This series profiles innovative companies and how they are adapting to the challenges of Bay Area Shelter-In-Place orders in the wake of COVID-19.
MemSQL, headquartered in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood, was founded in 2011 and is now a global presence. Deemed, “The Database of Now,” MemSQL touts the world’s fastest operations analytics software, offering cloud-compatible enterprise solutions that deliver data insights to a broad book of customers.
Parker Blue, Head of Human Resources at MemSQL, gave us insights into how the global crisis has brought the international team together in ways no one predicted before March 2020. With a clear message of employee empowerment, it is possible to strengthen company culture even from a distance. But that doesn’t mean anyone is ready to give up on physical offices yet.
Seymour. Congrats on the latest round of funding announced back in April. I imagine that means continued headcount growth. From a talent perspective, what types of roles and in what sorts of locations will you and your team be targeting?
Blue. Thanks! We’re really excited about this latest round of funding. We have continued to hire throughout the pandemic, and the new funding enables us to be even more strategic about our hiring — with a focus on key company roles. What that looks like for us is a lot of attention to bringing in great engineering talent, so we can significantly increase our velocity in building our product. We’re hiring for a lot of those roles out of all our office locations in San Francisco, Seattle, Lisbon and Kiev. And we also have remote engineers across the U.S. – so it’s really a global talent pool that we’re targeting. We’re also hiring for domestic sales roles in a few key territories on both the sales and the presales sides.
Seymour. Creating and embracing a strong company culture can be challenging for an entirely remote company. How have you ensured that your physically dispersed workforce is happy and engaged in what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis?
Blue. Our transition to being entirely remote was easy because we were so physically dispersed before the pandemic, and we have a company philosophy of contribute from anywhere. We had that philosophy prior to the pandemic and are now building on that strength. The idea that employees’ work product and their contributions matter more than where they’re physically located has always been part of our philosophy. And now more than ever, we’re realizing the strength that brings to our culture.
The pandemic has also brought to light some areas where we can continue to improve. We’ve taken a lot more initiative over the past few months to get feedback from employees. We have an all-hands meeting every two weeks, which isn’t a change since the pandemic, however, during these meetings we now provide some new avenues for employees to ask questions so that these insights and perspectives can be instantly visible to the executive team. It’s a really great way to see where feedback from our employees is coming from and what kinds of things they’re wanting, which enables us to take action.
Seymour. Each employee’s specific work environment influences their opinion on a remote work policy. When you look at specific demographics of your employees and what they want from a remote work policy moving forward, have you seen any kind of specific consistencies or differences between groups?
Blue. Everybody is experiencing their own remote work challenges being in restrictive space environments. What we’ve seen in the MemSQL population is the added value of remote work and how it is accelerating our diversity in a way we didn’t anticipate. As a global company, we now have virtual internal events that are not tied to any one geography which is exciting for our employees to get to interact with people across the world and learn from their stories and insights. Had we not been in this type of environment we would have probably continued down the path of doing our own regional or team office events and now we don’t have to limit it to those who are physically in the office. One example of this was our Juneteenth programming, we provided employees the option to have the day off and also opt into special awareness programming. People from all over the company raised their hands to host specific discussions on books, movies and podcasts. It was an incredibly powerful day and I imagine even more so because we could collaborate, interact and unite around our company virtues.
When we look at demographics, in the beginning there was a challenge for folks who had children and we were able to be really flexible and say, “Work when you can.” We understand that this is a difficult time to navigate, particularly if you’ve got little ones at home and the added responsibility of homeschooling them. We’ve tried to be really flexible in that respect for those employees. What we’ve seen from our younger demographic, including recent college graduates, is that they miss the perks of being in the office, such as catered lunch, snacks and the socialization aspect. But we’ve given employees the ability to own socialization, and we’ve seen a lot of great events come out of that. Employees are really taking it upon themselves to organize happy hours, virtual dance parties and even virtual movie nights. There’s a new sense of people connecting in a way that they weren’t in the office. Everyone is dispersed, so they’re bonding over common interests with people who they may not have gotten to interact with a lot previously if they weren’t in the same office.
Seymour. I saw that MemSQL had created an internal Diversity Council a year or two back. Can you provide a high level on the council itself as well as some of the tangible examples of things that the council is doing?
Blue. Diversity and inclusion has always been important to MemSQL. In the past couple of years it has really come into focus as something we deeply care about. We want to help be part of the solution and continue to help bring awareness to how this community is feeling in light of all that is transpiring in the world around us. The council is spearheaded by our VP of legal, and we have a group of employees who are involved and organically come up with different initiatives for the company.
One product of that council is a Women at MemSQL group, which gathers on a quarterly basis to talk about different topics. Additionally, the group has been holding a biweekly happy hour during the pandemic, which has been really nice. A different woman from the company hosts that every time. We’ve also launched a matching charitable donation program where we will match any donations that an employee makes to a 501(c)(3) organization, or the international equivalent of that up to $1,000. We’ve seen an incredible uptick in donations over the last few weeks. While we already have a flexible time-off policy, a lot of people think of that as vacation. So, we added a volunteer time-off policy, specific for people to take time off to give their time to different organizations or causes they care about. We give folks five days a year to do that.
Seymour. Looking at physical office space and its relationship to company culture overall, do you see a change in how office space will be used by MemSQL moving forward? And if so, do you foresee the need for as much physical space?
Blue. We’re still working on defining this. We were founded in San Francisco, which is a huge part of our culture. Our founder lives here, a number of our employees live here. I don’t see us abandoning San Francisco any time soon. Being here is part of our core DNA. We haven’t made any decisions about our office space yet. We’re looking for guidelines from local authorities, and seeing what other companies are potentially doing. If there’s anything that this pandemic has taught us, it’s that there’s so much that’s unknown and things are constantly changing. So, at this point, it still feels early in the game for us to make any kind of permanent decisions about anything related to our office space.
Seymour. Has there been any motivation by management to develop a hub-and-spoke model moving forward where there’s flexibility for people who are living in the East Bay or up in Marin or down in South Bay, to be able to, not necessarily just work from home, but maintain that remote work environment in a coworking space or a smaller satellite office?
Blue. We’ve thought about the hub-and-spoke model as having our office locations distributed across the U.S. and the globe. We have our U.S. offices in San Francisco and Boston, Seattle and Portland. We have offices in London, Kiev and Lisbon. And we just finalized establishing our entity in India, so we’ll soon have an office out of Bangalore as well. What we think of as the hub-and-spoke model is really those offices being kind of the core of those specific locations – and then having our remote employees, wherever they are, as being the spokes. We don’t see a concentration of enough of those employees in any one location that’s outside of our offices to have a set coworking space or anything that might give them an added benefit that they wouldn’t get working from home. But it’s not something that we wouldn’t consider in the future, when things start to reopen, if we could see a great benefit added to the employees.
Jack Seymour is a leasing associate at Transwestern’s San Francisco office, Seymour’s primary role is to serve as a real estate advisor on major projects working alongside the established office leasing team of Jeff Moeller, Peter Conte and Zac Monsees. He is also responsible for developing relationships with and serving the needs of local and/or national prospective clients as well as providing diverse marketing support for leasing services.
Jason Burch is currently serving as Managing Director with Transwestern’s San Francisco office. With 10+ years of experience in brokerage throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason maintains relationships with decision makers at some of the world’s top corporations, working locally, nationally and internationally to align comprehensive commercial real estate services with their business goals. Over the course of his career, Jason has been involved in leasing and disposition transactions totaling more than 2.5 million square feet and valued at more than $1 billion. Notable clients with recent transactions include Wish, Inc., SFMTA, NerdWallet and Historic Pier 70.
ABOUT TRANSWESTERN REAL ESTATE SERVICES
Transwestern Real Estate Services (TRE) adds value for investors, owners and occupiers of all commercial property types through a comprehensive perspective and by providing solutions grounded in sound market intelligence. Part of the Transwestern companies, the firm applies a consultative approach to Agency Leasing, Asset Services, Occupier Solutions, Capital Markets, and Research & Investment Analytics.
The privately held Transwestern companies have been delivering a higher level of personalized service and innovative real estate solutions since 1978. An integrated approach formed from fresh ideas drives value for clients across commercial real estate services, development, investment management and opportunistic programs for high-net-worth investors. The firm operates through 34 U.S. offices and global alliances with BNP Paribas Real Estate and Devencore.
MemSQL is The Database of Now™, powering modern applications and analytical systems with a cloud-native, massively scalable architecture. MemSQL delivers maximum ingest, accelerated transaction processing and blisteringly fast query performance, including AI integration and machine learning models, all at the highest concurrency. Global enterprises use the MemSQL distributed database to easily ingest, process, analyze and act on data, to thrive in today’s insight-driven economy. MemSQL is optimized to run on any public cloud or on premises with commodity hardware.