5.02.2016

Sailing the DigitalOcean

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DigitalOcean is the world's simplest cloud service, built for developers. The company was founded in 2011 and since then has raised over $123 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Access Industries and IA Ventures. DigitalOcean is part of the TechStars alumni, which is the second largest cloud service in the world, in terms of web-facing computers, according to Netcraft. Headquartered in New York City with data centers located around the world, the company currently services over 600,000 customers with their cloud infrastructure.

DigitalOcean currently employs around 230 people, has more than doubled in size over the past nine months, and is continuing to grow rapidly. The company has taken steps to keep its culture intact as it expands, as this is sometimes challenging for quickly expanding startups. But even with these steps in place, cultural change is inevitable.

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“I think for us, our culture has been definitely a journey,” says Matt Hoffman, VP of People at DigitalOcean, “For now we feel like we’re in a good spot. But we're not all the way there yet. As the company matures, we're getting much better and more thoughtful in terms of how we deal with one another and in some of the operational processes we are putting in place to reflect and reinforce our culture.”

At the time of this interview, Matt had been with DigitalOcean for about six months. Over that time one of the biggest organizational design changes that has been instituted was a layer of management, which didn’t necessarily exist before in many groups.

“We've hired more managers and directors -- we've not yet hired much of the VP layer yet,” said Hoffman. “Once we have those fully in place, it likely may feel very different. We just hired our first engineering director and we’re really starting to see an impact there. We haven't done that in a couple of other areas, and I think that will actually be a big shift. It’s not uncommon as an organization scales, for there to be a need to bring in more experienced leadership from outside the organization. The trick is to do so in a way where the new hires enhance and complement the culture, not rewrite it. We have some amazing things that are true and core to the culture at DO, and we don’t want to lose that. And at the same time, you need to be intentional about still providing space for your current employees to grow and develop, and create meaningful career paths for them.”

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The company also believes that building a culture of “always on” feedback is an important part of keeping the positive momentum on track. This is where surveys become important. “I don't think there were that many surprising insights from the first [Culture Amp] survey we did, but what was helpful was we were actually able to document it,” says Hoffman. “It wasn't just talking about, ‘Oh, here's what I think is going on.’ It changes the conversation to a data-driven one, and that, to me is always the purpose of engagement tools and engagement surveys. It's not like we thought things were awesome, and then-- no, they're actually not. It's just we were actually able to identify it in a quantitative way and have a little more unbiased perspective. You know, it's just been a good tool for gathering that. It helps identify the issues and inform the programs we're doing to address them at this point.”

Hoffman explains another challenge the company will face in the next 12 months is going to be making sure all the new hires get a good onboarding experience.

“So we have a really good problem in that we're hiring lots of people and nobody's leaving,” says Hoffman. “We're going to be twice as big again in a very short timespan. I'm really starting to get in the mindset that our most critical driver of successfully scaling will be the onboarding piece. I think things to help us make sure that we are onboarding people successfully and get feedback on what's working and what's not, will be really, really important. That means ensuring they have a great employee experience, learn the business well, have the right conversations with their manager on goals and objectives, and feedback against those goals.”

“The worry is always when you're at the tipping point where we're hiring faster than we can absorb people. We need to figure out what that looks like. And there’s a lot of data we can leverage to help us answer those questions.  If you know somebody has a good onboarding experience, does that predict how good they feel about their manager? How long they stay with the company? Those types of insights are really important to me,” says Hoffman.

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And so what is it that has so many employees flocking to DigitalOcean?

“People,” says Hoffman. “This is a pretty standard answer but it's more true here at DigitalOcean. Our employees here genuinely love the people that they work with. We’ve created a uniquely amazing employee experience and we try to hire for culture fit - obviously that counts. But we truly try to live our values everyday and love is the number one value.  I think our people team has done some incredible things. But I can't point to any specific thing that I or anyone else has done other than making sure that everyone who works here knows that we’re all in this together and caring about each other is the most important thing in building a long-term successful business.“

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