectedness, collaboration and collision," says the CEO, as well as by annual traditions such as the PORCHFEST company retreat at a children's campsite.
FreshBooks recently implemented an innovative "Blind Dates" initiative to counteract the cultural pressures that inevitably arise as employee numbers increase.
"Keeping the essence of a culture is more challenging as the number of people grows and you reach the point where you don't know everyone's name," says Mr. McDerment. Through Blind Dates, three or four employees meet for coffee or lunch dates with randomly selected people from different teams. Through two rounds of matches, about half the firm's employees have participated. The success of the Blind Dates program has attracted international media attention and was featured recently on CBS This Morning.
"We're taking people who work in different parts of the company and normally wouldn't cross paths, and having them spend time together and build some shared history," he says. "It has helped strengthen bonds, produced new opportunities for cross-team collaboration and made the workplace all the more inviting."
This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in it's creation.