Work hard, play hard: 6 tech companies weigh in on how to throw an epic event

July 20, 2017

For decades, work parties meant a half-hearted luncheon on a Thursday afternoon or a painfully stuffy holiday party, complete with terrible food and drink tickets. But terrible work events are now a thing of the past. We spoke with the people in charge of creating awesome parties for four startups and learned just what these shindigs mean for the team.

 

Culver City’s Survios had a ton to celebrate in 2016. The company closed out the year by adding a $50 million round of funding, allowing it to work on new VR video games, in addition to building out its smash hit Raw Data. Emily Wilde-Walman, office and culture manager, is responsible for planning the company’s events, and from the looks of it, she’s doing a bang-up job. Can we can an invite?

When do you guys throw events?

We throw about five or six events per year. Some are internal, like our annual holiday party and quarterly Beer Halls, but several are open to industry (like the E3 party), or even to the public. We love using our space to host VR-focused informative events and panels — Women in Gaming International is a great partner.

How do you deal with any last-minute issues?

The week leading up to an event tends to be crazy, but if enough advance planning goes into it, we can do a fantastic job of only dealing with a few last-minute changes as they crop up. The key has always been an emphasis on forethought with as many contingency plans in place as possible. This is clutch for flexibility in terms of both the studio and the event. I’m still learning from every event. For instance, our employees were a little bummed they had to wait in long lines at the bar for drinks, so next time I’m creating an employee-only speakeasy in the back of our space that's inaccessible to party guests. It’ll be a solve for the line issue and it’ll give our people a place of their own to hang out away from the cacophony of the party.

How do these events represent the company’s culture?

Survios has a very lighthearted, inclusive culture and we work to bring our sense of fun and weirdness into the events we throw — after all, they're a reflection of us! At our most recent E3 party, we hired robot stilt walkers and contortionists to entertain the crowds outside and cheerleaders to perform during the night's big Sprint Vector game tournament. Seeing the smiles on our employees' faces as 1,500 people experienced our games (many for the first time) while having an amazing time partying was also invaluable for our internal culture. It really instills a sense of accomplishment in our team and is also a great way for people to relax their workday inhibitions and just have fun with and get to know the people with whom they work every day.

What's the key to throwing a great event?  

I’m not sure if there’s one “key” to producing a good event, because it takes a lot overall. If it's an external event, do your best to find sponsors — it's easy to fill your needs in exchange of promoting products and companies you love (we highlighted all our E3 party sponsors on our social media feeds during the party and thanked them all day after) and can massively help with budgeting. Any event also needs extreme organization, flexibility and a strong sense of your attendees want and like. And a little luck always comes into play. Oh, and delicious food and strong drinks are always a good thing — always!  

 

The folks at Venice blockchain startup Gem are quick to acknowledge the power of celebration. According to People Operations Manager Madeline Mann, regular events are as much a part of the company’s identity as its beachfront location.

When do you guys throw events?

In January, we host our company-wide retreat which involves three nights of bonding in a beautiful Airbnb — this year's was in San Diego. The first week of May is our Spirit Week, where every day has a theme and activity. May 22 is Bitcoin Pizza Day where we celebrate the first real-world transaction of bitcoin by eating pizza and playing a crypto currency-inspired game. Independence Day is a BBQ and U.S. trivia, Halloween is pumpkin carving, and a holiday party to close out the year. We also have weekly celebrations at our all-hands that we dubbed “Gem Sesh.” This is where we sing happy birthday, present anniversary gifts and recognize achievements.

How do these events represent the company’s culture?

One of our values is “craft an experience,” which means going above and beyond to make every Gem experience purposeful and delightful. That is why many of our events have tailor-made activities for Gem, such as our Bitcoin Pizza Day party where we invented a game that imitated the process of investing in cryptocurrency. Then there are little things, like leaving small gifts on desks or surprising the team with swag. The extra thought always goes a long way.

What's the key to throwing a great event?

The three things we keep in mind when planning an event is making sure it is organized, has meaningful interactions and has surprises. Our meaningful interactions usually manifest themselves in the form of a game. We love playing games at Gem, which has included playing Mafia for hours at our all-company retreat, White Elephant at our holiday party or bowling during our team trip to Nashville. We always like to keep the team a little in the dark about what an event holds to add a bit of excitement and intrigue. In the past, we have surprised the team with new bikes at the holiday party, a cereal buffet on pajama day, and a mechanical camel at our company party on “hump day.” No one knows exactly what is in store when they attend a Gem event!

 

Parties at FabFitFun are legendary in the LA startup community. The West Hollywood-based startup celebrated the holidays last year by throwing an iconic bash featuring performances from O-Town and Mase, and several actors playing iconic 90s characters like Urkel, Cher and Dionne from Clueless, the yellow Power Ranger, Daria and more. According to Lindsay Behar, influencer marketing coordinator, partnerships, there’s a ton of planning that goes on.

When do you guys throw events?

Each season, we have one to two events celebrating our seasonal box launch. The events will range from small intimate dinners to larger events with over 300 attendees.

How much work goes into planning?

We plan our events two to three months in advance to ensure that we're able to execute all moving parts on time. First, we create a moodboard to help set the theme of the event. We then will secure a space (which comes with negotiating a great price). Next, we design the activations and order the necessary tools to make those activations come to life. Our previous activations have included embroidered joggers, a Lisa Frank candy bar and beauty treatments such as facials, manicures and massages. Of course, inviting our favorite people is always the easiest part of the process. Day of event, we set up hours and hours before to make sure that the venue and decor look great, just in time for people to walk in and get the evening started.

How do these events represent the company’s culture?

We have our annual winter bash that everyone gets super excited about. It's really our time to celebrate the great success of our box and bond with each team at FabFitFun.

What's the key to throwing a great event?

Planning well in advance and making sure that we're ready for any last minute challenges that may pop up. We definitely know how to fill up a room with amazing people, which is also key.

 

Just like the importance of starting the day off right, ending the week on a high note leaves everyone in the right state of mind heading into the weekend. According to Sofi Hoysal, head of people operations at Tala, the team takes its Friday mixers very seriously (in the right sort of way).

When do you guys throw events?

Every week for the last three years, we've held "Wine Down Wednesdays" to bring the team together, socialize and wind down.

What do the employees say?

Our team loves that Wine Downs are an immovable part of our culture — on every person's calendar, every week — and that we try to embrace a diversity of interests in planning them. In addition to a variety of (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) beverages and snacks, we'll schedule an activity that celebrates our team's interests and passions, and even company milestones. They've also been the foundation for some great inside jokes. When we were younger and smaller, for about a year, we ordered fried chicken for every Wine Down. Now, in our new office, we have a conference room named Fried Chicken.

How do these events represent the company’s culture?

The events embody our belief that, in order to do amazing, visionary work, we need to put people first. We need to have fun together, stay connected to each other, trust each other and create space to let loose and be creative. In unstructured times, we also have a hangout-friendly culture. It’s not uncommon for the team to gather after work and head out to hikes or gym classes or local bars together, or for team members to host home gatherings where we cook together. We’ve had legendary DIY pasta and taco nights where anyone from our CEO to a new hire can be found laughing and joking, elbow-deep in flour. And this spirit isn’t limited to our Santa Monica HQ; our offices in East Africa and Southeast Asia have found their own unique ways to stay connected and have fun.

 

West Hollywood-based Grindr is all about partying. Aside from in-house events, the company throws branded "Slumbr" parties that, according to director of talent Karin Kuo, are well worth the effort put into planning such a bash.

When do you guys throw events?

Celebration is ingrained in everything we do here Grindr. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we throw several hallmark company parties every year — a summer pool party, a wild Halloween party, a Pride party, a holiday party and an anniversary party. We also throw an in-office party every month for staff birthdays, as well as something called Dress-up Fridays. We’ve had onesie day, dress up as a co-worker day, and our favorite so far, dress up as your favorite Gaymoji day 

As of 2016 we started throwing Slumbr parties, branded annual events for users, influencers and celebrities to increase awareness around the Grindr brand, as well as showcase the awesome ways Grindr is evolving.

How much work goes into planning?

For the larger company parties and Slumbr parties, there’s a LOT of in-house planning that goes on. Our “People and Talent” team and our Marketing team work like a well-oiled (pun intentional) machine to bring those together. Our office manager, Jacob Ladue and the capable Ops team handle the staff birthday celebrations. Dress up Fridays, the brainchild of Evelina Rodriguez from our product team, merely requires that everyone show up wearing crazy outfits, and our employees never disappoint!

What do the employees say?

The age-old idiom “A picture is worth a thousand words” certainly applies here…

How do these events represent the company’s culture?

We connect people for a living so it’s only natural that we provide loud and lavish opportunities for our employees to do the same. Employees encourage each other to attend, and there’s certainly a healthy dose of FOMO.  

What's the key to throwing a great event?

Voluntary participation is key as well as keeping our audience in mind. As you can see from the photos, our parties aren’t “team building” exercises in disguise that employees attend under threat. You’ll never see a rope course or trust fall.  We engage our employees and find out what they want, then we execute it. We just had a party to celebrate our 100th hire. There were donuts and mimosas. What’s not to love?

 

Part of what we do here at Built In LA involves working with local tech startups to put on awesome events. Kelsey Hayenga is the Head of Events for Built In and is responsible for coordinating events in all six markets we operate in.

How much work goes into planning events?

I think it's better to measure the amount of work it takes by the amount of thought that is put into an event, rather than the amount of time spent.

I have produced hundreds of events and I am still working on estimating the amount of time each one will require. Part of the adrenaline rush of live events is how many variables are involved. I can run two events that turn out very similarly and one may take 20 hours while the other took 100. For the types of events we run at Built In, I like to get started on logistics about three months in advance and promotion about one month before the event.

What makes Built In's events special?

The people. Our events are fun, and I love the topics we cover and the venues where we host, but I think what really sets us apart are the driven, clever, fun people that make up the tech community.

In my early events, I spent too much time on the little details and not enough on inviting the people that will really thrive at the event. One of the best parts about producing events for Built In is curating experiences for such a sharp audience.

What's the key to putting on a great event?

Good food, good drinks and good people. There are so many brilliant add on's and experiences hosts are adding to events these days, but those are definitely the key ingredients. If you have the resources to go above and beyond, I think the greatest events are the ones that spark emotion and make you think. Whether it is from a killer speaker or an unforgettable atmosphere, I love leaving an event inspired.

Photos via participating startups.

Know of someone else should we know about? Let us know and follow us on Twitter @BuiltInLA.

 

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