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Weird company cultures you should embrace

April 1, 2016 Kate Swanberg

Guest post by John Scianna, Marketing Specialist at Bitwage

Wouldn’t you love to work in a zoo, what about an art gallery, a place with a ping pong table or two? What’s the best place to work for you?

After an era of mass industrialization, one size fits all products, cookie cutter suburban developments, the world is changing. Whether it’s Keeping Austin Weird or Keeping Portland Weird, Thinking Different or Being Handcrafted, the value of being unique and original has never been greater. This shift extends from the macro environment down to the individual and employers are taking notice.

Governments know that they have to cater to a different generation, it takes more than one small company to foster a great working environment. Silicon Valley has been diverse for a while, and it has attracted a great mixture of smart minds and smart money. Because of that officials have been able to harbor a community for innovation.

In recent years, newcomers have been searching for a cheaper alternative to Valley plagued by high rents and high taxes. Many of those people have found refuge in Austin, the so called Silicon Hills which as some locals will say, has always been a culturally unique place. Austin with the help of pro business laws and a new wave of tech, has helped the Texas capital explode. Every year thousands of people go to Austin for SXSW and see this tremendous city. Austin is a city of music, art and some of the best barbecue in Texas and Mexican food outside of Mexico; therefore, some people end up staying in the city a lot longer than they originally anticipated.

The definition of “corporate” is also changing as once small startups like Google, Etsy, Pinterest, Zappos and the like, who once embraced this counter culture, have become multi-billion dollar companies. These businesses are trying to hold onto that aspect of uniqueness that helped them become so successful. It makes employees feel comfortable at work when they can be their natural ‘weird’ self, and it is essential if you want to be part of the new era.


Pinterest isn’t like Facebook, Twitter or how you vaguely remember MySpace. It doesn’t cater to the mainstream, but more of the artsy crowd. The people at Pinterest are described as curious, holistic problem solvers, risk-takers, and obsessed with excellence. Doesn’t that pretty accurately reflect its users. Who would try and pull off all those crazy recipes, or who could wear those outrageous outfits and who would like those furniture pieces? If you imagine the headquarters of Pinterest, what do picture? A well designed, interesting stories and pictures pinned to the wall… Well, you’re right.


Pinterest, Alt Summit



Working at Google is much more than free food and weird perks. It’s writing on the walls, being transparent, taking on moonshots and being Googlely. In an essence the the free perks is similar to the tax benefits and pro business policies, but the culture of the community is what makes Google great. Google is lucky because so many people apply, they are able to hire the best of the best, and they want to keep them at Google. So Google has to be different, there’s not many companies with thousands of employees that still get to talk to the leaders. At Google, that’s not the the case, not only do they see the executives, Googlers can ask them questions on “all-hands TGIF meetings” on Fridays. When you picture the people at Google and the people at Yahoo, even in your head you have a feeling that the workers at one are a bit more odd, but “you have to be odd to be number one” – Dr. Seuss.


One of Zappos’ core values is to “Create fun and a little weirdness.” Zappos cuts the ties of visitors as part of its “no tie policy” and makes headlines for entering management experiments like it did this past year in its move to holacracy. Even Tony Hsieh, the CEO Zappos, is well known for his weirdness. Hsieh, a multimillionaire, lives in a Las Vegas trailer park with his two alpacas because that’s just who he is. Zappos’ company culture lives and breathes through him. Frankly, this isn’t the place where a suit and tie guy would feel at home. The company culture of Zappos has helped make it more than your average shoe company, it is one of most popular and praised places to buy shoes online and to work.


Facebook might be considered one of the evil empires in tech world because of its ever expanding products, but it is a great place to work and it’s becoming more progressive. Facebook, the social media platform, is a massive open platform, anyone can join, build relationships and start a dialogue with their friends. At Facebook’s headquarters, the layout is pretty similar to the platform, and they have a “massive open floor plan” so people can easily share and communicate what they are doing. Mark Zuckerberg, doesn’t have his own office, but actually works at a desk like everyone else.


Facebook, Photographer Jasper Sanidad
Facebook, Photographer Jasper Sanidad



Etsy isn’t Amazon, it never intended to be, there’s only room for one Amazon. “Etsy, technologically and culturally, is a platform that provides meaning to people, and an opportunity to validate their art, their craft,” said Etsy CEO, Chad Dickerson. That sounds a lot different from Amazon which is mainly a marketplace and only has transactional relationships. Etsy even defines “Code as Craft”, these artisanal way doing things are ingrained in their way of working and they cultivate that feeling by placing crafty lights and rugs around their office. This culture is woven into Etsy’s DNA like one of those finely knitted scarves you’d buy on their website.


Etsy, Wikipedia
Etsy, Wikipedia



DogVacay is the Airbnb for dogs and of course, you can take your dog to work because what kind of dog loving company wouldn’t allow you to do that? DogVacay hires outgoing and friendly people, and to no surprise, that describes the personality of most dogs. The teams at DogVacay are filled with pawful puns… but it can be expected from these dog fanatics. Here there are: BARKeting, PAWduct, DOGvelopment, PUPstomer Care, PAWffice Manager. I shake my head in silence, maybe because I’m more a cat person and because these seem like jokes my dad would say. Anyways I’m just not at that stage in my life yet to fully appreciate these pun. The people at DogVacay are working to make a “PAWsitive impact on the world of animal care,” so you should feel the same if you want to work there.





Lastly, there’s the company that I work for, Bitwage. As a small payments startup utilizing blockchain technologies for international money transfers to help employers pay people and freelancers receive their compensation, we have a pretty unique group. Until recently we didn’t even have a headquarters, and we had to work out of our accelerator Orange Fab. This plays into our culture, since we have to be more fluid, adaptable, and wise about how we use resources. Everyone at Bitwage has an interest for blockchains, and part of the ideology that goes along with it. We’re a distributed team, I’m in Florida, the founders are in California, our compliance officer is in the Philippines (for now) and we will soon have a customer service agent in Brazil. We do have one thing in common, we’re all nerds that believe in the same bigger picture of the world.

Weird company cultures work, if you’re weird… So, don’t show up in a suit for a job interview at one of these companies. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a suit but you most likely wouldn’t be a good fit. For you weird folks out there, like me, I’m sure you can find a place to fit in because the first thing a human resources person does is make sure you are on the right bus, then they make sure that you’re in the right seat on that weird bus. You have to take advantage of the amazing perks that make your company distinctive to be apart of the group like taking your best friend to work, working in a gallery like setting, getting to work with top management, getting to wear comfortable casual clothes everyday, being able to nerd out about your favorite technology or being able to be your naturally bubbly self. That’s how to succeed! Which do you think is the best?


About the Author

Kate Swanberg

Kate runs the growth and digital team at Tradeshift. In her spare time, she enjoys mentoring and advising early stage startups.

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