How We Turned Our Company Into A Cult

*This article originally appeared on Medium

We are obsessed with company culture at Knock, so much so that we think of Knock’s culture as more of a cult. To understand why let’s look at the definition of both:

  • Cult — great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement or work; a group of people characterized by such devotion
  • Culture — the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization

At Knock, we’re on a mission to make trading in your home as easy as trading in your car. That’s important because over 70% of the 6 million home sellers each year are also buying their next home at the same time. Selling a house means months of stress, repairs, uncertainty, night and weekend showings, etc. Most importantly, the majority of Americans have their savings tied up in the equity in their current home, and making that savings liquid means helping them move up into bigger houses, in better neighborhoods, with better schools — basically, move up in life! In short, this is an easy mission to get behind!

This isn’t our first experience building an amazing company culture and reaping the rewards from it. My Knock co-founder Jamie Glenn and I were also on the founding team at Trulia. We believed way back in 2005 when Trulia started that an amazing culture is at the core of every wildly successful company, so we spent a lot of time thinking about it. We summed up our company culture at Trulia with the mnemonic device BOFFI, which stood for “Best idea wins, Output not input, Feedback, Fun, and Integrity.” BOFFI wasn’t some bullshit mission statement on our wall, but an ethos that we ate, drank and breathed day in and day out. Our culture ran deep, so deep that numerous Trulians stayed for 10 to 12 years after joining, a virtually unheard-of tenure in tech. It was that passion and those people who took Trulia public on the NYSE in 2012 and that sold Trulia to Zillow for $3.5 Billion just two years later.

So how do you create and foster a multi-billion-dollar company culture that can stand the test of thousands of employees, especially when your team is fully distributed across 18 different states like we are at Knock? As Steven Covey said in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” you start with the end in mind.

At Knock, we started early by getting the first 13 Knockstars (that’s what we call our employees) together at our first annual offsite during the Sundance Film Festival to get their creative juices flowing. We thought long and hard about the sort of place we want to work, the culture we want to create, the values we want to foster and the kind of people with whom we want to surround ourselves. Practically speaking, we broke up into 4 teams, with each person in each team writing down the core values to which they aspired on Post-it notes, and then each team grouped their alike Post-it notes on big flip charts. When all 4 teams came back together to compare notes, we had striking similar values across all 13 people and all 4 teams. We decided to use these core values to set a framework in place and then let the culture evolve around it — and that’s how we came up with POPSICLE.

Ok great, so now we have a catchy mnemonic device to describe the values and culture to which we aspire, now what? The Knock team has grown nearly 200% in the past 9 months alone. How do we practice what we preach and reinforce these values through rapid growth? The most important thing we do on a daily basis is give people a great deal of autonomy to make hundreds of decisions and judgement calls throughout the day on their own, so long as they consult POPSICLE as their North Star.

But here are a few other ways we enforce POPSICLE:

  • Dedicated Slack Channel
  • Monthly Pulse Surveys
  • Knockaway Offsites
  • The POPSICLE Awards

POPSICLE SLACK CHANNEL

Since we are all distributed, we encourage Knockstars to use our POPSICLE Slack channel to post shout-outs to other Knockstars when they exhibit POPSICLE behavior!

PULSE SURVEYS

Once a month we send everyone an anonymous online survey that rates how we are doing on each of our core values. We then discuss the results as a group on our weekly All Hands video conference and collaborate on solutions should we be deficient in any area.

KNOCKAWAY OFFSITES

Because we are fully distributed, we don’t spend a lot of money on real estate (office space) ironically. We have 6 offices, but all inside of coworking spaces, and we give totally remote folks a budget of $400 a month if they want to join a local co-working space. So we take that savings and invest in multiple offsites throughout the year culminating with the All Hands offsite toward year-end. We have conducted these in Park City, Utah during Sundance Film Festival, Santa Cruz, California during surfing season and most recently Napa, California during harvest. These weeklong offsites give us ample opportunity to reinforce our core values, collaborate on big initiatives and do lots of bonding as a team that renews everyone’s passion for our mission. The below photos speak volumes for how critical these events are to reinforcing our core values and culture as a cohesive team.

knockaway event company cult
turning our company culture into a cult

THE POPSICLE AWARDS

The grand finale at our offsites is the POPSICLE Awards. The POPSICLE Awards recognize 3 Knockstars who exhibit our core values the most, as voted on by every Knockstar at the company. We make award winners read what their peers wrote about them in front of everyone at the offsite, a positive spin on Jimmy Fallon’s Mean Tweets. If you watch the super short video below of 2018’s first prize winner Sheba Adams you will truly appreciate to what degree Knockstars bleed blue and to what end they will go to realize our mission.

So is this a group of people characterized by devotion to an idea, movement or work (Cult) or is this a set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an organization (Culture)? Obviously both, but first and foremost we are a group of passionate people devoted to our mission of helping people realize the American dream, so we lean hard into Cult! What I am proud to say, however, is unlike your average cult, that devotion and drive isn’t mandated top-down, but is cult-ivated from within — from each and every single one of our Knockstars, just like it was when we created POPSICLE at the start.

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