Why culture matters


August 22, 2013

Culture is hard to define yet something every successful person believes matters in creating a great company, where people love to work.

But what makes a culture great and why does it matter?

This week, I caught up with David Robinson, Vice President of Design at Hightail (HT) in San Francisco, CA. David has been doing product, design and user experience work for the better part of 12 years. He has helped redesign many companies including Netscape.com, Intuit, Yahoo!, Nokia, News Corp and AOL.

I have known David for 20 years. We worked closely together at our very first startup, Spinway – back in 1998 and I am also married to his brother, Danny Robinson aka CEO of Perch. David is an incredibly creative and talented individual. (And I am not just saying that because we spend the holidays together!) He may have serious design chops but that is not the only reason I think CEO, Brad Garlinghouse personally called him up to join Hightail’s exec team. David has an amazing ability to make everyone around him feel special and like they are a part of something that matters. He knows how to make people laugh and seriously loves what he does. That kind of passion and happiness is infectious. IMO, it’s a very big part of what helps create and spread culture.

I reached out to David to find out more about life at HT and what his team is doing to turn a solid, high growth company into a truly great one.

Why Company Culture Matters at Hightail with David Robinson

Hightail Logo Keep your ideas moving

Maura: Describe Hightail’s company culture. Why is it important?

David: The first thing to ask is: What do you stand for? Because you’ve got to stand for something. If employees know what you stand for, they build understanding. If they understand, they can make a connection. And if they can make an emotional connection, a culture will form.

Like most organizations, we have a set of company values, a mission statement and a culture that aspires to solve real problems for real people. We think “say what you mean and mean what you say” is an important operating principle and in practice it’s turning out to be true. Not much of what I just told you is probably unique here in the echo chamber of technology but it is in most other parts of the developed world.  So, I think we’re pretty darn lucky to have what we have. In fact I wrote about culture over here not too far back. Feel free to hit the time machine for a little more color.

Idea Wall at Hightail UX breakfast

Maura: Hightail (formerly YouSendIt) just went through a major rebranding? Has that had an impact on your culture?

David: It’s a significant change that has marked the beginning of a new era for us. We truly are redesigning the company, not just the logo or the name but the whole company as a way to reintroduce YouSendIt, now Hightail to the world.

YouSendIt to Hightail has been one of the most rewarding work events that I’ve been a part of in my career. Sure, some people don’t like change and the uncertainty that comes along with it but the reception from customers, press and analysts has been tremendous. Yes, there are some haters on the inter-tubes, but the switch to Hightail has been an important milestone for an already great company (with fantastic growth). Risky? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

Maura: I see you are hiring! How big is your team and how many offices do you have?

David: We have about 220 people now and we’re growing. We think we’ll end the year with around 240/250 people.

Our HQ is in Campbell, CA. and we also have offices in San Francisco, CA and Seattle, WA. Our San Francisco office is pretty rad. It’s got a bar and open seating with a bunch of cool gear. Plus – it’s in a choice spot where we can go see SF Giants games at lunch time. We are hiring, hit me up!

We Are Different at Hightail

Maura: What does HT do to connect remote teams and spread your culture throughout the organization?

David: Remote folks come in for our quarterly all hands events where we celebrate our wins and identify areas for growth. We also get real and talk about our misses.

I think working on a shared belief system and common goal really shapes culture more than anything. Homogenizing offices really abstracts culture and is a little disingenuous. For example, just because we have a ping pong table in one office doesn’t mean we have to have them in all offices.

Maura: Do you think location has an impact on your culture?

David: I think location has a lot to do with culture. No matter where the town/city/place is, you will always be influenced by your surroundings. My advice is to embrace it! When Brad Garlinghouse called me and told me that our office was in Campbell, CA – I was all “where the what?!” But it was fine. I don’t know if we’ll always call Campbell home but you never know.

Hightail video shoot

Maura: You have worked with tech startups and organizations of all different sizes. Any thoughts on how to maintain that passion that startups usually begin with as they grow?

David: Being passionate about my work at Hightail is pretty easy. It’s the work that’s hard. I love the hard work because I’m passionate about it. See what I did there?

Being passionate about your work and your craft is a prerequisite for employment. I understand that people’s passion can move up and down on any given day/week/month and that’s ok. It’s natural. But if you don’t like what you’re doing, it’s time to find something that you do like.

We also need to embrace the challenge of balance. Sometimes when I speak about balance people tilt their head like a chicken, squawk, run back to the coop and start pecking at the keyboard again. I saw a quote somewhere, Instagram I think, that said “cheers to putting happiness first” or something like that… That’s what I mean when I talk about balance. I also mix it up by advising some startups that I’m really passionate about.

At Hightail, we are providing you with context around your work and helping you get that shit DONE! As much as we try to do that for our customers every day we try to do that for our employees as well. Imagine if you came to work and you didn’t know why you were there? What your mission was? Why it mattered? We can’t either!

The clouds have cleared and the sun is out. Now we can all see what we’re working towards.

About Maura

As Founder of Strutta, a social promotions company, I am incredibly passionate about creating a company where people love to work. It’s one of the reasons I get out of bed every morning and have been building, advising and investing in companies for over 15 years. I am also involved in Startup Visa Canada, an initiative to support immigrant entrepreneurs, who want to come to Canada to grow their business.

I would love to connect with you on Twitter and am always happy to take a call or a coffee with other entrepreneurs.


This great interview of our very own VP of Design, David Robinson was originally posted on perch.co .