In 2018 alone, the home goods e-commerce platform Spreetail tripled in size, increasing from 200 employees to 600 across its Lincoln, Nebraska, headquarters, its new offices in Omaha and Austin, and additional fulfillment centers in Savannah and Dallas.
By the end of 2019, the company plans to reach 1,000 employees, with the Austin office contributing significantly to that growth. While that seems like a lot at once — because it absolutely is — Spreetail has remained bullish at keeping its culture intact. We caught up with three leaders from Spreetail to learn how they’ve prioritized relationship-building amid massive expansion.
EMPLOYEES: 719 (97 locally)
WHAT THEY DO: Spreetail’s e-commerce market simplifies backyard, garage and home makeovers through a seamless online shopping experience featuring high-quality products and around-the-clock support.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Downtown Austin
LOYALTY REWARDED: Those celebrating their employee anniversaries will receive some extra love for longevity. If you purchase a home after two years of working at Spreetail, the company will give you a $5,000 bonus. At five years, Spreetail matches your charity donations dollar-for-dollar up to $1,000.
TEAM TRAVEL: Enjoy a getaway with your colleagues on the company dime for helping your team hit its goal. Spreetail recently revealed its 2019 destination: San Diego.
Brandon Elliott, Head of Engineering
Brandon leads Spreetail’s engineering operations and development. While focused on building an industry-leading business-to-consumer experience with a prominent engineering team at the helm, he also hopes to earn Spreetail widespread brand recognition as a top-tiered technology company and retailer.
UP, UP AND AWAY: This engineering guru has a passion for piloting (and not in the sense of product testing): Brandon loves to fly small planes in his free time. His name also currently sits on a reservation list for an experimental flying car that’s set to release later this year.
Why have you made cross-department and cross-office relationship building a priority?
One of the most powerful pieces of advice I’ve been given is “assume positive intent.” As a team grows, and as departments and divisions form, it becomes impossible to stay connected with everyone in the company. For example, if Stewie, from division X, is “demanding” what will surely bring the company down, and there’s no relationship, this can quickly lead to animosity and stalemates, which can stunt innovation and destroy a culture.
But with a relationship, you know Stewie, you know he’s an expert at his craft that he would never intend to cause harm. You defend Stewie on the spot, the team continues on and you catch up with Stewie that afternoon only to find out it was a wild misinterpretation of the actual ask. Build strong relationships early on and always assume positive intent to overcome obstacles as the company doubles year after year.
We have the talent, we have the passion, and we have the hunger to win, but if we're not rowing in the same direction, we won’t win the race.”
As Spreetail scales, what is the biggest challenge you face as a leader?
We have the talent, we have the passion, and we have the hunger to win, but if we're not rowing in the same direction, we won’t win the race. The challenge is to know when to incorporate process and to what degree. Too much process and you risk stifling creativity; too little and you’re rowing in different directions. To overcome this challenge, it’s important to set a clear vision and to align on a strategy to achieve that vision. Hire a team more talented than yourself, create just enough process so that the team can keep rowing in the same direction, and then get out of the way.
Emily Olinger, Head of People and Culture
As Spreetail expands, it’s on Emily to ensure the company’s culture grows along with it, all while keeping the core parts of what’s made them successful intact. It’s no easy task overseeing teams across eight locations, but that hasn’t blurred her personal vision to help every Spreetail employee live bigger, better and bolder lives.
WHAT'S OLD IS NEW: Emily, a big fan of antiquing, adopts old pieces of furniture and gives them a second chance at life through refinishes. It’s an activity she first began at just 10 years old.
You lead your company’s HR organization, but you don’t refer to the department as HR. Why is that?
Most of the time, HR is a place you don’t want to go to. We wanted to create a team that would be a strategic advantage that helps other teams plan for their future and build and achieve outstanding results. We want to guide our teams on how to be better. We want our teams to see us as a place to go to advance, get better and do bigger things. We want them to come to us and need us beside them when they are making big moves and decisions.
We want our teams to see us as a place to go to advance, get better and do bigger things.”
How have your offices or teams evolved from when you first started?
In 2015, our office was located above our warehouse. It had zero glitz and glam. We were all in one big room, which meant you kind of knew everyone, where they were and what they were working on. We had our Lincoln office and two other fulfillment locations. Today, we have a much more identifiable brand, eight locations with offices people love to work in, and we’ve grown from 100 to 700 employees.
What surprised you most as Spreetail has grown?
Deep, meaningful personal relationships have been the core to Spreetail’s culture and success. I’m surprised and excited for how that’s scaled as we’ve grown quickly. What’s helped is what we call “boomeranging,” which is when we have team members spend time in other locations for a set period of time.
Andrea Wolfe, Head of Marketing
Andrea and her team sit at the front lines of the Spreetail customer journey. It’s her department that is responsible for everything related to branding, advertising and content, which is used to engage with customers via phone, website, social channels and more.
POSITIVE GAINS: Andrea takes the same believe-in-yourself attitude she flexes at work and applies it to weightlifting. With the help of a trainer, she said she’s able to reach physical goals she never thought possible.
You developed Spreetail’s marketing team from the ground up. What have you learned through this process?
It’s just as exciting as it is challenging. We deliberately chose Austin because it has some of the best marketing talent in the country. I started building the brand team first because we needed to articulate our value propositions before we started on anything else. Then we focused on our growth team, the team responsible for advertising and driving traffic. We were incredibly lucky to land some of the top talent in the city to drive the vision forward. I must have done over a hundred interviews in the first three months, and it still seems like it somehow all magically came together and we were able to build a rock star team in such a short amount of time.
We deliberately chose Austin because it has some of the best marketing talent in the country.”
Tell us about a recent project your especially proud of. What made it special?
Launching Spreetail.com in less than a year. We set aggressive goals for ourselves, and every team across the company came together to make it a reality. It was impressive to see the cross-team collaboration, the solutions-oriented approaches to roadblocks, and the amount of passion and hard work that went into every detail.
What are you most excited about for Spreetail’s future?
Even though our company has existed for over 12 years, it feels like we’re just getting started. I’m most looking forward to seeing our team grow and scale the amazing work they do today. It’s hard to believe that our Austin office went from two to 86 people in less than nine months. We started in a tiny WeWork space and now we have over 20,000 square feet of office space. It’s exciting to be a part of this growth.