Better is Possible: Culture and Intrapreneurship

These are notes from the presentation and discussion led by Christa and Adam Rensel, a pair of digital natives working from their cozy home in Petoskey.

Adam, originally from Petoskey, is a software developer at Code School. He was the company's first hire and they are now a team of 60 based in Orlando, Florida.

Christa was raised in Frankenmuth and started Nimble Kettle in 2015, which is a boutique graphic design company. Her previous experience is in the gaming industry and organizing a large annual digital conference.


Adam broke company culture down into the following five categories and told us about some of the things they do at Code School. Code School is a young company, only started in 2011 with most of the staff in their 30's to early 40's.

Start small but get in the habit of improving.

If you are part of a larger organization you're not going to make big changes overnight. Instead, you can focus on your department's culture. If you start doing great things, others in the company will notice and start adopting it too.

Education is a top priority.

You should always be learning. Get in the habit of learning new skills like a new advertising program or a new language. Get out of your box.

1. Perks

  • Ping pong table (mostly used now as conference table)
  • Beer on tap
  • Access to tons of paid online educational material
  • Will order any book someone wants and put it on the shelf


2. Trust

Once you aren't worried about someone sneaking off to sleep in the corner you can trust them to do what is right in all parts of their job. If one or two people are untrustworthy then rules and checks have to be put in place that make life worse for everyone.

  • Unlimited paid time off
  • Flexible hours as long as your work is completed - start and stop at any time of the day you prefer
  • 1 day a month for personal betterment to learn something new
  • Attend two conferences a year
    • $1,500 available for one remote conference
    • Registration paid for a conference you can drive to locally

3. Team Building

Build respect and camaraderie

Pass on hiring people who might have all of the skill in the world but don't fit the culture. Look for people with the right attitude who can be molded to gain the technical skills.

Avoid hiring people who are arrogant - will they listen and be open?

Does your company discuss its values with people during their interview process or are the values a surprise after being hired?

The Code School team likes to play whirlyball and take cooking classes together.

Monday donuts just make starting the week a little better. It's easy to ask for a monthly budget to buy donuts for your department.

Whiskey Wednesdays are a fun time to have a few drinks and talk.

Catered Friday lunches bring the team together - also good times for a presentation like the quarterly financial report

People who are in meetings a lot hate meetings. People who are not in meetings wish they were. Invite people to be part of meetings even if they are just going to listen.

4. Transparency

How much money is in the company bank account

When people are secure in their jobs they can be at peace and do their best work

Happy employees want to see their company succeed and they will put in the extra effort even when it's outside their role or they aren't being paid to do it.

5. Accountability

Give people the opportunity to be accountable for doing a good job without holding their hands. Define the expectations and they will rise to the occasion to avoid disappointing you. As tempting as it is, don't give your two cents.

Don't lie to customers or try to cover up making mistakes.

Code School uses a flat management structure.

In their flat structure leadership roles change on a per project basis. The boss (project manager) this week will be reporting to a different person for the next project. By always rotating who leads, everyone gets experience as the manager. The pressure of leadership is understood and people can relate to why the boss is stressed to make their deadlines.


Intrapreneur vs Entrepreneur

An intrapreneur is an employee of a company who uses their talents (which they may not use in their normal role) to incubate a new idea inside the company they work for. Their reward is creative freedom, professional growth and a feeling of ownership without a risk of financial loss.

An entrepreneur risks their own money to offer a product or service to others. If an entrepreneur is successful, he or she reaps the profits but failure can mean bankruptcy.

Employees start to get restless if they are not challenged or interested in the work they're required to do and look for other jobs. 

Need to let people know that if they screw up, they will not lose their job.

3M had a sandpaper salesman who realized that car painting shops needed a way to cover up an area of the body they didn't want to paint without ruining the paint job they just completed. 3M allowed this salesperson to use the company resources on his own time, which results in the creation of masking tape. 3M has continued to encourage this intrapreneurship behavior in their giant company to this day.


You can have Betterment themes each month which encourage intrapreneurship:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Streamline a process
  • Come up with a new tool for yourselves or your customers
  • Look at what you're doing and see if it could be be marketed to others who value it, creating a new revenue stream
  • Use slow season to let employees spend days or weeks on a new ideas

Get outside perspectives

Don't give up on an idea just because you don't have the skills internally. Bring in a consultant or outside expert. New blood can jumpstart a project and get your team fired up again.

Nubs Nob makes money on royalties from patents they developed for snow making and grooming that are used by other (competing) resorts.

Better is possible

If you work with people who are not always looking for better ways to do their job try these techniques to pitch a new idea to someone who might be defensive, insecure or overly critical

  • "Here is something to add to the already awesome things you're doing now."
  • Make them think it was their idea by planting an idea verbally every month or two
  • "We're not doing this wrong but things are changing and we need to innovate so we're ahead of the change." example: newspapers
  • Make a business case: "If we do this differently we'll make an extra $2 on every piece"
Dylan Valade