Mattress e-commerce company Tuft & Needle was named Entrepreneur’s Best Company Culture in 2017 in the Large Company (100+ employees) category yesterday.

In partnership with CultureIQ, Entrepreneur scores companies on 10 main categories: collaboration; innovation; agility; communication; support; wellness; mission and value alignment; work environment; responsibility and performance focus.

Other notable organizations who made the list this year include InVision, Asana, and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Evan Maridou, Tuft & Needle COO. Image via LinkedIn.
Evan Maridou, Tuft & Needle COO. Image via LinkedIn.

“Since the beginning, we’ve always prioritized maintaining a strong foundational culture over company growth,” says COO Evan Maridou in an interview with Entrepreneur. “We took our time recruiting and interviewing, even when there appeared to be burning needs to fill the role.”

Maridou is responsible for HR, customer experience, and a variety of other roles at Tuft & Needle. And while their award-winning culture is undoubtedly effective, it’s their management style and emphasis on leadership that really stood out to us.

By living their core values, fostering a culture of empathy, and sharing a vision of overhauling the outdated mattress industry, Tuft & Needle has been able to keep their turnover to less than five percent in their first four years.

Leading with empathy

Last year, Maridou conducted 50 one-on-one interviews in the course of two months, a process he describes as, “painful, but one of the most valuable things I’ve done in my time at the company.”

Image via Tuft & Needle
Image via Tuft & Needle

“It also sent a message to everyone in the company that, as a leader, I valued their opinion,” he adds.

In an interview with Help Scout, Maridou describes how the Tuft & Needle leadership has fostered a culture of empathy in order to create a uniquely great customer — and employee — experience.

“Regardless if you’re an engineer or marketer, Tuft & Needle puts every new team member into customer support first,” Maridou explains. “They slowly transition into their new roles but maintain a habit of doing support. In fact, there isn’t an individual support team that’s separate from the company: they truly exercise whole company support.”

Empathy goes both ways for the customer and the employee Evan Maridou

Focusing on experiences

The very genesis of Tuft & Needle was sparked by the founders’ experience of buying mattresses back in 2012.

Founder and CEO JT Marino was newly married. He and his wife were on a quest to find their perfect mattress.

Tuft & Needle founders Daehee Park and JT Marino. Image via Entrepreneur.
Tuft & Needle founders Daehee Park and JT Marino. Image via Entrepreneur.

“Pushy salesmen pushed them to buy a fully loaded, feature-rich memory foam mattress,” the company’s ‘Our Story’ page reads. “For $3,300 it should have been the pinnacle of comfort, but it wasn’t. To make matters worse, the return policy rendered it impossible to return. It was like car shopping. Actually it was worse than car shopping.”

Poor customer experience; unclear pricing; shiny packaging on old materials: the founders realized that the entire process of buy mattresses needed an update.

When they formed Tuft & Needle, they knew wanted to make the experience of buying a mattress better by being clear about their production processes, materials, and pricing. They wanted to be fair with their customers, and infuse honesty and openness every step of the way.

“Visit their site and you’ll see that transparency is a foundational value in how they speak to their customers regarding the materials they use, how they determine price, their 10-year warranty, easy returns/refunds, and more,” writes Paul Jun for Help Scout.

That approach is reflected in the way they treat their employees. Not only do they focus on culture and building a great team, they also offer some pretty remarkable perks, including free medical insurance, company paid Health Savings Account, and a required minimum 25-day vacation policy.

Part of how they’re able to offer such premium perks to team members is due to the two founders’ decision to move the company from the pricey city of San Francisco to the more affordable Phoenix, Arizona.

While their savings could translate directly into profits, the leadership at Tuft & Needle choose to re-invest it in their team — a decision that they believe pays off in a big way.

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The anatomy of a careers page

At a people-first company like Tuft & Needle, you can learn a lot from looking at their careers page. Theirs reflects their commitment to their employees, and their democratic approach to making their company what Maridou describes as “culturally flat.”

To exemplify this, their careers page lists each and every member of their team in alphabetical order. That means co-founders Daehee Park and JT Marino are nestled part way down the page, amongst their fellow D and J names. Not at the top. Not with a different font or longer bio.

Images via Tuft & Needle
Images via Tuft & Needle

The company’s mission statement reflects the kind of company they’re trying to build, too:

“In 2012, we set out to build a better product, and a better experience. Along the way, we’ve found a passion for creating products of value. We’re much more than a mattress company. At Tuft & Needle, we are a collection of entrepreneurs who have come together to build something we could not have done on our own.”

When they say, “… come together to build something we could not have done on our own,” it seems they’re appealing directly to people who understand the value of teamwork.

Notably, they list and define their core values right on their careers page: learn; create; impact. Establishing and living by your core values is key to building a strong company culture that lasts through growth and change. But just as important as creating those values is communicating them, not just with current employees, but with prospective ones, too, like Tuft & Needle has.

Managing change

While the design of their organization operates fairly horizontally, great leadership and management is still part of what makes Tuft & Needle succeed.

Image via Instagram
Image via Instagram

Their founders and C-Suite lead by example in all that they do, and make regular employee feedback paramount.

“They really trust the employees and allow them to do the best work that they can do,” writes Tuft & Needle Marketer, Jordan Davis. That’s what you get when you hire entrepreneurial-minded people who believe in your company’s mission. It means you can lead with trust, give your team the autonomy they deserve, and watch them do great things.

“People who love their job often cite their company’s culture,” writes Maridou in his Medium post from 2013 titled How to fall in love with your job. “I think of culture as the collective personality of a company. The secret sauce that defines the feeling you have when you walk into work every morning.”

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As a growing company, Maridou understands that change is going to happen — for their culture and their team — but he believes they’re ready for it.

“The very nature of startups is that there is a lot of change,” he says. “The very nature of change is that we as humans are resistant to it. Communication and context makes change easier. It’s important to take the time and explain the change that your team is experiencing. Context does a lot to help reduce concerns your employees are facing.”

Circling back to Entrepreneur’s 10 criteria — collaboration; innovation; agility; communication; support; wellness; mission and value alignment; work environment; responsibility and performance focus — it’s not hard to see how Tuft & Needle nabbed the number one spot this year.

Over to you!

What makes companies great places to work, and how can leaders improve the employee experience? Let us know in the comments below, or head over to Twitter to join the conversation.