Posted in Company culture | by: Kira Deutch

How One Santa Cruz Startup Skates Their Way to an Amazing Culture

On a sunny day in July, the entire ten-person Inboard team packed up their electric skateboards, loaded up their cars, and moved to Santa Cruz, California. “Even getting ten people together is really hard,” says Nate Appel, Inboard’s Marketing Director. “It was kind of remarkable.”

Nate and his coworkers visited the beachside town after their Product Director, Brian Eiseman, joked that the team should relocate so he wouldn’t have to make the two-hour trek to San Francisco every day. Brian wasn’t entirely serious, but everyone fell seriously hard. Soon after, the whole company moved down, and a fiery bond started to form. So what compelled an entire group of people to drop their lives and head to the shore? “Culture,” says Nate. “Our culture is what binds us.” To better understand what Nate meant, we took a look at the empowering, outdoorsy culture percolating at Inboard — a place where everyone is quite literally, always on board.

 

inboard lighthouse

 

Inboard believes in the journey. Through their M1 electric skateboard, the team is making the experience of getting from point A to B as invigorating as the rush you get from the great outdoors. “It’s a way to infuse joy into every day of your life,” says Nate. Their electric skateboards are unique because the motors are embedded inside the wheels, which helps improve performance while enabling a clean, slick look. In fact, Nate says building electric skateboards is a lot like developing payroll software: no one has challenged the status quo until now. Before Gusto, Nate says their payroll was “inexplicably complex,” but everyone just went with it because that’s the way payroll has always been. “With both payroll and skateboards, it takes some risk and trailblazing to really achieve a simple solution.”

The idea for Inboard started when co-founder Theo Cerboneschi started sticking electric motors on skateboards while at the University of Colorado. He loved skating to class, but hated showing up drenched in sweat. Theo tinkered away on a prototype, and it eventually turned into the first version of the M1 skateboard. The company launched on Kickstarter, quickly surpassed their goal of $100,000 to raise nearly half a million dollars, and plan on releasing the M1 in January of next year.

What does culture mean to Inboard?

inboard team

 

The Inboard team is made up of a motley crew of skaters, surfers, and kitesurfers, all connected by their love of adventure. That same bold spirit flows through the very pulse of the company, and it’s what makes work so fiercely meaningful for everyone on the team. Inboard also credits the outdoors in helping them achieve a sense of balance during the day.

“All of these things are more than activities — it’s a lifestyle. We all strive to structure our lives around the wind, ocean, and enabling opportunities to fit the outdoors into our day.”

Here are a few more principles the Inboard team lives by:

Culture flows through everything

“Real culture is a natural thing that flows through everything you do,” says Nate. At Inboard, culture influences every detail of the company, from the way the wheel is designed to the laid-back office environment. That pervasiveness is what allows for something truly authentic to develop. It’s never forced, and it grows over time. Most importantly, culture is a result of everyone on the team — it’s real.

Culture enables creative friction

The team’s emphasis on authenticity also allows people to be their best, most genuine selves at work. Everyone at Inboard is encouraged to freely voice their opinions, which produces something Nate calls “positive creative friction.” Many times, people will engage in heated debates in the office, while an hour later, they’re “catching waves and sharing a good time.” When that openness actually opens people up, the team feels more comfortable challenging the norm, leading to better ideas than ever thought possible.

Culture comes from people

According to Nate, finding people who can really gel with the Inboard culture starts with the hiring process. Most of the early team was involved in the professional kitesurfing world and became friends over their mutual love of adventure sports. Being able to bring on new hires who share that same appreciation for the outdoors is something the team really values.

Culture creates opportunities for collaboration & impact

Good culture enables everyone to learn from one another and have the opportunity to make a positive change. Because of the team’s proximity to great surfing spots, collaborating between different departments happens naturally. The marketing and engineering teams “take sessions” together to see where they can feed off each other back at the office. (For the uninitiated, a “session” is any outdoor activity that involves a board). “Taking sessions really nurtures the type of collaboration that forms the heart of Inboard,” says Nate.

The story of the Session Tracker

inboard session tracker

 

Inboard practices the very belief their company was founded on — that the best way to foster culture is to let it “grow organically from within.” To encourage the play time that so many Inboard-ers cherish, the team recently installed the “Session Tracker,” which is a whiteboard where people mark down how many skate, surf, or kiteboarding sessions they’re able to rack up during the day. At the end of the year, the team will award a prize to the teammate who has the most sessions under their belt. In fact, after seeing how many sessions his teammates were fitting in, Nate got inspired to amp up the amount of time he was spending outdoors.

“It’s so easy to lock into this one-track mindset and forget about taking time for yourself. The board is one of those things that reminds you that hey, it’s okay to go out and have some fun.”

Since Nate started incorporating more sessions into his day, work has reinvigorated him. “That letting go and resetting on the water is what brings me back to the here and now.”

When a group of people uproot their entire lives to put down roots together, something special emerges. People start connecting with each other on a different level; a level made of friendship, honesty, and pure passion. And that feeling isn’t just found in the team’s Santa Cruz office — it flows through every single detail of their lives. It’s inside the clatter of the board, the whirr of the ocean, and the meaning that comes when you turn work into a true calling. It’s knowing that you may fall off at any moment, there may be different paths on the horizon, but the beauty of the ride will always be there to keep you going.

About Kira Deutch

Kira Deutch is on the content team at Gusto, where she focuses on telling stories that empower small businesses across the country. She has a background in publishing and content marketing for startups. You can get in touch with Kira here.