Employees at the software marketing firm Pardot, mostly T-shirted and 20-something, squeeze into a room on the top floor of a Buckhead high-rise.
One wears shorts, same as he does everyday. Another pedals in on a Minimoto, among several quirky modes of transportation in the two-story headquarters, the others being Razor scooters and a Segway.
Adam Blitzer — chief operating officer, co-founder and emcee of the informal Friday afternoon meetings — lists the leading contenders for the Pundie, a monthly accolade worth $100 for above-and-beyond duty that illustrates the irreverent side of Pardot. Its name is a takeoff of the Dundie award from the television sit-com “The Office.”
The accomplishments of one runner-up, then another, are cited. With each, Blitzer pauses for comic effect before saying, “But, you didn’t win.”
After the honoree is identified to applause, Blitzer turns semi-serious while addressing written questions. One: How can Pardot (pronounced Par-DOT, a Latvian term that means “to market or sell,” that CEO/co-founder David Cummings discovered on the website dictionary.com) safeguard its loosey-goosey corporate culture while growing kudzulike?
Disciplined hiring, he explains, before turning to more typical inquiries, such as a worker’s wish for installation of a slide to connect the company’s two floors.
Although Blitzer promises “more fun stuff” on the premises, enhancements will not include a slide. Pardot’s insurer, he says to laughter, nixed the idea, prompting someone to propose a fire pole instead.
Before long, the meeting room will be too cramped to accommodate all, even though some are absent-with-leave while availing themselves of the policy for uncapped telecommuting and vacation days.
Pardot, which entered the year with a staff of 63, expects to hurdle the 100 mark by the next blaring of “Auld Lang Syne.” Such dramatic expansion, necessary to keep pace with a client roster on the brink of exceeding 1,000, could infect the model that helped earn it metro Atlanta’s Top Workplace (small firms division) based on employee survey responses.
Cummings — “D.C.” to nearly everyone — pledges adherence to his concept of corporate culture, a product of happenstance as well as design.
“We want to create an environment that you would love,” he said.
Cummings and Blitzer, both 31, acknowledge that they lucked into the formula. The former classmates at Duke University launched Pardot in 2006 to provide digital services to marketing companies by enabling them to operate various online campaigns.
Early on, the pair noticed that positive self-starters who were supportive of their peers performed optimally even while granted latitude on how they dressed or what hours and where they worked.
Cummings found comfort in applying the philosophy from sources such as the book “Why Work Sucks And How To Fix It,” an account of consumer electronics chain Best Buy’s focus on evaluating employees primarily on output, not on hours logged.
Some peers in the Atlanta chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a global business network to which Cummings belongs, have suggested that he is daft for adopting the M.O.
Cummings has told those leaders that they are crazy not to consider an alternative to the buttoned-down, punch-the-clock approach.
Regarding one of his more radical planks — unlimited telecommuting, plus no tracking of sick or vacation days — Cummings maintains that the message to workers is they can be trusted with a sense of autonomy. “Nobody has abused it,” he said.
Only one nonsales staffer has voluntary left the company, according to Blitzer.
The interview process is shaped to screen out candidates unlikely to adapt. (Whether they will last after getting hired, Cummings said, is usually evident within 30 days on the job.) In fact, experience and suitability for a particular vacancy is emphasized less than finding a quick learner whose personality dovetails with the ambiance.
In the parlance of the National Football League draft, Pardot tends to select the “best available athlete” rather than a prospect who fits a specific position.
That means a willingness to invest in training employees. Three of them approached Cummings recently and asked approval to attend a conference. Total cost: $4,500.
Cummings hit the “send” button.
The office is loud, visually and aurally. Said Blizter, “It keeps people very stress-free in what could be a very stressful job.”
The lobby features a throwback pinball machine. A spiral staircase leads to the main area, where workers can indulge in skee-ball, a putting green, a telescope, exercise balls and a Ping-Pong table with its own room. (Jagged holes in the wall attest to the competitive nature of employees, and a whiteboard — stretching longer than the table — filled with job-related notes reflects the work-play mix.)
Some salespeople wear fire helmets bedecked with stickers that signal reaching certain goals.
Breakfast is catered daily, lunch on Fridays. A communal refrigerator is stocked.
To Cummings, who issues MacBook Air laptops to each employee and pays full insurance premiums, corporate culture is the one variable that a company can manage.
“Control what you can control,” he said.
Soon after the Friday meeting adjourns, an employee bangs a loud gong, signaling another Pardot tradition (if the word applies to a company barely 6 years old.)
It is happy hour. Aside from the keg that pours a locally microbrewed beer, it is difficult to distinguish this hour from all of the others at one seemingly happy place to work.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.