Happiness at Work: A Photo Safari of Culture at 10 Awesome Startups

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By Janet Choi

Many of the startup companies we work with have built incredible cultures and teams.  Cultures that are quirky, fun-loving, hardworking, energetic and adventurous.  Teams that are tight-knit, creative, dedicated and happy.  While there are a thousand words we could use to describe the characteristics of each company’s culture, we all know what a picture is worth.

Photographs can tell you more about a company’s culture and their team experience than any lengthy blog post we could ever write.  So we decided to ask some of the innovative startups we work with:

Send us a photo that best represents your company culture, and tell us why. 

We share their awesome responses below so you can get a glimpse of the inner lives of ten I Done This musers companies.

1.  Kitchensurfing is an online community and global marketplace connecting private, professional chefs with food enthusiasts everywhere.

“Kitchensurfing is a worldwide community of chefs and people that love to cook. Our customers love inviting our chefs into their homes and offices for special events and meals with friends and family.  But! The Kitchensurfing team also loves doing right by our chefs.  Everyone’s heard of Christmas in July, so the KS team decided to cook Thanksgiving in June for a dozen or so of our most active chefs.  We roasted a turkey (hard to find in June!) and had a full array of sides.  We’re fortunate enough to have an office that doubles as a test kitchen.

I’m one of the founders and CEO in the blue-checked shirt (the solo shot of me needs to be credited to Peter Hobbs).  The gentleman that’s excessively excited about the turkey is our community director, Max Siegal, who cooked the turkey.  The multi-person shot shows our little dining room, some KS staff, and a few of our chefs.”

Chris Muscarella
Co-Founder & CEO, Kitchensurfing

2.  Olark is an easy-to-install service that enables you to chat live with any visitor to your site.

“Yes, this is at our OFFICE.  We do things a bit differently here at Olark… Redwood trees, gymnastic rings, team lunches, and a cat that runs the meetings between our Palo Alto and Ann Arbor offices.  It’s all in the name of building the best live chat software around (sorry we weren’t able to share the photos of our top secret control center).”

Roland Osborne
Co-founder, Olark

3.  LKR Social Media is a team of online marketing whizzes that trains small businesses to leverage social media.

“We don’t have an office, but we do meet up for in-person retreats at least once per year.  Here’s a snapshot from our latest retreat that was held in the Ace Hotel in New York City.  I like this picture because it shows our value of not taking ourselves too seriously.  Our customers come to us because they want social media to be easy, not a complicated burden.  We try to keep things fun and light to take away from our customer’s stress, not add to it!”

Laura Roeder
Founder, LKR Social Media

4.  TravelPod helps users create an online travel blog, upload photos from their phone while on the road and participate in travel challenges.

“We work hard and we play hard.”

Luc Levesque
Founder & GM, TravelPod

5.  EZTable is a 24/7 online reservation platform for diners and restauranteurs that started in Taiwan and is expanding.

“EZTABLE focuses on customers.  The biggest mission is to figure out what the customer needs.  “Hack, everything” is what we believe and we learn hard from failures.  Without failures, no successes.”

Alex Chen
Co-Founder & CEO, EZTable

6.  SocialToaster helps you engage and empower your fans to share your social media content.

“SocialToaster has a dynamic, fast-paced, energetic culture that embraces the work-hard/play-hard mentality.  We take great pride in the closeness of our team.  We regularly participate in extra-curricular activities outside of the office… And although the size of our lunch table has grown into a lengthy “Hogwarts style” table in recent months, we still try to eat together everyday.

The SocialToaster environment, and associated culture, is truly the envy of Baltimore.  Not only does our team work hard and play hard together, inside (and outside) the office.  But our office is somewhat of a playground, as well – with a velour room (company lounge area with velour couches and coffee tables), eclectic renovated warehouse office space, and am onsite pool and hot-tub.”

Brian Razzaque
Founder & CEO, SocialToaster

7.  Alton Lane customizes men’s clothing to fit your exact measurements and personalized style online.

“At Alton Lane we are always evolving with our customers and their individual and collective experience as our most important guide. The only way to achieve this is to empower and supply our team of amazing people with tools that assist them in being more efficient.  We value creativity, innovation and fun in everything we do and believe that communicating across teams allows us to  break down information silos and concentrate our efforts in the most effective ways.”

Colin Hunter
CEO, Alton Lane

8.  ShopLocket is an easy-to-use e-commerce site that lets you sell anything from anywhere.

“At ShopLocket we work hard and we ping pong hard. Staying tight-knit is very important to us.  You have to hire the right people, someone that you’re willing to be with for long, long hours.  And someone that’s good at ping pong.”

Dan Kalmar
Community Manager, ShopLocket

9.  FreeAgent is a stress-free, simple accounting solution for small businesses and freelancers.

“We’re very proud of our team here at FreeAgent. Not only are they an awesome, friendly bunch of people, but they’re also the reason why our business is going from strength to strength – and that’s why we’re committed to keeping them happy.

But it’s not just the Aeron chairs, Herman Miller desks and Apple Macs that we give all of our staff that creates a happy office culture. Nor is it our shiny Edinburgh office with its fridge full of soft drinks and beer, or the fact that we pay for everyone’s lunch each Friday.  Rather, it’s because we’ve built an environment where people actually want to share their talents, support each other and make FreeAgent the best cloud accounting system for small businesses and freelancers worldwide.

We love the camaraderie that runs through FreeAgent: not only in our headquarters, but across all of our staff working remotely in the UK and the USA.  Whether its our Edinburgh-based engineers hot-desking to develop new features – or our developers hooking up over Skype to solve problems – it’s great to see dozens of exceptionally talented people working together and having fun doing so.”

Olly Headey
Co-Founder & CTO, FreeAgent

10.  Springest makes it easy to find and compare online educational programs for personal and professional development.


“Here’s a picture of our balcony a few months ago during a Ruby Hack Night we held with about 40 Ruby developers.  It shows 5 Springest guys working on PingPongGuru for ranking and displaying our ping pong results… But of course there’s beer and a nice view of early 17th century buildings along the canals of Amsterdam. It shows our open culture and especially our drive to always share numbers about performance. iDoneThis does for our normal operation what PingPongGuru and our hack nights do for ping pong ;).”

Ruben Timmerman
Chief UX Officer, Springest


Looking at all these photos reminds me of something I once read, that humans across cultures and generations can tell a fake smile from a real smile.  This is because of the orbicularis oculi muscles, located near the outer corner of the eyes.  Those muscles cannot be voluntarily moved, and thus a forced smile is always discernible from an emotionally honest smile.

The same could be said of company culture.  Bells, whistles and office amenities aside, you can’t fake or force employee happiness and engagement.  And as many of these photos show, it’s those employee smiles that are the proud focal point for our muser companies and what drive their success.

Now it’s high time we shot our I Done This team photo!


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