Startup Culture Lessons From Mad Men

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Startup Culture Lessons From Mad Men

 

The following is a guest post by Brian Halligan who is my co-founder and CEO at HubSpot (which means he gets to do most of the really hard work). 

I recently did a lecture at a Babson MBA summer class on Entrepreneurial Leadership.  I got a lot of questions from students about how and why HubSpot won the Boston Business Journal’s #1 place to work award….hmmm….good question.onstartups mad men

At the highest level, we are trying to create a “post-modern culture” (I just came up with that term…too high falutin?).  Believe it or not, this post-modern culture was inspired by the TV show Mad Men.  The show is set in an advertising company 50 years ago and it pokes fun at corporate culture in that era.  For example, almost all of the women in the office are secretaries, many of the married men are sleeping with these secretaries, everyone boozes heavily during work hours, etc.  While watching Mad Men, I couldn’t help but wonder what a show might look like 50 years from today that poked fun at current working conditions and company culture.  That led us to think a bit about what just didn’t make sense anymore given the realities of the Gen Y worker, broadband in the home, constant connectivity via mobile devices, the modern market for hiring exceptional people, etc.

Here are some of the more interesting features of working life at a post-modern company that have come out of that Mad Men inspired thinking.

1.  Vacation Policy = No Policy: In our father’s era where people needed to come to the office to collaborate and do real work, a vacation policy made a lot of sense.  The reality is that today I get emails from HubSpotters at all hours of the night and have a steady flow during the weekend.  No one asks for vacation credit for being on their iPhone while sitting on the beach on the Cape, so why should they have to ask for permission to take vacation during the week.

2.  “We don’t care which 80 hours you work”: In the early days of HubSpot, people used to ask us about working unusual hours or working part of the day at home and Dharmesh and I used to always say, “We don’t care which 80 hours a week you work, so long as you put in your 80.”  The reality is that most of us don’t work 80 hours, but you get the idea…

3.  Extreme Transparency:  Other than salaries, there are few secrets at HubSpot and I wonder whether we should just expose those too.  One manifestation of this extreme transparency is on the wiki where I personally write a new wiki article a couple of times a week about what is on my mind about the future of the company, problems I see that need to be solved, opportunities that I’d like folks to look into, board meeting notes, etc.  The articles are widely commented on and some of our best initiatives get spurred by these discussion threads.  Among my favorite articles written by other HubSpotters have the title “If I Were CEO Of HubSpot, I Would…”

4.  No door policy:  Many companies have an “open door policy,” but we have a “no door policy.”  No HubSpotters have an office – we all sit out in the open next to each other.  I am currently writing this article wedged between two developers, Michael and Andrew, whose work I’ve gotten to know quite well when I otherwise would have been out of touch in a corner office.

5.  Seat rotation:  If have been sitting next to Andrew and Michael for about two months, but we are about to do one of our quarterly seat rotations where we pull numbers from a hat to see who we will be sitting next to.  This ensures folks get to know different people from around the company.  I’m looking forward to seeing whom I’ll be sitting next to next week!

6.  HubSpot Fellows:  We hired Professor Andy McAfee from MIT Sloan to help us start the HubSpot Fellows Program, which is like an MBA for HubSpotters.  Courses offered so far:  Strategy HubSpot Style, Statistics, Learning Leadership From Legends, and Improving Written and Verbal Communications.  The courses are open to any HubSpotter and are taught by Andy and me.  …We did this because we want our employees to learn and we want to attract employees who like to learn.

7.  Free beer: I can’t remember how it got started, but we always have free beer in our fridge.  I’ve noticed folks seem to wander around and drink a beer or two at the end of the day to unwind.  We are up to about 170 people and I’ve yet to see someone do something stupid.  HubSpotters seem to be rewarding the trust we put in them here.

8.  Friday 4pm Happy Hour:  We are certainly not the only ones who do a Happy Hour on Friday, but we have our own unique twist on it.  Every Friday at 4pm ET, we film HubSpot.tv live in our office and encourage employees (and community members) to watch the show, play a little ping-pong or foosball, and hang out.

9.  Games:  We have a west coast style games room where people can play ping-pong, foosball, hang out on the couch, or hit the beer fridge.  We do this because it is a good way for folks to get to know each other and refresh their minds. 

10.  Tournaments:  We have frequent tournaments, including ping-pong, foosball, iron chef, and softball.  All of these are just plain fun and bring folks together across groups.

11.  Dress code = no dress code:  Doesn’t made sense to me to tell people what to wear…we’re not in a boarding school -- we are in a company where we want people to be as productive as possible.

12.  Big Hairy Mission:  Our mission is to “transform the way the world does marketing.”  At least to me, that mission is big enough that I can really get psyched about it and be proud to tell others I’m working on it.  I don’t know for sure that other employees feel the same way, but I suspect it is the case.  Modern workers are more like cathedral builders than brick layers if you give them the right mission.

13.  Social media policy = we trust you:  Any of our employees can post an article on our blog, can tweet, can blog privately, etc.

This last point of “trust” is a common theme that runs throughout a post-modern culture.  If you are hiring exceptional people who have lots of good options, you should trust them to make good decisions that will improve the enterprise value as your interests are strongly aligned.

What aspects of corporate culture do you think are passé?  What creative corporate culture things are you doing at your company that you think we could emulate?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Jul 26, 2010

COMMENTS

My pet peeve - status meetings every Monday AM and Friday PM, running 1+ hours each. 
 
Dharmesh, how do you run meetings at Hubspot?

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 11:30 AM by Shuba S.


I like a lot of these. (Not all of them... but a lot of them.) My favorites are #3 and #13, followed closely by #1. Bottom line -- the best-run companies trust their teams. And when a team member gets out of line, they are coached to get back in line. And if they can't get back in line, they need to get off the bus. Simple as that. (OK - it's not simple at all. But it's certainly the best way to do business!)

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 11:55 AM by Peter Alberti


I love the deliberate approach to creating an optimal corporate culture. Brian, your description really reminded me of the NetFlix corporate culture slide show, which is another great resource for entrepreneurs: http://bit.ly/cgwLtT

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 12:15 PM by Akira Hirai


@Akira -- That Netflix corporate culture deck was pretty influential on us, actually. We were very impressed by their level of thoughtfulness. 
 
@ShubaS -- We don't really have standard status meetings at HubSpot. The managers get together once a month for a full day...no monday morning meetings. Many of our dev and non-dev teams use Agile SCRUM, so they have daily 10 minutes "standup" meetings. ...As far as I know their are not weekend ruining Monday morning meetings at HubSpot

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 12:23 PM by Brian Halligan


I like these. You are definitely building a great culture.  
 
But 80 hours? Seriously? No modern company should demand 80 hours from its employees, not even in jest - unless you're putting the first man on Mars.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 1:18 PM by Vin


This kind of culture is great assuming you can hire people who understand what it means to work and serve a business. Some don't understand that concept

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 1:19 PM by Robert C Severson


@Vin Yes, it is said with tongue in cheek...

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 1:23 PM by Brian Halligan


As a recent grad school entrant, 12 is a really appealing feature. What would be your take on radical cross-pollination of talent i.e employees learning new skills on the job, which may be a bit painful in the short term but could mold your employees into becoming much more versatile in the future?

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 1:24 PM by Anand


Curious how you can be rated #1 workplace in your area - give that you lead your article off with idioms 1 &2 - NO Vacation & you need to work "80 hours, don't care which". It's obvious from this lead that long-term employee retention is not a corporate mantra. Curn-n-burn as was touted by my last employer. This mentality that corporate cultures are embodying, is foolish. "Let's give 'em meaningless little perks, e.g., free food, free beer, friday parties, etc. is just masking the fact that in the end you seek to suck all the morrow and creative juices out of the individual, just up to the point of total burnout, then look for the next sucker that "buys into" this nonsense; it's sad that most educated, recent grads will do ANYTHING for that paycheck, and the meaningless perks, obviously since they have yet to establish any real life patterns, the corporate "start-up" love the naivete' of the new hire. 
 
Shame shame shame... 
Despicable that this mentality is still being propagated today - guess the failed dot-com lesson wasn't learned. 

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 1:30 PM by Geoff


I've worked as a copywriter most of my adult life. Until last year when I launched my own site, I stayed at a place for 12 years. My creativity was beaten, kicked and drowned by procedures and rules. We all need procedures and rules, but I commend you on approaching them with such inspired creativity. I want to work there!!! Thanks for the uplifting article.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 1:38 PM by Katherine MacDonald/Kate Houston


I generally am dissuaded when I see an article that has to do with "culture", just because of some of the ones I've read in the past. This was a great read, and very practical. I especially love the "no vacation policy", as I've constantly struggled with that at "normal" 8-5 jobs. Thanks!

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 1:40 PM by Geoff


@Brian That’s great, it’s a truly progressive workplace! 
 
@Geoff It seems you didn’t read carefully. Note that Brian clarifies that he meant the 80 hours tongue in cheek and the first bullet says “vacation policy = no policy” NOT “No vacation!”.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 1:40 PM by Shuba S.


I think that one of the points that Darmesh is trying to make is that if you 1. Have a vested interest in what you are doing, 2. ENJOY what you are doing, 3. And see that what you are doing has impact it's not so much like work. I am a new business owner. I am the creative and business mind. I guarantee that I put those kinds of hours in easy. It may be discussing an idea I have, or reading a business related article (which I find very interesting), or trying to come up with new ideas. In the end, it comes down to priorities and personal preference. If you have a family and need to be with them, don't work there. If you're interested in making good money in what sounds like a wonderful atmosphere, then go for it.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 1:45 PM by Bobbi


I aspire to build a culture similar to yours. I agree with most of your policies, except the dress code policy. It will not be strict but there will be a limitation on what is allowed. Such as, PJs...

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 1:57 PM by Sakira Lilly


I guess it's personal preference for a lot of these. 
 
Salary? Keep that private. All that happens when you talk about your salary is you either sound like you're bragging or you sound like you're broke. 
 
And 80 hours? Really?? I guess that's great if you don't really want your employees to have much of a life outside of work. This is great for single, energetic go-getters, but experienced professionals with kids may not warm up to your demands.  
 
Also, little perks like beer in the fridge and a TV / game room are just a bad idea in my opinion. In my experience those who spend time playing ping pong or drinking beer in the break room are the first to be let go when the company starts losing money. The guy working hard at his desk who shows up early and leaves late is far more valuable and appreciated, even if he isn't the most popular guy in the office. The fewer distractions at work, the more employees get done while they're there, and the less likely they need to work an ungodly amount of hours of overtime. 
 
Overall, I'm kind of against the whole "great big happy family" kind of company. While liking who you work with is great, you need some professional distance. Even my best "work friends" don't know a lot about my private life, and I try to keep it that way.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 2:03 PM by BIllCantDance


These are all great, GREAT ideas! I think that at times, businesses fall into social norms and forget that they must be innovating not only their product or service, but corporate culture in order to gain an advantage over their competitors.  
 
Strong, attractive corporate cultures can attract some of the best and brightest, and therefore propel your business to success -- look what it's done for Google and Adobe!

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 2:04 PM by Stephen @ SmoothEntrepreneur.com


I've lived through decade plus of these type of cultures. Back in the glory days we even had FULL health coverage - chinese herbalist, acupuncture - whatever paid 100%. Made up, in part, for all nighters. 
 
Need to consider - how do individuals grow (personal development), how does the culture mature (people will have families), and how does the culture contribute beyond itself (what's the post modern charity? ).

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 2:09 PM by Katie


As a female undergrad looking to get into business in the future, I'm interested in seeing how the HubSpot culture would be attractive to women... sure, throwing around the phrase "beer fridge" might be appealing for men - and no, I'm not saying HubSpot or any other tech company should begin building inhouse spas to please the ladies - but highlighting beer as a perk makes me think HubSpot is catering exclusively towards men. Sorry to be such a critic, but just my two cents. 
 
Granted, I understand that HubSpot, like most tech-oriented workplaces, are more testosterone-heavy than other industries - but isn't it time to change that, even with little things like this?

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 2:12 PM by Alisha


@Senad Actually, that's a good observation. The thing that's hard to replicate is the transparency and trust. The rest is just features. 
 
@Stephen Yes, I think strong corporate cultures can really help a company create a meaningful competitive advantage. I recently read "Delivering Happiness" by Tony Hsieh -- their culture was a real differentiator. 
 
@BillCantDance Interesting. I guess I personally enjoy a quick ping pong match with a coworker in the day to increase the bloodflow to my brain -- works better than a cup of coffee.  
 
@Anand While I was in grad school, the founder of Teradyne, Alex D'Arbeloff came to speak with us. He stressed that at Teradyne, they always took their new employees and put them on the old projects and took the experienced employees and put them on the new projects. We roughly try to do that at HubSpot, but it is hard to do!

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 2:16 PM by Brian Halligan


Brilliant article. I've been hired in a company, where one of my duties was to update their facebook, but they a´had a no facebook policy and enforced it with firewall restrictions - LOL. Mutual respect is the bottom line in all of the above. The kind of respect you earn.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 2:17 PM by Jens Dalsgaard


I like number 5 the best. The biggest killer in an office is people who get "too comfortable" and end up not communicating with others. In the creative business people need to remember it isn't all about "you" or your way of thinking you need to relate to other people.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 2:42 PM by Steve


Most California startups and small to medium hitech companies have the above and more! So this blog just reaffirmed what I have already observed & experienced. 
 
What I did not see in the above list was giving due credit to IP/patents in startups where too often the founding team seems to claim the inventorship while other team members were conveniently omitted. I have seen some startups unfold due to disagreements in inventorship inspite of having most or all of the above 13 'mad' lessons!

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 2:42 PM by MP Divakar


I enjoyed this article. I would love to see the picture of your office.:)

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 2:52 PM by Mesfin


I've really admired the growth of Hubspot and your market leading approaches to your product development, use of social media and the engaging and approachable communication style you adopt. 
 
Now I can see why this is, because you've clearly built a culture around it. Even if some of the people who have commented clearly have misread the article, I really liked the points you've made and fully support you empowering your employees to take control of the social media tools and do right by the company and its reputation. 
 
Free beer isn't bad either, champagne would be even better! 
 
Keep up the new age culture, like Zappos of trust, creativity, fun and freedom to lead at any level.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 3:34 PM by Natalie Sisson


Now that was a nice read. It seems like it really is a great place to work for most people who read this (so, mostly entrepreneur-types). 
 
Do you encourage work outside the office or at the office? Although being in the office might keep you on your toes, and in the case of your office, also gives you a chance to play foosball with office chumps, some people just work better outside the office. And if the job fits, or the collaboration solutions are there, do you encourage them to work where they are most productive?

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 3:45 PM by Siim from a Web Office company


@Slim We are not particular about where you work. If you are more productive from home, that works. We do prefer that employees are in greater Boston and generally require folks to move here if they want to work here, so we can have adhoc meetings. 
 
@MP Yes, the prevalence of this type of stuff is much more likely to be seen in California companies. We are big admirers of the west coast internet pioneers like Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc. ...Will think about the patent thing.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 3:55 PM by Brian Halligan


Great article! At the end of the day, a happy employee is a productive employee. A well compensated employee is also a loyal employee.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 4:32 PM by Robin Feltner


1) Culture matters and trust is paramount - some points above are important and others trivial and a bit jingoistic.  
2) What matters is that hiring should be deliberate, with the understanding of ownership properly conveyed. If all can own outcomes (not projects or blocks) - but full outcomes to completion, all else falls into place. Only caveat is people should do it while lifting others 
3) This implies that politics and bad attitudes must be ruthlessly eliminated 
4) On one point of transparency (and perhaps a topic for your Fellows program) is that very few startup founders like the valuation metrics to be transparent. If you catch an employee in a hallway and ask what the pre and post money valuations of the last round were, what the total share base is (equivalently per share price of the last round), how much of the company is owned by investors from all previous rounds, how much by founders and what the size of the option pool is, what the investor participation is in the previous rounds and participation preferences etc. - most would draw a blank. Indeed most know the number of shares they have and most founders like it that way. The raw number is, of course, meaningless. I say this not with some in-built bitterness (I have thankfully done well with startups), but with the intent of pointing out that full transparency would imply everyone knows these metrics. A worthy goal in and of itself. Further, it would allow people to truly assess their opportunity and make informed choices and then own those choices like adults - rather than be surprised later on. Finally, a wide dissemination would bring up future generations of founders better informed - and being a founder is the surest way to build what one believes in while having a chance to become wealthy.  
In other words, the level of transparency and trust should be such that all the people so inclined should be given the skills and confidence to go out and build their own companies in the future. Anything short of that is a lot of hot air.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 4:44 PM by Rama Akella


Interesting ideas, I like them, although I think they require people that really understand these. 
 
I have couple of comments though, the first one regards #1 Vacation, for me it does not mean I'm at the office, but rather I'm not reachable by any method; I think everyone needs some piece of mind. 
 
 
 
Second thing is about all the additional stuff, like entertainment during the work, did you ever experienced people that instead of working were playing most of the time ? How did you manage to solve this issues ? 
 
 
 
Another question is about #8, how many employees do you observe to attend these ? And how many of them have their families, like wives and children (just my personal curiosity) ? 
 
 
 
Generally I think that #3, #6, #12 and #13 are priceless and #2 is just a derivative of these (at least for people that understand that this is the trade they get - for the price of having work freedom and getting help in self-development they are suppose to take the "ownership", i.e. work like they'd work in their own company)

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 5:13 PM by Marcin Marczyk


This seems similar to the way Semco runs things in Brazil, as described in The Seven Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler. They do go as far as having salaries in the open.  
 
I think it's awesome that you do things this way!

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 5:17 PM by Alex


A lot of "non startups" could easily take cues from these thoughts! Trust is a Huge issue in today's current work environment.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 5:29 PM by Alan


Wish I worked there. Or, maybe not - I work solo at home and right now I'm wearing my oldest, most worn out, favorite shirt - and who cares! 
 
 
 
BTW, I was born in 1941 - go figure!

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 6:27 PM by Kenneth Ewald, Sr.


Great article - this is how companies are supposed to work & function. 
 
1 curiosity - out here in California, alot of companies have eliminated beer busts, beer in the office etc due to insurance liability reasons - for example, the guy who consumes a bit too much, gets a DUI on his way home and then sues the company. 
 
Interested to hear your thoughts on that piece.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 6:56 PM by Rich


Thank you Brian. This is an inspiring article.  
 
I am also impressed by the contributions that have been made by others. You have certainly got people thinking and talking. 
 
I am interested to know what strategies you use to maintain authority in such a collaborative and comfortable work environment.  
 
What specifically do you do that enables you to sit next to your employs, participate in social activities etc. without dampening their productivity or compromising your role.  
 
Have you ever surveyed staff to find out they feel about an open office?  
 
Were policies related to moving workspaces etc. developed very early in your business? If not, how did existing employees cope with the change? 
 
Kind regards, 
Kathleen  

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 7:38 PM by Kathleen Crone


@Kathleen Crone Very good questions!  
1. I feel like folks speak to me more like a peer than the ceo. They are certainly not afraid to let me know what is on their mind and push back at me. One thing I worry about is that as we bring in new employees who are joining now that they continue to feel as though they can push back at me and be truthtellers like our early employees. 
2. I believe that authority is gained by the quality of your thoughts/actions and not gained by your position on an org chart. 
3. We haven't specifically surveyed the staff about the open office, but when we do more general surveys of employees, they often mention that they like the open office. ...When they interview at HubSpot, they "should" notice the open office, so they ought not to join if they are allergic to that type of thing. 
4. We have been growing very fast since the early days, so people were pretty much used to moving desks every few months, so it hasn't really been strange culturally to do that when there isn't a move involved.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 8:49 PM by Brian Halligan


Alex brought up what Ricardo Semler is doing at Semco -- it is really interesting. He came and spoke at Sloan while we were there and he piqued my interest. I think he goes further than we do at HubSpot in these regards. ...For interested, check out this article: http://www.inc.com/articles/2004/03/7dayweekend.html 
 

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 8:54 PM by Brian Halligan


#1 - Vacation Policy - I've found that a vacation policy that is more of a suggestion than something hard and fast works well. 1hr iPhone on the beach credits are a bit over the top, but being flexible for those 2hr check-ins on a vacation day go a long way in getting the most out of people. The secret here is make sure you give everyone iPhones. No one who owns one can live long without it, and then your email is only a click away.  
 
#3 - Transparency - Before I shifted into a management role I thought that keeping salaries hidden and encouraging employees to do that same only served management. Now that I'm on the other side of the desk I totally get it! Other than salaries, though, I rarely see a bit of information that isn't worth sharing with your employees.  

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 8:56 PM by Eric Estabrooks


@Marcin Marczyk Good questions: 
1. Yes, I agree that a good vacation that really clears the mind is one without any connectivity. I encourage that. The thing I worry about with our vacation policy is that people won't do that or won't take enough downtime. We actually don't have a good way of monitoring that as we don't have any overhead with the policy. ...Going to have to watch it. 
2. Only once in our 4 years (170 employees now) have I had to say anything to someone about too much pingpong. There was a bit of hallway chirping about it, so I informed him about it and he cooled off on the pong. ...Everyone at HubSpot is on goals to hit and numbers to hit that others depend on, so I'm hoping it will self-regulate over time. There's really no place to hide because we are very metrics and team oriented. 
3. I would say about half our employees attend the friday 4pm hubspot.tv sessions. I haven't observed the percentage that are married/children, but will have a look this week now that you have mentioned it. 

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 9:03 PM by Brian Halligan


@Alisha -- That's a very good point that free beer is not that appealing to many rising stars of the female persuasion. HubSpot is about 40% female and I don't want to be over attractive to males and underattractive to females by promoting free beer. Can you give me some thoughts on how we might improve here? 
 
@Katie The comments in this thread have made me wonder whether we are built to handle "maturing" employees -- one thing I'm a big fan of is doing inhouse day care. Going to get a bit bigger to get that math to work. Other ideas on how to be more attractive to families?

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 9:10 PM by Brian Halligan


Thank you for your speedy reply to my questions Brian. 
 
I agree with you. Amongst other things, a great leader is approachable/accessible (an open office facilitates this more easily), willing to listen and engage with employees (easier when you work along side them, invite them to participate, rewards great work and trust), encourages innovation by implementing innovative business practices and leads by example. All which you appear to do. Congratulations. 
 
I also agree that lead management is the way to go, even though it requires a vigilant personal evaluation to maintain the balance between authority, respect and accessibility. 
 
Regards, 
Kathleen 
 
PS I love the wiki idea. What a great way to generate better business products and systems.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 9:15 PM by Kathleen Crone


Experiences seem to shape our leadership styles and visions. Steve Jobs & Bill Gates - both visionary leaders - with varied approaches. 
 
In the Marines leadership was roughly defined as "getting people to willingly follow you." This based on trust from the sum of observations over time. 
 
I appreciate the sharing of your vision - telling where you're going and how you want to get there. Those that want to be Hubspotters will, and those that don't, won't. 
 
I may have missed a back article (sorry), but, curious to know who/what shaped your style the most?

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 9:43 PM by Dan Wadleigh


"The show is set in an advertising company 50 years ago and it pokes fun at corporate culture in that era. For example, almost all of the women in the office are secretaries, many of the married men are sleeping with these secretaries, everyone boozes heavily during work hours, etc." 
 
 
 
After all the comments above, pro and con in relation to the post, I wont re-hash the themes. 
 
 
 
That said, I have to take exception to your comments quoted above. I have never thought of MMen as a parody, but much more so a brilliant portrayal of life in general during this time period, and a sharp view within the culture of business in an ad shop. 
 
 
 
I have found the attention to detail mind-boggling, the writing, direction, photogrpahy, wardrobe, set design, etc. etc. etc.  
 
 
 
Although I was young during this time period as a younger "boomer", I can so relate to and appreciate this brilliant protrayal of American culture and business. 
 
 
 
Would be curious as to the average age of your headcount, and how many "Bommers" are represented in your shop, if any.  
 
 
 
One closing comment, beer and ping pong tables are a hoot ( These seem to be a very techie thing not found in insurance and banking organizations), but before I moved to tropical S Fl, I would have preferred the time to be sailing on the Charles. Go Sox!

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 10:13 PM by MobiKeith


Since I have been "locked" in an office for the past 18 years, this appeals to me like the last orange cinnamon roll on the kitchen counter. The amount of great ideas that have birthed and died in the span of an hour in this office could have progressed society forward, but unfortunately were carried away by the cockroaches. 
 
Hubspot always continues to keep my pilot light lit. Thanks for the insight and the kindling for my dreams.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 10:17 PM by jmad


I love the idea of having the internal wiki and rotating seats every quarter. This post is definitely inspirational, especially in the context of maintaining a fun and vibrant startup culture as a company gets bigger.

posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 11:19 PM by Dev Basu


I'm a freelance writer, and I love the freedom of being one, but damn, if you were located in Portland, Oregon, I'd be sorely tempted to apply for a job with you! I love almost every one of your points, and agree with the others who said that trust is the main component of your culture. That's where it's at.

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 1:51 AM by Mahesh Raj Mohan


fab article! 
 
this is my dream work environment. I almost thought it could never come true.. until I read this article. 
 
I personally believe it all starts by hiring the right people following a certain criteria not just professional wise but also personality and spirit wise. This is very imp.

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 2:17 AM by Maha


This is great post to learn the culture of Hubspot. I have also visited Hubspot on a friday evening as a guest to explore the culture and would say it is amazing - and literally they have 'no door policy' for guest too. 
 
I would however like to know how the culture has evolved rather than just read the current culture. How hubspot was when it was just 5 employees, 20 employees and 50 employees, and so on. It would be good to learn startup culture evolution. Am sure the DNA would be same right from the start but at the same time I am sure it would have been drastically different too and have evolved with the hubspot community.

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 3:41 AM by Prashant Sachdev


Great post! I think that what you discovered early on at HubSpot is that as the job situation changes for everyone (in the US but abroad as well) people will finally begin to seek employment that expresses who they are, what they believe in, and what they enjoy doing. In that sense, doors *are* unnecessary, and so is a firm 9-6 work schedule. Employees who are happy with what they are doing, who feel part of something bigger and feel appreciated, have absolutely no reason to cheat in terms of logging their hours. In fact, these are people who simply don't want to leave the office for vacation. I see this as a trend of our society and I see it becoming stronger since most of us have finally awoken to the question of "authentic branding of oneself." Still, congratulations to HubSpot for having began a revolution!

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 7:47 AM by Thomai Serdari


Alisha, I agree with you. I've worked in "fun" startups and it was all about the boys. I do like a more professional and grown-up environment. Foosball and beer is "bro" culture which immediately turns me off. I also don't want a spa, but maybe time and space to do art or something. This company does not sound attractive to work at.

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 7:48 AM by Marjorie


Marjorie, hey, maybe chick culture with a spa atmosphere isn't too far a stretch for the "girls club." After all, the bro culture has beer. It would be fun to watch Team Bro experience our (women) idea workplace. ...I'm thinking mandatory yoga before lunch every day, and gorgeous Feng shui-designed offices.

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 7:55 AM by Robin Feltner


I'm going to be a bit of a jerk here as i make two points a big one (i think) and a smaller one. 
 
big point - IMO you know what culture is. beer in the fridge is not culture. no doors is not culture. these are symptoms of culture. culture has to do with aspects like trust. what do you do about the staff member who always has an open beer on her desk? how do you handle the staffer who works only 40 hours a week, but always meets her deadlines? how do you develop staff? do you even care about staff development, you say nothing about it. how do you make hiring decisions? and, an oh so critical aspect, when times get tough, what changes? maybe you'll cut the beer? maybe you'll decide to start ranking staff and pruning. in my experience, its the tough times that really show what a company is made of. during helter-skelter growth, its easy to motivate, to ask for excessive (like to the point of reduced productivity) hours and such. before the fact, its not possible to say how a company will react to tough times. but it is possible to plan for them. 
 
small point - how can we have discussions if the topic is splattered across multiple channels? am i 'supossed' to comment here on LinkedIn which would be most convenient for me? or on startups.com? on twitter? or all of them? i know this isn't just your problem, but its a problem none the less. so, i'll post here as i'm somewhat LInkedIn centric and also on startups.com and hope for the best. 
 

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 8:00 AM by Ron Wolf


oh dang!!! that was supposed to say "IMO you don't know what culture is" maybe freudian.... ugg, sorta ruined my jerkiness.... not sure if i should repost the whole thing, but in the interest of brevity will hope that peeps will read this and realize what happened and be able to put what i intended to say together - for better or worse....

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 8:03 AM by Ron Wolf


@Brian Halligan Well first Brian, I would not highlight a fridge full of free beer as one of the bullet points in describing your great startup culture. Although I am certainly not against the concept of free beer, beer itself is such a stigmatized object/drink immediately associated with a "bro culture" as Marjorie points out. Pointing to free flowing beer won't help you win over female employees - it might even deter them from joining in because they may feel threatened.  
 
A solution would be to offer some more gender neutral chill-out activities or even just arranging the workspace so that it's chill, relaxing, fun. Because after all, not all women are "girly" and seek spas or manicures. And the same goes for men in that they don't all seek a "bro" culture.

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 8:15 AM by Alisha


According Jason Fried of 37 Signals, open office plans lead to multiple interruptions through the day, which impedes productivity. That's my experience as well. How does your office set-up cope with interruptions and extraneous "white noise" distractions? 

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 8:37 AM by Ron M


@Ron M: Open Office plans should include sufficient "quiet room" availability. If someone needs to work undistracted (or privately), they can use a quiet room. Some people can focus despite noise and external distractions (myself included) but those who can't should have the ability to work quietly, but still enjoy the benefits of an open office plan.

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 9:01 AM by Peter Alberti


This is refreshing. It is how I have worked since 1999. Web allowed me to arrange my life first, then fit my business into that. Now i work in 17 countries and my children have their own systems right next to mine. Like a wolf I teach my children to hunt by example. It is by the grace of the gods I have been given this rare opportunity. Previously I would ask my clients to purchase a computer for me when they insisted I come into the office. They would agree and I would show them my computer needs. Now I will send them this article. 
Thx 
Alan 
tingchungfu

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 10:05 AM by Alan Munroe


@RonM & Peter Alberti -- You both made good points about the downside of an open office and the noise/interruptions. A couple of thoughts on how we deal with that: 
1. Different types of teams have different configurations. For example, I sit near product people and we have a very open office with star clusters and no dividers between desks. This works pretty well as the conversations are usually relatively quiet. It also seems very helpful to have line of site -- I'm suspect someone out there has done research on this. In the sales/service/marketing pods (yes, we call them pods), the configuration includes dividers between the desks b/c they are on the phone a lot. 
2. In our new office, they used carpeting and ceiling materials that are noise dampening. I wasn't involved in that part of the new office design, but I suspect this type of thing is becoming standard these days. 
3. In our new office we have a "library" where folks can hang out, but there is no talking. There are comfy chairs in there and when we get our act together from our move yesterday, we'll put in books. (smile) I think you need this type of space if you go with an open office layout, so folks can do some hard thinking without interruption. 
4. Our conference room to people ratio is higher than normal b/c you can't have ad hoc meetings in a vp's "office" b/c there are no offices.

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 10:23 AM by Brian Halligan


This is an untapped but key and unspoken "variable" in my book. 
 
"5. Seat rotation: ...This ensures folks get to know different people from around the company..." 
 
The glue of the ultimately productive bonding "social" aspect of a company's culture necessitates learning about the "mortar" of another person. We know the bricks... went to Stanford, married or single, sore puss, stubborn, perfectionist... but the mortar" (I refer to as "the space between Hu-places") reveals more intrinsic connections between people and fully and fully and more complete potentiation of human synergy. I am ALWAYS amazed at how little people know about others they work with and in a fashion that adds tremendous value to the power of the synergy that can potentially bind us more effectively in a productive and emotionally healthy way.

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 10:29 AM by Brian


@Prashant Sachdev Good question about culture evolution. I'd like to claim to be some sort of visionary here, but the reality is that Dharmesh and I really didn't do any culture design explicitly until we were probably 2 years into it.  
 
We did a net promoter score of our employees (on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to refer a friend to work at hubspot? Why?) and in the "why" section, many of them said culture and fellow employees as reasons why they loved working here. 
 
The nps thing happened around the same time I joined a CEO group with some thoughtful folks like Colin Angle, the CEO of iRobot who were much much more intune to culture than I was. 
 
After these two events, we hired an old professor from Sloan who specialized in entrepreneurial hr stuff to help us codify our mission, culture, hiring criteria, review criteria, etc. This was helpful as it seems to have institutionalized some of the good stuff that was happening in an ad hoc way. 
 
One of the deliverables from our culture sole searching was this "HubSpot Way" deck: http://www.slideshare.net/HubSpot/the-hubspot-way-2010

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 10:34 AM by Brian Halligan


Thanks Brian for sharing further information on culture evolution and good to know that for initial two years there was nothing formally structured and / or planned.  
 
I like what you guys are doing at hubspot and good to see fellow program that is very exciting. Look forward to visit Hubspot again when I fly to Boston!

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 11:14 AM by Prashant Sachdev


Everyone of your points is the complete opposite of the company I work for. Jealous? Hell yeah I am! Working for a once “fun” and quite profitable company (well known as well) that is now bogged down in corporate procedures, useless rules and regulations, and all for an employer that has become out of touch with their employees and customers. By going the way my employer is going now I have no doubt that we will be out of business in the next 5 years. Thus adding 100’s more people to the unemployment lines around the world. The work atmosphere feels like a slow death march. There is no trust between execs and the employee’s. If your boss doesn’t care about you then you aren’t going to perform. What motivation will do you have? It’s not rocket science, a happy employee is a productive employee and that will be noticed by customers. Basic business 101 in my opinion. Good for you and I wish you all the success in the world. There are many businesses (mine included) that could learn a thing or two from your example.

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 11:44 AM by Mr.F


Mr. F - yes, that's what I'm talking about. when things turn sour, the true nature of company culture comes out. could be that adversity draws people together, that people still find ways to be human, to have fun. but more often than not, things turn sour, the beer disappears from the fridge, everyone has to watch their backs. the pretend culture of the good times is quickly washed away... i feel for you. but, you know, you can pick yourself up and find a more enlivening place to work. so take some personal responsibility and do that!

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 3:28 PM by Ron Wolf


Ron Wolf : Thanks, I re read my post and it did come off kind of woes me. I wasn’t trying to do that. I’m fine, I have opportunities and I’m actively pursuing them. Life is too short to spend 8+ hours a day somewhere you don’t like. I was just trying make a point of how the little things that Hubstop is doing can make all the difference in a company and it won’t break the bank doing it. In fact it will most likely have the opposite effect. I’m just shocked that the Exec level in so many companies are basically clueless to this or just don’t think it’s worth it their view. You have to look past the excel spread sheet once in a while and think outside the box. Sorry for the cliché, but it’s true.

posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 5:17 PM by Mr. F


Great article. I believe that the companies that are most successful are the ones that foster an environment where people are encouraged to be themselves, to share their knowledge, interact with each other to make sense of what is happening, and have the flexibility to improvise. This is why my favorite features were the no door policy, the extreme transparency and I think the seat rotation is genius!

posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 2:57 PM by Naruby


Seat rotation....great idea! Too bad I didn't get a chance to do that when I was in corporate America...would have been nice to meet others outside of sales!

posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 3:05 PM by Connie Hammond


What a great post. The best part – it’s got people thinking and communicating about the topic.  
 
I’m personally not 100% on board with most of the points although I admit that I’d love to be.  
 
My concern is with the possibility that the real purpose (creating positive outcomes) might get over shadowed by a sugar coating (free beer, ping pong, etc.). 
 
In my experience, the most meaningful and rewarding work is often hard and not always all that fun. In addition, the hours are long, the pay is often low and the risks are high. However, for the small percentage of people who are focused on the rewards, it’s all worth it. 
 
That said, it’s not worth it for a lot of people – well, most people. So, if things get too sugar coated, you run the risk of attracting people for the wrong reasons. People who get really excited about the “cool factors” and become disgruntled if stocking the frig slips down the priority list.

posted on Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 6:01 AM by Steve Tingiris


Beer at the end of the day, beer on Fridays... nobody drives right? 
 
It seems to me that office location is an implicit part of this, as is life stage. If you are downtown in a loft and everyone is under 27 years old, has no kids and cycles to work (no mention of the complementary bicycle racks) that's nice.  
 
If you are located out of town in a business park or in a centrally accessible location to have a wide catchment, especially outside Europe where a car is a necessity, then it's a pretty awful message to be sending - have one for the road - that's Mad Men. 
 
If you are only drawing from young (sub-30), child-less people this culture is laudible. If your pool of talent includes mostly people with young kids who live in a suburb and who have limited choices about holidays and commitments to family then most of these things suddenly look less attractive. 
 
The former sort become the latter at around age 35 for men, 32 for women. Their talent doesn't go away, their perspective changes - and rightly so.

posted on Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 10:03 AM by Simon


There seems to be much discussion about the 80 hours a week. It might have been said tongue in cheek, but if you take the time think about it. That averages to about 12 hours a day. The 8 hours you are in the office and then the other four are the ones you spend talking to your friends,family about your job and how you would do things differently. 
 
He was simply trying to highlight that your ideas about work usually don't stop at the office but the other 40 hours may not be chargeable to the company.

posted on Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 2:31 PM by timothy harland


Naruby - you've got it. regardless of whether or not someone agrees with your culture statements, you know how to describe culture and then point to policies that support them. this is the point i was trying to make. beer in the fridge is not culture. but if beer in the fridge is intended to communicate trust, then trust is the culture element and beer in the fridge is the policy. 
 
Simon - great point regarding drinking and driving. one solution, get a breathalyzer and have everyone agree to that no one drinks beer unless they agree to test themselves before leaving if they are driving. i have a friend who does enforces this policy at his parties. its a form of love and respect. 
 
Ellen, and others - i don't think a culture can call itself open or trusting without disclosing salaries. i've been on the management side for many years, and i still don't understand what freaks people out about this. but it sure does. from keeping this single secret excuses to keep many more things hidden are all too easy. its a slippery slope. better to just say, no we really don't trust each other, we really don't disclose everything or even close to it. think i'm nuts. you're right. think it won't work. you're wrong. in the remarkable company described in this book the employees all vote on everyone's salary, even the CEO's. you want to know culture and what's possible, this is a must read! 
 
Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace 
by Ricardo Semler

posted on Friday, July 30, 2010 at 1:06 PM by Ron Wolf


Agree with a lot of this, particularly the dress code.

posted on Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 11:47 AM by Adam


I do agree with the transparency point - if employees are to look to ownership rights for a significant part of their long-term compensation, they should be supplied with the same information any prospective investor is given - i.e., current financials and executive comp paid, though I think that with regards to regular employees' salaries this can backfire and lead to jealousy and "inroading."  
 
I also agree with the notion that if you're requiring people to work long hours (sorry, Vin, but as a second wave boomer who was routinely required to work 60-80 hour weeks and sometimes more, I think you're being a bit naive and maybe even a bit spoiled)and contacting them during their "off" hours, they should have more flexibility with vacation time. Of course, this does not work with everyone; some people would rather have their work hour more defined in order to have their "off" hours be truly "off" - it's a trade-off and each individual has to decide for themselves what works best for them. 
 
Otherwise, a lot of what you're describing frankly sounds a bit "gimmicky" to me. While it's nice to offer ping-pong, foosball and beer in the fridge, unless one does care to spend 80 hours a week in the office you presumably won't have much time to make use of these, nor will many people much over the age of 30 want to. This stuff, to my mind, is basically aimed at the "frat boy" mentality - it may work with a bunch of single 20-somethings, but once people get a bit older and have families and/or their own personal lives outside of the office, such "perks" become a whole lot less appealing. Furthermore, to build a culture around this sort of stuff then makes people feel as though they are required to stick around the office for ping-pong tournies, etc., if they want to succeed at your company - something to consider when it comes to long-term employee retention!

posted on Monday, August 02, 2010 at 3:09 PM by Diane


p.s.: When I first saw the title of your article, I rather thought you would be referring to "Mad Men" more as a lesson in "what NOT to do in business;" after all, the original Sterling-Cooper, with its culture of boozing, political inroading and "intra-office" affairs, went belly-up and got swallowed up by a more savvy competitor. And, until recently, it was Don Draper, who at least kept both his personal life and affairs out of the office, who was the real success story.  
 
More recently, as "captain of the new ship," he has made the mistakes of being arrogant to his prospective clients (resulting in 70% of the firm's business being dependent on a single client - Lucky Strike) and, this past week, sleeping with his secretary. It will interesting to see where this leads. 
 
As a second wave boomer who grew up during the 1960s, I can vouch for the fact that the show is a heck of a lot more realistic and less "tongue-in-cheek" than you seem to think. I think the main message of the show is to portray how the 1950s way of doing business eventually self-destructed and gave way to the "Brave New World" of the second half of the 1960s - NOT to be taken as a lesson in how to instill a "chummy" corporate culture. Think of it as more akin to the pre-war scenes from "Gone With the Wind."

posted on Monday, August 02, 2010 at 3:37 PM by Diane


I wouldn't consider MadMen a parody. The producers pride themselves on realism. Though it may be hard for Gen Y or Millennials to imagine it's not so far from reality. Having been born in 1962 I find scenes around family especially resonant.

posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2010 at 6:49 AM by Daniel Schiavone


It has taken me a few days, and I have tried to internalise a lot of this and posted a response which fits my reality. I'm not trying to drive traffic to my blog, I'm genuinely irked by the debate and need a better forum than a comment here. I'd welcome a retort.

posted on Monday, August 09, 2010 at 11:44 AM by Simon


sounds like a great environment

posted on Monday, August 16, 2010 at 6:11 AM by BF Matt


I wish I will have something similar in my startup! thanks for sharing

posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 7:57 AM by Oleh Mykhaylovych


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