It’s lunchtime at Ytel in Foothill Ranch, California. The staff, along with CEO Nick Newsom, is seated at a pair of long tables enjoying their daily free lunch. Seating arrangements are designed to encourage what Newsom calls “positive collisions” with people sitting next to someone they don’t necessarily deal with every day. A raucous trivia game projected on the wall ends every lunch hour – and everyone gets back to work with energy and in great spirits.
Ytel offers B2B cloud-based communications to help businesses communicate directly with customers via voice, messaging and mail. The system completes five million to 10 million interactions each day.
Newsom founded the company in 2012, when cloud-based phone systems were relatively new and complicated to set up. “I wanted to create a solution where businesses could sign up and have a solution that same day,” he says.
The company has experienced rapid growth since its inception. The staff presently numbers about 120, yet Newsom aims to reach 150 to 200 by the end of the year.
Put simply, Ytel offers companies an easy way to interact with their customers through its contact center software. Clients can learn the system in as little as 30 minutes.
For developers, Ytel offers a scalable application programming interface (API) to send and receive various methods of communication, like text messages and phone calls. For example, “If you have tickets left to a sporting event and you want to send a message to 5,000 season ticket holders that there are extra tickets available, you can do that through our system.”
Bulk messaging capability was driven by frustrated customers, Newsom says. “We solved those problems from an engineering point of view, and then we married that with a very human way of doing customer service. And the customers obviously liked it and kept buying more of it.” That, he says, “is the core of how we develop products around here.”
Ytel’s building and offices are a fascinating marriage of high-tech and low-tech. Lots of windows shine light on white cubicles with black counters. Offices are bordered in wood panels. Built-in drawing boards line one wall of each office, filled with network architecture and other drawings. Another office features monitors showing everything that is happening in Ytel’s system in real-time – including a customer support que and network uptime.
On the second floor, railroad containers serve as conference rooms. Newsom’s office – another container – displays a TV screen with a live feed from the International Space Station, along with full-length windows covered with sticky notes. A spot in the warehouse labeled “no no’s” is reserved for sticky notes with innovative ideas. Countless sticky notes adorn other walls listing details of projects at various stages.
Newsom takes pride in his novel facility. Potential clients are urged to visit, and clients with complicated business requirements can nest at “incubator” desks to work out solutions with Ytel engineers. “We’re willing to put in that upfront effort to understand our customers’ business needs and then provide them with very real solutions,” he says.
Newsom is also intensely focused on having the right team – and treating them well. He even has a director of talent and culture. That individual is Sean Dailey. As the company’s recruiter, Dailey focuses on how potential employees would fit into the culture, how they treat peers, and how they’re viewed in the industry. “We go through a pretty rigorous process of vetting people before they become employed here,” Newsom says.
Newsom sums up his leadership philosophy as: “Be a good human.”
“I’m very real about making sure that people are happy,” he adds. “I really like to understand what exactly makes someone tick. I spend a lot of time providing professional development services and just being genuine to people.” He also likes to be certain “other people around me are healthy and wealthy first. And then take care of myself second.” And that, he says, “is how I ultimately get to success. Leading by example is one of the DNA pieces in our culture.”
He is fiercely dedicated to making sure that the entire company is healthy, all the way down. To be sure he’s on track, he often stops workers at their desk to ask, “Did you like coming to work this morning?” He rarely gets a no – “but if I find a problem, I like to address it head-on.”
In addition to free lunch, Ytel offers flexible working hours and the freedom to work from home. Some employees use hoverboards to get around the office, which features an arcade. Newsom also keeps a pair of mountain bikes and a couple of electric bikes onsite. Instead of holding a meeting in his office, he’ll take a companion up a trail, conversing along the way.
“At the end of the ride you feel good, you’re in alignment and your brain is firing properly. I like combining little adventures with people to open their minds on how to tackle complex problems.”
He also encourages staffers to go outside for a walk. “More than half the time, it’s about people being happier and talking about business challenges and the solutions behind those challenges.”
The company is strongly making its mark. Already, it’s earned a number of awards:
- Entrepreneur 360 list of small businesses mastering the art and science of growing a business. Ytel is No. 120.
- Entrepreneur’s Top Company Cultures in 2017. Ytel is 41 out of 50 among small businesses.
- The Orange County Register Top Workplaces 2017, based on employee nominations. Ytel ranked No. 8 of 80 small companies.
- Stevie Awards Bronze winner in two categories: Company of the Year – Telecommunications Small category and Customer Service Department of the Year category.
- Comparably.com, a job hunting and employee-review site, lists Ytel among the top 50 places to work, according to employees. Comparably also ranks the best companies by culture in specific metro areas. Ytel is No. 14 in the Los Angeles area.
How did Newsom achieve such rapid success?
“Culture helped us grow very quickly,” he says. “People who worked for us didn’t mind referring their friends or peers in the industry to come work with us. I had a route to acquire really good people.”
What’s more, he adds, “I’m a very good steward of the company’s cash. We’re able to reinvest our profits back into the company and just continue growing.”
As a telecom industry veteran and user of the early cloud phone systems, Newsom knew firsthand what wasn’t working.
In addition, he says, “I wanted to create both a great product and also marry that with great customer service.”
Nick Newsom, CEO/Founder
Foothill Ranch, CA 92610