Episode 64: Giving Credit to Company Culture with Paul Zhang and Avant

Who is Paul Zhang and the key takeaways in this episode?

Paul Zhang is the Chief Technology Officer of Avant and has seen firsthand how rapid, almost exponential, growth brings new challenges to face up to. Avant is tackling these challenges head on and are headed for the very top of the game.

Listen to this informative and incredibly useful interview and find out:

  • What Paul thinks of company culture
  • What he finds most challenging about maintaining culture
  • How culture accelerated Paul’s business
  • And much, much more

The Questions

You’ve got to have a story or two about how your company culture accelerated your business. Would you mind sharing it with us?

Answer:Yeah. I think the best way to talk about this is to say that we believe that everybody should have it. We believe in launching products very quickly, putting it in front of our customers and allowing them to actually see it. That’s how we built the product in general. When we first launched, it was a month and a half’s work so we had a very basic website. A lot of people signed up and everything else was at the back end. […] A lot of people have the mindset that from a company perspective you need to get your product just right, you have to wait for a long time before you launch. Well, for us, we wanted to get it in front of our customers to get that validation that this is something they want as well as to learn from their experiences going through our process.

You’ve grown from a small to a nicely sized company. You guys are doing great, so how did you manage the physical side of it so that your facilities matched your brand and your culture? What did you do to make that jump?

Answer: To sum up our history, we’ve grown in two and a half years from three to 640 people so obviously there have been some rough patches with the facilities. People have planned offices. Our original office actually had no windows whatsoever, so it’s been an ongoing, evolutionary process. We started out putting people in enclosed offices, 3-4 people per office. We were just constrained by our floor plan and things like that. Now, we’ve built up our office pretty tremendously. We have offices here in Chicago in two locations as well as an office in L.A. What we’ve done is we’ve built offices with part of an open office. That’s pretty in vogue these days with technology companies. I think it really aligns well with the way that we have, down to the entrance, maintained our culture throughout the company.

What do you and your partners find to be the most challenging part about maintaining your culture from the facilities side of it?

Answer:The biggest challenge has been part of our growth, being able to expand quickly enough. Obviously we would want everybody to have fairness in terms of working space. All the C level executives will sit in the open office space. Nobody here except legal and HR, who need private offices, actually has private offices. They need it just because they need to make phone calls or have private conversations. Everybody else just sits on the floor and the problem is that as we’ve been growing so quickly we have had to get space very quickly. There were emergency desks in places where people wouldn’t ideally be, but they’d have the same chairs, the same monitors, and as a result our rapid growth has been difficult. We’ve had to knock back walls, buy additional office space and build facilities very, very quickly, and it’s an ongoing challenge even to this day.

Culture According to Paul Zhang:

I would define it as how your company works and conducts business. It’s the day to day experience that your guys and gals go through, that coworkers go through, and it’s about how everybody at the company works. Things that you would attach to it grow out of that. I think that how your company feels from an inside perspective will inevitably leak out to how you appear to customers and how your product looks.

Go To Quote for Inspiration

Book Recommendations:

  • Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston

What Paul Zhang Wants His Company to BE:

  • BE Flexible
  • BE Customer-focused
  • BE Transparent

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:

Where to Find Paul Zhang:

  • Take a look at the company website

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