Can you crowdfund your way to a better culture at your company?

By Adam Siegel on August 14, 2018

We recently did a project with a private company doing quite well in the marketplace. Its products are widely used globally; it's a well known consumer and professional brand; and its growth over the past few years has been spectacular. Financially, the company is on really solid footing. 

But culturally, there were storm clouds. Growth has meant employing a few hundred people to a few thousand in only a few years. The CEO recognized this and lamented at the company's loss of its original hacker/builder culture which was not only willing to take more risks and experiment, but felt more tight knit and authentic. 

As is customary when issues like this arise, the CEO gathered his top lieutenants for a retreat to discuss how they could recreate the culture of yore. Together they came up with a series of ideas and returned to the office the following week to announce them. Unfortunately, the ideas were met with an almost universal groan from employees. 

The executives had a mixed reaction. Some were indignant, not understanding why these were ideas that would never work. Fortunately others, including the CEO, quickly understood their mistake. These executives, who made high 6-figure salaries and who were years removed from doing actual product development, sales, or marketing, or didn't come up through the company didn't live the culture anymore, so how could they prescribe a fix for it? The company needed to start over again with an entirely different approach. 

Enter our protagonist (we'll call him Z to protect his identity!), an employee typically responsible for running an incubation lab who had worked at the company over 20 years. He contacted the CEO with a simple solution: flip the equation and have employees come up with ideas for driving new cultural initiatives. The ideas would feel much more organic and authentic versus more corporate BS. 

The CEO gave him $1M and said "go do it." 

There are lots of well tread ways to go collect ideas from employees, but Z knew idea inboxes or entire innovation management systems weren't right for this. Instead he landed on a crowdfunding model like Kickstarter to spend his $1M in two $500k increments, and quickly found Cultivate Ignite, our internal crowdfunding application specifically designed for use with employees and "house money."

From there, things went quickly. Z defined some guide posts for people's idea submissions, then made an announcement to the employee population at their HQ, where a vast majority of employees are located: "for the next 4 weeks, submit your ideas. Anyone who participates in that process by either submitting, commenting, or editing an idea will then receive a portion of the $500k to invest. Then for 2 more weeks, invest your money in whatever project you want. Those projects that reach their desired funding level will get the allocated budget and will be executed. Those that don't will get nothing." 

Participation was phenomenal with over 50 ideas being submitted by over 70% of those invited. Critically, Z worked with each idea submitter to help craft their idea further or let them know right away it was unfeasible (e.g. Seasonal BBQ's on the building's roof!). He also helped many people create videos about their ideas, generating compelling visuals that accompanied their write ups. 

In the end, 15 ideas were fully funded, from a trail mix station, to a builders day, to a workplace CSA, to 100 subscriptions for the meditation app "Headspace." 

Hardcore corporate types may dismiss these ideas as frivolous or not mission critical, but employees were thrilled with the outcome, and several ideas have already been implemented. 

Z even got a complimentary email at the conclusion of the crowdfunding campaign, which will be repeated now bi-annually due to its success. Unlike so many other cultural initiatives, this one has definitely moved the needle.

From: "CEO"
Subject: Re: Crowdfunding - That's a wrap - and it's just the beginning
Date: June 30, 2018 at 6:26:42 AM EDT
To: "Z"

Hi Z,
Congratulations on this successful first crowd-sourcing campaign! This is really exciting, and there are some great projects among the 15.

You've done a fantastic job -- from the early moments when you were formulating this idea through platform selection, roll-out and awareness -- in moving this forward. A fantastic job.


Interested in running an internal crowdfunding campaign at your company? Contact us. Or:

Adam Siegel, CEO Cultivate Labs

By: Adam Siegel

Adam is the CEO and Co-Founder of Cultivate Labs.

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