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Small Company, Big Impact: How Heap Is Preparing (& Hiring) for the Future

Posted by Amy Elisa Jackson

December 4, 2018

“Heap is one of the few companies I have come across that has the triple play - great people, technology and culture!” This is how one employee summarized the culture at Heap, a fast-growing analytics start-up.

It’s this trifecta that has led the San Francisco company to be named #1 on Glassdoor’s list of Best Places to Work for small-to-medium sized businesses. The fast-paced culture combined with top-notch leadership have led to consistent growth both for the company and the employees that work there.

On the eve of the announcement, we caught up with Heap CEO Matin Movassate to discover what makes this company a true unicorn and an employer to watch.

Glassdoor: Congrats on the win! What does it mean to have your employees honor the company as a 2019 Best Place to Work?

Matin Movassate: This is a huge honor. We can’t imagine anything more important than the quality of our people and culture.

Glassdoor What are two or three steps your company has taken within the last year to double down on company culture, employee engagement and employee feedback that may have led to this win?

Matin Movassate: Our mission is to power business decisions with truth. Thus, we need to apply that philosophy to iterating on our culture.

We’ve added a few initiatives to stay close to the ground truth of our culture. We’ve added lightweight engagement surveys to get a frequent pulse on sentiment. We’ve added bi-annual 360-degree performance reviews to provide everyone with deep, forward-looking feedback on their own career growth. We have surveys for every new hire to fill out within 60 days of joining because we want to capture impartial impressions on our culture while people are fresh. And finally, we have a Heaple Committee (Heap People!) to give me and our leadership team qualitative feedback on how we need to improve.

That said, we’re not a perfect company, and we don’t pretend to be. There are so many ways we could execute and collaborate better. We recognize that our culture will need to evolve as we grow, and these feedback loops help us improve faster.

Glassdoor: This award speaks volumes about the company but also signals to job seekers that this is an amazing place to work. Why should job seekers take a chance on Heap?

Matin Movassate: Like most companies, we have each new hire go through an onboarding process. But our process puts a uniquely heavy emphasis on exposing everyone to company leadership. New hires meet with me, my co-founder Ravi Parikh, our CTO Dan Robinson and the rest of the leadership team. Each of us takes time to describe our business: our mission, values, market, product, strategy, competition. An obvious goal here is to give people transparency into the business and provide them with a direct channel for feedback and questions. But I also find this useful for assessing alignment on my own team, i.e. Heap’s leadership team. We survey new hires after they’ve gone through onboarding, learn about misalignments in how we talk about our opportunity and immediately act on fixing them. This process takes up a lot of our time, and won’t scale forever, but we see it as critical in making new hires gain context and iterating on our own internal alignment.

Our onboarding isn’t all serious. We try to have fun, too! All new Heaple get a “sweet” integration into our culture. We’ll have new hires host an afternoon snack, so they can meet Heaple from all areas of the business. During our all-hands meetings, everyone at the company competes in a “did you know” quiz about new hires’ backgrounds. This helps ensure new employees feel connected to the rest of the company as quickly as possible.

Glassdoor: As a fast-growing company, where are you truly investing when it comes to hiring?

Matin Movassate: Heap is growing really quickly, which means we’re hiring for just about every role.

Engineering is a particular hiring focus for us. We’re laser-focused on driving product value and velocity for our customers, so we’re always looking to hire strong, ambitious, low-ego engineers. We believe in output over input, so we support flexible work schedules (in fact, ~40% of our engineers are remote).

We fly our remote engineers to our San Francisco HQ three times a year for “Eng Global,” a chance for our distributed engineers to connect with their SF teammates, to attend Lunch & Learns hosted by our go-to-market leaders and to take part in cultural initiatives. During our last Eng Global, one of our remote engineers taught the rest of us the scientifically-proven optimal method for making coffee!

Glassdoor: What insights can you share about the interview process at Heap? What types of questions do you ask, and what kind of soft skills do you look for?

Matin Movassate: Hiring well is the single most important thing we can do at Heap. I try to repeat this mantra as often as I can.

In fact, one of our company values is centered around how to hire well: “Emphasize Slope Over Y-Intercept”. This means we value potential (“slope”) over past experience (“y-intercept”) in evaluating candidates. We believe potential is best predicted by finding people who are low-ego, ambitious, smart and intellectually curious.

Because traditional interviews are designed to assess past experience (as opposed to someone’s “slope”), we wanted to flip the traditional interview process on its head. One of the more unique things about our interview processes is that we make our interviews resemble the actual day-to-day as much as possible. We have engineering candidates spend the day designing and building end-to-end features. We have sales rep candidates iterate on mock customer calls with us. We even have potential managers interview their future team to find patterns and produce a plan to improve execution.

Glassdoor: How do you screen candidates to ensure that they will be engaged and truly become Heaple?

Matin Movassate: At Heap, we try to make our interviews values-driven as opposed to culture-driven.

When trying to assess “culture fit,” it’s too easy to fall into the trap of looking for people just like you who you’d “want to grab beers with.” This can create a vicious cycle where you hire more and more like-minded people, which stunts inclusivity. “Culture” is also a vague, subjective notion. Values, instead, provide a more structured approach to our interviews, because it equips us with a common language and understanding of how to assess “culture fit.”

Glassdoor: How are you using Glassdoor to attract the types of candidates you’re looking for?

Matin Movassate: We really, really value the truth here at Heap. Because we naturally spend most of our working days with other Heaple, it’s easy for us to get stuck in an echo chamber about ourselves. Glassdoor lets us break out of that echo chamber by helping us understand what employees and job candidates really think. I make sure to read every new Glassdoor review.

Glassdoor: Besides celebrating your 2019 Best Places to Work win, what’s next for Heap?

Matin Movassate: In helping power business decisions with truth, we’ve done a lot to automate the painful parts of capturing user data. Now that we collect a massive dataset on behalf of our customers, the logical next step for us is to automate getting value from that data. It’s a big technical challenge, but we believe our dataset uniquely positions us to proactively tell our customers what next steps to take with their own data.

As we grow, I’m most nervous about how we preserve the quality of our team, the alignment around our vision and the velocity of our execution. Maintaining a high bar on each of these axes becomes exponentially harder as we grow, and most companies don’t survive the transition. What worked when we were 10 people doesn’t work for us now that we’re 100 people. And what works for us now won’t work when we’re 300 employees. I think about this constantly.

Glassdoor: Looking ahead to 2019, what are two or three trends you’re seeing in your industry that job seekers need to understand or be aware of as it pertains to innovation? How can job seekers get prepared for the future of work in your industry?

Matin Movassate: It’s hard to predict what the broader data and analytics industry will look like in 30 years. We know that the rise of cloud infrastructure and machine learning will change how every single human interfaces with data, and we know the future isn’t just staring at a single dashboard. Will we query our business data as easily as we query the web? Will we ask questions of our data in natural language instead of code? Will our systems be able to surface insights for us automatically? Will they be able to take the right actions automatically?

No one knows. And anyone who pretends they know is just guessing. But one thing we do know is that this grand, AI-driven future can’t happen without a complete, trustworthy dataset. There’s no other way to surface unknown unknowns.

So if prospective data engineers, data analysts, data scientists and business intelligence leaders can maintain a maniacal focus on the completeness and quality of their data, they’ll be well-prepared for anything the future has in store.


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