Inside the Company Culture of Austin’s SpareFoot

October 9, 2013

3:00 pm

It’s not always easy to get people’s attention when your industry is self-storage – and SpareFoot freely admits it.

Instead, they’ve infused personality into their brand with a slew of antics: giving away a fully stocked fridge of Monster energy drinks, creating a tongue-in-cheek version of the firefighter pin-up calendar, and offering $500 for the best photo of a weird, wacky item you plan to put in self-storage.

“This is how we make our boring niche industry (self-storage) fun with creative marketing,” says Jenny Zhang, content marketing.

With around 90 employees, SpareFoot also infuses that spirit of fun into its company culture. It was just named one of turnstone’s “Best Young Companies to Work For” and (earlier this year) took home the Austin Business Journal’s prize of best mid-sized company to work at in central Texas.

Below, cofounder and CEO Chuck Gordon talks about some of the ingredients that go into SpareFoot’s culture.

Tech Cocktail: What are your company’s cultural values?

Chuck Gordon: The overriding value is “Work hard, play hard.” The people at SpareFoot work extremely hard, but we also know how to have a good time. Another key value is transparency. For instance, our financial numbers are available for any employee to see at any time. Everyone knows that I’m fully accessible and that they can talk to me about anything. Every six months, I hold “Fireside Chats” with each employee. During these chats, everyone is free to share their thoughts and opinions about what’s going on at SpareFoot. In promoting the value of teamwork, we don’t use job titles internally.

Tech Cocktail: What’s the orientation process for new employees?

Gordon: One of the highlights of the orientation process is the introduction of new employees at our weekly meetings. During the meeting, each new employee has to tell us his or her favorite song or artist, movie, food, and color. Also, each employee attends a now-famous event at our company – the sake bomb initiation at a local sushi restaurant. We do make sure everyone gets home safely after the initiation by providing cab vouchers.

Tech Cocktail: What perks do you have for employees at the office?

Gordon: We have a number of perks available to the people at SpareFoot. We’ve got a fully stocked kitchen – snacks, beverages, and so forth – and a fully stocked bar. The bar is particularly popular on Friday afternoons; the wall clock in the bar area is always set at 5 o’clock. We also have a staff chef who prepares lunch every day for the 90 or so employees at SpareFoot.

Tech Cocktail: Do you offer any interesting benefits?

Gordon: Aside from free lunch every weekday, everyone who works at SpareFoot gets stock options. Also, we have a “no policy” vacation policy. That means the people who work here can take as much time off as they want, whenever they want – within reason.

SpareFoot lunch

Tech Cocktail: What unconventional things might someone see while walking through your office?

Gordon: That changes from day to day. You may see someone dressed in a foot costume or a stuffed moose sitting in someone’s chair or a metal gargoyle figure near our shuffleboard table or a giant peacock statue in the sales department. The gargoyle and the peacock are just two of the “BigFoot of the Month” awards that we’ve handed out to employees; each award is ordered from the SkyMall in-flight catalog.

Tech Cocktail: Do you have any lunchtime or after-hours events for employees?

Gordon: At lunchtime, we’ve got what we call Eatucation sessions. They enable the folks here to learn about things like how to interview a job candidate and how to get more out of Excel. Some of the after-hours events we offer include our recent Champagne StorageNova “prom,” an annual boat trip to Lake Travis, and monthly themed happy hours that are organized by teams of employees.

Tech Cocktail: How do you celebrate birthdays?

Gordon: During our weekly all-hands meetings on Mondays, we announce who has a birthday that week. And every employee gets a tin of customized cake balls on his or her birthday. The cake balls go pretty fast.

Tech Cocktail: Any other interesting aspects of your culture?

Gordon: Every year, we participate in the Austin Startup Games, which was cofounded by SpareFoot. This year, we took home the gold medal and donated our prize – $15,000 – to our favorite charity, Kure It Cancer Research. Our excellent performance at the Startup Games is a testament to how passionate and talented our employees are. Another interesting aspect of our culture is how daring we can be. This year, we produced a recruiting “mockumentary” starring several SpareFoot employees, and we released a sexy storage pin-up calendar that featured our employees in humorously risqué poses and costumes at a local self-storage facility. We sent free copies of the calendar to the self-storage facilities that are in our online network.

SpareFoot

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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