Embracing and solving problems makes employees at Propeller Health successful, but executives at the technology firm say there’s more to building a company culture.
“We’ve been accused of being ‘Midwestern sciencey,’” said David Van Sickle, CEO and co-founder of Madison-based Propeller. “That meant we were attracting the right kind of people who were understated, hard-working and willing to contribute energy and enthusiasm.”
Van Sickle added: “People here act like owners.”
Propeller, created in 2010, makes products to help manage asthma and COPD by attaching a digital sensor to inhalers. The sensors connect to a cellphone app that helps patients and clinicians understand what may be causing a patient’s symptoms and how to manage them.
Greg Tracy, Propeller’s chief technology officer, said the company’s leadership understands that failure is part of the tech business. “I don’t think we could have done this without a culture that celebrates those failures. Be fearless. Go out and chase all of the really hard problems. It’s a creator-driven culture.”
Propeller, along with traditional benefits, offers subsidies for biking to work, paid time off for volunteering, more than 10 weeks of paid parental leave and a wellness reimbursement.
It also sponsors an annual three-day retreat at Camp Wandawega in Elkhorn, where employees camp in tents, prepare their own food, swim in the lake and get to know each other better. It also allows employees from its Madison and San Francisco offices to build relationships.
“We reflect on what we’ve achieved in the last year and then look forward to our ambitions going forward,” Tracy said.
A couple of years ago, employees at the camp gathered under a white tent for a hackathon to develop a publicly available tool to forecast asthma conditions specific to patients’ geographic areas. “There were engineers that chose to be marketers, marketers that chose to be designers, and data people that chose to hack on code,” Tracy said.
Van Sickle added: “We needed a culture where people felt comfortable working and innovating at the edge of what’s always been possible.”