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Jonathan Neman: Investing in People and Culture Creates a Happy Business

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This week, Sweetgreen co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman joined us at Tech Cocktail Sessions DC to talk about the company’s origins and where he hopes to see the company in the future. At the end of last year, the company received a $22 million from Revolution Growth, a venture capital firm founded by Steve Case. According to Neman, that funding will go toward investing in the people and the culture of Sweetgreen – things that he feels are the most essential aspects of any company:

“The reason we did this round was to invest – to continue to invest – in the people and the culture that will prepare us for the next stage of growth…Our goal this year is really to kind of work on the insides of the company – to optimize…to build the team…to really focus on the culture and the team. Just ‘more’ as in ‘better’: building the right systems and really focusing on the culture. For us, that is going to be our competitive advantage: creating a great place to work and really attracting the best talent.”

In particular, Neman talked about why people and culture are important to the Sweetgreen brand itself, noting how they try to make work not feel like a burden:

“Culture for us is everything: it’s the glue that attracts…it’s what attracts [customers] to Sweetgreen. It’s what makes work not feel like work and it makes it fun; it makes it not a job. For us, it’s this idea of the sweet life. So, the sweet life for us is where passion and purpose come together. And that’s what we hope our customers feel, but more importantly it’s what we want our teammates to feel. So we want to provide a place where you’re working, but you’re working with friends and you feel like you are making a difference and it’s much more than a job and a paycheck.”

Creating a positive culture at Sweetgreen is important for Neman (as a requirement, he makes all employees read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness). Simply, he believes that developing happy employees is good business:

“[Investing in this culture] is important because 1) it makes life and work fun, and it makes you happy – and that’s really what this is all about, is to be happy. 2) It makes sense for business — it really is a win, win, win. When your team is happy and when you’re happy, you treat your customers better and things really work out much better. And, it’s just, you know I do really believe in this existential idea of energy, and I think people can feel it. I think when there’s a strong culture and when you have a tight team that loves what they’re doing – people can feel that…there’s an aura around it.”

Neman closes, however, by saying that this positive culture can’t be produced with just any group of people; you have to make sure to hire people who would fit into this culture from the get-go:

“We used to call it the ‘virtuous cycle’ – we’ve branded it as the ‘sweet cycle.’ The idea is that great people attract great people. Someone great doesn’t want to work for someone not great. So, if you create a great place to work and if you attract the best people, [then] other great people want to work with them — and it’s just this virtuous cycle.”

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About the Author

Ronald Barba is an associate writer and East Coast reporter for Tech Cocktail based in Washington, DC. He reports on the Boston, Chicago, D.C., and NYC tech scenes. He's especially interested in venture capital, M&As, and tech/business trends. Aside from startups, Ronald likes philosophy, politics, social justice, pop culture, and all things geek. When he isn't mindlessly wandering Goodreads, Ronald is reading Murakami and Barthes, or alternating binge sessions of 'Doctor Who' and 'The Mindy Project'. Got something to say? Then email me here. Follow me on Twitter: @RonaldPBarba

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