Life Options vs. Stock Options: How VSC Plays by Different Rules in Silicon Valley

It’s hard for any business to attract top talent in Silicon Valley — and even harder for a company that has no plans for an IPO, or for dishing out stock options like every other VC-backed startup.

What can we sell when money isn’t a differentiator? Three simple things: flexibility, novelty and sustainability.

Flexibility

At VSC, we believe in growth paths that suit each individual, hours that align with lifestyle needs (like parenthood or continuing education) and working remote options.

Flexibility matters and this is why we’ve built a culture that values results and productivity above hours at a desk.

That’s why, for example, two of our senior leaders who have kids aged three to 11 and are occupied with school and extracurricular activities have the option to create a flexible work schedule to reflect the needs of their families. Without flexibility, they wouldn’t have time to raise their children, which is a far more important job than any career.

We understand that the workplace can only be productive when the homefront is handled.

Because flexibility matters, across the agency we enjoy liberal work remote opportunities, including a company-wide Friday remote policy, and believe that you can work hard no matter where you are. During the summer, employees start the weekend at 3pm on Fridays — and once you reach four years with the company, we offer a paid sabbatical.

VSC believes that commutes are the silent killer of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest.

In addition to generous holiday hours, the entire office works remotely for the days leading up to Thanksgiving, as well as a 2.5 week period between mid-December and after the New Year. We also avoid our downtown office any time there’s a significant conference or event, so we can stay clear of nightmare commutes.

Last but certainly not least, we tailor custom growth paths around each team member’s skills and passions. After a few years of working at VSC, team members start to recognize their passions and superpowers. Sometimes it’s management, training, marketing, strategy, media relations or some mix of these — and they’re free to pursue a trajectory fitted to those strengths.

Novelty

We’ve all suffered the grind of a soul-sucking job: waking up way too early, getting ready in the dark, sitting through a long commute, and sitting at a dull desk counting the minutes until lunch, or until the home stretch in the afternoon. Every day brings the same routine, working with the same material, handling the same tasks again and again.

We believe that level of repetitiveness kills innovation. It’s proven that the human brain releases serotonin when we experience novelty. That means a work environment filled with new projects, challenges and rewards deliver micro-doses of happiness.

At VSC, our team works on dozens of ideas, from pizza-making robots to fertility support to wireless charging. Each team member gets to work with a diverse set of clients, each with their own opportunities and challenges. We also make sure that team members with special interests, get included on projects that suit them individually. If variety is the spice of life, then VSC is the Carolina Reaper pepper of Silicon Valley – because we give our teams constant exposure to different founders, clients, sectors, competitors, influencers, and market dynamics, to help them build a sense of dynamic thinking, and give them plenty of serotonin bursts.

Novelty also improves creative thinking. The freedom to step out of the box lets coworkers help solve one another’s challenges. This is why we run weekly hodgepodges – company-wide brainstorming sessions that engage participation from everyone in the agency. In these sessions, we help one another generate creative ideas, troubleshoot challenges on specific campaigns, and offer support and assistance across many different initiatives. This dynamic environment encourages knowledge exchange and enables us to bring 30 diverse voices to bear on any client’s challenge.

Business Consulting, Not Just Communications

Any of our clients will tell you that VSC has a unique point of view. In our endless quest to solve business problems, our curiosity takes us far beyond PR and marketing, into more significant strategic initiatives ranging from design feedback to pricing, fulfillment, recruiting and fundraising strategy. And since we’ve made more than 30 direct cash investments in all kinds of startups, we’ve seen how successful startups scale, and how high-fliers crash and fail — so we understand company-building on every level.

And when our team needs a bit of extra insight, we bring in industry experts to help us grasp the bigger trends and strategies shaping technology. Through a series of off-the-record discussions, we’ve had highly regarded executives like Tim Chang, Partner at Mayfield Fund, Ashley Mayer, Partner, Brand and Talent at Social Capital, Larry Yu, Marketing Partner at Accel, Kat Manalac, Partner at Y-Combinator, speak with our team not only as a way to challenge their thinking, but also shed light on relevant topics they may not otherwise have had access to.

Sustainability

Most startups fail – and over the long term, most companies flicker out. With 550,000 new businesses starting every month, only a small percentage actually make it to IPO. Even the prospect of succeeding via a decent acquisition is often unattainable. In our experience, only about one out of every 20 venture-backed startups see an exit that results in a decent payday for non-founders.

That’s why we offer our team members the ability not only to help clients and create a positive impact on the world, but also to contribute to the stability of an agency that helps them maintain their livelihoods and focus on their skills, instead of worrying about the next funding round.

We’ve built a business that has stood the test of Silicon Valley disruption (so far) for 15 years – and feel like we’re just getting started. We teach ourselves new facts and skills every day and re-invent our entire offering every 5 years.

We’ve even launched a seed fund, so that we can sit on the same side of the table as our clients, with proof of a vested interest in their success.

And we believe in career sustainability, too. The biggest issue facing PR professionals is a frustration with stagnation and lack of growth. Our prospective employees often complain about spending two years building media contact lists, and rarely getting to meet a client until year four.

We think that’s crazy.

Many of our clients are in the early stages of their careers, which means our entire staff needs to get deeply immersed in client meetings and actionable work — whether that means writing, providing feedback on plans, or handling media/influencer relations. We offer our team deep access to our clients’ CEOs and founders and give them the experience they need to grow in the ranks much more quickly than the industry standard.

We make a specific point of promoting talented people faster than other agencies, and even provide a one-on-one mentorship program to speed that process up. All entry-level Account Coordinators have direct access to our executive leadership, to receive sage insights, ideas and coaching from a duo that has worked with over 250 companies over the past decade.

And all our employees, no matter what position, have our executives’ cell phone numbers, and the ability to block time on their calendars. Because of this transparency, everyone on our team understands how the agency operates as a whole.

Senior shadowing is a key ingredient to our training process. Instead of throwing new employees to the wolves, we let them shadow senior managers, so they can learn how to interact with clients and industry experts, manage their time, and delegate work.

Finally, we don’t require new hires to know anything about PR. In fact, we deliberately avoid hiring candidates based on previous PR experience, because we’d much rather find fresh creative minds, and mentor those talents into unique individual roles.

Want to learn more about why so many companies struggling to acquire top talent look at their benefits package to help attract more candidates? Download Glassdoor’s eBook, The Benefits Employees Want Most. Research shows that competitive perks can be enough to sway applicants away from higher paying jobs. Boost your pool of applicants by offering these top 5 benefits: flexible schedules, health care insurance, retirement planning, life insurance, and wellness programs.