Not every company has a clearly defined set of cultural values, but Austin Internet startup Aceable Inc. does.
The company’s six-part cultural mantra is: Help Others; Be Authentic; Create Delight; Seek to Understand; Embrace Challenges; and Pursue Growth.
Its employees say that Aceable, which is aiming to reinvent a segment of the online education field, does a good job of practicing what it preaches.
“Every day I see those values practiced throughout the company,” said Nick Schurk, the company’s manager of search engine optimization. which involves bringing more Internet users to the company website.
“We are not like a lot of companies where different departments are (separated),” Schurk said. So employees can reach out to other departments with suggestions and ideas.
Aceable ranks first among small employers in the Austin American-Statesman’s 2017 Top Workplaces project.
The company’s values didn’t happen by accident.
Founder and CEO Blake Garrett met with about a dozen employees in 2014 in a conference room with two white boards.
Together they came up with 80 positive attributes they wanted to have. They also used one white board to discard some of the negative attributes they hoped to do without. The discard list included: “egos,” “jerks” and “murderers.”
Garrett whittled down the positive list to eight values, which a staff writer combined into the present six.
Garrett says the values give workers “the guardrails” to define how they treat each other and their customers.
“It gives us clarity of thinking in hiring, performance review and giving feedback,” he said. “We don’t just have the words on a wall. We try to use them on a daily basis.”
The values also help foster more open collaboration.
“If someone from the development side has an idea, they will come over and get coffee or lunch and talk about it,” Schurk said. “People from customer service also want to learn about marketing. Everyone is super-willing to help out or pitch in to make things better.”
Schurk said that spirit of open collaboration has remained even as the company has grown rapidly to more than 80 employees. “Everyone they hire is a great culture fit,” he said. “All the things that I loved about working here when we were smaller are still here.”
The company has more social gatherings as well, including after hours Karaoke events and movie nights at the office.
The idea behind Aceable is to create and market online coursework in areas such as defensive driving, where students must pass a test to get official credit. Garrett says the idea is to create a more game-like experience that helps customers get more enjoyment out of the learning process. The company started with driver education and it has emerged as the No. 1 provider of online driver’s classes in Texas. This year it began offering courses geared toward getting a real estate license. The eventual plan is to offer courses in several areas where people need to pass a test to gain certification in a field.
The company, which grew out of the Capital Factory incubator, has raised just close to $10 million in investment.
Employees say they are focused on constantly improving the company’s website, its online instructional content, its marketing and its customer service.
“We believe we could create a platform and make education more fun for people and help them learn better,” said Anna Percy, who works in software development and carries the title “scrum master.”
Her job is to huddle with software developers and work on enhancements to segments of a product or service in order to get improvements out faster.
“I have a feeling of independence, but there is a big network of people with great experience that I feel I can rely on,” she said. “I feel like I have a lot of ambition and there is plenty of room to grow here.”
Amanda Hagley, a content marketer for the company, has worked for another startup in Austin. She said she was attracted to Aceable by the sense of positive energy about the place.
“I love the culture,” she said. “It is unlike anything I have personally experienced.”
The culture, she said, includes transparency from management, so employees know what they are doing well and what the company needs to do better.
“And management has trust in employees and lets them work flexible schedules,” she said. “They trust we will do what needs to be done and hit our goals. And I like the passion that everyone has here. We have a passion to create happy user experiences.”
Emmy Mizelle, a former teacher, works as an instructional designer for Aceable.
“We are an education company first,” she said. “I love coming to work. I love coming into the office and seeing people who are friendly and sharing good ideas.
“People feel they have a voice. It’s a culture, where you can share an idea and people will say, ‘Let’s create something together.’ “