Early in PatientPop’s history, the office was small enough that employees could just swivel in their chairs to talk directly with the co-CEOs. These days, the startup has staffed up to well over 150 employees, with a much larger office to show for it. But its leaders try to be just as accessible.
“Our executives are busy people,” product manager Andy Chu said, “but they're always willing to take time out of their schedules to talk. From entry-level people all the way up to the CEOs, we share with each other.”
Luke Kervin and Travis Schneider, co-founders and co-CEOs, knew they would lead this way early on, having experienced firsthand the downsides of opacity at previous companies.
“At those companies, I didn't really understand the full context of what I was doing because I didn't have access to the right information,” Kervin said. “When we started PatientPop, I felt it was really important that our employees understand why they are coming to work and what they need to do.”
The approach fuels results for the Santa Monica company, which offers healthcare providers a suite of marketing tools to help accelerate practice growth and improve the patient experience.
We recently met with several key players at PatientPop. Kervin described how the company surmounted the all-time biggest threat to transparency: rapid growth. And four employees from four different departments told us what it’s like to work at a company where some of the best collaborations happen casually — around the water cooler.
PATIENTPOP AT A GLANCE
WHAT THEY DO: PatientPop’s platform automates marketing for a national roster of healthcare practices, helping accelerate new patient growth.
WHERE THEY DO IT: One block from the beach in Santa Monica.
FRIENDLY TO: Dogs.
ON TAP: Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA
SEEKING: The ideal engineering candidate has PHP experience (PatientPop works with Laravel) and is excited, not daunted, by the prospect of working in a constantly changing environment.
From the leader: You either believe it or you don’t
Luke, as a leader, have you ever been tempted to be opaque?
Kervin: I think CEOs fall on one side or the other. Either you really believe in the benefit of empowering your employees with information, or you don't. A lot of our employees have worked for companies where they don't know the company's goals. I just don't believe in that style or line of thinking.
I know you use a transparent, goal-setting framework called OKRs, the same tool Google uses to get aligned across the organization. What other practices do you employ?
Kervin: We share as much information as we can. When we have our board meeting, we share our board deck with our entire employee base, which is not something a lot of startups do. We try to share all of our strategic planning documents. Everything gets posted to our Wiki. Travis or I write a letter each quarter talking in detail about where the business is — what's working well, what's not, where we need to focus.
We believe the more information we can give employees, the more empowered they’ll be to help us succeed.
Stuff starts breaking (and how to fix it)
Transparency is easy when you’re working out of a garage. Did your rapid growth pose challenges to the culture?
Kervin: One of the positives of growing quickly is that everyone gets really excited. That can lead to a really strong work culture. But when you succeed rapidly, stuff starts breaking. Processes start breaking. Sometimes your team doesn't have a scalable structure. You start to notice all of these problems, which can be really stressful for employees.
We learned early on that you need to give employees an opportunity to provide feedback to management. If you don't have that feedback loop, then you end up with really unhappy employees.
How do you get that feedback?
Kervin: One thing we adopted is a practice known as "retrospectives" for engineers. After every release, we get everybody in a room to talk about what went well, what didn't go well and ideas for change. It's a great format because people put stickies on the board. That encourages people who are typically quiet, because it's a physical exercise. The feedback is helpful in solving some of the problems that come up when you're scaling quickly.
From the staff: Water-cooler collaboration
How open is management with the employees?
David Bean, inside sales director: I'm a big believer in communication, meaning organic, cross-departmental interactions. The open format really helps with that. There is something magic about water cooler talk, not the backbiting type, but the type that creates opportunity to interact with people from different departments. Somebody from implementation management can throw out ideas to an engineer, for example. A lot of important discoveries come from that.
Chu: Our co-CEOs show the staff the metrics they present to the board. If you think the product department has the wrong strategy, you can talk to Luke, whether during office hours or through our anonymous survey. All of us contribute to making PatientPop better.
Angela Gard, manager, customer success: It helps that all the leaders get along. That trickles down and becomes something we encourage among our teams. We all have a common goal. We try to make sure our teams know that, feel that and contribute to that.
Ismael “Ish” Gonzalez, lead software engineer: Everyone’s voice is heard here. We implement good ideas, no matter what department they come from. Someone can suggest something for sales, and they’ll say, "Oh, that makes sense." Someone else will make an engineering suggestion and we’ll say, "That's an interesting idea. How can we make that work for us?"
The office layout is very open. How do you like it?
Gard: My last job was in a corporate setting, so we had cubicles. They were thinking of remodeling at one point, giving everyone half walls that made the space more open. Everyone freaked out. We were worried about the noise levels. Then I come here and it's like, I couldn't even imagine if we had cubicles.
Bean: I've always been in a car — doing doctor-to-doctor, business-to-business kind of stuff. This was my first opportunity to actually have coworkers in an office. At first, I found myself getting distracted. But I've learned to welcome those distractions, because I've gained valuable insights from the openness.
Gonzalez: It’s great to interact with everyone. You get to see what everyone's tinkering with.
The moment it clicked: “I am making a difference here.”
When was the moment you realized PatientPop was the perfect place for you?
Chu: We were having a brainstorming session to solve what was at the time a major strategic problem. In my experience, when a tech company faces a problem, people assume product and engineering will fix it. They assume the solution is to make a better feature. But during this session, Luke was very willing to move cross-functionally and apply the best team, or multiple teams, to solve this problem. It was: "How can we tackle this strategy together?"
Gard: I remember when it clicked for me. We were still at the old office, which was smaller, so we all sat together. We literally just turned around to talk to the CEOs. It was like, I am contributing. I am making a difference here. At a corporate level, you don't get that.
Gonzalez: When we were finally getting settled into our old office, we had a barbecue, and I said, "How many people do we want to grill for?" Someone said around 60 people. That’s when I realized how far we had come. We weren’t just 15 people anymore. We’ve seen people start as an intern to become a junior or senior. And even though we’ve grown, everyone still has a say.
Dogs, beer, more
What’s your favorite part about working at PatientPop?
Gard: The people. If we’re interviewing a really great engineer, somebody from client services will be there to see if it’s a cultural fit. We make it clear to everyone when they interview that you may be qualified, you might be able to learn the job, but will you fit in here?
Bean: I love that I can bike to work. It’s about 13 miles, but I don't have to deal with LA traffic. I just pop in a nice audio book and I commute up and down.
Chu: As a product manager, I always want to make sure we're doing the right thing. There's no way I could figure that out by myself. I ask other people their opinions. I pitch ideas. One of the things I really appreciate is that everybody's willing to collaborate and give and receive feedback.
The other thing is that it’s a dog-friendly office. I'm not stressed at this job at all. I have a feeling it's because of the dogs.
Gonzalez: Does the keg count?
The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.