When Gabe Krajicek left the first business he founded, he was disappointed to watch as the corporate culture he had worked so hard to establish quickly crumbled. He viewed it as a personal failure that he hadn’t built a culture that would outlast him.
So when he and his partners launched the business that would eventually grow into Kasasa, which provides branded checking and savings account services to community banks and credit unions, Krajicek, its CEO, explicitly set out to build a culture that would. And as he did, he had a very specific model in mind: the United States military.
“I’m just a business guy, and I don’t have any military background, but what I admire about the military is how they create so much cohesion,” he said.
He described watching employees who serve in the armed forces being called up to deploy overseas, and admiring the kind of passion, sense of duty and purpose they carried with them. “I started thinking, in business, those kinds of feelings are so underutilized.”
So, he set out to replicate it in his Austin, Texas-based fintech startup. New employees at Kasasa are introduced to the company in an orientation process that includes an all-day session called “War College,” where they are taught about the company’s philosophy and values, including the company’s mission statement, which Krajicek boils down to three words: “Win the war.”
When they finish, they earn the title “Spartan” and are considered a member of the Kasasa team.
The deliberate nods to martial culture don’t end there. At Kasasa, top executives give out personalized coins to workers in recognition of particular achievements — a practice borrowed from the military tradition of senior officers distributing “challenge coins.” Krajicek’s assistant’s title is “executive wingman.” One of his senior executives, a West Point-educated former Army Ranger, is “chief of staff.”
A central element of the company’s identity is known as the “patch” — a design that looks very much like a military unit insignia, and which is designed to denote the company’s four core values of “Interdependence, Five Star Leadership, Love [and] Badassitude.”
The patch decorates shirts that the company regularly distributes to employees, and it even decorates some of the employees themselves. Kasasa pays a $2,000 bonus to any employees who have the patch tattooed on their bodies. So far, says Krajicek, about 30 people — approaching 10% of the workforce — have taken the company up on it.
There’s little danger those tattoos will fail to outlast the CEO.