Episode 25: How Chartbeat built an energetic, dog-centric company environment with Katie Kimball

Who is Katie Kimball and the key takeaways in this episode?

Katie Kimball is the Operations Manager of Chartbeat, a company focused on unusual behavior happening across the social web and how that affects constantly changing content. In this interview, Katie and I talked about:

  • How she got her job as Operations Manager at Chartbeat
  • What she thinks of dogs in the workplace
  • The reason behind Chartbeat’s floor plan change every six weeks
  • What company she admires as it relates to culture
  • Future plans and updates coming to Chartbeat

The Questions

[8:53] How did you match your office designs with your culture and could you give us a mental picture of what your office looks like?
Answer: Yeah, absolutely. So our office is on top of the Strand Book Store, which is probably the most famous bookstore in New York, if not the world. And the space is this giant 12,000 square-foot, semi-open room. And it’s a former yoga studio. So I think it still feels pretty Zen even though we’ve taken it over with the superhero themes which is the type of [0:07:48.7]. But we try to really let the space speak for itself. So it’s big, old columns. It’s an open, white room with really high ceilings and a lot of lights. I think light is essential to any really great space.

[14:23] What is the most unique thing in your office?
Answer: Gosh, so I feel this is a little bit cliché, because it is a start-up thing to have dogs in the office. But the New York Times did write us up as being a “puppytorium.” So I feel I got a little bit of street cred there for our particular commitment to canines. So there are always dogs running around Chartbeat. They’re part of our “About” page. If you look at the team, you’ll see dogs in there. And actually, what dogs are in on what days depends on who gets along, and like the Shiba Inu, my CEO’s Shiba Inu, doesn’t really like all other animals. So like, the wiener dog will talk to anybody. So we’re constantly coordinating what dogs will be in the office. And we’re super attached to them like they are our own. We have this dog here, Louie the golden doodle, new faces, new people coming together, it’s really fast-growing company.

[20:50] What company do you admire the most as it relates to culture?
Answer: I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Zingerman’s Bakery. But they are a very famous food company. They do mail order all over the country. But they built an empire in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where my family now lives and where my whole family went to school. And it’s this gourmet store where you can walk in and you can try anything. They want to make food available to the masses. So if you want to try the $300 bottle of balsamic vinegar, you can. And everyone in that store is so happy to be there. And they’ve expanded into a farm and restaurants, and actually a complete consulting arm around training other companies on their culture. And the message seems to be hire those people who are really kind and thoughtful, and who work hard and are loyal. And you could see that on the face of everyone that works there. Also, I just really like the food.

Culture According to Katie:

I think for me, and looking back at the companies that I worked for, culture is the environment that we all create. So if you’re creating a culture that is open and honest and transparent, that means that everything that you do is driven toward that goal. That also means that for us, like we sit in a big office that’s open and transparent and fosters communication, and fosters those things that we like to do.

Go To Quote for Inspiration

Book Recommendations:

  • Cosmos by Carl Sagan

What Katie Kimball Wants Her Company to BE:

  • BE Thoughtful
  • BE Honest
  • BE Kind

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:

Where to Find Katie:

Connect with John on

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

John: Katie, welcome to BE Culture Radio.

Katie: Hi. It’s great to be here.

John: Thanks so much for joining us. We’re going to have a great time today. And you know what, before we start, maybe you can give us a little background about Katie Kimball, where she came from, who she is and what made her the person she is today.

Katie: Absolutely. Gosh, how much time do we have?

John: As much as you need.

Katie: So, I’m from Southern California and I went to school in the Bay Area. And after college, I traveled around Europe, and then Southeast Asia, and landed in San Francisco in the beginning of 2008, right before kind of all the markets crashed. I was lucky enough to join a start-up there actually based in the legal and technology space. So I stayed with them until 2010. They actually asked me to move to New York City. So I came out here and that turned into running all the facilities and global physical expansion, office design, leasing in real estate. And that company, Axiom, went from two offices to 15 in the time that I was there. So I always loved working in start-ups. I just found that “the ball is always in your court” mentality to be really exciting. And as it turns out, New York has a pretty vibrant start-up scene starting as well.

So in 2013, I actually moved into a role recruiting for start-ups. I’m glad I gave it a try, but what I did not know was that you have to call people at work and ask them to leave their current jobs, and there’s commission to make, and targets to hit. And I’m much more an office operation kind of person, as it turns out. So the company I’m with now, Chartbeat, they were actually a client of mine when I was recruiting. And when I left recruiting, they asked where I was headed and I said I had no clue. And our internal recruiter here, she actually didn’t believe me. So she went to one of the investors at Chartbeat who knew me and they were having a dinner, and she kind of weaseled me into this dinner.

I had no clue what I was walking into. But when I sat down at the dessert course, Kat said, “Hey, do you want to work in Chartbeat?” And having known this company and the culture and the people, it was absolutely something I wanted to explore, so I joined. And now, I manage all the operations, facilities, real estates, financing stuff. And I’m also our CEO’s chief of staff, so there’s a little bit of everything over here.

John: Sounds like you got your hands full on a daily basis.

Katie: I do. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s super fun.

John: Now, tell us and tell all of our listeners about Chartbeat, because they’re interested to know the real insights. Tell us what it is, how it works and the founders’ story, if you will?

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. So Chartbeat is best known for being a data analytic service that powers probably everything that everybody read this morning. So we partner with publishers and people who create content, and news websites are the most obvious example of that, to track what’s happening on their websites in real time. So we work now—gosh, we’re with 85% of the top publishers in the US. We’re working in 61 different countries.

John: Wait a minute, back up. How many percent again so my listeners get this? This is not an insignificant number for everybody, so you have to say it again.

Katie: 85% of the top media companies in the US, actually.

John: Wow.

Katie: Yeah, it’s pretty fun. Whenever I’m reading something I’m like, “Oh, we’re figuring out data for these folks.” Or “I know those people.” And our goal as a company has been to figure out the way to fix kind of the broken reward system for digital media. So clicks mean that people click on stuff, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they really read what you wrote and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re coming back.

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with betaworks Studios, the folks behind Dots, the game. Also Instapaper, Poncho, the weather service. But they’re a very cool tech company here in New York that funds little projects. And Chartbeat was one of those projects. Originally, Chartbeat—this was in 2009—it was a service where you would see a big screen and see every single cursor that was on your website. So there would be these big, flooded areas across your screen, hopefully, if you have a lot of people on there. It was actually founded by Billy Chasen, the guy behind Turntable FM, and Tony, our now CEO, was the second hire. So it was the two of them sitting at a desk.

My understanding is that Billy went off on a spiritual quest, and Tony, who had never done this sort of thing before and was used to hosting polar expeditions and hiking, and doing around-the-world yacht races, somehow got involved in this technology. And then, people started calling us and wanting to buy it. We realized that, “Hey, there is a market out there for this type of data analytics.” And we created real-time analytics. We wanted to do the opposite of Google. We want to be the opposite of what everyone else is doing. And it’s now turned into an 80-person company.

We had a tool, even in the early days, which was purchased by Fox News. We were like, “Let’s turn this into an enterprise newsroom thing.” And now, we’ve got almost 100 people building tools that help align quality content with the right readers. And we’re now doing that for advertising as well. If we can measure engagement in content and what people are actually consuming, we can then help that content be monetized better and help the Internet to value quality over clickbait. Not that cat videos aren’t fun, but I think we might not want to base the whole Internet economy on them.

John: Okay, so I’ve got to ask you as you’ve gone from a smaller company to more people—I don’t necessarily call it a larger company because what I hear you tell me that you still have the culture of a start-up, and you embrace it and hold on to it, because that makes you who you are—so how do you define culture?

Katie: Yeah, I think for me, and looking back at the companies that I worked for, culture is the environment that we all create. So if you’re creating a culture that is open and honest and transparent, that means that everything that you do is driven toward that goal. That also means that for us, like we sit in a big office that’s open and transparent and fosters communication, and fosters those things that we like to do.

So for us, and I found this to be, luckily for me, consistent in the places that I’ve worked, making sure that everyone here is driving toward empathy, like build things for people, not for computers, to build fast, so to ship things and get the product out there to test things. I think in bigger companies, maybe, it’s more challenging to get stuff out the door. But we really want to ship, ship, ship. Being really future-focused is important to us. And just questioning things, new ideas; question yourself, question your co-workers, and have that open transparent communication. That’s been central to kind of the start-up world as a whole as far as I’ve been a part of it, and it’s definitely true here at Chartbeat.

John: Now, Katie, for us and where we come from at BE Furniture, we just helped SFX Entertainment in New York City do basically a whole new corporate headquarters, which is four floors. And they came out of the traditional office setting and went into a really cool, very open environment with the benching, and just this super cool, engaging, collaborative environment. And Mashable named Chartbeat as one of the hottest start-ups with the most inspiring office designs. So how did you match your office designs with your culture and could you give us a mental picture of what your office looks like?

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. So our office is on top of the Strand Book Store, which is probably the most famous bookstore in New York, if not the world. And the space is this giant 12,000 square-foot, semi-open room. And it’s a former yoga studio. So I think it still feels pretty Zen even though we’ve taken it over with the superhero themes which is the type of [0:07:48.7]. But we try to really let the space speak for itself. So it’s big, old columns. It’s an open, white room with really high ceilings and a lot of lights. I think light is essential to any really great space. We didn’t do much other than put in conference rooms and common areas. But I think for us—you bring up the point about open ceiling, it can be a little bit controversial, because especially for people who build code all day, having that quiet, focused time can be challenging when you’re in a really, shall we say, energetic environment, like Chartbeat with shuffle board with dogs running around. So for us, it was about creating a space where those little moments—where innovation can kind of surprise you happen. So whether it’s everyone in the kitchen having lunch together. And you’re sitting across from someone on a different team who maybe you wouldn’t interact with as much. Ideas come up and you can write on every wall at Chartbeat. So there are markers, so get on the glass in the kitchen and start sketching out your ideas.

If you’re the kind of person who needs to be away from the chaos of a busy floor, we have a library, a special area that’s reserved for reading books, quietly working, listening to records, curling up on the sofa with a blanket. Making little places for people to have moments to work when they want to work, while at the same time having this open floor plan that enables people to both communicate and kind of take that quiet moment. So I’ll be honest, I learned the most overhearing my coworkers versus just reading their e-mails. It’s great to just have everyone there talking and moving around as needed.

John: I couldn’t agree with you more. We talked a little bit pre-show. And I had the chance to talk with Katie and get to know each other a little bit. And one of the things I find really interesting is in our company—we have a very linear company. It’s not hierarchical. And so, there are days when I go through the floor and clients come in. And we keep a 15,000 square-foot showroom in New Jersey because some of our clients that work in New York, they can go to the showrooms in New York, but people in New Jersey don’t want to go to, like you are.

Katie: Right.

John: So it’s a little tip that people, “I’m not driving two hours to drive 20 miles.” So it’s funny how that works. But that being said, I found it very unique for us because it’s not about the products, because everybody has the products, but it’s truly about taking the time and effort to create a product application that meets the culture that the person said they wanted. Because I don’t create a culture for a company. People come and see us and they tell me—I’ll meet someone like yourself and I’ll say to them, “What is your culture? What is it that you’re trying to achieve? And tell me what you want to do long-term? And where do you want to be 12 months from now with this space?”

Katie: Right. And you bring up an interesting point, when you look at the intersection of furniture and space, and how that affects product build. It sounds like a stretch at first, but one thing at Chartbeat is that we actually build on a six-week cycle. So we set goals for six weeks. We build on whatever the list of tasks are that need to happen in that six weeks and then we check in every week. And then, that resets in another six weeks. We also have a half-weekend between, so we give people one week break between cycles to build whatever they want. I’ve seen everything from crazy dashboards that tell me which subways are broken to—if there’s a server issue, our Dev Ops guy, he has one where all the lights flash in his house. He built that. But in order to move and move cycles, you need to be able to move people.

So we actually change the entire floor plan every six weeks, which I know sounds a little bit crazy. But we need the people who sell the product to sit with the people that build the product. And when we’re shuffling talents to different teams, our space has to really flex with us. So we actually don’t like people to get too attached to one particular seat, because it’s kind of an open flow here. It’s like next-level open space planning.

John: I think it’s so cool. Because for us, we do the same thing. We have offices, because when people want to see what an office looks like. I open a drawer in your office and there’s nothing in there, I’m like “Yeah, I’ll spend a lot of time in there. I usually go out amongst my tribe. I’m with my people, we’re out solving problems.” And I always like to tell people we make people on the manufacturing side nuts because they’ll say, “Well, that’s not what it was intended to do.” And I’m like, “You know what, what it’s intended to do is be client-centric and give them what they wanted to meet their culture.” So you intended to do X, the client wants it to do Y. And I know because I’ve spent 15 years in manufacturing. It will do Y. It just wasn’t the way you designed it; that’s really unfortunate for you.

Katie: Well, yeah. I think you’re trying to build a culture where you trust people to do their jobs. Whenever you want to come in and whenever you want to leave, we trust you to take care of your team and communicate with everyone and just ship a great product.

We’re not as concerned about how you get there. So in a culture that’s not about face time, it’s not about being chained to your desk for a set amount of  hours all day. It’s about you getting what you need to get done. It’s nice. People flow and we move around so we interact in a way that I think would be a lot more difficult if we were in a traditional office setting.

John: I think it would be impossible. But I got to ask you, Katie, what is the most unique thing in your office?

Katie: Gosh, so I feel this is a little bit cliché, because it is a start-up thing to have dogs in the office. But the New York Times did write us up as being a “puppytorium.” So I feel I got a little bit of street cred there for our particular commitment to canines. So there are always dogs running around Chartbeat. They’re part of our “About” page. If you look at the team, you’ll see dogs in there. And actually, what dogs are in on what days depends on who gets along, and like the Shiba Inu, my CEO’s Shiba Inu, doesn’t really like all other animals. So like, the wiener dog will talk to anybody. So we’re constantly coordinating what dogs will be in the office. And we’re super attached to them like they are our own. We have this dog here, Louie the golden doodle, new faces, new people coming together, it’s really fast-growing company.

Everyone loves Louie. Everyone’s around the dog, playing with the dog, trying not trip over dog toys all day. And having a pet in your lap, I don’t know, there’s something welcoming about that, whether you’ve been here a long time and you’re having a rough day, or you’re brand new and a dog comes in and jumps on you. Warning: if you’re going to join Chartbeat, that’s like a thing that will happen. But yeah, that’s something that I just found, for me personally, really special. I can’t own a dog right now, so I like to think that I have 15 that I’m parenting.

John: Well, I got to tell you, our CEO, Kyra, is going to be nuts about it just because there’s not a bigger dog person in the world. She has still not forgiven me that a couple of years ago when we moved to our new showroom, they had a no-pet clause in it.

Katie: I always read the lease for that. We’re allowed to have dogs, please?

John: It was dogs or location for clients. And since our culture is client-centric, I said we have to get this.

Katie: Less dog-centric. Yeah, I hear you.

John: Well, we have an English mastiff that’s all of 214 pounds-

Katie: Yeah.

John: and we have a little Shepherd at home, so I get plenty of dog time. As I’d like to say, “This is really good, really nice. Time to go to work.”

Katie: Everyone’s like bring your dog to work is a typical start-up perk. But as someone who gets to enjoy it every day, it really does mean a lot to me. And you see people coming together over it. And it’s quite frankly, kind of hilarious and awesome, the stuff that the dogs do.

John: I think there’s something very therapeutic about the dogs and it’s very calming.

Katie: Totally.

John: And I also think when I see people interact with animals, for me, it gives me a great insight into the character of the person.

Katie: I totally agree with you on that point, for sure. Everyone at Chartbeat must love dogs.

John: And when we interview people, Kyra will inevitably ask the question, “So how do you feel about dogs or cats or animals?”

Katie: It’s not a bad question. I’m totally with you on that.

John: And we’ve had people before say, “Oh, I just hate animals.” And they leave. And she goes, “And they probably hate kids, too.” This didn’t go very well. So I got to ask you another question as it relates to your office design, if that’s okay.

Katie: Of course.

John: Do you think the office design and your layout matches your culture? And if there is one thing you could change about it, if there is, what would it be?

Katie: You know, I think it really does match our culture. I think the one thing we’re feeling, and this is just an operational fact, it’s not particularly exciting or insightful; it is that we are growing really quickly. So the ability to get a phone booth or a conference room—it just presents a whole new level of “How can I be thoughtful about my coworkers. Can this conversation be had out in the hallway or at a public table.” Not every space has to be used for its exact, intended purpose. So trying to get people to communicate around sharing resources, when you’re like, “Hey, we need to hire 10 people. We’re going to ship these products.” So we’re getting closer. We’re getting tighter. We’re growing. We’re going to need more space. So that’s the only thing, but we all really love this building. We love this location. The room just has a really special energy to it. So I’m not sure what more we could improve on there.

John: Do you think the space has helped in regards to staff engagement and attracting new talent?

Katie: I do. I think from the moment you walk in, you get a feeling of what it is that we do and we’re about. And I apologize for the New York City ambulance traffic here.

John: That’s okay. Well, it’s a very authentic interview, so they’ll know that you’re truly in New York City.

Katie: I know, right? I remember in San Francisco taking calls from New York. I’m like, “Is that really what that city sounds like?” And yet, I moved here.

John: 24 hours a day.

Katie: 24 hours a day. I do think, though, that when you walk in here, you feel that energy. As people, you see them look up at the ceiling and look around from side to side, because you can absorb the entire room from the moment you walk in. It’s one big open line of sight.

So I think it gives you a really good sense of who we are. And you know that if a dog is going to come up and jump on you, or if some people are having a heated debate about a particular part of our product, or someone’s telling a really loud joke really loudly, you should probably know that that is who we are. And you’ll know that from the moment you walk in.

John: Alright, Katie, I’m going to take you to the lightning round, okay?

Katie: Do it.

John: Alright. Is there a book that changed your life?

Katie: Absolutely. We actually have a book allowance at Chartbeat. So we’re allowed to buy books every month. And even if I don’t read them all, I make sure that I take advantage of that. I’m a little bit of a collector. But “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan. Have you read that book?

John: I have not. But I’ve heard—Kyra has and I’ve been told to read it a number of times. And I have failed.

Katie: So he’s incredible for so many reasons. We actually have him as one of our pinups in the ladies’ room here, Carl Sagan. We have nerdy pinups. He breaks down the cosmic calendar. And if the Big Bang happened on, let’s say, January 1st, all of known human existence would have happened in the last 14 seconds of December 31st.

John: Wow.

Katie: And you think you’re like, “Oh gosh, traffic is so bad.” Or “My day’s not going how I want.” You’re like, “You know what, Kimball, you’re in the last 14 seconds of all known human history on the cosmic calendar.” So it just puts things in perspective.

John: I like that. Now, what’s your go-to quote for inspiration?

Katie: The first one that comes to mind—this one’s from my dad which kind of pains me as I don’t have something more exciting. But Thomas Edison once said that “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” So I’m a writer on the side. And for me, learning that no matter how great the idea is, until you sit down in front of your computer and you actually write it out for hours and hours, it doesn’t really count as genius, so ship it.

John: Okay. I like that. Now, other than Chartbeat, what company do you admire the most as it relates to culture?

Katie: Yeah, so I’m going to go non-technical on this. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Zingerman’s Bakery. But they are a very famous food company. They do mail order all over the country. But they built an empire in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where my family now lives and where my whole family went to school. And it’s this gourmet store where you can walk in and you can try anything. They want to make food available to the masses. So if you want to try the $300 bottle of balsamic vinegar, you can. And everyone in that store is so happy to be there. And they’ve expanded into a farm and restaurants, and actually a complete consulting arm around training other companies on their culture. And the message seems to be hire those people who are really kind and thoughtful, and who work hard and are loyal. And you could see that on the face of everyone that works there. Also, I just really like the food.

John: Alright, so why should people work for Chartbeat?

Katie: Yeah, so there are tons of reasons. For me, the number one thing is we hire really, really smart people. And our culture is really focused on learning. And I find that a lot of our learning comes from the people that we work with, which is kind of incredible. So being able to look up to the people around you and getting to work with them on solving really interesting problems.

We really trust people to just figure it out and do their jobs. And there’s no micromanagement. So being around that level of intelligence every day is breathtaking. I’ve also found the leadership team to be incredibly transparent. Because of my role working closely with the CEO, I see how he talks to people and what’s going on. And that is always for them, it applies to the whole company. And whenever Tony, our CEO, speaks to us, he says, “This is your company. So I want to tell you everything. This is your company, I want to hear what you have to say.” And I think that’s pretty rare. So it’s been pretty special to see that.

John: Okay, here we go. Big finish on the last question, Katie. And you’ve got to humor me because you’re on BE Culture Radio. So your answer has to start with “BE”. For example, BE inspiring or BE fun, right?

Katie: Right.

John: So if you had to describe your culture of Chartbeat in three words, what would they be?

Katie: This is pretty easy. It’s BE honest, BE thoughtful and BE kind.

John: I like that. Very cool. Katie, I can’t thank you enough for spending time with us. How can my listeners connect with you?

Katie: Yeah. Actually, you can catch me on Twitter, @KatieKimballNYC. Or you could shoot me an e-mail at katie@chartbeat.com. We love hearing from anyone about anything.

John: And is there anything exciting our listeners should know about from Chartbeat coming at us in the very near future?

Katie: Yeah, we have pretty big product update and launch coming out pretty soon here in the next couple of months. So stay tuned for that. Hopefully, you’ll be hearing a lot about it in the press.

John: Super. Katie, I never end an episode without sharing with my guest my favorite quote. And it’s from Maya Angelou which is “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Katie: I love that one too. We’re on the same page.

John: And I hope we made you feel welcome.

Katie: You did.

John: Well, I hope that you’ll come back and visit with us again. We’d like to have you back later in the year. And you can tell us how your company’s doing and how you’re doing. And if there’s anything we can do to help you, and in your travels, if you have think that there’s someone that would enjoy being on our radio show and would help our listeners be better people and drive better cultures, please send them our way.

Katie: I sure will. It’s been a pleasure, John. I really appreciate it. Thanks so much for thinking of us.

John: Thank you. BE well and the very best to you.

Katie: You too. Take care.

John: Alright, bye-bye.

Katie: Bye.