The tale of Bazaarvoice, as told through the shirts on our backs (2009-2011) - part three

After a long and terrific family summer vacation and the resulting hiatis from Lucky7, I'm back. We spent most of the month in France (from Paris to the French Riveria), starting with a quick juant in London, complete with a very nice dinner at Coya(awesome Peruvian food) with two of our longtime Bazaarvoice London team members.

As I mentioned in my first and second Lucky7 post in this series, every startup has their t-shirts. But you can tell a lot about a company by the t-shirts they make. And so I would like to continue to take you through Bazaarvoice's history - and our culture - with the most complete collection of BV t-shirts with the possible exception of my co-founder, Brant Barton.

This is the third in my series, and I'll cover the years 2009-2011 here. We went public in February of 2012, and I'll eventually write part four of this series to cover 2011-2013. As our Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors today, I continue to spend a lot of time helping the company that I co-founded, led as CEO from inception through IPO and two acquisitions (PowerReviews and Longboard Media), and I very much love and always will. As our #1 fanboy, I continue to get a lot of schwag and I'm glad that Bazaarvoice t-shirt production remains at full tilt! We recently celebrated our eight-year anniversary at Bazaarvoice, and I was proud to receive the accompanying milestone t-shirt, which was crowdsourced in an internal contest - as tradition dictates - and passed out at a fun 80s-themed off-site.

I suggest reading this series from the beginning - the first Lucky7 post covers our first two years in business (2005-2007), and the second covers 2007-2009. You may be wondering why I do this. Well, I write this series not only to document our history for all Bazaarvoice employees but also so that one day my children can read about Bazaarvoice’s history in detail. Our first child was six-months old when Brant Barton, my co-founder, and I founded Bazaarvoice. Her childhood and Bazaarvoice are intimately intertwined. The thought of our children reliving the most important eight years of my career when they come into adulthood brings a smile to my face. Of course, I hope to inspire others too – entrepreneurs, investors, and anyone else that needs a little inspiration for their company or team.

Let’s start with a hunt – a scavenger hunt that is. One of the more important aspects of Bazaarvoice culture is how we integrate new team members into our company. In 2009, when it was clear that we were growing quickly and were about to really ramp up our hiring efforts, I was with our executive team for one of our quarterly off-sites and the topic of onboarding came up. At every off-site we reserved a lot of time to not just discuss strategy but also culture, so this was a normal routine (and one that I highly recommend). What was also normal by 2009 is that we had formed the Bazaarvoice Cultural Ambassadors. We had become known for our innovative culture, and had recently won the #1 company in Austin to work for, but we started to run out of new cultural ideas of our own. We needed a new spark of creativity, and we decided to form this team of Ambassadors to visit and learn from other top-rated companies to work for. It is pretty easy to identify them – you can start with the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work, for example. One of the companies the Ambassadors had visited was Zappos. Today Zappos is very well known for it’s culture, ever since Tony Hsieh wrote his bestseller Delivering Happiness. The Ambassadors presented their findings at the off-site and were passionately talking about Zappos University, where all new Zappos employees get four weeks of training on the Zappos way. Even if you are hired as a CFO at Zappos, you need to spend time in the call center and do that job. This really struck us – it not only encouraged you to be productive, it also made you humble and customer focused. I bet most CFOs have never spent time doing customer service calls in a call center. To be able to relate to each and every job is a very special thing – and it will foster communication across your company. After all, we are all just people playing a role, whether that is CEO or call center specialist. The better we play (and play together), the better the company does.

The Ambassadors had struck a chord and right there and then we came up with the Bazaarvoice Scavenger Hunt. But instead of making it a four-week process, we made it a one-week process. You are surprised on your first day of work at Bazaarvoice with a series of tasks to complete and you are told that your manager considers you “on vacation” and cannot assign you any work. Like Zappos, you are also offered thousands of dollars to quit at the end of the Scavenger Hunt if you have decided that Bazaarvoice isn’t the place for you (better to find out quickly rather than take a long time and waste everyone’s time and opportunity cost, including yours). Going through the Scavenger Hunt was difficult and it quickly became a badge of honor. There was even a hint of jealously for those that had been hired before we rolled it and didn’t get the opportunity to go through it. Of course, “surviving” the Scavenger Hunt needed a t-shirt:

I cannot write enough about the benefits of the Scavenger Hunt. I noticed a near immediate impact in the way our employees related to each other and passionately carried the Bazaarvoice flag. It bonded them as part of a special club. It broke down barriers for communicating with other departments that are prevalent at so many companies that do not have such a process. It created more energy in the halls and everyone celebrated new team members in a very unusual and exciting way.

To recruit the hundreds of people that we hired over 2009-2011, we turned to campus recruiting. I passionately believed that we needed to ramp up our own internal recruiting efforts versus outsource it to a third party. As we were going to more than double our number of team members, we could not afford to screw it up and I wanted equity-compensated employees of our own to lead the charge (Zappos takes this same approach, by the way – as I learned when I read Delivering Happiness myself). That included campus recruiting, and we hired a great team to pursue that. They produced this t-shirt to stand out from the crowd of campus recruiters and get attention for a little known corporate brand. We needed to have swagger and celebrate the fact that we were the #1 company to work for in Austin – we were different:


The Engineering team had their own take on this theme, and one that I can really appreciate being a nerd myself (having started programming at age 7 and being called that many times throughout my childhood – it just wasn’t cool back then growing up in Texas!). A sign of the times now – Nerds are cool and are disrupting allfields, not just software and Internet, and often when sporting a hoodie to boot!:

And the International team got in on the action too – both by ramping up hiring significantly and having their own rising star t-shirt to celebrate it:

Now let’s talk about the unsung heroes at Bazaarvoice – the content moderators. These are the stay-at-home, part-time employees that moderate (or curate) and tag all of the online word of mouth content captured by Bazaarvoice clients worldwide. I always enjoyed celebrating the best of them over dinner (those who had moderated the equivalent of many, many volumes of War and Peace). They moderate in 27 international languages (the count at the time of our IPO), and building on the Don’t Stop Believing mantra that I discussed in my 2007-2009 t-shirt post, we produced this t-shirt to celebrate them and how international we had become:

I’ll shift gears for a moment and talk about someone that created a movement at Bazaarvoice – Matt Curtin. Matt was someone that I tried to recruit for years. We actually met at Lola Savannah (the coffee bar I recently compared to Buck’s of Woodside in this Lucky7 post). As I do some weekend mornings, I had taken our daughter to Lola Savannah and she started talking to Matt, who was sitting next to us. We quickly hit it off and after I learned about his great track record in software sales, I knew we had to hire him. After two years, I was successful at pulling him in, with the help of Michael Osborne and Heather Brunner, our global head of sales and COO, respectively, at that time (today Michael is the co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer of Handshakez and Heather is the COO of WP Engine).

Matt quickly fell in love with the Bazaarvoice culture, and he listened to a few of the Millennials who were advocating for a team mascot. At that time, Matt led the Global Strategic Accounts (GSA) team, focused primarily on winning and expanding our relationships with the largest consumer brands in North America. Matt was shown this viral video (warning: profanity but hilarious) by a few of his team members and he knew that the honey badger was his team’s calling. As our CEO, I ran with it too. Much of culture happens organically and when you see something great, you need to run with it – and that means cheering it on with the CEO “megaphone”. Matt celebrated the new mascot with this t-shirt, and even bought a stuffed honey badger to represent the team and be present at the weekly Bazaarvoice gong for every GSA team win – we all had a great time with it:

Finally, I’ll end on the anniversary t-shirts, like I have in the rest of this series. This t-shirt celebrates for our five-year anniversary and is pretty straightforward. I guess you would say it is collegiate or American Eagle/ Abercrombie & Fitch style. This makes sense to me as over half of our employees at the time were Millennials. If you want to learn a lot about working with Millennials, I highly recommend you tune into Jason Dorsey, whom I’ve had speak at both Bazaarvoice and the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO) Austin Chapter.

Because of its simplicity and nice design, it remains one of our most popular t-shirts today. I love the back of the shirt too, which simply says, “celebrating five five-star years”. The shirt was crowdsourced, as tradition had adopted, but I did have an override on one aspect of the shirt. Inside the stars you can see stats and these stand for the number of offices, products, employees (including Content Moderators), clients, and online word of mouth impressions served – all using our counting methodologies for that time (which are different than those used today as a public company):


For our six-year anniversary t-shirt, the team again launched a crowdsourced contest and the winner went with a creative pub-style t-shirt to celebrate how international we had become. You’ll notice that the V and I in Bazaarvoice form the Roman numerals for six:


Until next time…