From Yetis to Yoga — Building a Strong Company Culture
A “strong work culture” seems to be a buzzword these days, but what does it really mean to have a good culture in the office? And how do you build one that remains even after vital employees leave? In this episode, we’ll talk about what we’re doing at Avalaunch Media to build an authentic, supportive workplace environment that is sustainable and beneficial to its employees.
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Luke Alley (00:02):
Hey, y’all. This is Luke. In today’s episode, we’re talking culture — Avalaunch culture, that is. We talked to several Avalaunchers and got their perspective on ways we recognize each other, our charity initiatives, our parties, our health initiatives, yoga with Mary, my beautiful and smart wife, lunch and learns, the 2020 Launch People Program. And, well, more. Hope you enjoy today’s episode.
Alright. We are on with Jason Coulam, one of the partners and the chief strategy officer at Avalaunch Media. So today we’re going to talk a little bit about a unique part of Avalaunch, which is called the Blue Yeti. Can you talk to us a little bit more about what the Blue Yeti is and where the idea came from?
Jason Coulam (00:56)
You bet. So, first of all, we get asked all the time, “Why yeti?” If you come into our office, you’ll see that we’ve got multiple bronze statues of yetis around the office. And, more than anything, it was just something, as we did our rebrand close to eight years ago, thought it’d be fun to have some type of corporate symbol, or corporate mascot in our case. And we like the idea of a yeti.
And so one day, I was on an airplane and I noticed in the Sky Mall Magazine that they made these little bronze yeti statues. And I just thought that’d be cool to have around our office. And so I ordered one of them in.
When it comes to culture, I think one of the most critical pieces of culture is employee recognition. And that comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes, but I can tell you one of my favorite things that we started doing very early on is every other week, we have a company meeting, and one of the major agenda items — it’s a one-hour meeting and we typically spend about 15 minutes or so doing company shout-outs. And this is a peer-to-peer shout out, and so it gives you an opportunity to just recognize other employees for their contribution.
Well, we had been doing these shout-outs for a while, but I obviously wanted to do it in the form of a yeti. And so I grabbed one of those bronze yetis and went to Home Depot, grabbed some cyan blue spray paint and went home and spray painted one of those yetis. And in our very next company meeting, we introduced this concept of the Blue Yeti, which was basically [that] every company meeting, we would select a top performer and award the Blue Yeti to them.
It started off as just kind of this casual award, and then it started to get a little bit more competitive and, to this day, it remains one of the favorite aspects about the company meeting. People are really excited to see who’s going to get the Blue Yeti, and I think, more important than the award itself is the recognition from the leadership team and being able to recognize some of the top performers.
One of the other fun components that we do is at the end of the year, the person who has won the Blue Yeti the most times throughout the year, we give them a final end-of-the-year award. We give them a bunch of bonus flight miles that they can use for flying anywhere in the country and a few other things.
And so it’s become just this really fun, sort of iconic, award. It’s fun as you walk around the office to see where the Blue Yeti is. They obviously get to bring that Blue Yeti back to their desk and have it at their desk while we go throughout the week and until we award it to the next person.
Luke Alley (03:59)
Important question — did you collaborate with designers when you picked that cyan, and does it match the CMYK branding of Apple?
Jason Coulam (4:10)[laughing] It does. It matches. I did not collaborate with a designer, but I went to Home Depot and I told them that we have a very specific blue that we’re looking for. Luckily, they just happened to have it in stock, so we were able to pick that up and use that blue for the yeti.
So it worked out. We’ve had to spray paint it, we’ve had to redo it a few times. I guess I didn’t do a very good job when I initially painted it, so we’ve had to redo it.
And by the way, one of the other things that I forgot to mention is that the Blue Yeti has gotten so much traction that we actually, just this last company meeting, we started a new award, which is the Blue Yeti’s sister or brother, depending on how you want to look at it, of a White Yeti.
The White Yeti is basically an employee-nominated yeti where employees can submit their nominations and then the person that gets the most nominations, we award them sort of the People’s Choice Award on the White Yeti.
So there’s officially a Blue Yeti and a White Yeti now.
Luke Alley (05:19)
And for everyone’s knowledge, Eddie is the Blue Yeti, and Betty is the White Yeti.
My favorite awarding of the Blue Yeti was actually to Andy. It was kind of employee-driven where we just said, Hey, whoever’s getting the Blue Yeti, we’re actually going to give it to Andy at our company Fish Fry that we did up at your cabin, Jason. And it totally caught Andy off guard. He was kind of having a rough patch and it seemed to really mean a lot to him, and we heard that it did.
But I still remember in that moment, we actually went around the entire company, we were probably 25 or 30 employees at that time, and everybody said something they appreciated about Andy. Andy was just super emotional during it. And it was a great moment, and we’ve had a lot of moments like that with awarding the Blue Yeti.
Jason Coulam (06:08)
Yeah, it was awesome. One of my all-time favorite moments [have been] watching him and watching, I mean, countless others win the award and just the surprised look on their face. And then, we do follow-up social media posts with them holding the Blue Yeti. Just all of that sort of brought into that experience has been, I mean, it’s been just awesome.
I just think employee recognition is honestly one of the most important things that you can do. You talk about culture and I’m just a huge believer that, I forget who quoted it, but, to win the marketplace, you need to win the workplace. And I think in order to win the workplace, recognition is a major, major component of doing that.
Recognizing people for their effort and that’s what the shout-outs, as well as the Blue Yeti, has been able to do for us.
Luke Alley (07:14)
Alright, we are here with Hannah Davis, who is the copywriting team lead and trainer at Avalaunch. So Hannah, along with your responsibilities in the copywriting team, you are also the president of Culture Club. Is that right?
Hannah Davis (07:31)
I mean, that’s not the official title, that’s just kind of what they’ve called me. Mainly I’m in charge of birthdays and then just making sure things get done, in general.
Luke Alley (07:43)
Maybe tell us about a couple of the charity initiatives that we’ve done and why are those important to Avalaunch and why do those continue to happen.
Hannah Davis (07:52)
In general, it’s important to Avalaunch, and they’ve kind of recognized that since starting the company. When I started at Avalaunch, we’d already had a few charitable initiatives under our belt. We’d already done a few activities and had some fundraisers. We have, actually, a wall up in the office that has decals with logos for every single company that we’ve helped, or nonprofit or charity.
When I started at Avalaunch, I realized that that was a huge pillar of Avalaunch’s culture. Just working at Avalaunch and also being on the Culture Committee, it’s kind of showed me that the reason is because people want to work for a place that cares about the world.
Obviously people work to make money. That’s kind of the main reason. But I think you get to a certain point where you don’t want to just work for a company that is just turning over profits and you’re just getting a paycheck. You want to work for a company where when you’re at work, you feel like you’re part of something bigger.
So I think that’s part of the reason why we do charitable initiatives at Avalaunch. It’s also a chance for everybody to come together. I don’t think everybody always gets a chance to volunteer in their personal lives, and we spend a lot of our time at work. And so if part of that time is spent working for a good cause or having an actual fundraiser where employees can donate money, having that chance, during a work day or seeing that as part of your job, I think it makes people feel like they’re part of something bigger and that they’re giving back. It’s an altruistic feeling.
Some of my favorite charitable initiatives that we’ve done in the past — definitely the one that comes to mind first is when we did a Make-A-Wish Foundation. We raised money for a little girl named Remy. She was about two at the time. She had cancer, and her wish was to go to Walt Disney World, which is the classic Make-A-Wish wish. It was so cool to be able to contribute to that.
So yeah, we have a fundraiser over Christmas and in December, so that was part of our big end-of-year, kind of charity thing. So we were able to raise enough money to send her to Disney World. Once everything fundraised, then we had an actual party in the office. That was the fun part, because we got to actually meet Remy and her family, put on this big, Disney-themed party where we actually asked Morgan, she was a copywriter, we asked her to dress up as Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” and she did a great job. I think she was really nervous, but she pulled it off great.
I remember when Remy saw her dressed up as Belle, the look on her face and how happy she was. It was so amazing to be part of that and to realize that you’re helping this little girl have a happy experience, and her family as well, because they’re all going through everything at the same time. Helping improve their lives, that was just so amazing to see. And I think for the entire company, everybody really loved it. It’s something that you don’t get to experience very often. So it was really, really cool that we, as a Culture Committee and Avalaunch, could bring that about and make a tangible difference in somebody’s life.
Luke Alley (11:13)
Anything else you feel like you wanted to mention about Culture Club while we’re talking here?
Hannah Davis (11:19)
Yeah, so it’s not only charitable initiatives. I think another really important part of it, for morale and just, kind of, sanity, when it’s really busy at work and you’re dealing with challenging client situations, is having parties to break things up.
In January we had a Chinese New Year kind of potluck thing, like a lunch thing. We have a coworker named Ting and she is an SEO specialist, I think is her title. She is from China. All her family is back in China and she was really excited about Chinese New Year. She’s always been really excited about those little holidays and she’ll bring in traditional snacks and treats and everything to kind of teach us more about her culture. And so I wanted to kind of do something to celebrate Chinese New Year.
She helped us with that and helped us understand how to decorate and what the traditional food would be that we would eat for that. We had a potluck and everybody signed up to bring a Chinese dish. Granted, a lot of it was Panda Express, but it was still really good, and she was really excited about it. I think she was happy that we were all learning more about her culture and getting really excited about it and into it. Everybody wore red. It was probably one of the best potlucks we’ve done.
Luke Alley (12:38):
Absolutely. And you can’t forget birthday cards.
Hannah Davis (12:42)
Oh, of course. Birthday cards.
Luke Alley (12:44)
Custom birthday cards for every birthday that are designed by our designers. They usually involve Photoshopping the birthday person’s face onto something, someone else. Everyone in the company signs the card.
There’s a lot that goes on in the Culture Club and Hannah spearheads it all as its president and CEO.
Hannah Davis (13:06):
Thank you, president and CEO. Good, another one. President, CEO and queen. Queen is my other given title.
Luke Alley (13:15):
Hey everybody, we are here with Nicole Jensen, one of the first employees at Avalaunch, VP of, what’s your title now, Nicole?
Nicole Jensen (13:24):
On LinkedIn, my official title is VP of Content Marketing, but it could be a lot of other random things. So we’ll leave it there for now.
Luke Alley (13:35):
You do so much more than just content marketing at Avalaunch. She’s a member of our executive team, she has a really successful Instagram account. And, that leads us into what we’re going to talk about today, which is the health initiatives at Avalaunch that she has spearheaded.
Nicole Jensen (13:51):
Health is a passion of mine, for sure. So, when I first started at Avalaunch, I mean, we only had a few employees really, and so back about six years ago, we would do things every now and then that just involved a little bit of health and comradery. One of my first memories of something that we did was we did the Mud Run. Do you remember that? Did you do that?
Luke Alley (14:15)
With Garrett and Grey?
Nicole Jensen (14:17)
Yeah. And we all invited our spouses as well. And so, that was fun, just in terms of we all trained for it, and then we had this race that we could do that kind of incorporated all levels. I think it’s important when companies have any sort of health initiatives that they keep in mind that everyone’s at different levels. We never want to discourage anyone or make anyone feel bad about themselves. So I thought that was cool. Some people walked, some people ran, and we all got really dirty in the end.
So that was one of the very first things that we did. And then we also, probably around four years ago, I put together this, I called it the Fitness Challenge. And basically it was this 10-week challenge that a lot of the company, or a lot of the employees, participated in. People would earn points with however much they worked out that week. And then they would also, we would have weekly challenges that focused on different aspects of health. So yeah, that’s been a success. We’ve done that two or three times.
Luke Alley (15:27)
It’s not just physical health, it’s also mental health, other areas besides just eat better, exercise.
Nicole Jensen (15:34):
So my background is directly health science, and I remember learning in my health classes about the health wheel, so to speak, and that incorporates emotional, social, physical, spiritual, and intellectual health. So yes, like all of those play into just helping make our work lives better.
Luke Alley (15:57):
You talked about these challenges, these different health challenges. How did it feel that I beat you in each of the health challenges that we had?
Nicole Jensen (16:05):
That’s actually really funny that you say that, Luke, because I’m 100% positive that I won all of them, but I felt like as the organizer, I couldn’t technically win, so I always let the second place person win.
Luke Alley (16:20):
Moving on. So you kind of hit on this, the health focus and why it’s important in a workplace setting. What benefit do you feel like that brings to employees and businesses?
Nicole Jensen (16:31):
I actually wrote my college thesis paper on the importance of corporate health and companies having some sort of corporate health program. And there are a lot of studies out there just showing that by companies spending a little bit of time, and possibly a little bit of money, and having these health programs to help employees just focus on their physical and mental wellbeing, then, in turn, that makes the employees a lot more productive and able to just be more efficient and more mentally focused when they’re working, which then, in turn, helps them just be more profitable. And so, I mean, I think we’ve all had those days where we’re just not mentally there or, like I know for myself, I feel a lot different when I wake up and do my daily routine.
Luke Alley (17:30):
One of the goals is to make sure to include everybody no matter where they’re at in their fitness or health levels.
Nicole Jensen (17:37):
Exactly. So, like you said, I have an Instagram that I run that is health-focused and I show different workouts and give different nutrition tips, and something that I say a lot on that account is something is better than nothing. Start where you’re at and try to improve yourself by doing something.
Luke Alley (18:00):
We are here with Carolyn Alder. Carolyn, you have been involved in a few of our culture initiatives. Do you mind taking a second to introduce yourself, your role at Avlaunch, and some of those things you’ve been a part of?
Carolyn Alder (18:14):
So I am a copywriter for Avalaunch, and I’ve been here for about a year and last fall, I thought it would be fun to start a book club. So I started talking to people and asking who would be interested and it seemed like we actually had quite a few people who wanted to join. So, I think one of the reasons that I wanted to start it was one, I love reading because it makes me a better writer. I love learning, because it just makes me a better person and worker, and then coming together and discussing it makes me a better coworker. It helps me get to know who I work with better. And I think book club’s, just such a great way to learn and improve our skills, but also kind of get to know each other better at Avalaunch and learn together.
Luke Alley (19:02):
Tell us more about the books that we’ve read so far in Book Club, as you’ve organized that.
Carolyn Alder (19:07):
So we kind of focus on marketing or leadership books. And so our first one was “Drive” by Daniel Pink, and we learned about motivation and what drives people. And then we read, “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath, and that was really fun cause they talk a lot about actionable marketing theories and tactics that you can use in marketing. And when we discussed that, we were able to really apply things to some of our clients. And then “Dare to Lead,” we finished like a month or so ago, by Brene Brown. And then right now we are reading “Creativity, Inc.” By Ed Catmull.
Luke Alley (19:46):
What do you think people like most about Book Club?
Carolyn Alder (19:49):
I think a lot of people, they want to read. They have a big list of books that they want to read and learn from, but it’s just hard to get motivated, especially when you’re working and you just have so much going on. So for one, Book Club kind of creates that accountability system because someone (AKA me) is constantly checking in on them and saying like, “Hey, I’m this far into the book, what do you guys think so far?” or “Here are some questions I have. Let’s discuss.”
It motivates people, I think, to have a group reading it together. And then it also sticks better when we all discuss it and, you know, talk about it along the way, rather than just absorbing it and then moving on. I think that can happen a lot with these books because there’s so much to learn from them. So I mean, that’s one of the things that I’ve enjoyed the most is being able to discuss these books with other people and actually apply them.
I mentioned this a little bit with “Made to Stick,” but we were able to talk about some of our clients and the troubles that we were having, and apply what we learned from the book to action and strategize together using what we’d learned. Those are the reasons that I love Book Club, and I’m sure people would agree.
Luke Alley (20:59):
Thank you, Carolyn, for that, for going into Book Club and for running a great Book Club. I have been a part of it. I have been one of the best at starting the books, but not finishing them, but I am trying. And, like you said, that framework is helpful. Whenever I see the conversation happening in chats on Google Chat, I think, “Okay, okay. Tonight I gotta read. I gotta read more, I gotta keep caught up.”
Let me shift gears and ask you one question about yoga. Along with Book Club, you’ve been a regular participant in yoga with Mary, who is my wife, and we do that once a month here at Avalaunch. It’s part of our culture, also part of the health initiatives that we talk about on the podcast. What have you most enjoyed about doing yoga at work?
Yeah, so I think yoga, I’m pretty sure we had it the first or second week that I started and I was like, what type of company am I working at? This is amazing that we get a break to take yoga together from an awesome teacher. So, I was very excited and I jumped on that right away. I didn’t understand why everyone wasn’t there, but I think from yoga, it’s just a chance to step away from everything and just be quiet and kind of catch up on how you’re feeling and how your body’s doing. And, sometimes it can be overwhelming, cause there was one time in one of the classes that I didn’t realize that I was so stressed and during class I was like, Oh shoot, there’s a lot of stress under here that I’m not dealing with.
So, I think it’s good just to kind of check in with everything and your mental state and your body, and also just get moving during the day. We do it in the middle of the day, so it really breaks it up. We’re sitting for a long time, and so being, having the chance to get up and do some poses, and obviously yoga can be vulnerable sometimes. And so being vulnerable with coworkers is amazing. I, yeah, I love yoga and whenever it happens, I always tell all my coworkers to join.
Luke Alley (23:04):
All right. We are here with Chris Vaughan, one of our SEO team members on the Avalaunch team. Chris, tell us a little bit about what you do at Avalaunch.
Chris Vaughan (23:14)
So I work on the SEO team as a senior SEO manager. So I get to do basically a little bit of everything, which keeps things interesting for me. I really enjoy it.
Luke Alley (23:27)
And part of those things that you do is you are actually involved in the lunch and learn, is that correct?
Chris Vaughan (23:33)
Oh yeah. Lunch and learn is kind of an extracurricular activity for me. So I get to dabble with teaching and leading and some of those other things to help expand skill sets on other members of other teams.
Lunch and learn has evolved a little bit in the time since I’ve started at Avalaunch. It is primarily a way for people to get education or training perhaps outside of what they already specialize in. Lunch and learn takes place every other Friday, so we have about 30 of them in a given year — 25 or 30 of them depending.
We cover basically everything. We’ve done social media, we’ve done SEO. The one that we had for this week was on cybersecurity. And it really is just an awesome platform to help cross train people in other categories of digital marketing.
Luke Alley (24:25)
What have been your favorite topics or some of the most popular topics that we’ve covered?
Chris Vaughan (23:30)
That is a good question. I, some of my personal favorites have been ones where we talk about things that influencers or other presenters have talked about. I remember one that Max did on a Google presentation where they were talking about ways to optimize SEO value on a website. I really loved that particular one. I like all of them, honestly, I’m the type of person who needs a little bit of everything, so when you get some of that variety, that helps quite a lot.
We also recently had a really good one with Jules who talked about how social media fits with an integrated marketing strategy, which I think was really awesome because a lot of people still kind of see social media as kind of like an add-on or just an extra thing you do to promote or advertise. But, it really is a lot more than just that, and Jules did a really awesome job of showcasing that. So there’s something to take away from all of them.
We even did a culture one, talking about China because we have, one of the members of the SEO team is from China. Her name’s Ting and she’s awesome. And we got to learn more about China, which was really, really cool. So it really is just a platform for us to learn what people are interested in and helps us grow outside of whatever role we might be sitting in.
Luke Alley (25:53)
So who presents, then? It sounds like we have mostly Avalaunchers, is that right?
Chris Vaughan (25:57)
Yeah, we do primarily get the bulk of our presenters from other Avalaunchers, but we do also have guest speakers as well. So, for example, our cybersecurity lunch and learn that we had this week was from a sibling of an Avalauncher, so we will have guests come and present on different topics. And I think that’s really important because I think it would be arrogant of us to think that between everybody in the building, we know everything we need to know. So to bring in outside talent to kind of talk to us about their experiences or their perspectives has been really awesome as well. So, we do majority of Avalaunchers, and we kind of nominate amongst ourselves who we would like to teach about different topics, but when we have special occasions like we did this week, it is awesome to feature guest speakers as well.
Luke Alley (26:44):
You’ve done a great job at it, too. I think our attendance is the best it’s ever been.
Chris Vaughan (26:50):
Luke Alley (26:51)
So, well done. Lunch and learn actually fits into the larger Launch People initiative, which we’ll be talking about on the podcast. So can you tell us a little more about how it fits into the bigger Launch People initiative?
Chris Vaughan (27:06):
Yeah, absolutely. So, lunch and learn is one element of the whole Launch People initiative that Avalaunch has. There’s a lot of stuff still in the works from my understanding, and I don’t see all of it, but, Culture Club, for example, works on Launch People initiatives, as does lunch and learn.
It’s part of, kind of, a greater platform of things that we offer to employees as a value-add as an employee at Avalaunch, because we want people to have the opportunity to learn, grow, and feel like they have the opportunity to deepen their understanding of digital marketing on the whole. So, it kind of fits in with the whole platform of things that we offer for people, whether it’s Culture Club or other events, or, you know, things like the Book Club or yoga, or kind of these other things that we use to enable people to develop themselves. It’s part of that greater platform of, the more that you participate, the more you can get out of it as a digital marketing professional.
Luke Alley (28:11):
Alright. We are here with Andy Melchior. He is one of the founders and is … what’s your title now, dude? You wear so many hats.
Andy Melchior (28:20):
I’ve worn so many over the years, yeah. Right now I’m the COO for Avalaunch and essentially oversee our operations.
Luke Alley (28:27):
And that’s the reason I wanted to have you on this is because you work a lot with the people, and Avalaunch is a people company. We wouldn’t be what we are without our people, and you help make the culture what it is from the, starting from the top, starting from when Avalaunch first began. So, first question for you is how would you describe the Avalaunch culture?
Andy Melchior (28:49)
Yeah, well, that’s a good question. It’s hard for me to try to summarize it in a brief response. And it’s also interesting to reflect on it because it’s evolved and adapted over the years so much.
You know, you pointed out that, I think culture in so many companies, it’s created at the top and it’s sent down through the ranks, and that’s how the culture was established at Avalaunch initially. But with the development of our Culture Club in the last four or five years, the culture has really been something that’s kind of been created amongst the people and, as leadership, we just kind of, I guess, point the arrows in the right direction, right?
We say, this is the kind of company we’re establishing. This is the basis that we have for essentially turning the reins over to our people to set and drive culture. So it’s interesting to see how it has evolved over the years as people come and go. But, if I was to just take a short stab at establishing a description of what the culture of Avalaunch is, I would say that it’s a culture, a close-knit community that has a tremendous amount of authenticity among its people, that has a lot of transparency among its people, and it’s just a really supportive environment. There’s so many people that are willing to go above and beyond to help their colleagues. And I think the culture of Avalaunch is, again, always evolving.
Luke Alley (30:27):
Why do you think a good culture is important for a company like ours, for an agency?
Andy Melchior (30:31):
Yeah, well, I think culture is so critical for really any business. As I’ve interviewed people over the years, I think more and more now than ever before I get questions from candidates that are all culture-centric, right? Tell me about the culture of Avalaunch? How do you handle a situation where an employee is not performing? What do you do to recognize your staff? How do you reward people both financially and non-financially? How do you manage training and development, which all of those categories become an aspect of the culture.
So, over the last, I think five to 10 years, there’s been a dramatic shift in the professional environment here in America, and in Utah as well, in the sense of culture has become one of those real critical aspects for people as they’re making their career decisions. And there are lots of factors that go into where you work. Compensation is a critical aspect, who you’re working with is a critical aspect, but then the culture and expectations have become so much more important.
I’ve seen so many candidates that put that first and foremost in their decisions. And a lot of our staff at Avalaunch have expressed that as well, that one of the primary reasons they continue to stay at Avalaunch or that they feel so fulfilled at Avalaunch is because of the culture, because of the people, because of the environment that we’ve created for our staff.
That’s something that’s so much more fulfilling than financial reward for so many people. And so, I think for a small business, which is what Avalaunch is, right? Even though we’re a midsize agency, for us to really attract great candidates, really talented digital marketers, we’re trying to provide some of those considerations for our people so that we’re attractive as a career path and as a long-term position for our people. We can’t always win against brands when it comes to financial reward or cost of benefits, or some of the other maybe flashy things that the big brands can provide, but what we can try to win at, in many cases, is that cultural aspect of the workplace.
Luke Alley (32:57):
If someone were to want to create a culture like we have — and I would describe it as more focused on a hard culture versus soft culture, hard being trust, good communication, caring for people, transparency versus a soft, which is more ping pong tables and amenities and food and what-not — what advice would you give to a company trying to create that more?
Andy Melchior (33:22):
You know, it’s interesting because I often ask a question similar to that in interviews. I’ll ask candidates, “Hey, if you were to start your own company, what are the two or three or four critical aspects of the culture that you would try to instill in that brand as you grow it?” When we established Avalaunch Media, we spent time collectively as ownership trying to align our vision around culture and what we’re trying to create at Avalaunch that will set us apart and make us unique. And so I think as you’re establishing a business, it’s really important that, as founders or owners or the executive team, you establish a vision for what your culture will be. You then talk about that consistently, you remind your staff about that consistently, and you set that tone, not in just your words, but in your actions.
And then you allow your people to let that resonate with them and to give them the same power and authority to really represent that culture. And what I mean by that is I think a lot of brands say, “This is our culture. This is what we do.” But, then their leadership doesn’t give the same ability or authority to the rest of the staff to have that same culture, or they don’t set the appropriate example.
I just really think it starts with that, is you establish and try to drive culture within a company. And that’s constantly making your decisions based off of that, going back to it and saying, “Hey, how can I better represent the values or culture of the brand and make sure that is connected with our people?” And one of the things we try to do consistently at Avalaunch is train on our corporate values consistently. And so, during our company meetings, through our lunch and learns, we’ll oftentimes say, “Hey, we’re going to talk about these two or three corporate values as part of our training.”
Luke Alley (35:15):
Well, you have a nickname here, Andy, that I think you just described why you have that nickname you’re, you’re often called the People’s Owner. And the idea behind that is people seem to connect with you and feel like they have a relationship there. And, so my question on that is how does that happen for you? Do you have to try? Do you try to be the People’s Owner, or do you feel like that just comes naturally? How do you create those relationships with the employees?
Andy Melchior (35:45):
Yeah, you know, the People’s Owner is a nickname that was given to me by an employee named Britnee, and she gave me that name because of the connection that her and I had made authentically, this authentic connection that we had built trust over the years and confidence over the years, that she could have any conversation with me that was needed, right? And, I think that’s probably why I’ve been dubbed the People’s Boss here at Avalaunch, is just that I’ve really tried. I’ve put in a lot of effort, to answer that question, Luke.
It’s not something that is just a natural thing, per se. It’s something that, several years ago, I made a commitment to, and that was to really open up myself to all of our staff, to not necessarily always be the professional businessman, but to really open up myself to them, to share my hobbies, interests, passions, thoughts with them consistently, and to allow them a level of comfort to do the same back to me.
So it is an effort, and it also takes time. You know, one of the things that I tell our staff over and over and over again is my door is always open. You can always come talk to me, whether it’s to vent about some frustration you’re dealing with, whether it’s a colleague, something at home, something with a client, a project, whatever it is, or whether it’s to come in and offer advice, direction, and opinion on how we can improve as a company, or whatever it is.
There’s a lot of times where I’m in the thick of something, but I really have to make an effort when somebody walks in and says, “Do you have a minute?” to say, “Yeah, I do.” You know, let me give you that time. Let’s talk. The other thing that I try to do is build in time to just sit with our staff. I’ll try to leave my office, bring my computer with me and go sit in a sofa or one of our lounge chairs out in the open area of the office and just work out there for several hours, so I can be involved in some of the communication and office conversations that are happening. I think that, again, that authenticity is just a critical part of that and it is something that has taken focus from me to accomplish, I think.
Luke Alley (38:04):
Alright. We are here with Dave Mink, CEO and one of the founders of Avalaunch. And in December, you put a name to a lot of the things that were happening in the Avalaunch culture, and you started the Launch People initiative. Can you tell us a little bit about the vision of Launch People and where that came from?
Dave Mink (38:29):
Towards the end of last year, probably the beginning of Q4, Beau Graves, who is on our executive team, had sent me a recommendation to listen to a podcast where Simon Sinek was a guest, and he was talking about his new book, “The Infinite Game.” I got exposed to this concept of Simon’s “The Infinite Game” via this podcast, and it just really, it was one of those moments where it just kind of brought a lot of things together for me.
It wasn’t necessarily that it was a new concept, but it was just kind of framing it up in a way that I probably hadn’t put all the pieces together. We’d always been a people-focused organization. We’d always worried about what’s the culture of our organization? What are we doing to engage people, et cetera. But thinking of the business less in terms of how much money are we going to make this year, what goals are we setting this quarter? And did we accomplish our goals? But thinking of it more as an infinite game that really doesn’t end, and what are you doing to, I guess, align your organization with people long-term, was just this concept that again, brought a lot of things together for me.
So that podcast just kicked off a series of conversations with you, my partners, Andy, Jason, Matt, and just the rest of the leadership team at Avalaunch. And through those conversations, we ended up leaving with this concept of … we had always had our company tagline was to launch the best brands on earth. We were always focused on how do we, we called it playing in the big leagues, but how do we work with the best companies that are out there, the most vibrant people, the best causes, the most successful kind of organization structures, et cetera. And we just sort of had this epiphany that the way you really do that is by having the best people in your organization. And so, we ended up making this nuanced change to our company purpose statement, where it went from “Launch the Best Brands on Earth” to “Launch People, Launch Brands.”
And again, it was just kind of that epiphany of, the best way to launch the brands is by attracting, cultivating, and retaining the best people that you possibly can.
Luke Alley (40:51)
What makes up the different parts of the Launch People initiative?
Dave Mink (40:54)
Well, the fun part is we’re right in the middle of it. So it’s definitely not something that’s fully baked. I think one of the first things we’ve really been focused on is how do we actually take all of these awesome pieces of our culture that we already had there, and almost just rebrand them. So we’ve, we’ve always done things like book clubs, you know, fitness challenges and opportunities. We have a massage therapist come to the office twice a month. We do a lot of company parties and take people out to lunch quite often. And all those little things, have guest speakers come in, et cetera.
But now, instead of just doing them and having a great time, we’re really mindful of, does this activity that we’re focused on, does it help launch people? Are we branding it Launch People? And just, I think growing up and in those senses, so it’s more coordinated now.
One of the observations we had is that it seemed like some of our employees really bought in and were involved in more of our culture-oriented activities, whether they were charity-focused activities or whatever. And other people almost seem to like, not even know what was going on. I guess we had a, we didn’t do a great job of shouting it from the rooftops in terms of — this is everything we’re doing this month, and here’s how you can get involved. We’ve rebranded everything. We now have a company newsletter that’s going out monthly. Inside that newsletter, every single opportunity that’s available to employees is there.
A lot more training with leadership — how do you get your team involved in getting everything they can in terms of the organization’s, all the different opportunities the organization provides, even things like education budgets. We’ve always had education budgets at Avalaunch. They haven’t always been fully utilized. So we’re just really being more mindful about guys, the very best way to launch the best brands on earth is by launching people. And how do you launch people?
Well, it’s their physical happiness, it’s their mental happiness, it’s their involvement in the community. It’s their own professional education. It’s the certifications they’re earning, things of that nature. And so it’s just kind of turning the lights on of, to accomplish that ultimate goal of launching the best brands on earth, we’ve got to help our people realize their full potential and capacity and work, and the opportunities there at work can be a big part in that.
And so we’re just trying to provide more of those, and make them readily accessible and easy to get involved with and participate in.
Luke Alley (43:36):
If you could have an ideal outcome of people utilizing the Launch People initiative and all the different aspects, what would that look like?
Dave Mink (43:45):
I actually think that the Launch People focus that we rolled out January 1st has had a huge impact in terms of the cohesiveness of our company in quarantine. It’s been kind of incredible for me to watch just the way that people are still bonded and involved. There’s like a real, there’s a real engagement, even in this scenario where everybody’s working from home and we’re not seeing each other and giving each other physical high fives, we’re not getting together to go work in a garden together for a charity initiative, we’re not getting together to do potlucks. But, through all the different Launch People initiatives we have, with Friday lunch and learns, we’ve got fitness classes going three or four times every week, we have midday stretches, we’ve got book clubs, we’ve got yoga sessions, there are just so many things that are happening and the team is doing these together.
Andy, my business partner, he came up with this idea of let’s do an afternoon happy hour, and I’m always surprised to see how many people show up to those, just to spend a few minutes congratulating each other, et cetera. So, back to your question, Luke, I think what I would hope Launch People would do for our employee base it’s, like you said, it’s happiness, it’s fulfillment. And I think it’s engagement.
And from more of a traditional business perspective, what I think that that will translate to in the long run is going to be, higher profitability, longer engagements, longer kind of stickiness or retention with our client base, as well as our employee base. Because when people hire an agency, they’re really hiring people. If you have the best, happiest, most fulfilled, engaged people working for your agency, then I think that that’s what they’re going to experience when they hire the agency.
Luke Alley (45:50):
Alright. We are here with Kyle Shurtz, who is our VP of performance marketing. You have somewhat of a subculture within the Avalaunch culture on the PPC team, which you manage and you’re growing. So tell us a little bit about that. What do you think makes the PPC culture on your team unique?
Kylse Shurtz (46:13)
Yeah, you know, I think it was Tashji who said there’s like the circle of trust, right? And which layers everybody’s on outside of PPC. And it’s interesting. I think really the way that we’ve just built the culture has been unique in the sense of, it’s been a lot of networking and then interns, and just being able to grow our pool of talent that way has been effective. Understanding how people work, understanding kind of what they’re like even outside of the office. And it’s been a really, really cool thing to see my team come together like a family. We get together on weekends. We really enjoy one another’s company, and I think there’s a lot to that to the way we’ve built the team.
Luke Alley (46:57):
What kind of goes on in your mind when you’re in those moments? Is it a burden to do those things? Do you enjoy it? What kind of goes through your mind when you think about getting together with the team?
Kyle Shurtz (47:06):
Yeah, it’s funny. It’s not a burden. It’s almost like man, I really want to be around these people. They’re just fun to be around. There’s a lot of comradery. And so, it’s more like asking friends to hang out versus, oh, I’ve got to be around my colleagues or, oh, I’m doing this to build the team up. It just feels very natural and kind of fluid that way. So we’ve been fortunate. One of the perks of working for a small business is that familial kind of tie that you feel.
Luke Alley (47:35):
Tell us about maybe some of the experiences as a team that you feel like has been most, most impactful.
Kyle Shurtz (47:42):
Some of the big impact things would be just simple things, our team activities that we do. Sometimes people say, “Oh, we haven’t had a team activity for a long time.” We always try and plan a team activity, get-together. We’ve done Top Golf, we’ve done go to a park with some takeout and play corn hole. There are a lot of commonalities amongst the team of hobbies and things that we enjoy. So, that’s made it easy in that regard, but we have tried to really emphasize having team activities and enjoying each other’s company outside of the work environment.
Luke Alley (48:19):
How do you feel like those team activities then transfer to working together, and even kind of the culture that you created on the team?
Kyle Shurtz (48:28):
I would say the biggest thing that I see is everybody is so willing to help one another. And it’s not because, “Oh yeah, I work with this person.” It’s you genuinely care about this person. You know their wife’s name, you know their husband’s name, you know how many kids they have, and when you know all those things and you get along outside of the office, it makes it that much more important to help each other when they’re down or having a bad day.
Something that I’ve really loved doing with the team is if I can tell people are having a hard time or just going through some hard spells, just going around the room and saying what you like about a person. Similar to the Avalaunch culture of shout-outs, we do it on our team in team meetings where we’ll literally go around and say a nice thing about each person in the room, and that’s really helped build up the comradery and the willingness to help one another.
Luke Alley (49:23):
Alright. We are here with Britnee Bromley-Nuehring, a friend of mine, a former coworker at Avalaunch, and the current VP of marketing, is that right at, Crumbl, Britnee?
Britnee Bromley-Nuehring (49:38):
Yes, that’s right. Hello, hello. It’s always good to chat with you and talk Avalaunch. It’s such a great place. I loved my time there.
Luke Alley (49:47):
Well we loved your time there, too. And that’s actually why we wanted to have you on the podcast. You created a big piece of the Avalaunch culture while you were here, and you contributed in many, many ways. So could, maybe we start with you describing the Avalaunch culture while you had your time at Avalaunch?
Britnee Bromley-Nuehring (50:08):
Yeah. Oh, I love that. What a fun question. I would say when I think back on Avalaunch culture, a word that comes to mind for me is hustlers. Like, I just feel like right out the gate when I got there, it was like, I was surrounded by people who just so loved what they did, just came in to work hard every day. Like there were just so many hard workers in that office, and I’m sure it’s still the same now. I haven’t been there in several months, but I love that. I love that people had the same value for quality work that I do at Avalaunch. So that’s, I would say that’s the biggest thing for me, that comes to mind.
Luke Alley (50:50):
Something that you did with the culture is you actually changed it for the better. You had some hard conversations on topics that sometimes people don’t want to go near, on equality, gender equality, gender pay equality. On more than that, you were really an advocate for a lot of people at the company. So tell us, kind of, the thought behind that, and if someone feels that culture can be improved, how can they go about that?
Britnee Bromley-Nuehring (51:15):
Yeah. I love that you brought that up. I would say, Luke, that I was really blessed to be at Avalaunch where it already had a culture where I felt like I could say what I was feeling, you know what I mean? And that is something that starts from the top, from the people at the very top. And when I did maybe see some blind spots, I think is what I tried to refer to them as, just areas where maybe the culture could be, and really the company, could be improved. I already knew that if I went in and kind of shared thoughts in the right way that they would be heard. I think that that’s an important call-out there too, is that if you’re wanting employees to be involved in your culture, then you need to have a management team that is fully ready to embrace what ideas or thoughts come from people regarding culture and the business.
Luke Alley (52:10):
You always were a light at Avalaunch, except for one day when you defaced my office and covered everything, actually I could not see any of my workspace, which caused major productivity declines. Do you remember that moment and what I’m talking about?
Britnee Bromley-Nuehring (52:27):
Of course I remember that moment. That’s one of, I mean, heaven forbid, I’m proud of any work that I did at Avalaunch. That’s probably my one shining achievement was when I covered your entire office, your mat, your mouse pad, everything in Christmas wrapping paper. It took me seven hours.
Luke Alley (52:45):
It was amazing. It was one of many things that you did to contribute to the culture, make it fun and make it an enjoyable place. So…
Britnee Bromley-Nuehring (52:52):
One last thought, as you brought up that story exactly, reflecting on all of this and the culture at Avalaunch, I would say that the culture is so powerful there because people could come as they were. You know what I mean? Like we had people, every day at four o’clock when Jason Passey would turn on, “Closing Time” and just be the biggest dork ever. People liked feeling like they could be them. And I could come in for five hours on a Sunday and know that my goofy effort would be well received by you. Do you know what I mean?
I think that, when we’re talking about culture being people it’s like, people need to feel like they can be themselves. And I think that’s when culture is so rich and great is when in its purest form, the people are in their purest form, you know? Talk about the things that they love and that bring them joy. People can come, their families can come in and visit them at work. It’s not weird if someone takes half a day off to go dirt biking. Like, that’s really important.
And I think that’s something that we talked a lot about at Avalaunch is the other things, the fact that Beau loves his, all of his race cars and his after-5:00 p.m. antics, and Garrett with his steaks. When you know about people and the things that they love and can like bring those and braid those into the workforce in appropriate times, that just gives everything more like life, you know?
Luke Alley (54:22):
I’ll close out today’s episode by mentioning a personal story, when Avalaunch culture did me well. I was having a hard time with a client, it was a personal friend that I was working with, and things weren’t going as planned. I felt like I was letting her down, my coworkers down, the Avalaunch owners down, pretty much everyone for a several-week period. I walked into my office one morning in early December of last year, and I found a bunch of Yeti grams. Now, Yeti grams are just little notes where people write nice thoughts and show appreciation. And that morning there were about 30 notes on my desk.
And I went through them each, read them all, and truly appreciated what people were saying. And it kind of took me out of my funk and it meant a lot to me. So to me, Avalaunch culture summed up is that experience and the people behind it. Thanks for listening.
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