Community//

How to create a fantastic work culture: “Culture isn’t manufactured. What works for one company isn’t necessarily “right” for all.” with Craig Follett and Chaya Weiner

Culture isn’t manufactured. What works for one company isn’t necessarily “right” for all. We’ve invested in unpacking what it means to work at Universe. It’s a process that involves every single employee in the company. Our culture can be summarized across six core values. Grow every day — we’re focused on learning, teaching others, and the constant […]


Culture isn’t manufactured. What works for one company isn’t necessarily “right” for all. We’ve invested in unpacking what it means to work at Universe. It’s a process that involves every single employee in the company. Our culture can be summarized across six core values. Grow every day — we’re focused on learning, teaching others, and the constant pursuit of personal growth. Have empathy — we believe diverse backgrounds and experiences shape who people are一we seek to cultivate an environment that values these differences. Make it happen — we strive to drive ideas forward by encouraging ownership, tenacity, and accountability. Be open — we believe in fostering an environment that is collaborative and promotes open communication. Take risks — we don’t punish people for failing, we value curiosity, innovation, and those who challenge the status quo. Lastly, stay humble — there’s no “I” in team一it’s the sum of all the parts that represent greatness and a path towards sustained success. We’re proud to be building a culture that is uniquely Universe.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Craig Follett. Craig is the Co-founder & CEO of Universe, which was acquired by Live Nation Entertainment (Ticketmaster) in 2015. Universe was founded on the basis that experiences are more important than things — the company aims to connect as many people as possible, and focuses on events ranging from cooking classes to film festivals, to museums. Craig is a classically trained software engineer and business analyst, with hands on experience at BCG, Credit Suisse and in product development. Craig advised tech companies on M&A and corporate finance while at Credit Suisse’s technology investment banking group in San Francisco. At BCG, Craig advised tech companies on strategy & operations, in Canada, US, Italy and Austria. In 2008, Craig graduated with an HBA from the Ivey Business School, earning the distinction of Ivey Scholar, and concurrently graduated with a BESc in Software Engineering from Western University, with Distinction. Craig is an avid rock climber and world traveler.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

One of my grandfathers was an entrepreneur, and another grandfather was an engineer. I always knew I wanted to start a business. I was working at BCG on projects that were helping companies explore the startup landscape, and knew I needed to dive into it myself. We launched Universe as a sharing economy marketplace, for people to share items, skills, spaces and activities. The “activities” category started generating some traction, and so we focused on it and started seeing some really amazing cooking classes on Universe. These grew into larger and larger food events, and then a Canadian celebrity chef threw his birthday party on Universe一the attendees were all fellow foodies and other chefs. Slowly, we started building a community in this space. Eventually, we graduated into a successful ticketing company, but with the technology roots and ambition that came with a sharing economy business. It may sound like fate or accident, but it really represented relentless focus and listening to our customers, with a spirit of innovation and experimentation along the way.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In conversation with one of our event organizers, we heard that they wanted to show the tickets for sale on their own website. We had two paths — a traditional website integration, or a new innovative approach where we could embed the ticket sale on Universe, with no redirect. We decided to be more ambitious and try the latter — and it worked! Event organizers loved this feature. We were still a sharing economy company at the time — so our next thought (as it always was the case in those days) was, okay — now we need to build this for the “services” side of the marketplace. We realized then that it felt like we were building two companies. The embeddable widget was a key part of what made us realize we should focus on events. And it’s also a key part of what made Universe attractive to Live Nation in their acquisition of the company in 2015.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Every day we’re working towards enabling the experience economy. More than ever, people crave local, genuine experiences and we’re seeing a resurgence of these experiences and events. Behind every experience, is a passionate individual who needs a marketplace to help them succeed. Earlier today, I was talking to a festival started by a couple of university students. It’s inspiring that they’re able to pursue “jobs” they find meaningful, and in a way, we’re helping enable their entrepreneurial journey, by giving them access to a platform that simplifies their experience management so they can focus on the most important thing一designing a unique and memorable festival. At the end of the day, we’re proud to be in the business of facilitating human connection一it’s the most important thing we have as people and society.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

There are probably a lot of factors here一I’d want to know more about the characteristics of those in the survey who responded as not happy. Understanding that fact-base could help policy makers and executives make positive changes. I think happiness has many components. Immediately, I’m reminded of a HBS study I read before I decided to start Universe (and part of the reason I decided to do so!) Stevenson cites four areas: achievement, impact, contentment and legacy. Achievement — is the individual being recognized by their company? Impact — is what the individual doing moving the dial? Contentment — does the individual enjoy their environment, day to day, and work life balance? Legacy — is the individual working towards a company mission and vision that they’re proud of and will look forward to telling their grandkids about? A company needs to be firing on all cylinders to create genuine happiness for its workforce.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

An unhappy workforce will result in lower productivity, which will make the company less profitable. If you work a 9–5 workday (and many of us work more than this), and you sleep 8 hours per night, you spend over 30% of your day at work and you may “bring some of this home with you.” If you’re unhappy at work, it’s going to affect your overall wellbeing. At Universe we invest heavily in culture一this starts with hiring the right people, running a business with a strong mission and values, but also the right tooling一we’re using tools such as Crescendo to help educate our team on diversity and inclusion. It’s important that everyone feels valued and respected when they come to work.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Culture isn’t manufactured. What works for one company isn’t necessarily “right” for all. We’ve invested in unpacking what it means to work at Universe. It’s a process that involves every single employee in the company. Our culture can be summarized across six core values. Grow every day — we’re focused on learning, teaching others, and the constant pursuit of personal growth. Have empathy — we believe diverse backgrounds and experiences shape who people are一we seek to cultivate an environment that values these differences. Make it happen — we strive to drive ideas forward by encouraging ownership, tenacity, and accountability. Be open — we believe in fostering an environment that is collaborative and promotes open communication. Take risks — we don’t punish people for failing, we value curiosity, innovation, and those who challenge the status quo. Lastly, stay humble — there’s no “I” in team一it’s the sum of all the parts that represent greatness and a path towards sustained success. We’re proud to be building a culture that is uniquely Universe.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

My mom was a teacher, and my sister is now a teacher一I have a lot of empathy for educators and the education system. Growing up, my teachers influenced me, instilled within me a culture and openness for “lifelong learning,” exposed me to technology, and showed me how to be a team player. To change culture in society, perhaps society needs to better invest in education. Perhaps there are inspirations from other countries, such as Finland or Canada. In my hometown in Canada, I went to a public school一but the Principal of my school partnered with Apple Computer, and secured sponsorship from Apple to supply one computer for every two students一in the early 1990s, this was unheard of一and it certainly shaped who I am today. Public private partnerships (done right!) may be a potential solution.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

One of the most important things is instilling a culture of ownership. There has to be a sense of mutual trust between you and your team. Beyond that, having goals and objectives gives the team something to strive towards, while allowing room for experimentation and creativity along the way. Our product teams are structured in squads–a collection of “mini startups,” each fully resourced with a product manager, designer, and some developers. Give them a goal, and give them room to decide what to build一they wake up every day thinking about the potential for impact, and know what the difficulty of building something will be一they also feel more empowered and excited to build it. This approach has resulted in higher “velocity” (building software better and faster). It requires a more modern leadership style.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Early in my startup journey, I was connected with Janet Bannister, the founder of Kijiji一we became friends, and as someone who had created a marketplace business, she was able to provide great advice. We became great friends. A couple years later, we went for coffee and she asked me what I thought of my VC investors, Real Ventures一I gave her a candid and honest answer, and she revealed that she was considering joining Real一fast forward, and she joined Real Ventures as a General Partner, and later joined Universe on our Board. After selling Universe to Live Nation, I decided to close the loop and invest some of the funds I earned in Real Ventures一this is proving to be a great investment not only in terms of financial returns, but also in terms of reinvesting into the startup ecosystem一something that I’m passionate about.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I view well operated and mission-driven companies as a vessel to do good. Given my experience in company building, I’ve been trying to give back by mentoring emerging startups that have a positive impact一one such startup is Coastline, which is connecting fishing boat owners directly with restaurants and retail in a more sustainable way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I remember visiting the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory as a kid, and my dad bought a hat. It read: “if it’s not fun, why do it?” Perhaps I was inspired by entrepreneurship at an early age. And what’s more fun than events?!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would circle back to the beginning of this interview and reference the sharing economy movement. There’s still so much progress to be made there, which would result in empowering people, enabling them to share with each other, and make money doing what they love.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

    The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    Vic Keller: To create a fantastic work culture have an “open door with a smile” policy

    by Yitzi Weiner at Authority Magazine
    Community//

    Vanessa Cartwright Shares Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture

    by Krish Chopra

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.