Our 100th employee interviews our CEO

Clint Smith, a gumball machine and Josh Mock.

The Emma team has been growing, especially in the tech-related departments. I was among several of the new hires this past year that have, apparently, led folks to wonder exactly how many employees we have. After hours of intensive research (probably just someone skimming the employee directory) we found we'd recently crossed the 100-employee mark. Nice! And who was that 100th employee, you ask? (Cue another quick skim of the directory.) Hey, it's me! Double nice!

I began to wonder: What privileges might I, the first Emma hire with a three-digit employee number, be given? Extra vacation time? A key to the executive washroom? Final say on what music is played on the first floor? No, friends. The honor bestowed upon me is the chance to ask Clint Smith, co-founder and CEO of Emma, any questions I like. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it really is. See, Clint usually doesn't let us ask questions; mostly we just get him sandwiches when he's hungry, as you'll see.

Read on to find out how this cool work environment came to be, where we're headed, whether any of it involves using mind control and how you could be the prestigious Emma employee #104. (Trust me, 104 is just as prestigious as 100.)

It was clear to me right away how much effort Emma puts into giving both employees and customers a memorable, fun experience. Was it a goal from the start to have a workplace culture like that? How did it come about?

Really, it was the very simple notion of creating the kind of place *we'd* like to hang out every day. Nothing more. I guess if we'd wanted to hang out in a place that was stale and corporate and believed inspiration could be found in a handful of framed "Successories" posters (sorry, whale soaring through the air), things could have turned out very differently. Will and I also came to Emma with a lot of inspiration in hand – we'd worked in very open, creative, collegial environments at companies like Citysearch.com and Smallbusiness.com. So we didn't have to invent a workplace culture — we simply had to take some of the great things we'd already experienced and adapt them to our own style. And we felt the same way about the customer experience. Shouldn't it be the kind of experience we'd want as customers? (The answer was yes, by the way.)

I feel like that culture puts a lot of emphasis on a democratic way of doing things rather than a small handful of people dictating direction and goals. How do you "guide the ship," so to speak, while giving us so much freedom? Is mind control involved?

The fact that you're feeling a sudden urge to walk over to the kitchen and grab me a sandwich (roast beef and provolone, Josh, roast beef and provolone) should in no way concern you that mind control might be at work here (also, chips, Josh, chips – and not those stale baked ones you brought me last time, thank you). First off, there are too many smart people here for any handful of us to feel like we can figure this all out alone. Our job is to try and set a clear and compelling direction that gets everyone nodding and smiling and possibly jumping up and down, and to empower folks to help fill in the blanks, and even uncover new and interesting directions, along the way. Last year, for example, we pulled our values, vision and strategy off the wall and revisited the entire thing, and in the course of the roughly six-week project, we involved *every single staffer* at Emma. That's how much we believe in an open, collaborative approach. That, and the powerful combination of roast beef and cheese. This Q&A really is making me hungry, Josh.

Sorry. So talking about free lunches and beer we get probably isn't a good idea right now? Moving on then…

Okay, so you hired a few web developers recently, myself included, and there's talk of hiring more. What's in the works that we need to expand our team so much?

There's a ton of work ahead as we enhance and expand our core email product — new features to add, more data and insights to provide, new ways to integrate with other services and so on. And there are opportunities to expand beyond that core product, all within the umbrella category informally known as Helping Companies Engage Their Audiences in Cool, Stylish, Effective Ways. Emma is ultimately a digital communications and engagement service, which means the doors to things like Surveys, Social, Mobile, Analytics and more are wide open for us. And that means people, particularly people who are really talented at product design and development. If they're also talented at juggling or knife throwing, that's cool, too. We'll be looking for those talented designers, developers and jugglers in Nashville and in Portland, and potentially in our other satellites cities – Austin, Denver and New York – and beyond. So, Josh, if you happen to be throwing a party for say, 20 of your closest, most talented technology pals this weekend, we'll supply the fruit punch and disco ball. It's just one of the many awesome recruiting ideas we have.

And we all know that free fruit punch is the best fruit punch.

When we have all these new developers and designers, what is life at Emma going to look like for us? Other than the knife throwing, that is.

Marc, Kevin, Alex and the rest of our senior technology leaders have big plans not just for the kind of work we'll be doing, but how we'll go about doing it. We love the idea of moving forward in really nimble, collaborative, creative ways, using the latest platforms and approaches, all with a bit of Emma flair thrown in for good measure. We love the idea of small teams moving quickly on interesting projects and challenges. And we love the idea of folks being able to raise their hands with a good idea worth exploring, and to then be set free to do said exploring. Not like mountaintop exploring, Josh, but more like awesomely-cool-new-product-concept exploring. It requires less outdoor gear. So the idea is that, as a designer or developer at Emma, you get the chance to work with a variety of great people on a variety of really interesting projects, all aimed at expanding Emma's horizons in ways we probably can't even imagine.

Speaking of great people making great things, a huge part of what got me excited about working at Emma was all the awesome folks I met during my interview process. How does the hiring process work and why is it done that way?

We know that so much of a company's culture and, well, success, starts at the hiring table. (The table is made of mahogany, by the way.) So we put a big emphasis on making sure we're finding people who aren't just extremely talented, but who also *really* want to be a part of this thing called Emma. We're looking for that unique combination of capability and commitment. So we make it a bit of an elaborate process, from an initial set of 10 questions you might be asked to answer, to coffee chats with a couple of senior staffers, and a series of visits to the office eventually ending in what we call an "All Hands" interview, in which folks from a variety of teams come together for a candidate's final conversation. We know that every single person who joins the Emma cause will help shape the company and the culture in his or her unique way, so we're picky, and we're intentional, and we don't make this an easy job to get. In fact, Josh, you might be interested to know that people who inquired about work at Emma last year had just a 2% chance of actually landing a job. So you're in select company, my friend.

Select company indeed. Between that and being Emma's 100th employee, it feels pretty good.

Got any other food-related analogies or anecdotes about employees juggling on mountaintops for the big finish?

Given the amount of food that makes its way into and out of the Emma offices on a daily basis (there are, by my count, roughly *12* groups and clubs devoted to baked goods alone), I'm sure I could regale you with a week's worth of food-related analogies. But I'll just end by saying that I'm thrilled you're #100, Josh, and I hope you get some sort of plaque, or cheesecake, for cracking the three-digit ranks for us. Onward and upward, Mr. Mock. Also, there's Nutella cake on the second floor. It sounds even better than roast beef.

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Photo credit: David Weintraub/Dreamland Pictures