How to Build a Company You Want to Work For, According to POPSUGAR's Founder

Will Ragozzino
Will Ragozzino

This article, by POPSUGAR president and founder Lisa Sugar, originally appeared on LinkedIn. Lisa's first book, Power Your Happy: Work Hard, Play Nice, and Build Your Dream Life, came out Sept. 20.

When my husband, Brian, and I started POPSUGAR in 2006, I wanted to create a happy place to work, the kind of place I wanted to work. But I had only a vague idea of how to make that happen. I had no expertise — or interest — in figuring out vacation policies, health care plans, career paths, and the like. Luckily, I had a simple solution: I hired people I trusted, who understood what POPSUGAR needed, and who were excited to build a positive corporate culture from scratch.

Hiring people whose strengths are different from yours is essential to building a company you love. One of the biggest mistakes any entrepreneur can make is not knowing when to ask for help. We all need help sometimes! It's OK to admit that. In my book, Power Your Happy, I offer a prescription for success that requires surrounding yourself with a personal all-star team. No matter where you are in your career, we all need friends and colleagues who are rooting for us, who we can ask for favors and who will ask us for favors in return. Building that professional support system is a crucial step toward finding a job you love, and behind every success story is a strong support system: family, partners, co-workers, mentors, peers, and friends online or IRL.

When we started POPSUGAR, we hired some of our longtime friends right away, which was both comforting and terrifying. Brian has always brought along former co-workers or employees to his next gig, and he hired two engineers from past companies to help us build POPSUGAR. That strategy clearly worked for him, so I hired my friend Krista, who would become one of POPSUGAR's co-founders. She left a lucrative job in banking to come work with us, modeling out business plans, running HR and recruiting, and doing anything and everything operational. Basically, all the things she loved and I didn't.

With our first eight hires, we were giddy with excitement; every day it was like playing startup. That's not to say that we would hire just anyone; not every friend is the right fit. But those select few — the hardworking people who you can trust and who you can also hang out with for endless amounts of time — are invaluable. Not only do you keep each other sane, but you also don't want to let each other down.

Brian and I work well together as a couple, and hiring our friends has worked for us in much the same way. Working with friends means that working late and hanging out serve a dual purpose, because we are always brainstorming. Even when we are working, it feels like a good time. We learned early on how to shut off work talk when we need to; when we are at work, we can cut the BS and be honest. Luckily, we've had that vibe from the beginning, and we've sustained it. Even when we disagree, it's OK, because we know we all want the same thing: a happy, successful, profitable company. If things get heated, we just head to happy hour or a baseball game and everything is fine again.

Now that POPSUGAR employs roughly 500 people, we have obviously had to expand beyond our friend circle. But that doesn't change the fact that I want to be surrounded by smart, passionate people who inspire me. Over the years, I've learned a lot about how to hire the right people, how to identify talent, and what to look for in an employee. Of course, any candidate needs the necessary experience and talent, but I also want employees who are excited, passionate, and curious about what we do. When I interview people, I want to hear that they can be passionate about something and hear them explain why. I want to feel their excitement, whether it's about celebrities, movies, music, healthy living, parenting, shopping, or grammar. I want to get a sense of their personality, figure out whether we can inspire each other, and if we share the same work ethic: my personal mantra of "work hard, play nice," which I lay out in the book.

I'm also a strong believer in the two-way job interview, whether you're the interviewer or the interviewee. When you're trying to get a job, it's a huge mistake to say only what you think someone wants to hear. Instead, use the opportunity to think about whether this is a place you'd be happy working. Do these seem like your kind of people, or do they rub you the wrong way? Are they dressed the way you imagine dressing for work? Does your first impression of the office give you any bad vibes? If so, it might not be the job for you. Trust your gut, because you need to feel at home in this space. This is a place where you should be able to grow and be happy.

Since founding POPSUGAR 10 years ago, I've learned that building a successful company depends on finding the right people — and on the right people finding you.