Meet Rod Hamilton. Co-founder of CultureAmp, a powerful employee feedback and analytics platform that helps companies create better workplaces. Their list of innovative clients includes Adobe, Airbnb, Pixar, and Pinterest. This is his entrepreneurial story.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
The very original idea of Culture Amp came from our CEO, Didier Elzinga. He’d been working as the CEO of a visual effects company for about 5 years and he decided to take on the challenge to build software around a problem domain that he was truly passionate about – people. In particular, helping people build a better company culture.
At the time I was working in the Enterprise Tech space in solution architecture and people leadership roles. The projects I worked on would often run for several years with hundreds of employees across multiple companies. I was there to lead projects that were trying to solve technical problems but what became clear to me was that success rarely came down to the technical solution. We could always innovate or brute force technical problems to get an outcome but it was usually the people side of things that determined success or failure. The idea of co-founding a business that helped other companies improve their people strongly resonated with me – I could see how Culture Amp could have helped me.
How did you get your business started?
When we started, we essentially had a big idea, a prototype and a very short runway. We were bootstrapping but were fortunate that we could arrange short-term consulting contracts to keep running when things got tight. We learnt the hard way what happens when you build a product without a sustainable business model. Our first product, a continuous performance review platform took us 12 months to kill. We won a few notable customers along the way, but if anything they just made us hang on to a bad idea for longer than we should have. Fortunately, we got better at killing bad ideas and after a second failed product we hired Jason McPherson and created our Employee Feedback and Analytics platform. This platform is designed to make it easy for individuals, teams, and entire companies to learn faster through feedback. We got traction with this one and we now have more than 1000 companies all over the world using it to improve their culture.
Who has been your favourite/most rewarding client to work with?
We’ve been really fortunate to work with many phenomenal companies such as Airbnb, Pixar, and Warby Parker. The company that the greatest impact on us though was Adobe. At the time we were still just 5 people and we only had half of a product that we completely rebuilt in 3 months to get it to perform at the scale we needed to support them. I was doing daily calls with their team in the US to keep things on track and it was a particularly tough grind to meet their demanding deadlines but we got through it. While the results were wildly successful, they took a big gamble on us so early on in our journey. I’m proud to say that members of their original team have become good friends and they’ve been great ambassadors for us ever since.
How important has it been for you to have a mentor?
Mentors have always been important to me, but they’re not always the people you’d expect. I’m very lucky to have some very talented co-founders who I get to collaborate with day to day. Outside of work, my brother has always been there to offer advice and help me keep things in perspective. I also learn a lot from working with our employees and I think it’s important to stay connected with many different people across your business to get a range of perspectives on the problem you’re solving.
What are your top 3 tips for starting a business?
- Pick a big problem that you’re truly passionate about. You’re going to need to agonise over this problem to be successful in solving it, so make sure it’s something you’re willing to hurt for.
- Find great co-founders and surround yourself with good people. They are the difference between success and failure so you want them to be equally passionate about the problem you’re solving and importantly, they need to be fun to work with.
- It’s not nearly as scary as you originally think. I hesitated a lot before leaving my well-paid job working for ‘the man’ to start Culture Amp with Doug, Jon and Didier. I had a three-month-old son and a nice fat mortgage so it felt extremely risky to try this. What I came to realise with the help of my family and friends was that it was riskier not to give it a go. It’s not every day that you find both a problem worth solving and a great team to solve it with.