Through our trip to New York City and to Boston, we were given the opportunity to meet with 23 different companies and hear from eight different CEO’s or Co-founders directly. Leaving the trip, I came back to Boston College with an overloaded brain and a very tired body. Having had time to reflect and unpack much of the information I took in over Columbus Day weekend, I now feel that I have a much better grasp, not only on the way that businesses are headed, but on the different ways that companies operate and that individuals must differentiate themselves in order to succeed. In this blog post, I will talk about a few of the biggest takeaways and insights I have gained from our visits.
Culture and Growth
Before Tech Trek, I had always heard the term “company culture” and never truly understood what it meant. I thought the only real ways that a company’s culture would be visible is either through some lofty phrase that execs put on the wall to inspire people to do their best, or when it turns toxic and leads to misconduct or fraud. While both of those prior assumptions are true, execs do like to put the culture on the wall, and a toxic culture can lead to bad decisions, it turns out I could not have been more wrong. A company’s culture is obvious from the moment you step into the building. The company where the culture struck me the most was Lovepop. We were fortunate enough to meet with Wombi Rose, the co-founder, and as soon as we walked into the office, we looked to our right to see their motto on a massive chalkboard on the wall. He shared with us how they went about creating the phrase “create one billion magical moments.” It was then that I knew that company culture was one of the most integral parts to a company’s success. Wombi spoke with such passion, drive, and energy, not only about the culture he has attempted to create at Lovepop, but about each and every customer he serves, that he made me want to be a part of creating those magical moments.
He was the first person that we spoke to, of many, that mentioned how difficult it is to maintain the culture of a company through rapid growth. Wombi talked about how he used to know everyone’s name, where they went to school, their kids’ names and so on, but now that the company has grown to over 100 people, it has become much tougher for him to make such a connection with, and instill the culture in, each one of his employees. This was another huge learning moment for me. When I think of how big a company is, I’ve always been tempted to take a look at the income statement, check out their sales and net income, and call it a day. This, however, is a severely misguided way of judging the size of a company. Far more important than the number at the bottom of the income statement is the number of people sitting beside you in the office you work in every day. The number of people that work at a company is, in my opinion, the most important metric one can look at when judging the size of a company. On Tech Trek, we were fortunate enough to be exposed to companies of all sizes – from industry giants like Google and MetLife, to tiny little startups like Freshly or Ceros. Each company had their own distinct energy and feel, influenced more by the size and scale of the office than anything else.
Johnny Ayers, CEO and co-founder of Socure shared an interesting anecdote of the culture ast his company. When I asked if he could talk a little bit about some of the mistakes he’s made on the way to where he is now, one thing he said in particular stood out to me. He said that at the beginning, they put too much of an emphasis on the product, and forgot to focus on the culture. This created a poor working environment and caused a lot of turnover, something that’s not ideal when you’re trying to rapidly grow a company. He spoke about how they had to take a few steps back, and focus on the culture in order to compete and disrupt as he hoped and knew they could. It was this that truly taught me how integral culture is to a company’s success.
While I certainly learned much about company culture on the trips, if Tech Trek taught me one thing, it’s that my network is much bigger than I think it is. The mere fact that so many high level execs and Boston College alumni were willing and excited to speak with us is a testament to the amazing network we have at our disposal. It seemed like every single person we met with was not only happy to do so, but more than willing to help us in any way they could. People told stories of how, in their transition between jobs, they reached out to their friends and peers from BC and asked for help! They encouraged us to reach out and use our connections to our advantage. It makes sense now that I think about it. Boston College people want to help and hire other Boston College people. They know and trust that the training and education we receive here helps to prepare us for the respective fields we want to enter. I’ve always felt like a burden reaching out to an alumni or connection on the job search, but now more than ever I realize that people are so ready and happy to help. BC people have been in my exact shoes before and want to do anything they could to help out a student, the same way I would if I were in their shoes. That’s why when some of my friends who haven’t gone on Tech Trek (yet) say “I don’t have any connections!!” with a sad look on their face, I respond with “you literally have the entirety of the Boston College alumni network at your disposal, use it!”
In conclusion, Tech Trek has surely taught me a lot of things. I’d argue that I’ve learned more applicable information in this class over four days than I have in all my other classes combined, but I digress. More than anything, Tech Trek has opened my eyes to the massive network at my disposal, and taught me about the importance of a strong and healthy company culture, and the ways that growth can impact that culture.