Archives For Company Life

Everything about our (mis)adventures, off shorings and company culture goes here.

The story goes something like this:

Girl gets a phone call. Girl is invited to go out. It’s raining. Girl doesn’t want to melt in the rain. Mom kicks Girl out of the house. Mom orders Girl to go out and have fun. Girl goes out, meets a group from a San Francisco company called Expensify. Apparently, the entire company is working and backpacking for a whole month in Croatia. Girl laughs with fascination and some disbelief but Girl doesn’t dwell on that because Girl is absolutely fascinated with the energy, drive, and passion each person exudes when talking about the company, coworkers, the CEO, and basically just how much they love what they do.

Throwback! The team and I on our first night out

Throwback! The team and I on our first night out. Don’t mind the bright eyes.

Fast forward to a year later, where the story continues in San Francisco. Girl has just returned from Portugal. What was Girl doing in Portugal? In the past year, she graduated university, moved to San Francisco, and started working at Expensify. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?!

And yes, that’s been my story so far. Kind of crazy, right? Unlike any other employee, I had the opportunity to experience the offshore from two very different perspectives. The first year, I was unofficially part of the offshore in Croatia as a local showing the Expensify team around the city. A year later, I joined the rest of the team in Portugal for the 2014 offshore. With the two very different experiences of the offshore, my perception of it inevitably changed, and this is exactly how:

On Working Full Time on the Offshore

Before Joining Expensify: “So you are saying that you actually work full hours during the offshore? Right, and I have a talking pet unicorn that makes my bed every morning. Now, let’s have another shot of rakija!”

After Joining Expensify: Laugh and roll your eyes all you want, but on the offshore, people work just as much as they would back in San Francisco, and sometimes even more. How is that possible? Imagine being constantly surrounded with brilliant, extremely motivated, and hard-working people. Their drive and passion rubs off on you and makes you work even more passionately and easily to accomplish your work goals. The value of the offshore is that, although it might mess up your sleeping schedule and test your resilience to the whims of various Wi-Fi networks, traveling together provides more opportunities to work even closer together and practically forces you to collaborate more, to exchange ideas, and deliver results.

Ok, Mondays might be a somewhat easier to survive since we don’t to actually have to go to an office but other than that, it’s work, work, and work pretty much as usual. People wake up, show up for a 10AM meeting every morning and stay up late, sometimes very late, to get all the work done. The time difference also doesn’t really help with going to bed early. Partying and mischief are (mostly) reserved for the weekend, which is no different from what we do in San Francisco.

Hard at work or hardly working?

Hard at work or hardly working? It helps that we were in a beautiful Portuguese monastery!

To anyone outside the team, it might seem unlikely that a completely new environment absolutely bursting with exotic places to visit, out of the ordinary things to see and do wouldn’t make you ditch you work responsibilities. But it doesn’t. Everywhere we go, we make that place our office, regardless if it’s a kitchen table at our apartment in Lisbon, the monumental stone-walled hallway of an 13th century monastery in the mountains, or a beach on the cliff-adorn coastline of Lagos. Feel free to be jealous, it’s an amazing office!

With that said, I feel obliged to confess that I never had a pet unicorn.

On Living With The People You Work With

Before Joining Expensify: “There’s no way I could live with the people I work with and not kill someone in their sleep!” or “Living with the people you work with? No thanks!”

After Joining Expensify: Let’s put it this way: the offshore is probably the most intense but also the most effective form of team building I’ve ever seen and been a part of. Forget paintball! We’re talking about an in-sickness-and-in-health degree of bonding here: showing real world teamwork skills like trying to figure out how the laundry machine works, searching for Wi-Fi during a downpour, or offering you shoulder instead of a pillow during a 7 hour train ride. In my opinion, that is the the most incredible thing about the environment and the atmosphere of the offshore.

Just a normal day at the beach

Just a normal day at the beach with the Expensify crew

Exposed to an unfamiliar environment, we learn new ways of working together and create new ties. A big part of it also comes from the fact that you get to spend time with the people you might not interact with regularly due to professionally divergent roles. On the offshore, you might end up working laptop-to-laptop in the same small cafe with terribly slow waiters on Tuesday and go grocery shopping for basic house supplies on Thursday, all while living in the same house for that particular week.

To be fair, I think my previous aversion towards spending more than the necessary hours with coworkers comes from a very different work experience I had before joining Expensify. As soon as I started at Expensify, it became obvious that the way we recruit and pick people to grow the team makes is surprisingly natural and easy to transition from spending most of your time together like we usually do to spending all of your time together.

So, yes, living together with your coworkers is very doable, at least if you happen to work at Expensify.

On Packing for the Offshore

Before Joining Expensify: ”One backpack for an entire month??”

After Joining Expensify: ”One backpack for an entire month.”

Even this was too much stuff for a month...

Even this was too much stuff for a month…

Before travelling to Portugal for the offshore, I was notoriously bad at packing. Not that I couldn’t pack, I just packed a ton of stuff. Whether I was going on a weekend trip or a three-week holiday, I would always, without exception, bring more stuff than I could possibly need or have the time to wear (unless my superstar alter ego took over and I started changing outfits as many time a night as a major popstar on tour).

I seriously don’t know what came over me the night I was packing for Portugal. The experience was very much like a black out (no alcohol was involved). The last thing I remember was throwing clothes from my closet onto the bed. The empty backpack I borrowed from my roommate was sitting across the room in blissful oblivion to what awaits. Next thing I know, I was all packed in that one backpack and on my way to the airport. The ridiculous thing is that, after a week, I’d already concluded that I could have packed less stuff. Figures!

The issue of packing might seem very frivolous, because, “it’s just clothing” but if you think about it, it actually teaches you how to:

  • keep it simple and practical
  • prioritize, don’t stress
  • be resourceful and devote more energy to more important stuff.

In my opinion, packing for offshore reflects a good way to go about organizing stuff, space, work and even life. My rule of thumb now is to pack light and focus on the essentials.

And Now, Drum Roll Please…

I’m guessing a conclusion of some sort would be in place. Alright, with the risk of sounding pretentious, I’d say that the offshore is a catalyst that makes the Expensify team grow closer faster and more efficiently than any other team building tool or technique ever could. It enhances our sense of unity and cohesion, because, well, that’s what happens when you find yourself in a new strange, new environment, don’t speak the language (or at least most of you don’t), and face constant challenges that make getting shit done even more challenging (like terrible wi-fi or even the complete lack of it) — all that while trying to deliver a great product.

As someone whose graduate thesis involved researching the principles of team organizations, it was almost uncanny seeing a textbook example of a truly amazing team with such strong cohesion in real life and actually being a part of it.

Of course, I’m not saying it’s all rainbows and butterflies every day, especially if you happen to end up sleeping next door to a very determined snorer or when you get frustrated with bad internet connections that die halfway through important calls. Even with that in mind, the offshore is as close as it gets to a perfect way of strengthening team trust and igniting the creative sparks within it.

Finally, how right or wrong was I about the mystery known as the offshore? I’m very happy to conclude that I was wrong in the best way possible.

Want to work somewhere you love? We’re hiring!

Upper peninsula michigan waterfall

Can’t wait to explore places like these in person!

It’s finally happening!

After forming a small team almost 18 months ago in the Upper Peninsula (aka the UP, aka the yoop), the SF team will be flying up to Ironwood for a week to experience the beautiful Upper Peninsula with our other half. From August 18 – 22nd, Expensify will be shaking things up in Ironwood with both crews, meeting the local community, and enjoying the beautiful outdoors.

There’s no better time than now for the entire team to meet face-to-face; in July alone, we grew more than 26%, doubling our marketing (from 1 to 2!) and success (4 to 8!) teams, and adding lots of new people to the sales and engineering teams as well. As a result, this will be the first time for many on both teams to meet one another, so this trip couldn’t have been planned at a better time!

Among the many things we’ll be doing while we’re up there, we’re excited to be hosting a casual job fair/happy hour at Tacconelli’s on Tuesday, August 19th.

Expensify Job Fair Happy Hour UP Michigan

Swing by, bring a friend or two, and come hang out with us!

Our team is like one big, happy family, so every new hire means welcoming another member to the Expensify family. In July alone, the Expensify team grew a crazy 26%, bringing the total number of full-time employees from 24 people in January to our current number at 45.

Expensify Hiring, Team Update, Announcements

The Breakdown

In the last few weeks, we grew our team by a total of 9 people: 4 in sales, 4 in engineering, and 1 in marketing. In August, we’ll be adding another 4 people who will be working remotely from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.

Why the sudden ramp up?

Truth be told, we’re pretty picky about who we hire. We extend offers to candidates who can resonate with and thrive in our culture, but who can also get shit done. As a result, we sometimes extend an offer to those who can’t start immediately, and we work with them to figure out an ideal situation for both parties. In other cases, the right person came along at the right time, just as we were thinking about creating a new role. More than that however, we’re flooded with hundreds of inbound leads a day. As a result, we’ve purposefully grown the sales team to meet demand, well, because we need it!

Now, Onward!

Things are changing quickly now that we’re close to the big five-oh. More colleagues means expanding our space, even including a work space inspired by the window counter at Peet’s Coffee. We’ve implemented new software for on boarding new hires. We’re ramping up for our biggest offshore ever in September, but not before a trip up to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan to meet the other half of the team in mid-August.

Most of all, we’re excited to welcome everyone into the family and expose them to San Francisco. From Giants games to local hikes and then some, you can be sure that things will get real cozy, real fast here in the next few months.

You’ve heard about Expensify’s culture, right?  Well if you have, you surely know about our legendary, annual “Offshore” trips. In short, Expensify works abroad for an entire month together, because why not?!  The purpose and goal being not only an opportunity to see another part of this beautiful world, but also come together as a team and focus on what we are doing, where we are going and most importantly, why.  Last year we went to Croatia and this is what work looked like for a month:

 IMG_1201 IMG_1128

As you can imagine, we’ve missed it terribly and cooked up an incredible idea to ease the longing. Why not take Offshore, onshore?  We live in arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the US, and San Francisco has a plethora of colorful neighborhoods that we could really settle into and enjoy for a day of work outside the office.  Offshore/ Onshore would take place in the North Beach neighborhood (fondly referred to as “Little Italy” and closely associated with the Beat Generation celebs like Kerourac and Ginsberg).

It happened to be a rainy day, but that didn’t stop us!  We explored the best cafes, had the fanciest of caffeinated beverages, and got to know North Beach a tiny bit better than we did before.

IMG_2348 IMG_2345

It wouldn’t be a proper “Offshore” without a proper hoppy brew.  Following a sales meeting, a few of us decided to finish off our workday at the world-renowned, historic Vesuvio Cafe (across the alleyway from the infamous “City Lights Bookstore” and home to the aforementioned Beat celebs).  Nothing tastes better than a frosty beer amongst your coworkers and heroes (beat poets), except perhaps the beer in Croatia!

IMG_20140326_181552 IMG_20140326_180911

The night officially ended with a beautiful Team/Family Dinner.

IMG_2352 (1)

As we brought the day to a close with a round of limoncello shots, we declared Onshore a success and an instant tradition.

Want to get in on our excellent and original traditions? Apply on our Jobs page.

This is where I live.

This is where I live.

I work for the best Silicon Valley Start-up, Expensify.  I also live right off the shore of the largest body of fresh water, Lake Superior.  Most importantly though, I’m helping to bring Silicon Valley to the area I love and much-needed jobs along with it.

In January of 2013, I was approached by another employee of Expensify that lived in the same area as I did.  He wanted to bring jobs to Northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.  He had been experimenting with three people for a couple of weeks to see if it was a viable option to staff a midwest workforce alongside our international team we already had in place and still stay cost-effective. These jobs could be seen as basic data entry positions easily trained to anyone with minor computer knowledge, but there is a growing amount of complexity as Expensify moves more into the global market and receives data from around the world to process for our clients.  The best part, the agents could work from home!  He was also looking into the possibility of bringing entry-level developer jobs to the area.  Where did I fit into all that?  He needed someone to help get it all started, maintain, and manage it.

At the time I was running my own computer repair business full-time out of my home and did contracted computer IT for local businesses.  After hearing his initial pitch about Expensify and what his vision was for the area, I was sold.  When you live in a town with a population of under 6,000 people, and don’t want to move out to Silicon Valley, you never really think you would get a chance to work for a San Francisco based tech start-up.  So, I started working for Expensify as an independent contractor, slowing building a data entry workforce, training them on the work in person and then allowing them to work from home after that.

Fast forward a year.  I’m now a full-time member of the Expensify team and Expensify has brought over 30 jobs to the area and is still expanding!  Exploring more than just data entry jobs too.  How about some Help/Support Email Agents and some more entry-level developer jobs?  We’re looking to utilize an area and its population that most companies never think about.  Even better: we’re still staying cost-effective despite previously relying on a solely international-based workforce as our local employees have shown to be extremely accurate and efficient. This in turn pushes our international team to higher standards increasing performance across the board.

It’s extremely exciting to be a part of a company that is willing to bring Silicon Valley to an area that only hears about it from the news.  But the best part is to see the expression on people’s faces when I tell them that I live in Northern Wisconsin, but I work for a San Francisco based company.  It always leads to awesome conversations.

At the Expensify World Headquarters, you’ll often hear some employees talking about curling and it’s not always referring to the bash command.  Sometimes, we’re talking about the ice sport.  And to clarify, when I say “some employees” I mean me.  I started curling about a year ago and I’ve been annoying my coworkers about it ever since.  I recently took some Expensifiers curling to show them how awesome it is.

Old school curling Our story begins in the 1500s, in a faraway land called Scotland, where the same quarry has been used to create the 42 lb stones.

Nowadays we play indoors (mostly) on pebbled ice, so it’s not the ice skating ice you’re used to. To give you an idea of what pebbled ice is like, imagine the once smooth ice has the topographic profile of an orange rind.  This helps to reduce friction between the ice and rock, making it easier for the rock (and player), to slide along the ice. This also makes it surprisingly easier to move on the ice.

The heroes of our story, Mike and Matt, had to first learn how to throw the stone, then sweep, and lastly compete in a curling match to the death (not really).

They couldn’t play alone – a curling team requires four people.  Each teammate throws two stones in a row, alternating each stone with the opposing team.

Our brave skip, Mike, is the team’s mastermind behind this “end” – an end is curling’s version of an inning.  He decides where Matt should aim the rock and how hard it should be thrown.
He also tells the sweepers when to sweep to ensure that it reaches its destination.

delivery

The play is up to Mike.  Will he call it so the rock glides into the house? Does he want to put up a guard stone to protect the stones that are in play? Or will the rock be thrown with such power that it eliminates an opponent’s rock from play?

Mike sets his broom on the ice, giving Matt a target at which to aim.  Matt fearlessly eases into the hack, ensuring his shoulders are square to the broom.  He slides out, lunging forwards on the ice, staring intently at his target. The moment before he releases the rock he applies a gentle turn to the handle, imparting the signature “curl”.

The sweepers walk alongside the rock, judging the speed of the rock and calling out to the skip whether they think it looks fast or slow. Mike drops to one knee, eyeing the rock’s trajectory, ready to urge the sweepers into action if needed. “SWEEP, SWEEP, SWEEEEEP” Mike yells.  The sweepers begin vigorously sweeping.  The sweeping generates heat, reducing the friction and preventing the rock from losing its momentum.

They pick up their speed to keep up with rock.  While sweeping they must ensure that they don’t hit the stone with their broom. The sweepers also need to avoid colliding with any of the other stones that are scattered on the ice.

sweeping

“Whoa, Whoa, OFF, Whoa” Mike yells, the stone’s current trajectory is exactly what he wants. The sweepers look up and take their brooms off the ice.  They continue to walk besides the stone, ready to start sweeping again if Mike calls for it.

The stone slows down, coming to its resting place in the the blue circle in the house (the concentric circles on the ice).

The end is over and there are four stones in the house.  Three yellow ones, and one blue one.

Only one team can score an end.  So how did our heroes do?

They rocked it! (See what I did there?)

The team with the rock closest to the button (the center of the house) gets a point for each stone that’s in the house and closer to the button than their opponent’s nearest stone. Mike and Matt’s yellow stones are lying two.  This means that the two yellow stones are between the button and the closest opponent’s stone, the blue stone.  The third yellow stone lies beyond the blue stone and does not count.

Our heroes score two points this end.  They maintain this lead for the other 7 ends in the match and leave the ice champions.

Like after any proper curling match, they walk off the ice and into the bar.  Winning the game means they owe their opponents a round of drinks.

Here at Expensify, our team is as diverse as they come. One thing we have in common is that we absolutely love what we do. So much so that we oftentimes find ourselves practicing our passion for building even when not using our powers to make users happy.

You know that phenomenon- the spillover of creative energies that is manifest in the form of side projects: those small unexpected products that arise from weekends of pleasurable hacking and challenge seeking.

The benefits of having such side projects are well established. The plethora of blog posts out there usually have these oft-repeated, but sound points:

  1. Staying on Top of New Ideas in the Industry, a.k.a Employability
  2. Refreshing old skills
  3. Participating in a community – Open Source, Non-profits
  4. ???
  5. Profit!

Indeed, given the rate of ideas coming forth in our fast paced industry, we should not find ourselves taking sledgehammers to our helpless workstations, like these Luddites:

Hammertime!

Let’s switch the perspective a bit: Sure, personal, professional development is great, but what does all this mean for a team?

With those previous benefits in mind, I contend that the collective health and culture of a group can be accurately judged by the side projects of its members.

From the perspective of a prospective candidate, these projects provide windows through which they can evaluate the nature of the team that they are seeking to join, for they usually have the following questions:

  1. Do members of the team take the initiative to explore new ideas and better themselves?
  2. Do they play with and familiarize themselves to new ideas so that they are never disrupted by new technologies?
  3. Do they provide opportunities for one to learn from the team, and for one to be introduce to new ideas and networks?
  4. Are they fun? Do they express creativity and their personality through their work outside of work?
  5. Are they individuals who are passionate in what they do, and seek to solve problems outside of their main focus?

These are crucial questions that are answered in the affirmative by the team’s side projects. Evaluating those works help a candidate decide if the team is a cultural and professional fit. A group, with a vibrant culture that could hardly contain itself, shows its character through such avenues.

Below you’ll find a selection of side projects from our own awesome team.  Some coworkers are a bit shy, and many of us have unfinished projects hanging around, but the collection reveals a candid cross-section. Without further ado, here are a few things we’ve done:

Whenopedia

http://www.whenopedia.org/ by Philip Sharp

This well-polished tool allows you to pull up snapshots of Wikipedia articles for a specific date and time. Now, you can read up on your shows without fear of spoilers!

Whenopedia

Samples

http://appstore.com/giorgiocalderolla/samples by Giorgio Calderolla

An audio sampler for your iOS device…

Add sound effects, loops, mix samples into your music, and much, much more!

appstore3

BPM Lover

http://bpmlover.com/ by Lois Di Qual

Tempo extraction technology right in your browser. The future is here!

bpmlover

CJK Typesetting

http://type.fernjager.net/ by Robert J Chen

Here’s a one-weekend experiment with Go and SQlite for a pastebin-type editor for East Asian characters.

CJK Typesetter

Fun with R

David Barrett, our CEO, has been tinkering with R with data from our massive dataset.
RViz

From this limited selection, one can see that we’re quite the motley crew of hackers, with diverse interests in music, media, and foreign languages! If you liked what you’ve seen here, come join our eclectic team: http://we.are.expensify.com/why-work-here