Attracting Talent to “Silicon Valley East” with Company Culture and Workspace to Support It

Check out pics of fast-growing tech company Solebrity’s new Ashburn, Va. office.

The conference room at Solebrity's new office has a table that folds open to reveal ping pong equipment.
The conference room at Solebrity’s new office has a table that folds open to reveal ping-pong equipment. Photo by Natalie Grasso.

Like many fast-growing tech companies, Solebrity, after incubating in a garage, has moved on up to fresh new office space inspired by Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder AJ Jaghori’s time at previous startups, and a Buddhist monk. Unlike many fast-growing tech companies, this one’s based in Ashburn, Va.

With Solebrity — a portmanteau of “social” and “celebrity” — Jaghori and co-founder Chris Petrakis have set out to create an online marketplace where users can buy and endorse brands and products and, in turn, get cash back when followers make a purchase based on their recommendation. The success of the app hinges on the power of “word-of-mouth-marketing”: the idea that you’re more likely to buy, say, this blue Manduka yoga mat or these black J.Crew pixie pants if your cool friend Natalie has recently purchased them and tells you that they’re awesome.

The app will also give users the option to donate all or part of their kickback to charity. Photo by Natalie Grasso.
The app will also give users the option to donate all or part of their kickback to charity. Photo by Natalie Grasso.

So it’s a great idea, but: why Ashburn? For one thing, Jaghori and Petrakis live there. (They’re neighbors; they met and started ideating early versions of Solebrity when Petrakis’ teenaged son began mowing Jaghori’s lawn.) For another, it is part of the Dulles Technology Corridor — the former home of AOL — so it’s a place where tech isn’t exactly unheard of.

But, perhaps most importantly, as a talent retention strategy, “Ashburn” is kind of genius. Gesturing towards two bright young employees, Jaghori said that if these guys were in San Francisco, they’d have other companies hounding them with offers. That same intensity in the war for talent hasn’t reached such a pitch here, in “Silicon Valley East”.

Light floods in through the three offices along the window wall, making the space feel bright and open. Steve Jobs’ inspiration looms in the corner over two coolers: one filled with Jack Daniels, the other with Coke. Photo by Natalie Grasso.

For the acquisition side of that talent strategy — because first you’ve got to get them here — Jaghori believes that a great company culture and workspace that supports and reflects it will be crucial to Solebrity’s growth.

Jaghori designed the new office himself, with help from a contractor who installed glass and knocked out a few walls. He called on artist Edward Williams of Studio 33 to paint the clever text and images: tributes to great thinkers, sprinkled with less lofty but equally valuable reminders to “not be an asshole” and “get shit done”.

Culture-wise, they’ve implemented policies like unlimited vacation and the flexibility to work from home or on the road or at the beach, as necessary. The Solebrity manifesto is splashed on a wall near the entrance (see below); a lodestar that the founders hope will guide the company through these early days toward success.

The Solebrity company culture manifesto displayed prominently at the entrance of the office. Photo by Natalie Grasso.
The Solebrity manifesto is displayed prominently at the entrance to the office. Photo by Natalie Grasso.

This year, they expect to grow their small team to 20 employees. The space (2,300 square feet) can suit 22 comfortably, and they’ve already got dibs on adjacent spaces in their building when the time comes to expand.

At the end of the day, Solebrity’s founders are betting that a company culture that’s second-to-none and the workspace to support it is what will set them apart. The final point on their manifesto reads, “We are making something people want and a company that people want to work for, a culture that is committed to challenging the status quo, where people are rewarded for their divergent thinking and vivaciousness, are excited to come to work everyday, deliver value, and kick butt.” And that’s a brand that — social celebrity or otherwise — we can all endorse.

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