“Understanding our purpose is the main factor for a healthy culture”
Vancouver, October 30th, 2017
Hard work, be nice, think big, love digital and have fun. Those are the five core rules of Pound & Grain, a digital agency based in Vancouver and Toronto founded in 2010. After leaving their agency jobs, Jackson Murphy, Tara Steinberg and Graham MacInnes decided to set up their own agency. The growth was fast and they are now creating impactful digital marketing solutions for clients such as SAP, TELUS and EA.
As part of that growth, Sandy Fleischer decided to join the team as a Managing Partner. Murphy, Steinberg and MacInnes had been their former employees and he was “blown away” by their vision of digital agency and the quality of their work. Since then, Fleischer has witnessed the expansion of the agency.
In an interview with TIA, Fleischer gives us an inside look on the agency daily life and specially on its culture, describing what it takes to be part of Pound & Grain’s staff and the work style inside the agency.
“We are no bullshit. Our work must be effective, and we like to get from A to B quickly. Most importantly, we are comfortable in who we are. This means talent and clients can quickly get a sense of whether we are the right fit for them. We can’t be the right choice for everyone, and we’re okay with that,” Fleischer said.
Could you briefly describe your career path up to date and what drove you to Pound & Grain?
I spent much of my time working at large global agencies. Looking back, I’m very thankful for what I learned, but in 2010 I came to believe that a boutique-sized digital-first marketing and communications agency was the way forward. Around this time, I reconnected with Jackson Murphy, Tara Steinberg and Graham MacInnes. Three former employees – incredibly talented and driven people – who had founded a small new agency called Pound & Grain. I was blown away by not only the quality of their work, but the common vision we shared for what a digital agency could and should be. We ate some steak, had a few beers, and by the end of the night, we were business partners. And we haven’t looked back ever since!
How do you know if a person has what it takes to fit the culture of the agency?
This is a hugely important question, and one we’ve thought lots about. A key part of Pound & Grain’s culture is a handful of simple rules that we live by:
These rules govern Pound & Grain, keeping our focus on what’s important. It has seen us grow from three to over thirty people in a few short years. They are a major part of our hiring process. If a candidate doesn’t posses these qualities – regardless of talent – we know there won’t be a cultural fit.
What skills and experiences would make an ideal candidate?
While there are certain skills or raw talents that we always look for (which vary depending on if we are looking for a planner, producer, client lead, creative, or developer), I’ve become much more focused on attitude throughout the hiring process. What I’ve noticed over the years is that people who tend to excel at Pound & Grain are the ones who are solution-oriented. Anyone can spot issues, but the real gems are the people who actually take the initiative to do something about it.
We don’t mind if someone makes the occasional mistake at Pound & Grain. It happens. We just want people with the drive, passion and ability to make a real difference.
What are some of the essential/strategic questions on a job interview?
I try to keep job interviews conversational. I find I get a much better sense of the candidate’s personality if it’s less formal. This is important to me as I am always evaluating candidates in terms of cultural fit. I do always ask interviewees to describe their greatest professional achievement as this really helps get to the heart of what they value. I also like to ask about obstacles overcome, as this can give insight into problem solving methods.
Another favourite of mine is to ask the candidate why they are interested in Pound & Grain. This gives me a chance to see if they’ve taken the time to really get to know who we are, and how we are different than the four or five agencies down the street. We want people who get what we are all about, and want to be a part of that. Along those same lines, I always pay attention to the questions that candidates ask me. Certain types of questions often indicate an interest in what we believe as an agency, and a desire to know what makes us tick.
How would you describe your company culture?
We are no bullshit. Our work must be effective, and we like to get from A to B quickly. Most importantly, we are comfortable in who we are. This means talent and clients can quickly get a sense of whether we are the right fit for them. We can’t be the right choice for everyone, and we’re okay with that. We talk about Pound & Grain as a place Where Hustle Meets Heart. The hustle represents our attitude and grit. We think there are very few challenges that are impossible to solve. And more often than not, hustle is a big part of the solution. The heart represents our love for digital and what it means to us. We always try to inject soul into our work.
How is that culture maintained and cultivated?
Culture has been a key focus from day one. We’ve grown to over thirty people across two offices, and we’ve taken steps to ensure a cohesive culture. This is non-negotiable for us. The single most important factor for a healthy culture to take root and be maintained is to ensure that everyone who is a part of the team has a clear understanding of Pound & Grain’s purpose. It’s not enough for employees to know what we do and how we do it. They all need to understand why we do it. We have strong corporate values, and we work hard to ensure open and accurate communication. We make a habit of reviewing corporate goal performance with the team, and we ensure that individuals have goals that ladder up to these corporate goals.
What does a great working environment look like for you?
We believe a great working environment is one that enables people to be productive and fosters great work. We all sit in a single open work area where it’s mostly heads down for work, but quick conversations can happen if need be. We also have many breakout rooms for people to escape to for writing, coding, or smaller jam sessions. Of course, all of this doesn’t mean we can’t take breaks and have our fun. We are in a creative industry after all. Our ping pong table, Xbox, and an amazing antique wurlitzer jukebox help with that. Hint, if you are ever in our Vancouver office, select A24 on the jukebox for one of the best songs ever.
What is the communication style within your team? Do you use any apps or tools?
We’ve got lots of different styles based on the tool in question. We rely on JIRA for work tickets, and when we communicate there it’s all business. Slack is a different story, depending on the channel of course. Our project based channels are again quite functional, but then we’ve got channels like #poundandgrain-pets and #hax0rz that are a bit more entertaining. It’s amazing, but between these two tools, it means we have minimal internal emails.
We also do a lot IRL. We have MMMs or “Monday Morning Meetings” (technically lunch time in Toronto) where we’ll review what’s on deck for the upcoming week and any relevant happenings that the agency should know about. For conversations between offices, we do a lot of video chats, using either Google Hangouts or Skype.
What do you like doing in your free time?
I’m a former DJ and I’m still an avid vinyl collector. I’ve got my turntables and mixer in the office and whenever I can, I break out my collection of vintage Jamaican 45s and spin some choice Ska, Rocksteady and Dub records. I’ve recently added an echo machine and dub siren to my kit. I’ve found that this doesn’t always go over so well during working hours.
Tell us one thing you love the most about your role and what don’t you like
There’s no other job I’d rather be doing. And it feels great to be able to say that. What I love most is when we are working on figuring out smart, novel ways to solve marketing challenges with our clients pushing us to do our best work, and respecting us for the solutions we bring to the table. That’s when it’s magic!
What I don’t like are the days when it feels like all I’m doing is putting out fires. Sometimes, it would be nice to have someone to pass the buck to, but as one of the four partners, I don’t have that luxury. But then I think about why I am in this business, and those magic moments, and it’s all good!