Seven Success Secrets that Best Young Companies Share

Some say it all started with Michael J. Fox in the 1980’s.

His movie, “The Secret to My Success,” placed the spotlight on a generation of ambitious, upwardly mobile professionals who would do anything to follow their dreams of grabbing the corner office.

These days, while the goals and manner of success may be changing, it’s still natural to ask, “What’s your secret?” And when it comes to the secrets of great companies, things are no different. We want to know what makes them tick and why their employees love their work so much-”because somewhere deep down, we know that if they can do it, we can do it, too.

This fall, we conducted our first ever Best Young Companies to Work For campaign with the goal to find and spotlight best-in-class companies across the country. To be considered, companies had to be less than 10 years old, employ no more than 100 people and could not nominate themselves. As we -“ and later our panel of judges -“ poured over hundreds of applicants, it became clear that the final 15 Best Young Companies had more than a few things in common. Here are seven “secrets” that all 15 companies seemed to share:

1.Their success comes from the inside out:
Greatist’s marketing director Laura Schwecherl, said it best: “We believe being successful internally is profoundly tied to our success externally– and the good news is–it’s working.” Among other things, Greatist’s inward success has enabled them to find and retain top talent -“ a priority for most, if not all, companies.

Perhaps more than anything else, a company whose success comes from the inside out shows the world that its people are highly valued and that its space matters. Another Best Young Company, Sparkhouse, also embodies these qualities and has lived out what Andrew Zolli, executive director and chief creative officer of PopTech, in his book “Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back,” says, “There’s tremendous power in the physical environment to help build trust, cooperation and resilient behavior.”

2.They laugh together:
Another thing we love about these companies is that they have managed to walk the fine line between being serious about what they do and being serious about having fun.

Research shows that humor is invaluable for well-being, stress relief and creating friendships. Furthermore, when applied to a workplace, we know that these benefits are critical for creativity and innovation -“ two elements we saw consistently among all fifteen companies. They recognize that work and fun are not mutually exclusive, but rather, that together they serve to strengthen the work they are already doing.

3.They champion great values:
Each of these young companies also operates as part of a bigger picture. They want to do good in the world and leave things a little better than they were before. Detroit-based Chalkfly, for example, is helping fund classroom supplies for teachers with the click of a mouse. This is a simple thought with profound ripple effects!

Though different in focus, Sputnik of Austin, Texas, has a fantastic mission statement that underscores their desire for relationship and not just a plump bottom line. They say, “We believe wholeheartedly that building brands isn’t about one company providing a service for another, but rather growing like a friendship over the years. We’re not interested in turning over tables and moving on to the next town. We’re interested in the long haul.”

We love that these companies are pro-humanity and pro-world -“ not just pro-wallet.

4.They believe that great company culture takes work -“ and is worth the effort:
Fanology of Los Angeles is a terrific example of a place that makes culture their top priority. They share, “Just four years ago, Fanology Social was a dream taking shape in the back garden of our beloved family friends. …Flash forward to October 2013 where we are presently functioning in the ‘Happily Ever After.’ In the time between then and now, we focused on creating a culture that would attract the best and the brightest.”

Fanology understands what many overlook -“ that while the job description or resume might get someone in the door, it’s the culture that will help you attract the right fit and, more importantly, make them want to stay.

5.They are intensely passionate about what they do:
SocialRadar has what they call the “Pillars of Culture,” and one of them is to “Be better than you were yesterday.” This is important to them and to their company because they know that passion drives success, and success always starts with motivated team members who love what they do. Get inspired by reading more about SocialRadar’s intentional design at

6. Their people are their best asset:
Sparefoot of Austin knows they are nothing without the ongoing valiant efforts of their team and recently shared: “We pride ourselves on being a flat organization and being transparent, which empowers our employees and makes everyone feel like they’re truly a part of the company. It’s easy to do good work and be successful every day when you get to work alongside the smartest, most talented people–and it helps that they all happen to be genuinely awesome, too.”

7. Their secret weapon: they don’t view their work as work.
The team at nexus IT said, “We don’t see what we do as work -“ we truly enjoy coming to the office and working together every day. Our interaction and dedication expands beyond the walls of our office, as well, as we are constantly participating in community events such as Big Brother/Big Sister and mock interviews for low income high school students.”

There are, undoubtedly, more qualities these companies have in common, but what it seems to boil down to is that they passionately try to build something awesome while looking out for the good of others and the good of the company.

So how can you build something awesome? Start with the basics:

  • Let the personality of your brand and your team come through; don’t squelch it.
  • Invest time, money and energy into building a culture and a space that aligns with who you are and the strategy of the company.
  • Lead with behaviors that communicate that people matter, that fun is part of work and that what we do here is important.

By holding to these simple guiding principals, we believe that any team can find satisfaction in their work, happiness in the journey, and success in the marketplace.

Kevin Kuske is chief brand advocate and general manager for turnstone, a Steelcase brand that designs solutions that help create great work environments for small and emerging companies.