Thirsty Games: Maintaining Company Culture During a Growth Spurt

By Michaela Lassig

I always think of startups in major growth phases as going through ‘startup puberty’ —

There are growth spurts seemingly overnight, voices deepen, chemistry changes, boundaries are tested, sometimes you don’t even recognize yourself in the mirror AND you’re a terrible driver. (I’m hoping this wasn’t just my experience…)

It’s extremely difficult to maintain a growing company’s ‘soul’ when there are already over 100 employees and almost as many reqs out, job responsibilities are narrowing down from ‘jack of all trade’ to very defined roles, departments are actually becoming departments, and you don’t even recognize the person who just came out of the bathroom. During this hectic and often chaotic time every single employee needs to be bought-in as we push ourselves to achieve the ambitious goals we have in front of us.

Earlier this year at Instart Logic, we found ourselves entering a major growth spurt. Our CEO, Manav, his cofounders (Raghu and Hari), and the executive team, realized that if we didn’t continue to re-instill our founding beliefs and train all new/existing employees, we would be doing ourselves a major disservice.

Where we were:

  • Outgrowing our huge warehouse office in Palo Alto (which we moved into less than a year ago)
  • New employees coming in faster than San Francisco housing prices are rising (Humble brag: we’re the #1 startup to work for in the U.S. according to GlassDoor)
  • New internal processes (yay…we have HR now!)
  • New heads of departments
  • Evolving messaging, internal terminology, and roadmap

What we needed to accomplish:

  • New employees needed to get up to speed…and fast
  • Existing employees needed to be filled in on all changes
  • Increase collaboration and communication between groups/departments
  • Reinforce the importance of every department’s piece of the puzzle for our very ambitious 2015 goals
  • Create outlets for creativity
  • Build community
  • Not lose our spark

Because we needed to reinforce our sense of community and our company is, by nature, very competitive, and every teenager — male AND female — loves a good trilogy, we decided to build our program in ‘tribute’ (hint, hint) to a group favorite and the result was… THE THIRSTY GAMES.

The Districts:

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Product
  • Engineering
  • Tech Ops
  • G&A
  • Technical Services

The Battle:

Once a week each district had a tribute (the head of the group) present to The Capitol (the entire company) about what their group is responsible for, who each of the team members are and what each person is working on. Then…the next day…they had to put on THE BEST HAPPY HOUR EVER (it’s a fight to the death).

The spoils:

The winning district got enough spoils ($$) to generously donate to the charity of their choice. The losing districts… well, we hate losing but in the process we all learned more about each team, what they do all day, and now because of that Bollywood Bhangra dance that the Product Team made us choreograph, I now recognize every single person that comes out of the bathroom.

We did it! We are all aligned, bought in, and pumped about the steep climb we have in front of us; we are now 1 DISTRICT (awww... thats how the movies end, right?).


Originally published at on November 13, 2015.