I’m excited to share today that AdRoll has been named “Best Place to Work” by the SF Business Times, reaching the top tech company spot in the mid-sized category. The Times’ rankings are based on anonymous, voluntary satisfaction surveys on areas such as personal growth, workplace satisfaction, and managerial effectiveness.

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So, how did we get here? Over the last six years, we’ve grown from five people crammed into a back closet of another startup, to 175 people (somehow still) packed into a renovated SOMA warehouse. At all stages, we’ve been obsessed with our culture and people. While Silicon Valley startups are notorious for the perks (eg., 50’ slides, onsite massages, private chefs), we really believe it’s the deeper DNA that sets a culture apart.

ShangRolla 2011 (top) v. ShangRolla 2013 (bottom)

ShangRolla 2012 (top) v. ShangRolla 2013 (bottom)

As a company grows, headcount and physical expansion can put serious strain on a culture. That’s why we’ve found it important lately to put names to our once implicit values, so we can deliberately reinforce them, measure against them, and debate them.

Below is an abbreviated tour of our key values. We admit many of these are works in progress, but we’ve identified them as the key contributors to our success. Without further ado, “How We Roll”:

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Hire Great People And Help Each Other Grow

Our core belief is we are nothing more than our people. With this in mind, we are fanatical about adding the most inspired, smartest people to the team. That can be hard work in a place like SF, where there are plenty of great companies competing for a finite pool of all-stars.

Our main strategy to attract great people (and keep churn at near zero) is to invest heavily in the development of our team. This practice in turns leads to better, happier employees who eagerly refer their friends and colleagues.

A cornerstone of our employee investment is called HonorRoll, a vibrant internal training program in which AdRoll employees teach over 50 classes a month to each other across all subjects. Feedback on class leaders is collected and graded, which leads to continually improving presenters and courses. We think it’s a good thing to actively push people beyond their comfort zones. As our first investor Peter Thiel likes to says about fast-growth startups, “If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re probably not doing it right.”

Nohana, HonorRoll cadet

Nohana, HonorRoll cadet

The mentoring ethic also spills into our day-to-day team culture. For example, whereas many sales teams are cutthroat, our sales team thrives on collaborating to help all boats rise. We invest in outside training and materials as well. For instance, our product team is excited to attend Marty Cagan’s upcoming How To Make Products Customers Love workshop, and engineering enjoys all the programming books they can grok a stick at.

Investing in people allows us to recruit hungry, high potential people that can move up, rather than comprising to bring on folks who merely have experience as hallmark.

Be Open And Authentic

Transparency is a key principle at AdRoll and has become popular across companies we admire (see SEOMoz’s TAGFEE and Stripe’s Email Transparency). And for good reason–we’ve learned the more we share, the more employees engage and make better decisions. As such, we push to shed sunlight on all and err on the side of being open.

Revenue, metrics and team/individual quarterly goals (OKRs) are shared with the whole enterprise. Another example of openness is the “Rollywood Squares” segment of our Friday afternoon all-hands. It works like this. In the morning, a Google Moderator board is sent out. Employees can post any question they want and vote up their co-workers questions. You are encouraged to bring forth, in question form, your fear, uncertainties and doubts. You can also post anonymously. (“Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” – Oscar Wilde.)

Circle takes the square!

Circle takes the square!

At all-hands, the questions are unveiled to the management team and answered openly and on the spot. This seemed scary at first, but the benefit we’ve seen is material issues can surface and be addressed, rather than lingering behind closed doors as gossip.

Probably the most obvious place you’ll see openness in AdRoll culture is our floor plan. No one at AdRoll has ever had an office. We like working in close quarters, which fosters collaboration and high-bandwidth communication, and is just more fun.

The “authentic” part of this value is an important complement to “openness.” Be real, no egos, no drama, no signaling. Talk in plain English. It’s ok to make mistakes. All of this leads to accountability and helps you avoid the politicking that can occur as an org grows more complex.

Do Right By The Customer, Community, and Each Other

At AdRoll, we work with advertisers of all sizes. We feel great about the work we do, because we help people build their businesses, and we do it ethically. A lot of our customers don’t work at large corporations where they’re spending someone else’s money. We take that trust seriously, and sincerely care about helping them succeed.

In our industry, there is a lot of data and there can be a lot of noise. A classic challenge is the complexity in properly measuring the attribution of your marketing. This goes back to our principle of openness, but we believe in full transparency in our pricing and representation of campaigns (eg, what sites your ads show up on.) We are an agent here to help leverage your data, rather than an outsider that uses your own data to arbitrage against you. We believe in split tests to help you measure real lift. This is rare in the advertising world.

We believe in doing the right thing even if it’s not the profitable thing to do. Sometimes this comes up around another aspect of our industry. Digital advertising lies at the center of society’s evolving debate of privacy vs. personalization. The Internet is great because it allows ideas and content to flow freely. You can hop from your custom Pandora radio station, to your bottomless Gmail account, to a friend’s Twitter feed, to a foreign newspaper, to a game of Scrabble with your mom. We’ve come to rely on these services and advertising makes this possible.

We are passionate advocates for giving web users anonymity, full transparency and control of any data that’s collected. This sometimes requires us to make hard decisions that don’t align with the bottom line. Fundamentally, we believe web users should be in the driver seat, and this will lead to best outcome for the holy trinity of advertiser, publisher and web user.

Lastly, we believe in giving back to our community. ShangRolla is located in an interesting block, also known as The Hinge. On one corner, you have Mint Plaza and Bloomingdales, and on the other… things aren’t rosy and there are a large number of homeless. It’s the kind of block only San Francisco can pull off. As such, we’re exposed to the harsh realities of our city. We’ve established our own Culture Club with frequent volunteer events to give back and do right.

Rollers volunteering at the San Francisco Food Bank earlier this week

Rollers volunteering at the San Francisco Food Bank earlier this week

Take Work Seriously, But Don’t Take Yourself Seriously

This is another one that’s obvious as soon as you walk in the door. We believe in a fun culture. We think it’s possible to be fiercely ambitious, while also having a good time. We like to celebrate achievements, but continue to set big goals.

There are literally hundreds of pictures I could paste here to demonstrate my point. But, I think just one will do:

Rollers in conga-line formation at our RollerDisco for ad:tech.

Rollers in conga-line formation at our RollerDisco for ad:tech

Do More With Less

In understanding this value, it’s helpful to reflect on where we came from. We raised our Series A round just weeks before the economic pancake-ing of 2008. The bad economy ended up being a blessing in disguise as we were forced to work closely with our customers to make a product that works.

From this early period, we learned the important lessons of creativity and ingenuity over flashiness. We work hard to find a way no matter our resources and realize that there is always room for improvement in everything we do.

The AdRoll winter, before we had heat. Thank goodness for warm Snuggies.

The AdRoll winter, before we had heat. Thank goodness for warm Snuggies.

Sound like the right place for you?

We do our best to make sure these values pervade everything we do, from our marketing, office culture, hiring to AdRoll’s user interface. They are important internally and also are key in how we present ourselves to the world. So, how do they sound to you? Roll with us… check out our jobs page here.