Home Community How We Work: These Ex-Googlers Built A “Grown Up” Startup That Makes Sure Employees Know the FullStory

How We Work: These Ex-Googlers Built A “Grown Up” Startup That Makes Sure Employees Know the FullStory

by Holly Beilin

This is part of our How We Work series, which focuses on how successful southeastern tech companies are developing authentic work cultures.

“‘Culture’ is just novel ways of doing creative, random stuff,” COO Bruce Johnson shares as he walks around FullStory’s current office in Atlanta’s Armour Yards complex. 

The startup’s co-founder gave a colorful example of that “random stuff” — the company’s quarterly DERP, or Drop Everything for Recreational Play, bonding events. Rather than a stuffy cocktail hour or unimaginative team-building exercises, FullStory’s leaders come up with a unique activity that requires working with teammates and breaking down the usual office social barriers.

One DERP involved building Rube Goldberg machines, a thought experiment where a team uses random, everyday items to build a contraption that produces an outcome, like knocking over dominoes or breaking a watermelon. While the Rube-Goldberg Challenge DERP was held in the office, others involve outings.

This twist on company bonding shows off one side of FullStory, a four-year-old startup started by a founding team of ex-Googlers (and one early Silverpop employee). That’s the authentic, transparent, and at times, a little irreverent side. 

But when the founders and executives talk product, the other side quickly emerges: serious, focused, and highly-committed to building the fast-growing company.

The FullStory platform is kind of like Google Analytics, plus the very best team of (automated) customer support agents you’ve ever had. But that doesn’t really encompass the “full story.” Once the customer adds FullStory into their website, the user dashboard can give product teams full insight into what visitors are doing — every click, button press, page transition and more.

It also identifies and wards off moments of customer friction, before they escalate to full crash incidents. By identifying those moments of imperfect user experience, FullStory helps companies lower crashes, lessen the burden on customer support, and make better products.

“It’s actually really rewarding to try to sell here,” says Johnson, one of the original founders alongside Scott Voigt (CEO) and Joel Webber (CTO). When customers get a demo of the product, he describes how their faces “literally light up.” 

The three didn’t originally set out to create this platform. In the early 2000’s they worked together at another startup, which was acquired by Google. They became the first members of the Google Atlanta office and were there for seven years.

It was while at Google that Johnson says he really identified how a high-performing, fast-moving company should be run.

“Never having worked at a company like Google, it was refreshing to see how successful it can be if you just hire really smart people and let them do their thing,” he says.

But in 2012 the trio got the startup itch once again. They quit their jobs and begin building a platform that originally was a marketing collaboration tool. 

The tech was solid, but the customers just weren’t sticking.

“We thought, ‘if we could just see what our users are doing, we’d know what to change.’ And Joel was like, ‘I think I can build that.’” That conversation turned into FullStory.

Now about 120 employees, the startup began generating revenue almost immediately from inbound, self-service customers. They also took seed funding from a group that included GV (formerly Google Ventures) and cybersecurity expert Tom Noonan. 

The company has since raised a Series A of $10 million and a Series B of $15 million last year, adding Salesforce Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Beyers to their investor roster. GV has participated in every investment round.

Through the years of fast growth they’ve seen, the founders have really tried to maintain that Google attitude of equal parts warmth, focus, and, as illustrated by the DERPs, a dash of silliness. 

They also set themselves apart by offering employees, if not Google-level benefits, very generous packages for a company of their size. That means a two-to-one 401(k) match, a robust health and dental plan, a minimum of six weeks parental leave for all employees, and a flexible, trust-based vacation policy.

“This company was founded by founders with an average of two and a half kids,” says Gabby Sirner-Cohen, FullStory’s VP of People Operations who the team brought over from Google. “There’s a grown-up mentality.”

Johnson agrees, emphasizing that they trust their employees to be transparent and not take advantage of the freedom. “We’ve worked at startups where the more you work, the cooler you are,” he says. “When I go on vacation I uninstall email and Slack, and I welcome my employees to do the same.”

That transparency is reflected in all aspects of their employee communication, notably at the Friday afternoon standup meetings that at FullStory, are called “Hug It Out.” Each week the leaders review the current numbers, quarterly goals and progress against goals, and what they need to improve.

Engineers stand up for product demos, and anyone in the company can share a “toast,” a thank you or acknowledgment of another employee. To Sirner-Cohen, these toasts are just as important to company-wide success as the numbers review.

“I think the downstream effect is it makes people much less likely to say ‘that’s not my job’,” she says.

That combination of values — hard work with transparency and warmth — is encompassed in one of the company’s most unique roles: the Hugger. A combination of customer experience, customer support, product management and engineering, FullStory’s dozen-plus Huggers are a very functional team, taking questions and comments from customers, working to troubleshoot issues, providing feedback for engineers, and essentially working as the front lines to make sure Johnson’s vision of a “perfect” customer experience is realized.

One might imagine that this role is not an easy one to step into — and indeed, working at FullStory in general requires navigating a comprehensive, robust hiring process. Johnson places a high emphasis on technical chops, while Sirner-Cohen describes a culture-fit interview that really tries to get at the core of who a candidate is and whether they will be a good fit.

“Are they willing to yell at us if we’re doing it wrong? A lot of it is authenticity,” says Johnson.

The team is seeing a lot of candidates lately as they continue to grow quickly. Johnson predicts that they’ll hit the over-200 mark within the year, and they just broke ground on a new 49,200-square-foot office in Midtown Atlanta that can fit 300-400.

Though growth is inevitable and necessary, Johnson does share that they’re very deliberate about the people they actually need to deliver on their mission. Along with “empathy” and “clarity”, FullStory’s last “watch word” (their name for values) is “bionics.”

“Bionics is the quality whereby you take a human quality and you scale that,” Johnson explains. “You scale what is worth scaling.”

Photos courtesy of FullStory

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