- HubSpot makes inbound marketing and sales software. The company was rated one of the best workplaces in 2018.
- HubSpot’s culture was strongly influenced by Netflix’s.
- Employees like its support, flexibility, autonomy, and close bonds between coworkers.
In 2014, Rosalia Cefalu had a wild idea.
A diehard Justin Timberlake fan, she wanted to follow him on his year-long, nationwide tour. But she also had a full-time job, as an associate marketing manager at HubSpot, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
One of the oft-touted benefits of working at Hubspot is the flexibility to tweak your workday so it suits you better — but Cefalu wasn’t talking about coming in late one morning. She wanted to be out of the office for a full year.
Understandably, she was trepidatious about asking her manager for permission. She’d be working odd hours, often from a train.
But Cefalu was “baffled,” she told me, when her manager said, “Cool. Have so much fun. Send some pictures. You’ll get your work done.”
Cefalu, now 27 and a sales productivity manager at HubSpot, said, “That always blew my mind that I was able to do something that made me really happy and still be able to be a productive employee.”
That support and flexibility is part of what makes HubSpot one of the best companies to work for in the US.
This year, HubSpot ranked as the third-best tech company to work for, behind only Google and Facebook, according to Glassdoor’s annual Employee Choice Awards. Job-hunting and employee review site Comparably, meanwhile, ranked HubSpot the second-best large company in the US, again just behind Google (but outranking Facebook).
Both Glassdoor and Comparably rank companies based on how many reviews the company has received and whether those reviews are positive.
HubSpot, which makes inbound marketing and sales software, is headquartered in Cambridge, with offices all over the world. In total, over 1,960 employees work at the company.
I recently spoke to a number of HubSpot staffers, including the company’s chief people officer, to find out what makes the organization such an enviable place to work.
HubSpot’s culture isn’t for everyone
When I set out reporting, one of the only things I knew about HubSpot was that it was the subject of “Disrupted,” a 2016 book by Dan Lyons. After getting laid off from Newsweek, Lyons, a seasoned journalist in his 50s, joined Hubspot in a marketing role and found it to be a somewhat ageist, cultish, and mismanaged organization.
Then, before “Disrupted” was even published, HubSpot’s chief marketing officer was fired for trying to snag an advance manuscript of the book.
Lyons’ account — and the controversy surrounding it — doesn’t seem to have dissuaded hundreds of current and former HubSpot employees from leaving glowing reviews on Glassdoor. For example, from a review titled “BEST job I’ve ever had“: “I’m surrounded all day by brilliant, thoughtful, and ambitious people.”
‘We’re a team, not a family’
HubSpot borrowed much of its company culture from Netflix (No. 9 on Comparably’s list). In fact, Patty McCord, Netflix’s former chief talent officer who now runs her own consulting business, has advised HubSpot in developing its culture.
Where Netflix has a culture deck on SlideShare, HubSpot has a “culture code” on SlideShare that’s also available on its website. One slide reads, “We’re a team, not a family. We hire, develop and cut smartly so we have stars in every position,” attributed to Neftflix.
When I spoke with McCord in January, she told me more about what it means to be a team and not a family. If someone is no longer needed at the company — either because of their worsening performance or because the company’s needs have changed — they’re out. The flip side is that managers don’t expect their employees to stick around forever in a show of loyalty.
Cefalu, who started at HubSpot as an intern in 2012 and now manages a team of three, said something similar, but nicer: “I had the most amazing managers and mentors that really, really elevated me. And so I want to pay that forward and be able to bring my team to the next level — whether they continue to grow through my team, or at another at HubSpot, or even if they ever leave HubSpot.”
She added: “I would like everyone that I work with to be happy and successful in their careers” — even if that means quitting her team.
‘There’s really no established way of making something happen’
Katie Burke, HubSpot’s chief people officer, said Netflix had also influenced HubSpot to emphasize employee autonomy. “We give people a lot of clear direction on our end goals,” she said. “We tell them where we want them to end up, we give them the destination, but we don’t prescribe Google Maps style or Waze style exactly how they should actually get there.”
Marcus Andrews noticed right away how much freedom he was given when he joined HubSpot in 2015, as a principal product marketing manager.
Andrews, 32, previously worked at Google — and while he said the two companies are “more similar than some people might think,” he cited autonomy as one of the biggest differences between them.
Andrews said: “There’s as much help from your managers or teams as you want and guidance, but you really have autonomy to take [a project] in the direction that you want. So if you feel strongly that something should be done a certain way, if you can build a case for it, present the data, and make a strong argument, there’s really no established way of making something happen.”
Meanwhile, some of HubSpot’s management practices are taken directly from Google.
Christian Kinnear is the managing director of Europe, Middle East, and Africa at HubSpot; he’s based in Dublin. Before joining HubSpot in 2015, Kinnear worked in Google’s Dublin offices, where he said he learned about the importance of thinking big. You start by assuming something is possible, and then work backwards to figure out how to achieve it. The idea, Kinnear has taught his HubSpot coworkers, is to “zoom out” and see the greater picture in order to get excited about what they’re working on.
‘My entire social network is HubSpot’
One of HubSpot’s recent initiatives is becoming a more supportive environment for working parents, Burke said.
Loe Lee, 32, had her first child in August 2017, just under a year after she’d moved from the San Francisco Bay area and started as a senior product designer at HubSpot.
“HubSpot’s been a super stable force throughout all this change,” Lee said, referring to the whirlwind process of getting pregnant, having a child, taking maternity leave, and going back to work.
Lee thinks it has to do with the company’s willingness to learn. “It can be about a product, or a team, or the way the organization is structured, or how do you grow families and nurture mothers on the product team?” Whatever it is, she said, HubSpot is curious and “open to feedback.”
Still, one of the reasons why HubSpot may be a desirable place for 20-somethings to work is the strong bonds that develop between employees. When you’re relatively young, and especially if you haven’t yet married or had kids, you may be more inclined to see your coworkers as friends or even extended family.
Burke told me about a storytelling event the company hosted recently, that was modeled on The Moth, a live storytelling event in cities around the world. HubSpot employees volunteered to stand up and share personal experiences about topics like a troubled relationship with a parent or adopting a child.
“If we want to get more empathetic as a business, we have to understand each other more,” Burke told me.
Empathy was recently named one of HubSpot’s five core values (you can remember them by the acronym HEART: humble, adaptable, empathetic, remarkable, transparent). In fact, new employees have the option to take an empathy test and get tailored resources based on their score.
One of the more intriguing tidbits I heard during my interviews with HubSpot employees was this: Cefalu is about to take a one-month sabbatical, which she earned after being at the company for five years. (HubSpot gives employees $5,000 to spend on their sabbaticals.) She’s traveling to Southeast Asia — with a coworker who started at HubSpot around the same time she did.
I told Cefalu I was surprised that she wasn’t traveling with an outside-of-work friend. She said: “My entire social network is HubSpot. These people are like family. It feels strange when I think, ‘Oh, I’ve only just met some of you guys just five years ago.’ It feels like we all grew up together.”