Want a sign of a good company culture? How about when your former employees are the first ones to recommend you?
That’s what happened when we asked the Redbooth team to suggest companies with inspiring cultures for our company culture series here on the blog.
Today, we share the secrets behind this company’s unique culture and how they put happiness and freedom ahead of location and profit — while still becoming leaders in mobile development.
1. Remote working can unite, not divide
When freelance mobile developers Stefan Klumpp and Jordi Giménez decided to form a company back in early 2012, they couldn’t afford an office.
After they made their first hires in Poland and Austria, they never gave “co-location” — working in the same room together — a second thought.
What started out as a practicality became a unique catalyst to bring people together. After all, if you can work from anywhere, why not anywhere in the world?
Bringing remote teams together in person
Stefan and Jordi decided to experiment with giving employees the option of spending a month together on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand.
They didn’t tell their mobile development clients at first, afraid they’d feel abandoned. When they did reveal the news, it turned out that the clients didn’t feel abandoned — but kind of wished they could come along for the ride!
As Stefan said, “They didn’t even want to work with us, they wanted to work for us.”
Since not every remote teammate can disappear to a tropical island for a month, they also bring everyone together annually to the Mobile Jazz Summer Camp in Catalonia.
About half the team has since moved to Barcelona — a lifestyle choice, not a work necessity — but only a handful come into the new office regularly. They’ve also has shared office spaces in Munich and Dubai.
Uniting remote team members wherever they are
Two years ago, CEO Stefan bought a camper van and began traveling around the eastern half of the world.
The Mobile Jazz Web Team Lead, Fran, is actually taking a trip with his wife around the world. Mobile Jazz also has teammates in Brazil, Mexico and Mauritius. The time zone shuffle isn’t always easy, but they make it work.
“To be really connected at once, we only have two globals per week,” Stefan said.
On Mondays, they have their Mobile Jazz Weekly Hangout — “an hour sharing learning experiences and getting to know who the other person is,” with both professional and personal lessons.
Later in the day, they have the Mobile Jazz Talk — “kind of like a TED talk we do internally” — where teammates or friends teach topics they are interested in.
Then each of the three teams — mobile, Web and backend — have Friday tech meetings. The rest of their communication is asynchronous usually across tools.
No one’s clocking in or out, either.
“Everyone can work as much as they want, as long as it’s plan-able,” Stefan explained.
Some work half time, others four days a week, while others spend their afternoons surfing or skiing, coding mornings and nights. It’s whatever works for their lifestyles and commitment levels.
2. Actively choose people over profits
Mobile Jazz works their network to find the best new teammates to fit into their “family.” Just about everyone knew or worked with another team member before.
“For me and Jordi, it was always about doing great stuff. We are engineers at heart and we just like doing the best work possible,” Stefan said.
They hire for culture fit first, not looking first for the best engineers per se. Rather, they look for candidates that have potential to learn and become the best.
“When we hired people it wasn’t just about hiring people to earn money off them,” Stefan explained. “It was really about working with really creative people.”
From the start, Mobile Jazz’s founders put “optimizing for happiness” ahead of profit. That means they are focused on “enjoying life together” via world-exploring workations and profit-sharing.
“We profit-shared right from the beginning,” Stefan said. “All the profit we make extra — we pay relatively high salaries not only for Spain but internationally — we distribute among our employees.”
And everyone earns the same salary regardless of position, seniority or time with the company.
The quarterly bonus distribution isn’t based on sales, but rather initiatives created, whether it’s code-related or organizing a company barbeque or kayaking trip.
3. A focus on growth can put culture at risk
Just because they aren’t focused on profit, profit, profit, doesn’t mean that the Mobile Jazz team isn’t growing. But they’re serious about learning from past experiences.
“At some point, we grew very quickly — first two to five [employees], then next year ten. Then, two years later, we were 20 and we went toward 30.”
But it’s hard to maintain culture when you’re growing at that speed.
“That is when we saw that we had grown too quickly. Or we had hired too quickly,” Stefan said. “We have a friends-and-family feel, but with more people it became quite anonymous and then people lost a sense of responsibility.”
Stefan said they started to have the “Oh, I thought you were supposed to do that” sort of finger-pointing. That’s when they scaled back down and look to keep the team capped at 20.
When I asked him how he’ll scale his business in the future without scaling his team, Stefan wasn’t worried.
He said they make good money with their great clients. Mobile Jazz will just continue to focus on learning more, sharing what they learn, and keeping their extraordinary culture alive.