Alejandro Velez, co-founder of Back to the Roots is in the business of growing food at home — whether it’s using coffee grounds to grow gourmet mushrooms or producing herbs with aquaponic fish tanks (which produce self -cleaning and -sustaining environments). Velez, pictured below with business partner Nikhil Arora on the right, spoke with turnstone about building culture at his first company.
How do you define culture?
For us it’s how we do things. It’s the unspoken ways in which people prioritize their days. They prioritize the way they interact with our partners and the way they interact with consumers, so that’s how I would define culture.
I think on top of that, there are four values that we all live by — that’s family, hustle, passion and universal happiness. We recruit that way, and how we make decisions, it’s all based around that.
So what does culture look like at Back to the Roots?
It’s trying to turn nothing into something — that’s the mentality, and we reward people that are scrappy; we reward irreverence and people that do things in ways that promote interconnectivity between the team.
We’re trying to create as many interactions between teams as possible. That’s when we feel a lot of the most authentic ideas come. It’s not cut-and-dry — you don’t have the finance team at one end and the operations team at the other end.
What is your office space like in Oakland?
It’s all open spaces. We just moved to our new spot, so before we had a team of 27 with manufacturing, and we outsourced it. We moved from a warehouse space to an office space. Downstairs is the office. Upstairs it’s like working spaces. So it’s like a standup area. You have a desk, but then the whole upstairs there are open desks with monitors, and you can plug in whenever you want. So any time of the day you can go upstairs and work.
What do you do for fun or team-building?
We have a foosball table. And as we build out our office, we’ll have a ping-pong table also. We do happy hour on Friday together.
It’s a balance. We’re working hard and there’s a lot of things on everybody’s plate — more things than they can handle (every single person). So it’s a balance between that and having a blast while you do it.
How is the culture working for you in the space that you have?
We don’t know it any other way. This is our first company, so we look to companies that we like and that we respect with brands like Southwest, Patagonia, Lululemon, and try to pick and choose things that feel like Back to the Roots. Ultimately, we’re a brand that is about fun — especially for kids. So there’s definitely a feel of having fun when you’re working even though you’re doing a lot of really crucial things and important things.
Photo courtesy of Alejandro Velez.
Guest Blogger Riane Menardi is a writer, maker and community builder based in Des Moines, Iowa. When she's not helping her team at Goodsmiths serve handmade vendors, you'll find her writing and interviewing people about culture, space and startup life. Riane has recently taken to making her own cheese and refashioning clothes from thrift-store finds. She loves exploring her town (and its many microbreweries) from atop her blue bicycle, and has a yoga mat permanently stationed in her living room Menardi is a writer, maker and community builder based in Des Moines, Iowa. When she's not helping her team at Goodsmiths serve handmade vendors, you'll find her writing and interviewing people about culture, space and startup life. Riane has recently taken to making her own cheese and refashioning clothes from thrift-store finds. She loves exploring her town (and its many microbreweries) from atop her blue bicycle, and has a yoga mat permanently stationed in her living room.