Podium’s Secret to Great Culture and Fast Growth: Play Fortnite at Work

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Podium is practically the definition of a fast-growing startup.

The Lehi, Utah-based enterprise software company is only five years old, and already has 650 employees and $42.5 million in revenue in 2018. Eric Rea, Podium’s 33-year-old co-founder and CEO, says his company’s valuation recently surpassed the $1 billion mark, earning it “unicorn” status.

The company has learned, though, that sustaining a cohesive, tight-knit culture is hard when a rapidly increasing percentage of your employees weren’t even present a year ago. So far, Rea is succeeding: Podium earned a spot on this year’s Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing companies in America (No. 54) and Inc.’s Best Workplaces list. And while he’s got high-cost perks like ski passes and an in-office day-care center, it’s more than that. Here are three big (and unusual) elements of the company’s culture he suggests adopting if you want to build a fast-growth startup.

1. Play video games.

On a spring Monday in 2018, one of Podium’s executives told his colleagues about a video game he’d played with his kids all weekend. The entire leadership team promptly downloaded it, and soon they were killing time at San Francisco International Airport by playing a rousing round of Fortnite Battle Royale.

The game has become “the unofficial video game of Podium,” Rea says. “I think we just started to realize that when we’re playing Fortnite, we’re learning to communicate with each other.”

It’s not just executives: Employees at all levels participate, which Rea says has helped the startup break down hierarchy in the office. Games usually take place during lunch breaks or after work, and the staff typically organizes them through a Fortnite-specific Slack channel.

When games end, the victors start yelling and high-fiving. Rea says it’s hard to ignore. “It may have a slight impact on productivity,” he admits. “I feel like the benefit of Fortnite outweighs any of the small productivity decreases that you’d see.”

2. ‘Murder drama.’

Minimizing drama is one of Podium’s three core values, along with “enjoy the ride” and “be a founder.” Rea says he first heard “murder drama” as one of Snapchat’s core values, and loved it so much that he unabashedly stole the evocative two-word mantra.

From the earliest days, Rea and co-founder Dennis Steele expressed a desire for Podium to be a drama- and office politics-free zone. It shows in the company’s hiring practices, which feature heavy amounts of drama screening.

“We do tons of backchanneling, and one of the themes that we focus on is how people resolve problems,” Rea says. “I also think people who have worked at big organizations have to adapt and learn to thrive in a political environment. We definitely watch different types of companies we hire from.”

Rea says Fortnite’s hierarchy-flattening helps here, too, because it encourages employees to feel comfortable discussing problems with leadership. And problems are always easier to resolve when they’re out in the open. “It’s impossible that any company has zero conflict,” he says. “If you’re not seeing the conflict, that’s most likely a sign that you’re being passive-aggressive, which leads to politics and drama.”

3. Showcase your roots.

There’s a common saying at Podium: “We’re always above the bike shop.” It references Podium’s first office–which sat above an old bicycle store–and serves as a reminder to maintain a startup mindset.

When Podium moved into a gorgeous five-story, 125,000 square-foot office in 2018, Rea decided to create a physical manifestation of the saying–which is why half of Podium’s fifth floor is covered in bicycles. The space also serves as a trophy case for Podium’s awards.

Podium also has a employees-only Instagram account that catalogs its important moments. “It’s a modern way to communicate all of the history and culture of Podium to our workforce,” Rea says. “You can add. You can change. Two years ago, the stuff that happened in 2019, we’re going to want to make sure that’s in there.”

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