Stay Weird, Be Human and Do Meaningful Work at Wistia
Inside of Wistia’s old headquarters, located just beyond the Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge, there was a mural that read, “stay weird.”
It’s something Director of Talent Taylor Roa thinks of often. For him, it served as a daily reminder to bring authenticity into the workplace. Now, as the team has seen growth, moved to offices across the street and transitioned to a hybrid model, the sentiment more so reflects the kind of people who make up the video marketing software company. “This is the most thoughtful, creative team I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “When people see others being creative and goofy and having fun, it almost gives you permission to do that yourself.”
The company’s carefree, creative culture acts as an active loop that feeds back into itself, which Roa said plays into how the brand is received: “It’s become so important for our brand. Our customers love to see the authenticity we put into our design and videos, and that also attracts people who want to be part of this.”
And attract people they have. Thanks in part to the draw of the company culture, benefits and structure, the team has expanded from a headcount of 92 in 2019 to 176 today. Some of that growth is also due to the people-first mindset of co-founders Chris Savage and Brendan Schwartz, who bought the company back from investors in 2018.
The buyback not only granted Wistia’s leadership the ability to take more control over the company’s structure, but it also meant Savage and Schwartz could lead with their values. “That’s enabled us to put our people first in really meaningful ways, especially through a traumatic two years in the pandemic,” said Roa.
Though they joined the Wistia team years apart, group product manager Carlon McPherson and software engineer Rachel Volpert were equally eager to leave behind the “growth-at-all-costs” mentality that weighed them down in prior roles. For Volpert, it was specifically the level of transparency coming from Wistia’s leadership that gave her confidence. “When I was deciding where to work, I talked to an engineering manager here and asked if the executive staff takes ownership when things don’t go well,” she explained. “I saw that in action my first week.”
Coming from a venture-backed startup, McPherson recalled burning out to keep up. “It didn’t resonate with how I wanted to build products,” he explained. “Wistia’s approach was really eye-opening for me, and it’s definitely been a big part of what attracted me to being here.”
Our customers love to see the authenticity we put into our design and videos, and that also attracts people who want to be part of this.”
Company Culture as a Product of People
No matter what role they fill, each Wistia employee seems to have their own anecdote about the moment they knew the company’s kind, thoughtful and collaborative culture was the right fit for them.
“For the first six months, I was waiting for the catch, because everything seemed too good. Everyone was so nice, and it was such a comfortable environment,” said Roa. Recalling the old wooden bleachers where he and his teammates would frequently hang out together over lunch in the office back in 2019, he added: “It had a palpable sense of community in terms of how people were building friendships and collaborating.”
An early impromptu opportunity sparked the feeling that McPherson was joining a fun workplace. “I got the chance to be an extra in a launch video for a feature during my first week,” he explained. “It was such a small thing, but it was the spontaneity of this fun and quirky creative culture.”
Well before she’d even officially joined the team, Volpert felt that click. “Software engineering interviews can be a slog, but all of my Wistia interviews were really fun. I genuinely enjoyed myself while talking with everyone,” she said. “I could tell they were all super kind and involved and loved working here.”
McPherson noted that being part of a team of genuine people makes it easier to effortlessly build meaningful relationships. “Wistia might be the first place I’ve worked where I feel like I’m able to bring my full self — with all of my quirks and personal interests — to work,” he said. “We’re building an environment where you’re encouraged to ask as many questions as you need to get up to speed.”
Volpert can also vouch for the team’s helpful nature following her recent onboarding experience. “I could tell they wanted to take me through the code and pair program with me,” she said. “It wasn’t just that people had to help me, it’s that they wanted to.”
Building Better Work Culture
Walking the Walk
McPherson appreciates Wistia’s approach to communications. Whether organizing a Covid-19 task force or addressing social justice issues that arose in 2020, the company never shied away from the human element. In fact, Wistia’s co-founders decided to briefly shut down the company to give employees room to process everything going on around them.
“When everyone was bringing that weight with them to work, the company did a really good job of being open and clear while still leaving space for us to feel that and live in it,” McPherson said. “When I think about that human-centric way of working and being authentic, the way we’ve communicated over these last couple of years has definitely demonstrated what I love about working at Wistia.”
While many tech companies have recently rethought how they address societal issues, Roa credits Wistia with working ahead of the curve. “In the realm of diversity and inclusion, people are so used to companies having a spiel and talking a big game,” he said. “When I joined, I was so surprised by how far ahead Wistia was on inclusion, yet how hard everyone was on themselves to do better.”
Keeping diversity and inclusion at the center of work allows Wistia to act on efforts beyond the confines of the people and operations teams. “There’s been a very clear plan that has evolved over time, and it’s become part of how we build products and facilitate meetings,” said Roa.
McPherson, who joined the diversity, equity and inclusion task force early in his tenure, appreciates both that Wistia’s DEI efforts come from the top of the organization and that it openly communicates about the opportunity to improve. “For someone like me, a person of color, I feel the importance of DEI is reflected in our goals, initiatives and hiring plans for the year,” he said. “Wistia has done a good job of being candid and saying, ‘We’re not where we want to be with this.’”
Benefits of Being a Wistian
Wistia’s people-first values come with benefits to match. “We’re always thinking about what’s competitive on the market and what’s becoming a new normal, because we want to be fair and compelling,” said Roa.
One such example is the 100 percent coverage on healthcare premiums for employees and their dependents. Roa, whose husband was still in the Air Force in 2019, was used to paying for double coverage due to the unreliability of the military’s TRICARE option. No longer having to sacrifice a portion of his paycheck to healthcare after becoming a Wistian, he was stunned. “I’d never worked anywhere that offered premium coverage I didn’t have to pay a dime for,” said Roa. “That was a huge signal of Wistia’s values.”
I feel like I’m able to bring my full self — with all of my quirks and personal interests — to work.”
Last year, family-focused benefits became extremely important to McPherson after he became a father to twins. Wistia’s family leave policy granted him 16 weeks to break up as he saw fit. “It’s not a common thing in America to see companies giving any parent that much time,” he said. “As a dad, that is so uncommon. I really cherished that time; it was pretty special to me and my family.”
Though Volpert has had less time to take advantage of benefits that apply to her, she’s looking forward to taking time off as needed. “I’ve never had unlimited paid time off before,” she said. “I appreciate the fact that managers stress that you should be taking the time, and it’s not just there for show.”
While many employees in tech are hesitant to make use of unlimited PTO, Roa explained that it’s something that Wistia’s leadership specifically designed to outrank competitors. “We stress that PTO is untracked, because at a lot of tech companies, that’s sort of a trap,” he said, adding that there’s no “imaginary line” drawn between too much or too little paid time off. “We know everyone on our team wants to make a positive impact, and we trust them to achieve positive outcomes in a way that is healthy and sustainable for them.”
A Flexible Place to Land
It goes without saying that the pandemic impacted companies in a myriad of ways — one of which was kicking off a wave of resignations from professionals rethinking their career priorities across nearly every industry. But as the Wistia team experienced significant growth throughout the Great Resignation, they had to respond to both the pandemic and labor market volatility accordingly.
The result was to go — and stay — hybrid.
While flexibility has always been a facet of Wistia’s culture, for many employees, the adoption of a hybrid schedule was invaluable. McPherson noted how many of his colleagues “figured out what they valued” and relocated to be closer to family or other needs. It offers similar lifestyle opportunities for Volpert, who loves to travel while still working. “I’m considering moving away from Boston, and I won’t have to find a new job,” she said. “It’s really nice to have the option to live however you want.”
Wistia’s Journey Through the Phases of the Great Resignation
- Phase one: Though the pandemic caused a lot of uncertainty, Roa noted that the company didn’t have a single layoff, thanks to the fact that Wistia spent the previous three years in the black. In fact, 2020 ended up being the best year ever for the company.
- Phase two: The pandemic also gave professionals time to reconsider what was important, such as meaningful work, connectedness and work-life balance. “We’ve had a lot of those things from the start, so when everyone was rushing to rehire, we did really well,” Roa said.
- Phase three: Today, Wistia is focused on being nimble and thoughtful about how benefits may evolve as the company grows. “We’re thinking proactively about how to stay competitive in a rapidly changing market while maintaining the culture and the human element that we’ve done so well on,” Roa said.
Settling into fatherhood, hybrid life is exactly what McPherson needs. “I’ve always valued the work-life balance I’ve had at Wistia, but in this new remote-hybrid mode, I feel like I’m getting the best of both worlds,” said McPherson. “I’m still productive and getting the work done, but it has made some things outside of work feel a lot easier.”
As workplace trends ebb and flow, Roa reflected on why Wistia remains committed to a hybrid approach. Being able to hire across the country expands the talent pool, while improving the overall employee experience. “We were really surprised at the start of the pandemic by how productive we were as a team and how our culture carried over in a remote world,” said Roa. The need to consider the involvement of fully remote employees has also required his team to build structures that ensure the entire distributed workforce has a voice in decisions that were once limited to the boundaries of an office.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement. While Wistia prides itself on its culture, Roa noted that these days the company finds itself competing with other offers that are far above typical rates, as more and more companies scramble to win talent in a tight market. “It speaks volumes that many candidates are still choosing fair, competitive and equitable compensation and an excellent culture over exorbitant amounts of cash,” he said. “It is our unwavering commitment to pay equity that keeps us from extending astronomical cash offers like other companies might. It’s also why we strive to be competitive on compensation while remaining fair for everyone and in all skill sets.”
It’s something Roa takes to heart because he knows there’s a reason — or rather many — why Wistia has continued to attract new talent at a rapid pace throughout the Great Resignation.
“Our mission is to make business more human with video,” said Roa. “The authenticity and the human element of this team is what makes Wistia a great workplace.”