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Companies Where Millennials Thrive: You Need a Budget
The debate rages on about millennials and money, but one thing is for certain: Startups dedicated to helping millennials manage their money are now big business. More than $1 billion in investment over the last three years has gone into tech-driven personal finance companies, according to Forbes, with a whopping $261 million invested in the second fiscal quarter of 2014 alone.
At one such software startup, You Need a Budget — YNAB for short — millennials are not only the target audience but the driving force in creating the product, as well. Since launching in 2004, YNAB has been named one of the best budgeting apps by US News & World Report, Kiplinger’s, CNN Money, Huffington Post, CNBC, and hundreds of other financial reporting outlets — including a recent designation by WSJ as one of the top five ways others can “Manage Your Cash Like a Millennial.”
So we sat down with Jesse Mecham, founder and CEO of YNAB (and a millennial himself), to find out more about why his Utah-based company is not only improving the lives of millennials through financial software, but helping them to thrive on his own team, as well.
Why is your company one of the best places for millennials to work?
Early in my career, I worked at a Big Four accounting firm, and I knew there had to be a better way. When I launched You Need a Budget, I was hoping to build a life for myself that allowed me to do good work, but more important, invest in my family and my other interests — the things that make me, me. As we’ve grown, those fundamental values have remained, and today I spend an increasing amount of time developing and protecting our company culture. There are perks — we all work remotely, we have annual company meet-ups (this year in Costa Rica!), we give personal birthday and Christmas gifts, and we don’t track vacation time — but what I think people really value about working at YNAB is our core culture. It’s an environment of respect and autonomy; we value clear, consistent communication; we have a shared purpose and we all work very hard, motivated by something that we believe matters; we are whole people who are far more interesting than just our work, and as a result, we really like each other.
Do you feel there’s a preparedness gap between millennial workers and the requirements of the workplace?
We are a young technology company — so for us, no. Granted, we’re very selective in hiring, but nonetheless we have a cross-generational team that works very well together. Our millennial employees are bright, creative, collaborative, tech savvy, motivated, and hilarious.
How does your company help millennials with any perceived learning curve?
As a company, we talk a lot about being “confidently humble.” As a CEO, I talk a lot about how it’s OK to change your mind. Our team — our culture — is committed to learning from one another and working toward something bigger than any one of us. We haven’t experienced a learning curve — but if we did, I think this spirit would overcome it.
Do you ever find it difficult to manage millennial employees?
Depending on your definition, I myself am a millennial, so no. In our company, the more relevant question might be, “Did you find it difficult to have a millennial as a boss?” I’m sure the answers would be mixed! I am learning a lot on the job. I think my perspective, as a millennial, is partially why we have such a strong company culture. It’s also to blame for many of my mistakes. But it’s OK — I can change my mind!
Do you have any formal or informal mentorship programs in place?
We’re not too big on formal. As a company, we read a book together each month and discuss it, book-club style. We’ve found that it’s a real opportunity to learn from one another. We also take turns giving presentations at our All-Hands meetings. Last week, we learned about heirloom seeds from Dave, a member of our support team, who homesteads. We love to learn from each other — and mentorships that make sense happen pretty organically.
Do you actively encourage or provide opportunities for your millennial employees/colleagues to network outside the company?
We send people to conferences. We encourage and support people in pursuing their personal passions. Many team members have passion projects they work on in their own time. Our company has grown largely due to strong word of mouth — we are all about the networking!
Do you actively encourage or provide opportunities for your millennial employees to further their education or acquire new soft and hard skills through classes, conferences, or other opportunities?
Absolutely. In many respects, as a startup with a young CEO, we are learning as we go. In hiring, we’re intentional about finding people who are curious, life-long learners. I’ve brought in speakers, we’ve attended conferences, and when someone raises their hand and wants to learn something new, we always do our best to accommodate.
Do you have a mission-driven culture? Eighty-eight percent of millennials said in the Bentley PreparedU study that it was a priority to work for companies that are socially responsible and ethical, making the world a better place.
On the surface, we sell personal budgeting software. But to the YNAB team, it’s so much more than that. We hear stories every day about lives being changed — a marriage saved, crippling debt paid off, college tuition made possible. Helping people get control of their money is a huge honor and we take that seriously.
In your experience, how important is work-life balance to your millennial employees? And how do you handle that as a company?
Work-life balance is extremely important to me, personally, to the culture I’ve fostered, and to all my employees, millennial and otherwise. We take two weeks off at Christmas, and we don’t track vacation — I think on average people take about four weeks. We all work remotely and have flexibility to live rich lives outside of work. We enjoy and respect each other, and not only do we do great work, we have a great time. This all works so well because we have a rigorous, selective hiring process, where we consider cultural fit above craft. So far, so good.
What kinds of things does your company do to help millennials succeed in business?
Ours is an open environment where everyone has a voice — your age, your position, your history is largely irrelevant. If you want to contribute and make a difference, you can. We are committed to the personal and professional growth of every member of our team, and as a result we are all growing as individuals and as a company.
What are the top three things that other companies could learn from your experiences about hiring, employing and/or retaining millennials?
- Culture > Craft: This was one of the best decisions I never really made. At first, it just sort of happened, but once we realized we had something very special, we got serious about growing and protecting it. Our culture is our most valuable asset.
- Flexibility: There is really no reason I can see that we need to work on an arbitrary schedule. I think the freedom and flexibility we offer our team is a huge win for everyone. This allows people to live fuller lives, creating happier, more committed employees.
- Focus: Sure, we have gotten distracted from time to time, but the more we are able to focus our purpose, our efforts, and our collected enthusiasm, the more we succeed. And by succeed — I mean both in profits and in satisfaction.
What else should we know about why your company is a progressive workplace and one of the best places and cultures for millennials to thrive?
One of our favorite traditions is our collective Bucket List. We have a Google spreadsheet where every employee fills out a bucket list, which we can all see. As a company, we have committed to helping people achieve some of those milestones. I find that it helps us get to know one another on a whole new level, and it’s so much fun to watch. It can be as simple as buying a sewing machine for a colleague who has always dreamed of learning to sew, or slightly less tangible, like paying for the shipping of a Tesla — our Android developer Graham’s dream car — to his home in Scotland.