The mission: To be the best place on earth for nerds to work.
And it is.
The Nerdery in Minneapolis is among my favorite companies in the world. For me, it’s up on a pedestal with SpaceX and Google—even Zumasys itself. Its founder, Luke Bucklin, was a friend and a former Zumasys employee and someone I admired greatly. Its CEO, Mike Derheim, is one of my favorite people in business. And, truth be told, we here at Zumasys have learned much from the Nerdery. They are committed to ethical capitalism inside and out. Fun overflows there. People work hard, they’re appreciated, and they’re passionate about what they’re doing. It’s inspiring.
There are so many things I could share with you about what they’re doing, it’s hard to know where to start. But start I must, so I’ll share with you the highlights of my conversation with Mike Derheim and some of the outstanding things his team is accomplishing in the world of interactive online development.
To be the best place on earth for nerds to work, you must understand nerds. You must learn who they are and what fulfills them. So they nerd out on nerds. The Nerdery has a self-governed workforce who make their own hours because they are treated like responsible adults. You want to work from midnight to 8am, that’s your call. You want to bring your dog to work with you—do it. Employees can design/decorate their workspaces however they want. Every wall is painted with whiteboard paint and free for creativity. When a nerd is hired, they’re provided with the computer of their choice—whatever they need to be excellent. The Nerdery believes that you are the expert on what makes you productive, and they put their money where their mouth is. Whatever employees need to succeed, The Nerdery wants to provide it to them.
Are they growing? Are they learning? Are they fulfilled? These are the questions that drive departments like The Resourcery, Nerd Experience, and Nerd Support. The Resourcery pairs people with projects. Mike says he’s pretty sure they chose that name so they could call themselves Resourcerers, which they do!
Today there are over 300 software developers in the company. Each project that comes in the door gets personally paired with a team of those developers. The matching process is unique and highly personal. It’s based on things like past experience, passion, and interest. The Resourcery is tasked with ensuring that the developers are challenged and that there is variety in their work, because a happy developer is a successful developer.
Nerd Experience and Nerd Support are employee advocates. They provide administration for the nerds and are in charge of benefits, both standard and creative. And wait till you hear what some of those are.
The Nerdery provides breakfast, an online lunch ordering system, dog grooming, oil changes, and massages. The list goes on and on. Their goal is to remove employees’ daily stresses. They believe that less stress = more productivity. Duh.
Chartered clubs are another stand-out benefit at The Nerdery. If you can find one other person who shares an interest with you (Star Trek, D&D, knitting, board games, home brewing—you name it), you can take advantage of budget for a space to meet, t-shirts, and meals. These days, many of us spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families. The Nerdery believes those relationships should be about more than just work.
As I said, there are dozens upon dozens of amazing things that The Nerdery does to foster the culture they have built. I’ll leave you with just one more: Bottlecap.
Each Friday, they shut down at 4:30 p.m. and get together in the in the Nerditorium to enjoy a beer (they have a rotation on tap at all times), and a few people present a newly launched project that was difficult, or complex, or really cool. Sometimes a customer will come in to share what the project did for their company. It’s a chance to revel in success before heading into another week—something we should all probably do more often.
When you’re developing custom software, websites, and apps for companies, success is wholly dependent on the customer’s satisfaction with the end result. One of the ways The Nerdery ensures success is in their hand-off process. Once a customer signs an order, The Resourcery assigns the project team that will execute the plan. At that point the sales rep has to sell the project team on why the project is important. To inspire the team, they tell the customer’s story and explain what the project will do for their business. Why? Because the Why drives the What. Very clever.
If you work in IT, you know that things don’t always go according to plan. Transparency across all projects is central to The Nerdery’s success. They have an internal exception system where anyone on a team can flag events that may risk the project or the relationship with the customer. This forum triggers a thread that everyone involved in the project is added to. The goal is to address issues immediately and publicly so that a solution can be found as quickly as possible.
If any employee believes anything is critical enough, they can post to the Danger Board. Forty people are on the recipient list, including Mike and the company’s other executives. Any issue that will significantly delay a project, something urgent that needs attention from everyone, can be posted on this forum by any employee in any position. It says, “Stop what you’re doing and look!” With the Danger Board, every employee is empowered to speak up. Problems are to be faced head on, never shied away from and never swept under the rug.
It is this level of commitment to customer satisfaction that has grown The Nerdery into one of the most successful interactive development shops in the world. They are growing at astronomical rates and making people’s software visions become reality. They truly are enabling businesses across the globe to succeed in the modern marketplace.
This company has an intense focus on serving its community. That focus has been an integral part of the company’s modus operandi since its inception—fueled by their founder and continued to this day. To encourage giving, The Nerdery offers a budget per employee per month to match any donations that the employee makes to charity (provided those donations aren’t religious or political).
They also make their building available as meeting space, for free, to local community organizations, user groups, technology groups, and charities. If you’re in a city where they have an office, and you want to get your group off the ground, The Nerdery wants to help you make it happen.
And then there’s the Overnight Website Challenge (OWC). This event says everything you need to know about why I love The Nerdery so much. In 2007, The Nerdery decided to give back to the non-profit community by helping them update/create their websites. Developers are split into teams of 10 and matched with a non-profit. They gather at The Nerdery’s offices, and, over the course of 24 hours, develop a website, donor/member management system, mobile apps—whatever the charity needs to have a better, bigger, more modern presence online. At a billing rate of $150/hr, this is equivalent to a $36,000 donation in labor to each non-profit. It’s about more than just giving money, it’s giving time, passion and talent, and helping non-profits succeed in their missions. In 2007, 10 teams participated in the OWC. In 2014, they had 6 teams in Kansas City, 10 in Chicago, and 18 in Minneapolis. That’s 34 teams, 340 developers, and 8,160 hours donated at a value of $1,224,000.00. This is what success looks like!
The level of pride I feel when I talk about The Nerdery, the joy I have when I get to travel to Minneapolis and walk through their building, the relationships I have built with Mike and many others on their team…those feelings have made this a hard blog to write. Deciding what I would write down and what I would have to leave out—it was no easy task.
In the end, The Nerdery is making money. They’re profitable. They’re growing. And they’re showing us all how to do it right. If you need an interactive website or app for your business, as far as I can see it, there’s only one company to call.
We are excited to be just one of many of companies who are passionate about being profitable and being good corporate citizens, and we’re proud to introduce you to some of these visionaries through this blog. If you know someone we should feature in this series, please email Dave McCary at [email protected]. If you want to know more about Zumasys’ culture and community focus, please explore our About pages or give us a call at 866-ZUMASYS.