HR Tips From Groundspeak - A Hidden Seattle Success Unearthed

by David Niu on Oct 4, 2012 10:00:07 PM

For the first TINYhr interview, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jeremy Irish of Groundspeak. Groundspeak is one of the most successful and influential Seattle companies a lot of people have never heard of. If you've ever gone geocaching or heard of someone who has, you can thank Groundspeak, which is the parent company of

Jeremy first started Groundspeak in 2000 as a hobby with the goal of getting people outside, rather than a company to make money. When traffic starting exploding to the site, he incorporated the company because one can only imagine how many lawsuits could potentially come calling if someone twisted an ankle or got lost / injured while searching for a cache.

He first incorporated the company as Grounded Inc. because he wanted to remind people associated with the company to remain grounded. Plus, the prizes were hidden on the ground. This culture of groundedness and humility really came through, and everyone in the company is called a "lacky" because their goal is to serve their burgeoning community of enthusiastic users. In fact, to embody this culture, the company's first furniture was purchased from failing dot com's, in an effort to remain frugal.


Jeremy states that the company's top three most important assets are:

1. Community

2. Content

3. Culture


The company has grown to 70 employees, and Jeremy shared some of his top tips and hard lessons learned, including:

*Provide compensation BEFORE performance review - This is a very unique approach. But Jeremy's reasoning was that everyone just wants to know the number during the review, so why not hand them the number first and get that out of the way? Then the real review begins.

*Self assessments as allies - These are invaluable for the managers who conduct the reviews. They also provide an opportunity for the employee to be heard. In addition, he doesn't sense that they are unfair or skewed. In fact, he's impressed on how critical and balanced the reviews are. (Maybe this sprouts from the culture of humility?)

*One-on-one weekly rhythm - Jeremy established a tempo of one-on-ones on a weekly basis with his three direct reports. These typically last 30 to 60 minutes and provide a venue to share what's going well and what's blocking them. He's heard very enthusiastic feedback from reviweees, including thanking him for a structured one-0n-one instead of just a casual conversation.

*HR at 50 - Groundspeak hired their first full-time HR person when they hit 50 employees. Now they have two full-time HR employees. These folks make sure that reviews are conducted and also run point on archiving and storing them.

*Culture, culture, culture - Jeremy referred to this quite often during our interview. He thinks that every company should name or brand their team members. Similar to how Yahoo has Yahooligans or how Groundspeak has lackeys. This just serves to rally people and reinforce the culture.

*Conclusion - I came away very impressed that a hobby in 2000 has grown to a 7- person success story in a dozen years. Despite the success of the company, I'm amazed at how critical reviewees are of themselves during the review process since most reviewers are actually concerned about the opposite effect. Few people even know the trajectory that has been on or that it's based in Seattle, and I think that's just the way Jeremy and the company of humble lackeys like it to be.


*Follow @TINYhr on Twitter to get the latest insights and best practices from entrepreneurs as David continues his travels and interviews around-the-world.

author avatar

This post was written by David Niu

David is the Founder and CEO of TINYpulse. After being burnt out from his previous company, he decided pack up all of his belongings and go on a careercation with his family. Through that journey, he met with numerous leaders around the world that taught him about work culture, employee engagement, and what it takes to be an inspirational leader.

Connect with David