When Brew Johnson and Brett Crosby came together to found PeerStreet, an online platform that allows individual investors to participate as lenders in residential real estate, they knew from the start that they wanted to establish a corporate culture that would attract and retain the kind of people they needed to make their venture stand out in the crowded fintech field.
“A lot of businesses, they take their competitors into account, they take market conditions, funding, hiring, all of the important things. But they don’t make culture a priority,” said Crosby, PeerStreet’s chief operating officer. “From the beginning, we’ve taken culture very seriously, but we try to do it without taking ourselves too seriously.”
Johnson, PeerStreet’s CEO, boils it down to this: “We’ve tried to create a place where Brett and I would want to work.”
To that end, they’ve established a company that regularly celebrates its successes and milestones with parties, and encourages employees to get together and have fun in nonwork environments. A prime example of the latter is the PeerStreet Olympics, an annual event in which the company is divided for a day into teams of friendly athletic competition, some of which takes place on the beach near its Southern California offices.
“You can laugh, have a good time, enjoy yourself, and still get things done, and I think that’s an important piece of the business,” said Johnson. “You’re going to be working hard — everybody at this company works really hard — but if you can’t take time to smell the roses, enjoy yourself and interact with each other, and joke around, everybody’s going to burn themselves out, and it’s not going to be a fun place to be.”
Just as important, says Crosby, is that a strong culture of camaraderie and inclusion creates a bulwark that can help protect the company against some of the more toxic byproducts of the high-pressure environment in which many fintechs operate.
“You’ve seen it play out, especially in fintech lately, where a lot of companies, their No. 1 competitor ended up being themselves. ... It’s just a crazy thing to think about.
"I won’t pretend to say we’ve got the magic bullet and we’re immune to that because we focus on culture. But I do think that if you take it seriously, you have a lot better odds at fighting that off. If you create a culture that can defend itself from problems, that helps."