Startup bonding: How these 3 tech teams build relationships outside of the office

by John Siegel
May 31, 2018

Working at a startup can be a shock to someone looking for something as regimented as a corporate setting, but the opportunities to learn and create lasting relationships with colleagues is often what keeps employees excited about their jobs.

While time spent grinding away at a long project with teammates can create a sense of unity, time spent getting to know one another away from work creates bonds that can pay dividends.

Built In LA spoke with three local tech companies about how their teams bond away from the office and what difference it means to the companies.


stackcommerce adtech startup venice
photo via built in la
Kerry Milazzo
Employee Engagement Director • StackCommerce

Headquartered mere steps from The Venice Beach Boardwalk, StackCommerce places a premium on rewarding employees for their successes — while creating an environment where teams regularly meet after work is done.


How do StackCommerce teams get closer outside of work?

StackCommerce fosters friendships by offering a variety of events in the office and outside of the office. Each year, we spend four days on a cruise, we go to a Dodger game, we host a company Olympics, anniversary party and annual holiday party. We also provide financial support to team leads so they can take their team out for a night on the town. Some team outings have included going away for a weekend, attending a Kendrick Lamar concert, going to a Lakers Game and checking out the Magic Castle. All of these events help Stackers get closer because they are held outside the office and allow each employee the opportunity to learn more about their coworkers on a personal level. 


What was one recent occasion where team members really bonded together?

No event can compare to our annual Stack Cruise. Spending four days on a cruise to Mexico with your coworkers. It really creates bonds throughout the company because we are interacting with people from every team at every level. It’s a little surreal watching a vice president sing karaoke or go on a waterslide with your CRO. This event helps create bonds on a personal level in an environment that is removed from the office.


simplepractice healthtech software startup santa monica

Alex Marrache
Director of Customer Success • SimplePractice

At Santa Monica-based software company SimplePractice, the first step in creating a place where collaboration is effortless is ensuring that the right hires are made. According to Director of Customer Success Alex Marrache, adding the right culture fits to the team plays a big role in both the company’s success and the sense of belonging team members experience.


How does SimplePractice’s company culture encourage employees to collaborate and socialize in and out of the office?

The first step is to hire for culture fit over most anything else. I look to see if people are interested in the company, what we do and how we do it. I make sure that candidates are fully aware of what will be asked of them in their roles and I am honest about the challenges they will face in a rapidly expanding enterprise. I have found that someone’s cultural fit is more of a predictor of their success at SimplePractice than their particular professional background. Because of this, we have a team that comes from diverse work and educational fields, but still hold a core set of common qualities.


What specific traits — personal and professional — indicate a good culture fit?

Things change quickly around the office and we need team members who can be flexible. This flexibility might be around the responsibilities of their role, the approach we take in servicing our customers, and the willingness to not hold on to things and approaches that are not working. Flexibility doesn’t mean not being able to make decisions, but rather being comfortable with iteration, experimentation and testing new ways of dealing with our work. 

Team members don’t necessarily have to be specifically passionate about serving health and wellness professionals, though there tends to be a connection to the field. But regardless of that connection, they need to be passionate about working in a dynamic environment that supports the important work of our customers. Are they excited about the culture we describe and foster early on in the candidate and interview process? Are they intrigued about the challenges that our customers face in running their businesses and in the face of our own rapidly expanding business? Do they express interest in the activities and duties of other teams and roles? 

Lastly, entrepreneurism. We expect that all team members take ownership and responsibility for their career paths. You may not be the CEO of the company, but you are the CEO of your role. The most successful team members are resourceful and accountable.

What are some ways that team members socialize inside and outside of work?

Each month, we celebrate team member birthdays and other celebration-worthy events at a team happy hour. We also have a team bowling event once a quarter that’s always fun. They’re great ways for team members who don’t regularly connect in the office to get to know each other better. Sometimes team members share fun events they plan to attend over the weekend in our #socialbutterfly Slack channel and at the end of our regularly scheduled customer success team meetings.

A couple people at SimplePractice practice stand up at a local comedy club. The club was hosting a trivia night, so an open invitation was shared with the team to participate. This was a great opportunity to team up with individuals at SimplePractice who you might not normally get to spend time within a non-working scenario.


hawke media santa monica marketing startup
Marissa Jimenez
Director of Email Marketing • Hawke Media

Santa Monica-based marketing agency Hawke Media has a neon light with a saying all team members are encouraged to take to heart: “Learn quickly, get shit done and be cool.” Because of the nature of the company's month-to-month, à la carte “outsourced CMO” service, inter-departmental collaboration is key. One way the company is able to keep communication open throughout the company? Creating a culture where employees can genuinely become friends.


How do Hawke Media teams get closer outside of work?

Quarterly, we have department-wide gatherings where teams get out of the office and do something together. We’ve done an escape room, a wine and painting class, karaoke and the classic: dinner and drinks. It’s really special when we can all get to know each other outside of project collaboration and it brings a much stronger sense of team to the dynamic.

We’ve either created or been part of programs that integrate fitness or sports. We’ve organized volleyball teams, basketball games and also a company beach day to bring the teams together via shared interests that don’t involve a computer or a happy hour. We see how valuable these efforts are and always will make them a priority.


It’s nice that employees can be friends, but how do those friendships positively affect the team’s ability to accomplish tasks?

There are such great benefits to friendship at work like stronger collaboration, consistent support and stress relief. I strongly believe the better the collaboration, the better the output. As a manager, I find it really easy to do my job when I’m working with people I like. I am genuinely excited to come to work each day because I enjoy the people I am building ideas and systems with. Friendship at the workplace also allows the individual the ability to bring their whole selves to work, not their “work self,” eliminating the discomfort of putting on a mask which I believe can lead to a lack of confidence. Confidence is half the game in a professional setting.


What was one recent occasion where team members really bonded together?

I’d have to say the painting activity. It was painting + wine so it wasn’t totally innocent but it was one of our best bonding activities because almost everyone was outside of their element. We had a couple people who knew what they were doing, but for the most part, we all were on the same playing field. It really equalized the group and allowed people to let their guard down because we all felt a little silly and aimless. As we got further into the paint session, everyone was laughing and talking and it felt really powerful in linking us. In the end, we got to bond over our end product as well as keep a token of remembrance.


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