Creating A Company Culture That Attracts 2,000 Applicants A Month – with Joe Reynolds of Red Frog Events

by Tim Jahn on March 4, 2011

I interviewed Joe Reynolds from Red Frog Events last May.  Since then, I’ve been getting a lot of search traffic for people looking for Red Frog Events.  Specifically, people that are looking to interview for a job  there.

The company culture at Red Frog Events is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  A tree house, slide, climbing wall, giant trees, and a tricycle all adorn their “offices”.  I visited Camp Red Frog to chat with Joe about how he created a company culture that attracts 2,000 job applicants every month.

Transcript

Tim Jahn: As I mentioned, the reason I approached you guys to come back and chat is I get a ton of search traffic for people looking for Red Frog. Whether it’s Red Frog, Joe Reynolds, Red Frog interview questions. My first question is, why are so many people looking for you guys?

Joe Reynolds: I think people are looking for us for a couple of reasons. First of all, we do a tremendous amount of recruiting now. We’ve experienced explosive growth and to keep up with that, we need people here doing all the work it takes to put on our now 80 events worldwide. So with all that recruiting comes a lot of traffic to our website.

In addition to that, I think its our culture that we have here, its really special and unique as you can see rock climbing wall, we have a full tree house, we have a zip line coming and a lot of fun features around the office. So I think building that culture and that special office environment has really attracted a lot of web traffic to our site and interesting and working at Red Frog events.

Tim Jahn: And the tree house, the rock-climbing wall, I mean I saw a tricycle over there. When you came up with Red Frog Events, when this idea was born from your imagination, did you foresee this kind of culture being created or did this just naturally happen?

Joe Reynolds: I did. It’s something I worked on from the early stages of the businesses. I wanted to create an environment where I wanted to come to work everyday and where it, the people that I came to work with everyday felt like family.

So it was a focus and we do put a value on purchasing some expensive things like a tree house or a rock climbing wall because we want people to feel comfortable when they come to work and we want them to like being here. So yes, it is something that I was focused on from the early days.

Tim Jahn: And this kind of culture is pretty, not extreme but you walk in here and you do a double take. Is it — in your experience, is this contributing to productivity — because my — I could see devils advocate saying that this would take away from productivity. Does it?

Joe Reynolds: I think this increases our productivity here. People have an incredible workload. We want them to feel comfortable coming in and staying late if needed. We also provide people with free meals after, 7:30.

We do a Red Frog family lunch once a week and having this environment on the surface it probably looks like everybody’s out there having fun and playing all day, but really they’re working hard and getting a lot done.

Tim Jahn: I was — when I was researching why — when I was researching why so much web traffic was coming to my site I saw this — an account of a person you interviewed recently. And this is what he said, and I quote, “standing there off the elevator I felt like Charlie gripping his golden ticket at the gates of the Chocolate Factory.”

That’s — how does it feel to know that people who want to work here view you as the most magical — I mean Willy Wonka was amazing. How does that feel? I mean is this what you’re working to create? Do you want that kind of reaction?

Joe Reynolds: Absolutely. And it makes me feel great knowing that we’re getting there because we’ve worked really hard to create a work environment that people will love to come to. And it’s showing because we are attracting a lot of the top talent from all over the country.

A lot of the interviews we do now, people are flying in from all over the country and even around the world now to work here. So it feels wonderful. Its working and I feel like all the hard work that I put into creating this environment and this culture is really starting to pay off now.

Tim Jahn: How do you even get started with creating something like this? I mean you talk about how you want to create an environment that people want to come work at. That people really feel comfortable and really happy here. How do you figure out the elements that contribute to that? Like how do you know that a tree house is going to make me happy?

Joe Reynolds: I don’t know that a tree house in particular will make you happy, but I think it’s the overall feel that everything combined is a comfortable place that most people would want to be. So whether it’s the tree house that does it for it you or the free Red Bull that we have in the fridge, usually something will connect with everybody here and make them feel at home.

Tim Jahn: And then is, when it comes to the different elements, is there some sort of like company contribution? Like do people pick out certain elements or is it just kind of it happens? I mean you one day decide that you know the rock wall will be great?

Joe Reynolds: Yeah, it happens. Somebody came up with the idea to have a trike, so we bought a trike. It fits with what we’re trying to do here. We recently got an arcade game, same deal with that. Somebody dreamt the idea to create a Lego table and we built that from scratch with 50,000 Legos. So yes and then also our architects, we work with the wonderful firm Torsha [phonetic] who helped come up with the whole theme of Camp Red Frog.

Tim Jahn: And you were just telling me before we started the interview that you guys have a culture book now.

Joe Reynolds: Yes.

Tim Jahn: What inspired that and why create that?

Joe Reynolds: I really respect what Zappos.com is doing and Tony Hsieh and that’s where I originally got the idea. They do a culture book at Zappos and I thought we have a very compelling story here so I wanted to tell that story through a culture book.

And for me personally it was a very fun project. It took about four months and we wrote the entire book. It’s about a hundred pages that really focuses on our culture and our story and our incredible growth through the experience the last couple of years.

Tim Jahn: Is that now what you will going forward, is that what you will use to kind of make sure that everything culture wise adheres to? Like is it kind of like — you know when you mention the trike, you know well okay, does the trike make sense in the culture book? Is that kind of how it’s going to go?

Joe Reynolds: Not exactly. I think the culture book is just there to as something to highlight what’s happening behind the scenes at Red Frog and to help with the recruiting efforts and to just get our story told. We have over 5,000 of them. They’re free to anybody who wants one, so we encourage all the Red Froggers to take books to family and friends to help spread our story.

Tim Jahn: I’m just — I look around here and it’s like I said, I can see the Charlie in the Charlie — Willy Wonka, Charlie comparison because there’s so many unique things. What separates Red Frog from other companies? Like you mentioned Zappos, they have a pretty unique culture too and they have pretty — I’ve never been out to Vegas and seen Zappos but I’ve seen pictures, I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen their culture book. Yours is different, and not in a bad way, but you have a different culture. But I would say you’re both up there in terms of great examples.

Joe Reynolds: Yeah.

Tim Jahn: How are you guys different in your eyes than other cool cultures out there?

Joe Reynolds: Right. We call ourselves the Red Frog Family and it’s not something we just write on our website. It’s something that is true and real and everybody here feels that. I know that anybody in this company wouldn’t flinch at staying up through the night if there was project that needed to be done to help another Red Frogger. So I think that true family bond, family feel that we have here is what makes us most unique.

Tim Jahn: And I saw — you speak about your website and about being family. I saw in your website that you have a list of ten beliefs, like “we live with passion for what we do, we think innovation is paramount, we do more with less.” I imagine those aren’t just copy on your website. Are those more than just copy?

Joe Reynolds: They are. We fully believe in all of those. We do believe we’re the best at what we do in this industry. We do laugh hard and often here and those are things that we truly live by. And they aren’t just something that we made up and tried to live by. We saw how our culture developed and then we wrote how we do business here into that, those ten values.

Tim Jahn: How much of those ten values and your culture come from your personal experience? From maybe your, what you did before Red Frog Events?

Joe Reynolds: Quite a bit. I think those definitely come from me, but it also comes from all the Red Froggers and how our culture has evolved.

Tim Jahn: So it’s kind of, it starts with you but then these guys are what makes it whole.

Joe Reynolds: Yeah, exactly.

Tim Jahn: That’s exciting. It’s — you know you — like I said you look around and it’s just so unique.

Joe Reynolds: Yeah.

Tim Jahn: Where — let me roll this up here. How many — this is something I’ve been wondering — how many applications do you receive a day in terms of people applying here?

Joe Reynolds: Well I know we’re at about 2,000 resumes a month now that come into Red Frog.

Tim Jahn: That’s on a constant basis?

Joe Reynolds: Constant, yeah. We’re always hiring. We’re growing so quickly right now and I think it’s because of the culture we built and the office we have here that is attracting all these people from all over America now. And we’re fortunate enough to have 2,000 resumes a month coming in and we’re hiring now at a rate of about one out of 150 resumes that we get. So we’re attracting incredibly talented people and I think that can fully be attributed to the culture that we have.

Tim Jahn: How important is that? You mentioned one out of 150, how important is it that they really are a perfect? Do they have to be perfect here for the culture? Can they be semi-perfect fit and then you hope they’ll grow into or — how much emphasis do you put on culture?

Joe Reynolds: They do have to be a perfect culture fit here. We feel — we interview them for their abilities and their talent, we also interview them for, specifically for a culture fit because they need to fully believe in all of our values here to be able to do their job to the best of their ability. So we, if they’re the best that we’ve ever seen with certain talents and abilities, we don’t care if they aren’t going to be a culture fit here. They need to have both.

Tim Jahn: Yeah, I mean to me that makes perfect sense. You want people who really, really fit in here. What — I mentioned before about devil’s advocate, people might say this you know detraction productivity, but I’d be curious from your experience, has there ever been any criticism of the culture here or I mean is it just so likeable that really there’s nothing you couldn’t like about it?

Joe Reynolds: I haven’t personally heard too much criticism. I think once you walk through the doors at Camp Red Frog it’s hard to, to not get excited about what you see, so.

Tim Jahn: Sure.

Joe Reynolds: I haven’t yet.

Tim Jahn: Yeah, I was just thinking from the point of someone watching this and thinking, “you know what we should create a culture like this at our company, but what are the down sides?” And I don’t know if there are any. Are there from your experience? From a business owners perspective, you’re running a company, your goal is to, you know make revenue. Is there anything wrong with this at all?

Joe Reynolds: This is working phenomenally well for us. We also offer one of the best benefits packages in the world. One of the things included in that is unlimited vacation days. Devil’s advocate might say “whoa, that will get abused.” It doesn’t at all.

On average people here take two to four weeks of vacation just like any other company. They’re truly encouraged to take vacation whenever they want, but they don’t because of what we created here with the culture. Everybody feels super committed to what they’re working on and they follow through and get done even though they’re able to take unlimited vacation days, they don’t.

Tim Jahn: You know I was looking through your benefits on your website. I’m sure that’s a huge selling point for all the 2,000 applicants coming in.

Joe Reynolds: It is.

Tim Jahn: You guys have, I mean all sorts of — I think there was even like some sort of cash or what was it? Monthly —

Joe Reynolds: We offer an event budget. We want to encourage everybody here to go and see other events. We offer an office décor budget, we want people to customize their office and make it feel like home so they’re comfortable here. We have sabbatical that people can take every five years, fully paid by Red Frog. They get to travel around the world for a month. So we have a lot of exciting, unique benefits that we offer here as well.

Tim Jahn: Where do those come from? I’m genuinely curious as a job seeker, I would love the idea of being able to take a sabbatical every five years. But as an entrepreneur and business owner, as you I’m wondering where did you even get the idea for that?

Joe Reynolds: I have a passion for travel. I’ve traveled to about 50 countries around the world and it’s something that I feel like has made me grow as a person. And I want everybody here to continue to grow throughout their life, throughout their career at Red Frog Events so I think that was an important thing to add that every five years they can go grow as a person and see different corners of the world.

Tim Jahn: That’s exciting. Have you ever heard stories of people coming back and saying thank you so much, this is what I learned, this was awesome?

Joe Reynolds: The catch is we’re only three and a half years old as a company so I’ll be the first person, I come up for sabbatical next summer. I look forward to taking my sabbatical.

Tim Jahn: Any idea where you’re going?

Joe Reynolds: I think I’ll be going to Africa.

Tim Jahn: Have you ever been?

Joe Reynolds: I’ve been to Morocco, but I’m going to do the east side of Africa this time.

Tim Jahn: I’ve never been either, I just think it would be a really fun, exciting sabbatical.

Joe Reynolds: Yeah.

Tim Jahn: You have, how many people are here right now at this moment?

Joe Reynolds: We’re at about 75 employees now.

Tim Jahn: 75 total?

Joe Reynolds: Total.

Tim Jahn: Okay, so that’s across, okay. Wow.

Joe Reynolds: Yeah. And only a year and a half ago we were at six. So our growth has been pretty explosive over the last year and a half.

Tim Jahn: You were at six?

Joe Reynolds: Six employees, yeah. So we went from six to seventy-five in a year and a half.

Tim Jahn: You have —

Joe Reynolds: In three more months we’ll be at about 115.

Tim Jahn: And you have 2,000 or so applying every month that want to become a part of —

Joe Reynolds: Yeah.

Tim Jahn: — Camp Red Frog?

Joe Reynolds: Yeah.

Tim Jahn: What inspired the camp idea?

Joe Reynolds: That came from our architects that designed the office. They sat down with us and got to know our business and how we operate and what we like and they came and proposed the theme of Camp Red Frog and it hit it dead on with what we do here and I love it.

Tim Jahn: Yeah especially considering that you guys put on events. I mean that’s what you do, you’re outdoors all the time.

Joe Reynolds: Yep.

Tim Jahn: To me it was like I don’t know what else it would be.

Joe Reynolds: Yeah.

Tim Jahn: What — so you have a, I’m trying to think of the specific things you have that I’ve seen. There’s a tree house with a working slide.

Joe Reynolds: Yeah.

Tim Jahn: There’s a rock climbing wall in the back, there’s a — I saw in the, I don’t want to call it the cafeteria, but the eating area —

Joe Reynolds: Yeah.

Tim Jahn: — there were chairs that kind of hang from the ceiling —

Joe Reynolds: Yeah.

Tim Jahn: — I imagine are usable.

Joe Reynolds: Oh definitely.

Tim Jahn: A tricycle. I — you mentioned that you kind of, you and the team come up with this stuff.

Joe Reynolds: Yeah.

Tim Jahn: What’s that process like? Does someone just come up to you and — like the tricycle for example, you said someone wanted a trike and you said that actually fits in with what we’re doing, let’s do it. What’s that process like? Do I just come to your office and say “you know what, we could use a tricycle.”

Joe Reynolds: That’s it. That’s all you have to do and if it fits well with what we’re doing here I’ll probably approve the purchase.

Tim Jahn: And from a boss stand point, how do you determine whether something fits your culture or whether a tricycle will, you know help? Is it a gut thing, I mean you can’t —

Joe Reynolds: Yeah, it’s just a gut thing. I take it case by case and I think I usually approve most stuff that people come to me with. I think they really get what we’re trying to do here and usually there are a lot of great ideas.

Tim Jahn: So it probably all goes back to the fact that you’re only letting people into Camp Red Frog that are going to not abuse power and that are going just really roll with what you’ve created.

Joe Reynolds: Yep. That’s the luxury of having 2,000 people applying every month, you get to decide truly the best people, the best fit for what we’re doing here.

Tim Jahn: And what would you say is the number one factor that created that luxury for you?

Joe Reynolds: I think the number factor is just the family feel and the culture, the overall culture that we have. The office is a bonus, but I think is people wanting to work for a company that really cares about all of their employees and values all their hard work and what they do.

Tim Jahn: And where did the idea of — I guess a lot of companies why they’re family but most company offices you walk into, that doesn’t feel like a family.

Joe Reynolds: Right.

Tim Jahn: It feels like The Office the show.

Joe Reynolds: Right.

Tim Jahn: I mean, you know what I mean? Well I guess they actually feel like a family but I feel like the environment is a big part of family, you know like when you walk into a stereotypical office, you don’t feel family.

Joe Reynolds: Yeah.

Tim Jahn: But you walk in here and you feel family. What is it? Where is the feel coming from?

Joe Reynolds: I think it, again going back to — it all circles around where we create a great work environment, a great culture that draws in the right people. And by drawing in the right people that creates the family. And it keeps going around and it works wonderfully for us.

Tim Jahn: Got you, so it’s a big circle. It’s not just the people. It’s not just the environment. You’ve got to keep going with all of it.

Joe Reynolds: Yep.

Tim Jahn: What’s your number one piece of advice for someone watching this who says I love Camp Red Frog, I want to create a culture, unique culture of my own for my company, what’s your number one piece of advice for them to do so?

Joe Reynolds: I think first you have to look at what type of business you are and how you operate and then take a step back and look at where your values are and then start building it from there. It’s not going to be Camp Red Frog for every company, but every company I think does have something out there that would fit perfectly with them that would create a unique work environment that their employees would love.

Tim Jahn: How did you look at yourself — how did you look at your company and say this is who we are back in the beginning?

Joe Reynolds: At the beginning I wanted a place where I could walk into work every day and truly be excited when I walked through the door. So I knew if I created that for myself, it would follow through and other people would feel that way.

(photo credit)

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