From inspiration to innovation, here's how 6 local tech leaders fuel creativity

by Joyce Famakinwa
June 25, 2018

For companies to remain competitive, they have to remain innovative. To remain innovative, teams must engender creativity by fostering cultures and processes that empower every team member to bring new ideas and out-of-the-box solutions to the table. It’s not easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding.

To learn more about how teams work together to inspire the creative breakthroughs that take their work to the next level, we talked to six local tech companies about their latest projects. Here’s what they had to say.

 

Documoto team
photo via documoto

Documoto is driving innovation within the manufacturing industry by introducing digital tools that help manufacturers develop robust catalogs to sell machine parts online. In doing so, they're allowing for more accurate digital inventories, streamlined maintenance and repair operations, and more. Steve Blanco, the company’s CEO, talked to us about why creativity is key at Documoto.

 

Can you describe your team and tell us about a project they produced that you’re proud of?

We’ve recently completed a project where we had to re-platform some of our technology. This can be a difficult exercise under the best of circumstances — the team is trying to balance technology needs, legacy functionality, customer demands and alignment with our roadmap. It was fascinating to see the team collaborate closely and come up with really creative solutions that sped up development, made our product faster, easier to use and ultimately improved our solution in significant ways.
 


How has creativity helped your team overcome a challenge or accomplish something awesome?

I think creativity is the key to almost everything we do! Whether it’s a creative recommendation by a customer success manager to help a customer gain additional value, an innovative user interface update from our product manager to streamline a visual process, or an inventive use of a framework by our engineers to significantly improve performance. Creativity is the engine that drives improvement across our entire business.

Creativity is the engine that drives improvement across our entire business.”

How do you encourage your team to be creative and innovate?

I trust my team by providing an environment where experimentation is encouraged and failure isn’t penalized. We believe in experimentation so much we made it one of our core principles. We recognize that not everything works out, and that’s okay. We encourage collaboration and communication, because innovation often springs from a clear understanding of a challenge or business problem.

 

Kapost team
photo kapost

In a digital world where content is king, Kapost has developed a B2B platform that helps businesses implement their content strategies and measure campaign success to ensure they continue to drive value. With an increasing amount of content-focused digital tools available, Kapost’s team works hard to remain innovative. Burke Webster, the company’s director of engineering, explained how healthy constraints can spur innovation.

 

Can you describe your team and tell us about a project they produced that you’re proud of?

We’ve been building a UI that builds itself. That’s no easy task. We do it with feature-based teams that are around five to six engineers, a product owner and a rotating designer. Most recently, one of our teams has been building out a minimum viable product (MVP) that adds support for a new type of field within the system. This field can be used to model hierarchical data and presents unique challenges in how we persist data and how we build a simple and intuitive UI around it. In particular we needed to focus on the scalability of our approach as this new field will be heavily used by many of our largest customers.


How has creativity helped your team overcome a challenge or accomplish something awesome?

We see creativity in use every day in the way we write code, test features, as well as think about the future state of the system. The constant use of creativity, in small bites, has produced a team that is hungry for difficult challenges.

 

The constant use of creativity, in small bites, has produced a team that is hungry for difficult challenges.”


How do you encourage your team to be creative and innovate?

I get out of their way! Our team is full of smart and creative people and we find that the best way to draw out creativity is to help them understand the problem and the context and then let them figure out the path forward.

We’ve also found that adding healthy constraints can help to spur innovation. Engineers love to solve problems and are very good at coming up with unique ways to do it. Adding a constraint, like fixing the scope or the time box, can help the team choose a path, move forward and then iterate to arrive at the best solution.

 

Adtaxi
doug gesiorski via adtaxi

Adtaxi works with advertisers and businesses across industries to show clear and precise results of omnichannel marketing campaigns. Managing roughly 2,600 monthly campaigns, their team stays ahead of the game through strong cross-team collaboration and communication, as well as an incentive program. Vice President of Operations Doug Gesiorski shared how ideas can be expanded through interdepartmental collaboration.

 

Can you describe your team and tell us about a project they produced that you’re proud of?

The operations team at Adtaxi includes an incredible group of campaign managers across search, social and programmatic channels. This group has achieved a great deal. One recent and significant project they worked on is an email alert system developed to flag individual campaign managers on potential performance issues. This provides a more automated system of double-checks to prevent errors, and helps improve campaign performance by eliminating more manual checks to allow time for strategic optimization. The project started as the brainchild of one of our search team members and was quickly adopted and adapted by our social and programmatic teams.



How has creativity helped your team overcome a challenge or accomplish something awesome?

A great example of a project that has really driven our success is the development of our Quantum optimization engine. It was initially developed collaboratively by two of our top sales and ops team members as a method of applying an algorithmic approach to optimizations that had previously been done less mathematically. While it started small, they drove early success by expanding the solution to a larger subset of campaigns they managed together, demonstrating tremendous results as an early beta test.

This solution was ultimately transitioned to our product and dev teams, who did an amazing job of turning an initial concept into a full-fledged optimization tool, which is critical to driving results across the organization. It's really a great example of how ideas can be generated by anyone in the organization and how a supportive organization can help nurture them into much greater opportunities.

 

Anyone on the team can submit new ideas geared towards driving revenue and efficiency, or supporting our marketing efforts. We review all submissions and team members have the rest of the quarter to build or prove out their idea.”


How do you encourage your team to be creative and innovate?

Adtaxi has a tremendous leadership team across the board, and I value any opportunity to sing their praises and credit their efforts. The operations leadership team I manage, as well as Adtaxi's executive leadership team, does a great job of leveraging challenges as coaching opportunities, to encourage team members to think outside of the box and try new things.

We also reward our team with a quarterly incentive stretch goal program. Anyone on the team can submit new ideas geared towards driving revenue and efficiency, or supporting our marketing efforts. We review all submissions and team members have the rest of the quarter to build or prove out their idea. Successful goals are rewarded with a bonus, as well as recognition throughout the organization for their efforts.

 

Stream
Thierry Schellenbach via stream

A graduate of Techstars, Stream delivers an API for building, scaling and personalizing social media feeds. Companies can add their personalized activity feed directly to their site to highlight editorial content. With customers such as Bandsintown, Unsplash and ProductHunt, the team at Stream focuses on continuous innovation. We talked to CEO and founder Thierry Schellenbach to gain some insight into his creative approach to marketing.

 

Can you describe your team and tell us about a project they produced that you’re proud of?

A small portion of our team recently launched Winds, an open-source showcase application for reading RSS feeds and listening to podcasts. It was built to show off the power of our feed technology at Stream. Shortly after releasing to the public, Winds immediately went viral and gathered over 5,000 stars on GitHub. It was an awesome experience to work on this with the team and see it succeed.


How has creativity helped your team overcome a challenge or accomplish something awesome?

What we’ve learned is that the traditional marketing channels don’t work well for a developer focused API/SaaS offering such as Stream. Instead our team relies on creative marketing where we put ourselves in the shoes of our end user. Winds is a great example.

 

Every individual at Stream brings several unique talents to the company. I like to encourage my team members to be transparent about their skills and expertise so that there is a good amount of knowledge transfer.”


How do you encourage your team to be creative and innovate?

Every individual at Stream brings several unique talents to the company. I like to encourage my team members to be transparent about their skills and expertise so that there is a good amount of knowledge transfer. No individual is going to be perfect at or know everything, so I value team members who want to learn, especially from their colleagues. It’s important that the team trusts me and each other so that they feel free to talk openly about when they need help. Creativity thrives when the team is learning from each other.

 

OnDeck team
photo via ondeck

OnDeck has simplified the process of garnering short-term loans and lines of credit up to $100,000 for small businesses. Additionally, they provide ongoing financial advising support. Salesforce Tech Lead Engineer Makenzie Swift described how her team continues to improve processes and innovate their technology stack.

 

Can you describe your team and tell us about a project they produced that you’re proud of?

The Salesforce team is made up of experienced administrators and developers located in our Denver and New York offices. Our team supports all major functions at OnDeck; sales, operations and technology. I’m proud to say that despite having a mature implementation of Salesforce, we are able to continuously improve our processes and innovate our technology stack. An example of this is our sales enablement project during which we were able to create a brand new role hierarchy for the entire company. This unlocks the ability to have a secure data model, use out of the box quota and forecasting tools, use native Salesforce pipeline reports and easily integrate with third party applications.


How has creativity helped your team overcome a challenge or accomplish something awesome?

We have a unique Salesforce implementation that requires us to regularly generate innovative solutions. We are very familiar with creating processes and designs that manipulate the technology in unique ways to solve business problems. Without creativity we wouldn’t be able to provide OnDeck with the level of support we need in order to continue to be a leader in the FinTech industry.

 

I strongly encourage our team to stay up to date with the latest technologies in order to be able to design cutting-edge solutions.”

How do you encourage your team to be creative and innovate?

Salesforce is a tool that is continuously updating and adding new features. I strongly encourage our team to stay up to date with the latest technologies in order to be able to design cutting-edge solutions. I also encourage the team to seek out training opportunities as often as possible. When you have the most up-to-date knowledge of the platform you have more options when solving business problems. We are fortunate that Salesforce has a large community of users and training material that is readily available.

 

Ibotta
photo via ibotta 

Ibotta’s app allows users to receive cash back on purchases from companies like Uber, Whole Foods, Walgreens and Amazon. Users can check for product offers before shopping, then simply take a photo of their receipt and submit it to through the Ibotta app to receive cash back within 48 hours. Ron White, the company’s vice president of engineering, described how Ibotta’s tech squads work together.

 

Can you describe your team and tell us about a project they produced that you’re proud of?

Our technology organization is composed of three teams (engineering, product and analytics) working together in cross-functional, collaborative development squads. We have an entire group dedicated to building infrastructure and tools to accelerate the other squads. It is one of the initiatives this group works on that I'd like to shine the light on.

At Ibotta, we have a legacy application upon which we built our business, but to scale for the vision of our leadership we needed to move to a microservices architecture. Building our first microservice was a new challenge, but in the end the project delivered great business impact. When we went to build the next service we found ourselves tackling many of the same hurdles and recognized the opportunity to make a “paved road” for microservices development. This initiative will reduce the time to get new microservices into production and improve developer productivity, both essential as we scale from tens of microservices into the hundreds.

We're not afraid to break things. We celebrate and reward unconventional thinking.

How has creativity helped your team overcome a challenge or accomplish something awesome?

As we started building out microservices code infrastructure, we realized the cloud infrastructure would vary from service to service. Creating bespoke infrastructure manually through the AWS console would not scale with the team and raised several security concerns. The team recognized the opportunity to build a CI/CD pipeline for provisioning infrastructure via code using Terraform. Additionally, they established a new infrastructure specialist guild to ensure squads had the know-how to self-serve infrastructure going forward.

 

How do you encourage your team to be creative and innovate?

We're not afraid to break things. We celebrate and reward unconventional thinking. We make room for new voices and ideas at every level of the company.

 

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