Culture Factor 2.0

How to Get On the Inc. 5000 List for Best Places to Work Eight Years In a Row

Episode Summary

Vincent Sharps, is the EVP & Chief Business Officer at Mindgrub. He breaks down for us how to maintain a very strong, an Inc 5000 list strong, company culture. Doing this eight years in a row is not easy, but Mindgrub is leading the way in what it means to be intentional and inclusive about company culture.

Episode Transcription

 

Holly Shannon 

We want to thank our listeners for joining the culture factor and ask that you subscribe rate and consider leaving a review. We'd love to hear who you'd like to listen to next. As co-producers and hosts I'm Holly Shannon and along with Paul Jones, we welcome you to another great episode of the culture factor. 

 

Paul Jones 

As Mindgrubs EVP and Chief Business Officer Vince leads a diverse team of strategists and marketers to grow Mindgrub's impact within Baltimore and beyond. He is the son of a retired US Air Force officer and spent most of his childhood traveling around the country and the world. Vince attributes his worldview and character to his upbringing abroad. traveling the world at a young age showed him how fortunate he was especially relative To the youth and other countries, this perspective laid a firm foundation for his belief in the power of compassion. After settling in Maryland in his early 20s, Finn's became a partner in a printing firm. He has had an entrepreneurial spirit ever since. Being a young entrepreneur empowered him to be an advocate for people in his community and beyond. A former cast member on the Fox reality television show "Goodfellas of Baltimore". He has also supported and sponsored many nonprofit and networking organizations in the Baltimore area and is one of the founding members of the network for a cure. Baltimore's business networking in Baltimore means business. It's a pleasure to have Vince on the show and today we're going to talk about how he's helped mine grub. Get on the Inc 5000 list eight years in a row. That is something that is not easy to do, especially when you have over 100 employees. You know, usually, around 50 to 100 employees is where the culture of your business is no longer easy to maintain and you have to be very intentional about how you're building your culture. excited to dive into this topic with him, let's get started. 

 

Holly Shannon 

So hello Vincent sharp Welcome to the culture factor.

 

Vincent Sharps 

Thank you very much for having me.

 

Paul Jones 

I'm actually really excited to unpack mine grub and the culture that you guys have built there. I was on your website earlier and the video the highlight reel you have on your website is awesome. I just have I listened to that music all day long if I could. 

 

Vincent Sharps 

I also love the track we chose.

 

Paul Jones 

Yeah,the footage and everything and it's no wonder you regularly get one of the best places to work. You're up there in Baltimore, Maryland. You can look online and you can see a lot of the different you know, you can see your office and it looks like a great place to work. So I want to jump in Could you tell us a little bit about the stuff that you're doing at Mindgrub and the culture you have over there? Sure.

 

Vincent Sharps 

So, Mindgrub, we're, you know, we're I think we're adjusted about a little over right around 150 employees. We're a digital agency full service and, you know, we started as a kind of a production house. The story goes, our CEO was working for Deloitte, you know, this was back right after the early 2000s. And, you know, cold winter day up in New York doing the road warrior thing. The bus goes by splashes him with some cold water from the street. The iPhone comes out the next day, and he's just like, that's it. You know, I'm done. I'm starting my own agency. And with four interns from a local College, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, he started mine grub in his basement, and I tell this story because it really lays the foundation for our culture. He started the company being able to identify the potential in four interns from a local college. And it really, you know, as I said, set the foundation for how we still hire today, you know, we really promote personal and professional growth. We encourage people to be the best versions of themselves. They're their authentic self. We want people to do the best work that they can do. So like you said, you know, we're we just found out last week that we're, again on the Inc 5000 list, and that's for the eighth year in a row. There aren't too many companies that can say that they've been on the Inc 5000 list eight years in a row. And while we don't have the largest agency, we really hit hard in our weight class. We compete with the Deloitte in the Accenture's on a regular basis for very large enterprise product builds And, you know, we really don't quite have a quite a bit for me.

 

Paul Jones 

I love it and you kind of the sense that I get, I mean, you're in an industry that requires a lot of creativity. It requires a lot of just being able to be, you know, graphics and development and thinking on the fly and trying new things and breaking things. And so, one of the conversations that we had earlier was when you and you've kind of been a huge advocate of building this intentional culture. What are some of the things that you focus on as an executive team when it comes to considering the clients that you have to work with and the culture that you want to build? What are some of those mainstays that you think of that are important to to be able to perpetuate that creativity and inside your workforce?

 

 

Sure. I mean, you have to hire problem solvers. You have to hire out of the box thinker's. Just earlier today I was talking to our CEO, Todd Marks and we're hiring someone in our accounting department. But we were talking about someone we had met earlier in an event, you know, pre COVID, who isn't even an accounting, but that person, you know, we could tell had the right tools. And we thought, why don't we give them a call and see if we can give them a try. So we can teach a lot, but there are certain intangibles you can't teach, which are, you know, the problem solving and the out of the box thinking. So, you know, we definitely, you know, we pride ourselves in that and, you know, just to touch on the elephant in the room during these times during COVID. You have to do things differently. You have to do everything faster. If you used to have a meeting that was an hour, try to get that meeting down to 30 minutes, and if there were things that are duplicative, you know, see if you can combine them and Because you have to, you know, really try to reduce your team's anxiety. Everybody's you know, living a little bit high strung right now for the obvious reasons. So by talking about everything and long term goals, it allows you to keep that culture at the forefront. And, you know, these aren't, these aren't things that are new in leadership, you know, everybody's trying to do these things from fortune, you know, 100 companies all the way down to small business. But we really take these things seriously. Our CEO makes these things a priority for us in our leadership team, and we try to cascade these things down to our directors and managers.

 

Holly Shannon 

You had said that the company was started with college interns. So, you know, nowadays that would be also termed like digitally native employees. How do you stay cool Soldiers feel about working with that young talent? Do you? Do they? Do you find that that's almost like your secret sauce that what makes mine grub stand out from other agencies is that you're working with talent, that sort of approach to the digital universe very differently because most people would be saying, well, don't you want to hire people who have experience in agencies and you kind of started differently? And it sounds like you continued to run a little differently? No, this is certainly true. And don't get me wrong. We certainly also do hire experience or people with experience and you know, the immediate thought is that translates into an age thing, but what we're looking for is just the experience if you can do the job. And yes, you know, we would like to think that one of the things we do best and it costs into our culture is that we can spot potential. So if you can do the job and you can prove that you can learn that, that skill, we're going to give you a shot. So we certainly do have, you know, people with more experience, but we like to look for people that have potential. And that's the kind of thing that has really kind of molded our culture, it's certainly been one of those things. I think you could really build on strengthening company culture, when you're using that technique where you bring people in that you not only have potential but can become emerging leaders within the organization, and maybe take you to that next level. Absolutely. I mean, we have you know, I know this sounds cliche nowadays, but we really do have a work hard, play hard kind of atmosphere. We have people that will do whatever it takes to get the job done for our clients. You know now with being remote, that gives a lot of flexibility and sure we miss hanging out with each other, but we're doing all kinds of things and these are things that we've done pre COVID but we have a ton of clubs we have a fun committee that plans activities like cooking classes, and happy hours and game nights. We do a mind rub cribs where people can walk you through in a virtual environment obviously walk you through their house and everybody asked questions and it gets really fun and intimate. We even have a hot sauce club. So you know we have a lot of co-workers that hang out outside of work. I can think of at least a handful of people off the top of my head, who their best friend also works at mine grub, I can tell you about some engagements and weddings that came out of mine grub. The community has you know dubbed our employees mind grubbers. We really have a culture that we nurture we water every day. And it really comes out in the quality of our work because that's what we're really known for. We're known for our people and putting out the best product. Any agency or consultancy of our caliber can deliver.

 

Paul Jones 

So you have the track record, I mean, eight years on the Inc 5000 Best Places to Work is amazing. So the consistency alone is incredible. What and you talked a little bit about making sure that you're hiring to the right people. What are some of those other factors that are leading to that consistent ranking for you guys?

 

Holly Shannon 

You know, we, we do so we've had to transition? You know, your marketing you can't do in-person events. It's something that we've done in the past extremely well. We do in-person events really well. We had A mind grew up outdoor speaker series, we had to figure out how to pivot that into the virtual environment, as well as a lot of other activities, you know, that we did in a, in a virtual environment. But because our people are known as the top talent, we've had some incredible, you know, numbers as far as attendance with our virtual events. So we've been able to pivot, you know, these live in-person events that we were doing that were very successful into equally successful virtual events. And, as we both know, in this, we all know, you know, in this, this during the pandemic, and the isolation, you've been on some webinars, I'm sure like I have with some really big names and you're sitting, they expect to, you know, hundreds of thousands of people to show up and you see those numbers like 15, you know, 45, and I'm not gonna call a couple of these folks out, but we're talking about Huge names that Phil arenas. And we've been able to be talking about things that are relative not being tone-deaf, putting on virtual events that are just getting some outstanding attendance, and obviously you have to deliver great content. But people aren't there to a week. I guess my point is we couldn't do that. If our employees, and if we weren't known as the best talent out there, nobody would want to hear from us. So that really speaks to our culture, and the fact that that is permeated, you know, out into the ether. You know, it's one of the things that I'm certainly most proud to be a part of. I work with the smartest people on the planet every day, you know, it's just every day. It's just you really feel lucky to work with such talented folks. You know, it might be interesting. You've had so much luck with the virtual events that even when we come out of the pandemic, you might want to hybrid and have live and virtual Cuz it sounds like, I really have the audience in both places. Oh, yeah, so virtual events aren't going anywhere. We've, you know, just to give you, you know, some numbers, you know, we've, you know, figured out that, you know, our attendance is just about equal our productivity while being virtual, just as a company is actually up. Of course, we know that you know, tech is the only industry that I think unemployment has gone from 2.5 to I think it's 1.6%. So it's the only industry to actually have gone down. So, you know, there's a lot of talent out there right now. And, you know, it's unfortunate that a lot of places are seeing a lot of hardships and, you know, that's, that's hard to see. And we're, we're cognizant of that, but we've been able, because of that also to pick up some great talent, you know, we've, we've hired, I think, 27 people over the last three months, we probably have two dozen open positions. So our Our growth has continued right through COVID. It's a testament to our culture, though it's a testament to our people, our people, our product as much as what we deliver to our clients.

 

Paul Jones 

Mm-hmm. That's such a good point. And I've heard this saying a lot. And I think that you're supporting this, which is that culture, your brand is the culture inside out. So who you have what your culture exists inside of your company. That's what that's the experience people are going to have with your brand. And if your secret sauce is hiring people that you see potential in and then bringing top talent in that it's just a matter of being able to showcase the top talent that you do have in mind grow, but being able to create a culture where people feel like they are that top talent as well. I think is would be really important for you guys. How are you? You know you you've talked a little bit about the interview process and seeing the potential Is there anything you can share with our audience that would help us understand what that actually looks like for you at Mindgrub

 

Vincent Sharps 

I mean, so we're totally transparent. You know, we've, our CEO really runs the company, like a publicly-traded company, and all of our metrics in our monthly, you know, all-hands meetings are shown in graphs like a stock ticker. And those things have been featured on you know, a couple, you know, media outlets over the last four months. So we're very transparent we showcase our culture out there on social media and lots of different marketing campaigns. So it doesn't take a lot to see what you're you're getting should you want to come to mind grow. So some of the ways that you know, we, we try to bring talent in and inner interview town is, you know, really true To ask them how they think they might fit in. And sometimes, you know, we might find out all kinds of things like somebody has way more other talents than what we're actually interviewing them for. And often, we think we're hiring somebody for one position, and we end up hiring them for another position. So really getting really in-depth, I guess, with our, with our, with our, you know, our people who are applying for positions in mind grubbing, you know, we often find out a lot of new information which, you know, takes them in a different direction, sometimes than we thought and that's something that, you know, we don't just look at a stack of resumes. And, you know, look for keywords, we're really looking for specific things that will let us know that they could be a good culture fit first.

 

Holly Shannon 

Yeah, you know, when you focus aren't just those algorithms, right? I call it the algorithm soup. You know, like, if you don't check certain boxes, you fall into the pot of soup, and you never make it to the desk of the HR and you could be losing out on somebody who's truly special. That's it. Let me ask you this question. So there's a culture of ownership. So ownership implies to me that you're supporting almost like an entrepreneurial drive within the company because everybody's got such unique talents, and that's why you bring them in. So you know, some people call that like intrapreneurship. So for somebody to take ownership and make it feel like it's theirs, but, um, do you have like maybe an example of a story that you might be able to share of where that really came into play and how mind grub sort of embraced that, so that our listeners can have a sense of the inner workings.

 

Vincent Sharps

So our CEO Todd Mark is truly pulled off. The best magic trick that every CEO tries to do with his leadership team, which is that we, all take ownership of this company Mindgrub is though it was our own baby. And he's intentionally hired a leadership team where we are all very entrepreneurial. And that is also cascaded down into how our leadership hires. I think everyone on our leadership team of 12 has owned an agency or company of their own. So when I say we're truly entrepreneurial, we've all we are all actually entrepreneurs. A good example of this is one of our subsidiaries is mind robotics and ours our Chief Technology Officer Jason Perry. Once the robotics craze was hitting, you know, his, his frontal lobe when we were out at CES a couple of years ago, and We saw a lot of the robots that were being showcased at CES. And they were basically just tablets, you know, on an on a circle, which you're going to call ahead and, you know, just basically tablets on an machine that was moving around nothing really special when I saw those in Palo Alto, and it was a couple of years ago, and Jason said, You know what, we can build something better. We get back to our office and within a very short amount of time, we launched mind robotics, with our Chief Technology Officer, as a co-founder, totally funded and you know, as a project of mine grow. So when we see those in, and that's just one example. And there's several I'm, I'm also the co-founder of our government, division, mine gov where we're trying to just replicate what we've done in the private sector and the public sector, and we've picked up some huge contracts, actually, just over The last six months with several different branches of government, we work with NASA. So, when we see an opportunity, you know, there's the backing of your company which nothing really feels better than knowing that that support is there. And we go all in. So that is one of the things that makes us totally unique. We have several different entrepreneurial companies within my group.

 

Holly Shannon 

That's really great. And let me ask what are we asking you about company culture and about Mindgrub and why it's so successful.

 

Vincent Sharps 

You know, like, I like I said, it, it's a special place, but it's not magic. Um, when you kind of, you know, when you kind of put together the formula that I have that I've come have explained that is truly what we, what we live inbreathe and we and we, you know, it's just part of our DNA when you support your people when you know, during a time like that when you lower people's anxiety by talking about long term goals, when you have lots of outlets, and you know when and when your people know that there's nothing you can't bring to your manager or leadership to make your life better at work, which obviously goes into your personal life. It creates a really special place like Mindgrub. And that's what we truly, truly have. And like I said, it's from our different clubs and our diversity inclusion committees and all of our different committees and our fun committee and all of the different activities that we have We actually have calendar events every month. And like I said, we've hired 27 people over the last three months and every Tuesday we have a social distance outside of our office, new hire breakfast, where if you want to come in and be able to meet some of the leadership will all come in and we'll meet you, we, we do that twice a month. So we can still have that personal connection during this very virtual time. Good.

 

Paul Jones 

I was gonna say, you know, if I was to get on some of your social groups, social media, I would see a lot of the stuff that you know, we think of a lot of people think of with a new tech company, ping pong, foosball, free food, all of that kind of thing. And you haven't mentioned that at all on the podcast, because really, yeah, dive into that a little bit for us. Because is that culture is that not because you're talking a lot about, you're talking a lot about way more important things than just that.

 

Vincent Sharps 

It's totally Not culture. Do we have all those things when we were in a physical environment, the free food, and catered lunch every day? And the coolest office you've ever seen? Absolutely. I mean, they call us the Google or the East in Baltimore. I mean, we have one of the coolest offices you've ever seen a climbing wall, we built a replica of the Star Trek holodeck. All those things. And that's where we, you know, we originally tested and built a lot of our VR and AR software. In our lab division, yes, we have all of those very cool things. But that's not what makes culture and that's why you know, what the real challenge is, why don't you try to keep that culture cohesive during a global pandemic, and global social justice movement. So while all those things are very cool, those aren't the things that inspire people and what inspires people is knowing their leadership has their back. What inspires people is knowing that during a crisis, they are the first thing that their leadership is thinking about, and making sure that their needs are taken care of. So that was the challenge. And luckily, we just have an extremely strong foundation at our leadership off-site that our CFO CEO took us on. I think this was last summer. So about a year ago now. We, you know, we identified it's been a 10-year bull market, you know, there's an election coming up next year, there's going to be some kind of disruption in this 30% per year growth that we've been experiencing. So let's really, you know, look at that, let's dissect that and figure out what are the things we can do to be as secure as possible? should this happen? We didn't think it would be an obvious of a global pandemic, but we looked at some of the industries we were in, do we Want to be in heavily in hospitality anymore? So we really looked at the industries that we were in, we do 30% of our business, just about is in the utilities and energy sector. People are always going to have to pay their energy though. But again, those things speak to our culture. We don't do these things. Because when you do these things because the obvious goals if you want to continue to make money as a business, but you do these things, and you want to make money as a business, so you can keep growing and take care of your employees. And that's, I really think that's, that's in our core. Again, it's in our DNA.

 

Paul Jones 

Wow, that's amazing. I really love that. Did you figure that out? And I'm really glad that actually that last question on Earth, sort of that human side that you're really focused on during COVID because I think it's really great to hire people and to have that culture of ownership, but when times are really Scary and tough like they are now to know that you dialed in on just being human together and helping people out within your community and using the clubs maybe even, you know, keep people open-minded to sharing and helping each other. That's really amazing. Absolutely. You know, we, because of everything that's going on in the world right now, you know, a lot of our employees came and said, You know, there are certain

 

Vincent Sharps 

there are certain causes that I feel really passionate about right now. There are certain groups that I think we should take a look at, you know, that maybe we should be partnering with. Our ideas come from everywhere. You know, we can be in a stand up on a project, and a lead developer will come to me and say, you know, I have this idea for a marketing campaign. Our ideas come from everywhere, everybody is comfortable, regardless of what position you're in at the company, or where you sit in what direction To speak with anybody across the board if an idea comes to mind about just about anything, but as you said, we've done a lot of partnering with the community now, you know, we, we started printing, we have a bunch of 3d printers and we started printing clips for face masks for local hospitals. We partnered with a lot of different nonprofits for initiatives from, you know, feeding our frontline workers and our essential workers to lots of different initiatives. So showing that you care that comes, you know, that's, that's a that's got to be a company-wide initiative. And we've tried to help out just about all the different causes that were brought to us from our employees.

 

Paul Jones 

Yeah, it seems like it's not just showing that you care. A lot of companies are gonna say that's a bonus check. It's, it's showing that you care about what your employees care about, and you want to support them. And that would actually, that kind of goes and supports what you're saying in terms of intrapreneurship. And it sounds to me like, you know, where a lot of companies might have diversity, they certainly don't have inclusion and you have been able to build a culture of inclusion. And because I can come on as an employee and I have all these opportunities to join clubs or join an initiative than an employee put on, you're creating this inclusive community where I feel like I can go and plug into a group of people that I can be a part of. One mind grubbers, unite. 100.

 

Vincent Sharps 

And we really do have you know, we have lots of different things for lots of different interests. So, I mean, we have a hot sauce club, and these guys get together and you know, we'll try different hot sauce We have a beer club that gets together and everybody brings a different beer from around the world. And they sit and they do a tasting. I mean, we have just about every that we have a gamers club. Of course, that's not too hard to imagine coming from an agency, but we have something for every interest. And if there's something that you want to start, all you got to do is go ahead and do it.

 

Paul Jones 

Yeah. So what does that look like Vince, if I, let's see, I want to start a club to how do I do that? Do I need to go to HR for that? Or what does that look like in your company?

 

Vincent Sharps 

So yeah, I mean, you have to go to HR. And then you know, we have budgets, set aside for our different clubs. And, you know, it's really as easy as going to HR and talking to, you know, some of your colleagues who also have that interest in finding a group to start that you know, that first club event or club meeting, and then you're off to the races. You know, it's really that that easy. And like I said, a lot of our employees are, you know, they, they hang out together outside of work, you know, I just saw something we had a group of employees that went and found a secluded beach down in Virginia and they were all there this past weekend. I you know, I saw that on social media over the weekend. So we were very, very tight. And like I said, that it's been something that's been cultivated and it's going back to our roots, you know, in our CEOs basement, or 2003.

 

Paul Jones 

From your perspective, you know, a lot of companies don't focus have this focus on connection and clubs and things like that. How important how is how key has this idea of connecting employees through clubs been for you guys?

 

Vincent Sharps 

Oh, it's been very key. And look, I'm not naive. We're very fortunate right now to still be growing at the same rate that we were pre COVID. A lot of companies are not that fortunate and have had considerably more hardship. So I'm not naive, I know that a lot of things can change for all of us with another new cycle. So we're very fortunate to have this continued growth and the good problem of not having enough talent fast enough. So, those are good problems to have. Right? But it's still, you know, having those, clubs, those groups, it's what truly keeps us connected. You know, after our monthly all-hands meeting, you know, will stay on and sometimes people stay on for an extra hour or two, you know, so we'll end up with, you know, 30 to 40 people after our monthly all-hands meeting, which, you know, we try to make as exciting as possible, but you're basically going through a lot of deep departmental metrics and numbers, and everybody will stay on and because you'll hear people say things like, Man, it's really good to see you look at your new haircut, and, you know, all those kind of things. So we truly care about one another. And I know that sound might sound a little corny, but we really do operate as a family.

 

Holly Shannon 

Yeah, I was gonna say it's hard to get to, to be able to be to that point. I think a lot of companies talk about the place where they work has that sense of community and they're like family, but it's, it's really for optics, and it sounds like yours is the complete opposite, that you've actually really created it. It really exists. And you truly have this special company and family unit within mine grab I pledge I think it's fantastic Vincent Bravo for creating this with your teams. 

 

Vincent Sharps 

Thanks. I mean it's true it is a special place and, you know,we're creating some of the, you know, coolest products. You know, again we're we've been so fortunate because we do work across so many verticals, so many industries. So, being able to help so many different kinds of companies from enterprise to your, you know, mid-market and startups with digital transformation journey during this, you know, isolation this pandemic and can continue to grow has been pretty awesome. It's been pretty amazing.

 

Holly Shannon 

Well, I think that Mindgrubbers are going to be on the Inc 5000 for our ninth year in a row with the best place to work. So I'm gonna close on this note saying thank you so much, Vincent. This was amazing. And we look forward to seeing your upward trajectory in the digital transformation space.

 

Vincent Sharps 

Awesome. Thank you guys so much for having me. It's been a pleasure. Thanks a lot, Vince.