Few companies go from start-up to unicorn in just ten years. A unicorn is a privately owned start-up that reaches a billion-dollar valuation. Fewer still have been profitable from inception, go on to a successful IPO, and continue to grow.
Perhaps the most amazing attribute of KnowBe4 is that while growing so rapidly and becoming such a roaring success, they’ve been acknowledged as a great place to work in all stages of their growth. They are also listed as a best place to work for women and millennials.
“Culture is a core pillar of our operation,” says Erika Lance, CHRO for KnowBe4. “We believe in do it right, do it fast, and have fun while you’re doing it.”
At KnowBe4 everyone on the team is equal. Their mantra is all 1400 employees are important and everyone matters.
The office layout is open and transparent – Stu Sjouwerman, the CEO, is right there on the floor. Since the pandemic many employees are working remotely, but the openness and emphasis on communication and inclusion is still top of mind.
Community is another core value at KnowBe4. “Since fewer than 10 percent asked to come back into the office, our employee relations groups have been a critical part of keeping the community spirit strong and active,” says Lance.
They have many different groups – LGBTQ+, military vets, an Asian-Pacific group, Hispanic/LatinX, and Women in Tech. “These groups create communities where they have their own voice, where they can express and celebrate their viewpoints,” explains Lance.
The company also has some unusual job titles — such as Development of Fun and Shenanigans and the Jester of Hijinx! One example is that during a sales game the teams each made a fun video that was shared with everyone in the company. On Halloween everyone dresses up and, in the past, they’ve had a big parade. This year the theme was Hocus Pocus Adams Family, and they held a drive through Halloween Fest with swag bags and invited the local community to participate.
Philanthropy is another component of their company culture. The Knowsters, as employees are known, contribute to local charities of their choice. This year they’ve opened 11 beehives with 220,000 bees. “We feel strongly about supporting the environment,” says Lance. “Florida is on the front line for saving the honeybees, we’re proud to contribute to these efforts.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is also a major focus of the company culture. “We’re proud to be a diverse workforce from the top down,” says Lance. “DEI can’t only be driven from HR. At KnowBe4 it’s top of mind for our CEO and the C-suite executives.”
The Employee Resource Groups also have the responsibility of creating change internally and externally. There is an overarching committee to assist them to work on projects together and provide guidelines on how to effect change.
Gender equity is strong at KnowBe4. Their workforce is almost 50 percent women and 35 percent in the C-suite — a clear step ahead of the average 25 percent in the US.
“One thing we’ve noticed is that women tend not to apply if they don’t have all the requirements for a position,” says Lance. “At KnowBe4 we offer training and coaching to help them to move up the ladder. We encourage and support employees who have the fire, intent, and ambition to move up. We believe we can often grow a candidate internally.”
KnowBe4 has an aggressive approach to diversity hiring. “There are a lot of traits in diverse people that you can’t see immediately — it’s not as clear cut as race or gender,” says Lance. “We still look for the most qualified person, but we look in unusual places.”
They’ve held recruiting fairs in underserved communities and hired people who have never worked before. These hires were placed in tech support and given the training necessary to succeed at the job. Also, they were offered the opportunity to get a two-year Associates Degree paid for by KnowBe4.
Another successful recruitment exercise has been the New Start program for veterans. A military career does not usually translate to a civilian job. These employees were also given the opportunity to transition to a new career with the assistance of the company.
The Restart program is for people who want to change careers but need new skills to do so. For example, a trucker might want to change careers and lack the skills to do so. With Restart, they have the opportunity to change career paths. KnowBe4 hires and trains them to be customer relations agents.
“We create initiatives in the community to help people make a transition and improve their lives,” says Lance. “We aim to have 20 to 35 percent of our hires at entry level to move up the career ladder through training and development. We help them on that journey and that is how we foster an amazing place to work. We’ve had people go from entry level to VP or SVP with this approach.”
When the need for working remotely occurred, KnowBe4 was a frontrunner in helping employees get a complete office setup at home. Not just a laptop, but all the technology they needed to work efficiently. They also supplied many of the “comfort” perks they’d had in the office — like electrolytes and allergy medicine or whatever they needed to make it easier to be at work while at home.
There is an online meeting every day with the CEO and HR where they can share in what is happening at the company. The employee relations groups survey their members regularly, area by area.
Coaches interact with their people online and while this all takes a little more effort than running a team in one place, the employees have all adapted to this new approach.
“The open-door policy is still firmly in place,” says Lance. “We listen and acknowledge what has been said and when there is a legitimate issue, we explain how it will be resolved or why it can’t be resolved.”
KnowBe4 is a case-study in how to take a startup from nothing to unicorn status. But perhaps more importantly, its unique approach to company culture and creating a truly amazing workplace deserves acclaim.