In Silicon Valley,
startups that are growing faster than a speeding bullet don't have time to read
the old management textbook. So out go rules, rigidity, and red tape. One
Internet outfit that illustrates this with a lot of pizzazz is three-year-old
Icarian Inc. Formed by Doug Merritt and his wife Rani Hublou Merritt, the
company provides online software that helps companies hire and manage their
workforces. Like Hair Club for Men, Icarian is not only the seller of this
service, it's a customer. The founders use their software to foster a corporate
culture that attracts and keeps workers in these volatile times.
A quick walk around Icarian's Sunnyvale (Calif.) offices shows just how
friendly an environment they have created. Roller-hockey gear and balloons are
everywhere. There's a foosball game roaring in the lunchroom. Dogs frolic in
the hallways. But this is no Animal House. It's all about letting
employees balance their lives with their intense work schedules, and
recognizing, says Merritt, ''that the best and most productive ideas often come
from serendipity--a bike ride or a cup of coffee with a friend.''
Icarian isn't just a fun place to work. The business is taking off, too, thanks
to deals with the likes of AT&T and Chemdex Corp. The staff has doubled, to
160, in eight months. The company's in that hyperactive pre-IPO period--hoping
to file in April and go out by June. Combine Icarian employees' anticipation of
possible riches and their need to hunker down and deliver, and you've got an
intensity that's as palpable in the hallways as static electricity.
CEO Doug Merritt
Managing in Internet time demands stamina. And Doug Merritt lacks nothing in
that department. At 35, he starts many a 16-hour day early, with a run with his
dogs, Jaxon and Slate. But he doesn't think a pressure-cooker work environment
helps a company run better. Success hinges on building trust among managers and
staff. ''The way you get superior performance is to get peoples' passionate
loyalty and belief,'' he says. That means being flexible and giving your people
what they need to do a great job.
Icarian's special culture
Icarian's philosophy is simple: grow, share, and celebrate. People are
encouraged to rise in the ranks. Pez fan Loren Schaffzin, assistant to CEO
Merritt, is moving up to the creative services department. In gratitude for
hard work, the company hands each employee 50 ''Icarian bucks'' each month to
be spent on gestures such a massage for a colleague. When the spirit so moves,
employees move with it. Somebody pops in a music CD and everybody gets up to
A balanced life isn't just just an empty promise at Icarian.
Business-development analyst Adam Nelson, a shot-putter who is trying to make
the U.S. Olympic Team, gets time off to train. Employees are encouraged to work
at home. And volunteerism is rewarded: Marketer Debi Memmolo takes off early
every Wednesday to help inner-city kids.
Among Icarian's corporate principles is this: ''Regular ping-pong increases
productivity.'' So, apparently, do roller-hockey, wine-tasting and chess.
Employees work hard, and at break time they play hard. Even the bosses.
Co-founder Rani Hublou Merritt, who left management in January to take an
executive position at Broadvision, takes the puck to the net in a parking lot
Icarian encourages employees to get together when work is done. And, if romance
blooms, so be it. ''How do you meet people when you're working 60 hours a
week?'' asks Merritt. Social gatherings result in long days, though. Here,
Merritt yawns on the way to a marketing department barbecue.