Startup Summit to examine progressive workplace environments in Scotland and celebrate global success stories.
In Silicon Valley, culture has been a hot topic for years. While certain companies have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, the Valley is also home to a number of businesses that are championing movements towards fair and diverse workplaces.
Leela Srinivasan, Chief Marketing Officer at SurveyMonkey, grew up in Scotland, but has spent the last twenty years working in the US for companies such as LinkedIn, Bain and Company and OpenTable. Srinivasan believes that a positive company culture is paramount to the success of a business.
“Thanks to the internet, Glassdoor and all the places in which employees can tell it like it is, there has never been as much visibility into company culture as there is today.” Srinivasan says in explanation of the culture phenomenon. “Millenials have also been credited with being better than previous generations at articulating what they want from work – if you put that against demand outweighing supply for skilled labour, we see the balance of power shifting from employers to employees,” she continues.
With SurveyMonkey recently named as one of Fortune’s 150 best small and medium workplaces, it’s fair to say Srinivasan knows what goes into creating a positive company culture. “People are ready for a fresh perspective – they’re ready for companies that walk the talk in creating cultures where employees can bring their best self to work and thrive. It’s been a really important shift over the entirety of my time here in Silicon Valley,” she says.
As Scotland begins to produce billion dollar businesses, the country is starting to catch the attention of business heavyweights in the US. Srinivasan believes that Scotland has a unique positioning in the global community.
“People are positively inclined towards Scotland over here. There is a lot of interest in Scotland, and people tend to lean in when they hear the accent. Scottish companies like Skyscanner and FanDuel have started to prove that there are scale stories emerging.” - Leela Srinivasan
She acknowledges that Scotland has limited resources, but believes the country can still be a hub of innovation. “I think what Scotland can do well is continue focusing on specialised areas where it can make a name for itself,” citing gaming and life sciences as examples.
But while Scotland may be well positioned for success in the business world, entrepreneurs will need to focus on how they build out their workforce. “It is never too early to think about company culture and the type of organisation you want to build.” Srinivasan states. “Lever, the company I was at prior to SurveyMonkey, formed its first diversity and inclusion task force when they were ten employees.
“By the time they got to 100 and 150 employees they had a 50-50 gender balance, over 40% of their engineering team were women and they had an ethnically diverse population as well.”
With many Scottish scale stories rooted in the tech sector, notorious for its gender imbalance and lack of diversity, there is even more reason to take heed of Srinivasan’s words.
"If you start with that mindset and you commit to it early on, you grow the type of company that you aspire to." - Leela Srinivasan
“If you’re five white men, which is often the case, trying really hard to go outside of that stereotype whilst still finding the best person for the job is an effort worth taking. If you can diversify between five and six, that changes who your seventh hire wil be, and it goes from there.”
Srinivasan will be speaking more about company culture at Startup Summit in Edinburgh on October 31st. Around 1,000 people are expected to attend the event, which is now in its seventh year. Other top speakers include John Peebles, CEO of Administrate, Monique Woodard, Early-stage investor in Silicon Valley and Mike Welch, Founder of Blackcircles.com and Atterley. Srinivasan will speak on the Main Stage with Mark Logan, Startup Advisor and former COO of Skyscanner, and on the Business Builder stage with Darina Garland and Kristian Tapaninaho, co-founders of Ooni. Attendees can expect to hear about Srinivasan’s executive role as CMO at SurveyMonkey and glean a deeper understanding of the business itself.
With over 750 employees serving their 16 million active users worldwide including 98% of the Fortune 500, SurveyMonkey has widespread reach and the means to collect important data to understand what’s going on behind the scenes in businesses.
“We eat in our own kitchen – we use our products heavily!” Srinivasan confirms before adding “we’re in a position to enable other organisations globally to bring that same focus on creating a great company culture and listening to employees.”
In line with this ethos, SurveyMonkey collaborated with Paradigm, a strategy consultancy based in Silicon Valley, to launch a Belonging & Inclusion template. The template was designed to encourage companies to measure and assess how inclusive their organisations are.
For Scottish businesses looking to Silicon Valley for inspiration, understanding the importance of this kind of work is becoming more and more important.
As for Srinivasan, despite her Scottish heritage, she’ll not be making the jump across the pond anytime soon. “I’m having too much fun in Silicon Valley right now to be honest,” she says, “But it’s exciting to see what businesses are starting to make waves. I’m coming to Startup Summit partly to satisfy my own curiosity for what’s going on.” Unsurprising perhaps, considering SurveyMonkey’s mission is to ‘power the curious.’
Warm up for Startup Summit in Edinburgh
Startup Summit, Scotland’s leading startup event, will be held on Wednesday, October 31 at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, with The Herald as media partner.
With some 1,000 attendees, three stages and nine workshops it’s a significant opportunity for the next generation of entrepreneurs to engage with experts, build a network and gain valuable tools for long-term success as well as benefit from the experience of more than 30 speakers.
Among them will be early-stage investor Chris Neumann, Leela Srinivasan of SurveyMonkey, Mike Welch of fashion platform Atterley, Chris van der Kuyl of 4J Studios and Bruce Walker of FutureX.