How We Built a Culture on Trust and Security

Castle has been named by San Francisco Business Times and the Silicon Valley Business Journal as one of the best startups to work for in the Bay Area and we’re incredibly humbled to receive this recognition. Since the announcement earlier this week, we’ve received some questions around how we achieved this status and I felt like it was a ripe opportunity to give you the backstory behind the culture we’re building at Castle. Hopefully, this first post of many will inspire some new solutions to old problems or help uncover a simple approach to something that hadn’t been previously realized.

There are many models for successful foundations of company culture, and there are some critical decisions we’ve made so far that have ultimately led to our first Best Places to Work award . To take a step back, Castle was founded in Malmö, Sweden in 2015, a fact that is often met with surprise (fun fact: there are actually 20 start-ups per 1,000 employees in Sweden, compared to 5 startups per 1,000 employees in the United States). Given the oversaturation and competition for tech funding and customers, some Swedish organizations seek a bigger pond in Silicon Valley, like we did.

I began attending meetups and other professional-social gatherings soon after moving to San Francisco to gain some insight on how to build an inclusive company culture in Silicon Valley. I asked every person I met during my first months about the impression of the culture at their respective companies, terrified that I wouldn’t be able to relate to any of it. I religiously checked company reviews of every name I heard and started a list of the most common complaints and praises they received. I drew connections from both the successes and pain points to focus on what really seemed important to individuals, on a case-by-case basis.

To truly build the inclusive culture we’d envisioned since Castle’s inception, we had to start by putting into words what was important to us and what values would guide all of the decisions we would continue to face as we grow. We needed to see the soul of Castle take shape on paper first. Those values guide our mission and are still at the core of every decision we make. Today, more than ever, we  recognize the importance of allowing those values to evolve if you truly want to provide a place of belonging for your employees. There are a lot of tried and true approaches to creating an inclusive work environment -- and I could go on about that for days-- but for the sake of today’s post I’ve decided to focus on three ways we’ve committed to building a place of belonging for everyone at Castle:

The Benefits

The benefits offered (or not offered) at an organization do not necessarily make or break the culture but they certainly can give clues as to how invested leadership is at the individual level. Everything we do at Castle -- from our product to our mission -- is focused on the individual. With this in mind, it only made sense for us to be highly selective about what benefits would improve the lives of every Castler, today and into the future.

Being that we are a cybersecurity company focused on user behavior, we see online users’ identities solely through the lens of “you are what you do,” and think it's important to hold ourselves accountable to that same standard. When we committed to building a mission-driven company, we ultimately committed to protecting the individual, and we’ve taken that commitment seriously. How can we promise to protect hundreds of millions of online users if we can’t even provide a sense of security to the very makers in the first place? To us, deeming ourselves a security company without also ensuring and investing in the immediate and long term security of our team members seemed like a stretch.

Providing long term security for all employees can be achieved in a lot of ways and through a lot of means, but from Castle’s inception we knew that offering a 401k program with matching was one way to get closer to that goal. I had heard and seen in my research a common argument to forgo a 401k program because stock options could serve the same purpose and thus it would be sufficient to provide one benefit but not the other. Perhaps it's my Swedish roots, but this approach seems like thinly veiled disregard for peoples’ futures at little expense to the organization.

Aside from relegating a human being to one security blanket over another, the standard exercise window for said stock options offered by most in Silicon Valley is 90 days. This all but excludes financially stable individuals, forcing others without some kind of pre-existing financial stability to waive their options and lose out on part of their compensation package, and ultimately their future. Seeing no upside to this for anyone in the long term, we opted to provide a 10-year stock exercise window for all of our current employees. When it comes to our current benefits, we see them as a starting place and our first commitment of many. We want everyone at Castle to benefit from the hard work they put in because without them: none of us would be here.

The Onboarding

Creating a diverse workplace has never been the end goal at Castle because diversity isn’t worth much if even one person doesn’t feel represented, respected, or included. Having learned a new language and adapted[ing] to a new culture, creating a place of belonging for all individuals at Castle (current and future) became personal for me. I recognize that we all come from vastly different experiences (that’s the goal, isn’t it?) and it’s unfair to expect everyone to agree on every topic. However, I’ve learned that the investments you make to build a diverse team start way before and long after hiring, and inclusion only works if everyone takes part in ensuring and practicing it daily.

With this in mind, it became a clear priority to implement an unconscious bias training as early as possible, and in our case: during new hire orientation week. We’ve dedicated a full day to an intersectional training about diversity, inclusion, and the complexities of unconscious biases to ensure that each individual knows this is an important open conversation and something we take seriously at Castle. One of our goals is for this early dialogue to help set clear expectations around integrity and accountability in order to maintain and ensure an inclusive work environment.

The Team

Last but certainly not least, it goes without saying that your people are your culture. Earlier in this post, I mentioned that our mission influences our decisions at Castle. To elaborate on that further, I believe that when a mission guides the decisions being made at every level of an organization, you create a space for people to thrive. Prioritizing the space to cultivate organic relationships between your teammates is another way for your culture to evolve. In this space, individuals can understand each other better which ultimately creates a healthier environment for everyone.

With that being said, we’ve carried over a tradition from Sweden that aligns with this cornerstone of our culture: the mighty Fika. Fika might seem like just a required weekly coffee and cake break, but I assure you it’s not just that. Fika is where the magic happens every Friday at 3pm sharp. We have but one rule at Fika: you cannot talk about work. This rule encourages people to engage in conversations about life outside of work: upcoming trips or family visits, projects, politics, religion and conspiracy theories. These glimpses into our lives are what make us connect, trust, and acknowledge each other. Emphasizing the importance of organic connections and prioritizing the time and space for those interactions on your team will allow your teammates to bond and work better — together.

So, back to the recognition by our employees earlier this week. Are we proud? You better believe it. This award is a nice reminder that the foundation we’ve laid is sound and we are on the right track to building a company where anyone could belong and thrive.